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21 inspirational books these successful women swear by


As part of our Strong Women Fortnight Healthista asked successful women in diverse fields about the inspirational books that have helped them most

Health, especially mental health, can often be a product of positive mindsets, or at least The Reading Agency certainly seems to think so. The national charity that works to inspire more frequent reading for pleasure and wellbeing has been offering their Reading Well program for years, with their latest prescription book list released in early July to cater to those suffering with long-term illnesses. The array of self-help books are endorsed by Public Health England, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the National Association of Primary Care. Additionally, the books listed are often upon recommendation of health professionals, individuals suffering with illness and their carers.

The wonderful thing about this program is that it’s easy to access and self-prescribe for your individual needs. But books have a wider range of uses as well. Bibliotherapy, or the use of books for therapeutic purposes, is a rising trend worldwide and uses both fiction and non-fiction to inspire readers to get their act together and make the most of life.

Books can be used not only to help you cope with illness, but also to motivate, and we wanted to cultivate a list of books that helped women climb to the top of their fields and learn some valuable lessons for day to day life along the way.

Kirsty Maxey, joint managing director at Teamspirit:

Results by Jamie Smart

Sometimes life gets in the way of actually focusing on what you really want to achieve. There is always another problem that needs solving, and in business, at Teamspirit, we are so involved in our clients business and their issues, we become more of an extension of their team. You can end up “fitting in” with everyone else’s agenda and forget who you are and what you want to achieve. Our understanding of how life and business works can get in the way of our natural capacity to create, thrive and prosper. The book helped me appreciate that in order to succeed for both our clients and our own business, you need to understand and hold on to your own authenticity, this is the source of your power and almost always the real reason that clients, colleagues and friends enjoy working with you in the first place. True transformation can be achieved, and I learnt for me that started with trusting that I will already have the insights I need, when I need them. So rather than talking or thinking about it, after reading Results, I felt freed-up to just get on and do it. It was a lot more believable and inspiring, for both colleagues, clients and family too.

Kerry Parnell, freelance journalist and former Deputy Editor, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I read Wuthering Heights aged 16 and couldn’t believe that Emily Brontë could produce that kind of intense and dark love story all from her imagination and zero experience.  It made me realise how strong women were even in the 19th century when they supposedly had no voice or rights or opinions, and has inspired me ever since.

Anna Magee, founder of Healthista

Middlemarch by George Eliot

At university, I fell in love with English Literature, my major at the time. I adored all of Eliot’s work but Middlemarch was the book that made me realise how much I love words and the stories writers can make out of them. I remember thinking: ‘I have to find a career that can pay me to play around with words all day’.

Pandora Symes, founder of ROOTED

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Dr. Christine Northrup

I believe to understand our bodies and the power of our intuition is the basis of true heath and happiness. In this book, Christine looks at traditional medicine and old school ancient traditions to give a thorough guide to wellbeing. It changed my life as I understood my body so much more, I stopped body shaming and learnt to love myself. Our bodies are powerhouses that just want to be heard. I learnt to listen and use my intuition every day. Much of my business and teachings use this as a base to help heal others.


Shrimoyee Chakraborty, owner of Calcutta Street

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

The biggest learning I took away from Lean In was that as women, we are always apologetic about our success and hard work and that we should not do that. I have never asked for a pay rise in my entire career and now that I employ people I see the same pattern in all the girls even when they have earned it. But it’s exactly the opposite for men. Now I have learnt that when I am confident about something I should say it aloud instead of doubting myself or being apologetic about it.

Sig Watkins, co-founder of FIT PR

The Power of Now by Elkhart Tolle

The Power Of Now really helped me stay in the present rather than looking back with regret or forward with anxiety…an investment read!

Wendy Lewis, Editor in Chief of Beauty in The Bag

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I think it’s my all time favorite. It inspired me to visit Spain and now I have to go at least once a year…a classic but still relevant at least to me

Sondra Cortis, Westpac Pacific CFO

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

For me, Outliers reinforces that it’s all about the hours. I did like Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and Thrive by Arianna Huffington. In a different genre, I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand which reinforces the power and strength of the human spirit. Brilliant.


Jane Alexander, journalist, author and editor

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

It taught me that it’s fine to be fascinated by many things, not just one specialism. But, above all, that…’The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived not taught.’

Danielle Collins, face yoga expert

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

I read this book 14 years ago when I was ill with M.E. It played a massive part in my recovery from the illness as I learnt how to put things in to perspective, deal with stress and incorporate simple meditation into my life. I often pick it up now and read one of the quick, one page chapters to inspire me. The two greatest lessons I took from it are firstly, understanding your ‘inbox’ (things you have to do in life) is never empty so don’t wait until that happens to relax. You must relax now. The second was that when you are stressed about something, ask yourself ‘Will this matter a year from now?’ This really helps make what feels like a major issue in to a much smaller one.

Jennifer Irvine, founder of Pure Package and Balance Box

All the Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schreider

All the Rules was a huge learning curve for me – not only for my love life but also understanding the psychology of other people and their perceptions. It was a real eye opener for me. How it changed my life…. let’s put it this way, I read it around the time I met my husband and we have now been married for 15 years and have four daughters!

Anna Richey, co-founder of Two Chicks

The Power of Now by Elkhart Tolle

It taught me to live in the moment. Firstly, I learnt that you are not your thoughts. And secondly if you feel anxious/stressed it is better not to attach it to anything but to just feel that emotion simply as it is.

Kitty Waters, entrepreneur and host of Kitty Talks podcast

The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle 

It transformed my life on both a work and a personal front: in the work days I was always ‘in my masculine’, always in control. When I went out with clients, I was in the masculine role: making sure they had everything, drinks, food, entertainment. I was in control of everything: tasting the wine, choosing the menu, getting the waitress, paying the bill – same with men on dates. Surrendered Wife showed me a new approach to life and to relationships and made me aware of how controlling I was and how masculine I was playing in my daily life. It made me see the lady in myself, and adopt a new (controversial) approach: let him do the job, pour wine in my glass, get the bill etc. I tried it and it actually completely changed my view on relationships with men. I read the book two months before I met my now fiancé Matt, and I still go back to it often for guidance.


Rosie Nixon, Editor in Chief of Hello magazine

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume

I devoured Judy Blume’s novels as a teenager. They made me realise that all teenagers have insecurities, and it showed me how reading books can help offer a sense of comfort and belonging.

Carole Gaskell, Managing Director of Full Potential Group

The Power Of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

I first read this book aged 17 in the summer before I started university. I’d always been a shy, anxious child, lacking in confidence. On the brink of stepping out into life on my own for the first time I wanted to make the most of it. The book gave me early tools to believe in myself and in everything I did. I was more positive and confident at uni than I’d ever been before and left with five great job offers. Its philosophies have played a significant role in my life ever since, giving me the confidence to change careers, go against everyone’s advice and set up Full Potential Group 20 years ago, before people really knew what coaching and transformational leadership really was. The book teaches that to gain personal power and peace, we have to be willing to go beyond the personal to something greater than ourselves. It taught me early on about the power of our subconscious and beliefs, which regulate many of our actions. If you reframe a disempowering belief about an outcome to a more empowering one, the shift in your attitude can have a radical impact on your actions and the results you achieve.

Elena Lavagni, owner of Neville hair and beauty

The Road Less Traveled by Scott M. Peck

This is a brilliant self-help book, which I found genuinely inspiring. It gives you a different outlook and perception in life. It illustrates how good can come from bad; struggle can strengthen you and so on. It’s enlightening and gives a true insight into ourselves. It has made me understand so much about life, love and about myself as a wife, mother and business woman.

Melanie Lawson, founder of Bare Biology

The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

Reading it convinced me to start my business, which has gone from strength to strength. It literally changed my life! It encouraged me to just have a go and not worry about perfection.  Start the thing you dream of and refine it as you learn.


Jasmin Robertson, director of This is Publicity and The House That Bloggers Built

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

This book is made up of short stories passed down through many generations of women. One such story, called ‘The Three Golden Hairs’, symbolises letting go of three ideas – or ideals – in order to make way for one strong idea and bring it into fruition. In applying this analogy to my own life This Is Publicity and The House That Bloggers Built was born. Not only did it help me reassess negative relationships, it also gave me confidence in myself and was the catalyst in redefining my work life and rediscovering a passion and energy for what I do.

Sara Tye, founder and managing director of redheadPR and CEO of Etape Suisse

Detox for Life: The 28 Day Detox Diet and Beyond by Carol Vorderman

I was really quite ill with endometriosis, and just overdoing it in most areas of my life. At the time, I was in Boston and it was so cold. I was so ill and traveling on the subway, and I thought I drastically needed to change something, so I decided to try something radical. It was a while ago and detoxing was quite new, but I was recommended this book. I read it twice first; you need to, so you can manage the food each day and the preparation. You need to eat what you are told and in the correct order. Lastly, you need to practice affirmations, body scrubbing and salt baths daily.  It’s a full body and mind change.  I felt unbelievable. I do all this and more now. I am gluten-free and I exercise 12 hours a week. I still drink coffee and have treats, but it changed my whole outlook. I learnt that you can completely change your eating and life habits, it just takes real commitment.

Louise Parker, founder of Louise Parker Worldwide Weightloss programmes

Living On The Seabed by Lindsay Nicholson

Living on the Seabed is a story of grief and bravery and survival, and essential for anyone struggling with grief or seeking a life of gratitude. Gratitude, I feel, is the key to happiness and whilst it took me months to read, I see life in a totally different light as a result. Lindsay is one of the most inspiring women I know.


Read More:

13 surprising things you can do right now to be more successful

8 inspirational books to make you happier

10 tips for being mindful everyday that will change your life

13 mindfulness exercises you can do right now

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