7 Best Books to Help You Find the Meaning of Life

Meaning of life books

What aims should we pursue to live a fulfilling life?

There is no more important topic than the meaning of our lives. Many thinkers, past and present, have grappled with it (Baggini, 2005; & Eagleton, 2007.)

Broadly speaking, the theorists of meaning fall into two camps. Some believe that life has no intrinsic meaning and that we must construct our meanings ourselves. The meaning of life, they argue, is a subjective affair.

Others maintain that there is an absolute meaning to our existence. But they tend to disagree on what that meaning might be. The most cited contenders are happiness and love. Other common suggestions include self-realization, relationships, pleasure, service, and creativity.

The list below includes thinkers from both sides of the argument. I hope you will find it enlightening.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free . These creative, science-based exercises will help you learn more about your values, motivations, and goals and will give you the tools to inspire a sense of meaning in the lives of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

1. man’s search for meaning – viktor frankl, 2. of human freedom – epictetus.

  • 3. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living – Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler 

4. The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris

5. aristotle’s way: how ancient wisdom can change your life – edith hall, 6. the power of now: a guide to spiritual enlightenment – eckhart tolle, 7. altruism: the science and psychology of kindness – matthieu ricard, a take-home message.

Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl argues that our primary task in life is to furnish it with meaning, whatever form this may take. We must find meaning even in our suffering, he writes, for otherwise we are lost.

In the autobiographical section of his deeply moving book, Frankl relates that those who managed to stay in touch with what made their lives meaningful in the Nazi extermination camps were more likely to survive. Their personal meanings took many different forms. It could be a strong desire to return to a beloved person, complete a creative or intellectual project, or simply the strong wish to help others.

If there is a potent “why” that drives us, Frankl declares, paraphrasing Nietzsche, we can tolerate almost any “how.”

Frankl believes that we can discover the meaning of life in three main areas: “(1) by doing a deed or creating a work; (2) by encountering someone or experiencing something; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” (Frankl 2004, p. 115).

The meaning of our lives can be creativity in the broad sense of the word. This includes creative works but also merely making something, learning something, or being productive. Meaning can also be found in the experience of love and the appreciation of beauty, excellence, culture, and nature.

Crucially, Frankl (2004, p. 115) argues that meaning has to be located outside ourselves. It has to be discovered in the world rather than in our own psyches. “ Being human ,” he writes, “ always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. ”

Frankl’s existentialist approach , then, invites us to let go of our obsession with ourselves and of values such as self-realization, self-improvement, and happiness. Instead, he urges us to focus on meanings that lie outside the boundaries of our own psyches.

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Of Human Freedom

All suffering, he holds, is in our minds. It is not caused by external events but by our reactions to those events – by our faulty judgments and unrealistic expectations.

Because most external events are beyond our control, Epictetus believed that it is pointless to worry about them. But our evaluations of these events, by contrast, are entirely within our control. It follows that we should not attach significance to any external phenomena or circumstance. Instead, all our mental energies should be directed inward, with a view to controlling our minds.

Epictetus believed that we should rationally evaluate our cognitions at all times and simply reason ourselves out of upsetting emotional states. He suggested installing a rational fact-checker in our heads, whose task it is to keep our mental state balanced and calm. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Stoic thought is the ancient precursor of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Epictetus’s essay Of Human Freedom is a beautiful and concise introduction to Stoic wisdom. He writes about “ Concerning what is in our power and what is not ,” “ How a person can preserve their proper character in any situation ,” “ On satisfaction ,” and “ How we should struggle with circumstance .” He reminds us that “ Every circumstance represents an opportunity .”

The more we value things beyond our control, the less control we have. Freedom is, therefore, “ not achieved by satisfying desire but by eliminating it ” (Epictetus, 2010, p. 81). Life is suffering; bad things will happen, Epictetus asserts.

When they do, we can use our bad luck to test our resolve and strengthen our resilience. “ So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material ” (Epictetus, 2010, p. 14).

The Stoics’ ultimate aim is control. They want to be the masters in their own house so that they become completely invincible to the many blows that fortune has in store for us. Essentially, they pursue a radical kind of inner freedom that grants full autonomy from external events. Honing a Stoic mindset, they believe, is our most noble purpose in life. The prize is inner peace.

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3. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living – Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

The Art of Happiness

In this book, he presents Buddhist thought as a comprehensive framework for ethical self-improvement.

Through effort and practice, and by adopting basic Buddhist assumptions about the world, the Dalai Lama believes we can cultivate happiness, wellbeing, and compassion.

Cutler supplements the Dalai Lama’s ancient wisdom with anecdotes from his psychiatric practice, as well as with neuroscientific arguments about brain plasticity . This combination of modern science and ancient thought is powerful.

Buddhism, Cutler and the Dalai Lama argue, offers an effective psychological, philosophical, and spiritual framework for transforming the self, above all through practicing compassion. In fact, the Dalai Lama declares kindness the very essence of his religion.

However, Buddhist happiness also entails a critical cognitive dimension. To achieve true happiness, we have to embrace the insight that our notion of a permanent and separate self is an illusion and that this very notion is the cause for much of our suffering.

Penguin lecture 2011 – the art of happiness – Dalai Lama

The Happiness Trap

His international bestseller, The Happiness Trap,  is based on the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Unlike the Stoics and CBT, ACT does not encourage us rationally to challenge our negative thoughts and feelings. Instead, it asks us simply to recognize and accept them, and then to let them go.

Together with present-moment awareness, value-based living, and taking committed action, ACT suggests acceptance as the healthy alternative to counterproductive attempts to control our unproductive thoughts.

Our default mode is not happy, Harris argues. We should simply accept this fact rather than wasting all our energy on fighting it.

Evolution has shaped our brains in such a way that we are now hardwired to suffer psychologically. For millennia, our minds have been trained to predict, detect, and avoid danger. The better we were at that task, the more likely we were to survive.

As a result, our minds are now constantly on alert, assessing and judging everything we encounter. But what used to be a crucial survival skill in the age of the saber-toothed tiger has turned into a curse in the social media age.

Now, we simply cannot stop comparing, evaluating, and criticizing ourselves, focusing on what we lack, growing dissatisfied with what we possess, and imagining “ all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never happen ” (Harris, 2008, p. 5). What makes matters even worse is that our naturally edgy and slightly anxious state of mind has been pathologized in our feel-good society.

We are not just naturally unhappy, but also constantly made to feel guilty about it, which makes matters worse. Harris (2008) argues that we have far less control over our thoughts and feelings than we like to think. The idea that we can cure ourselves by controlling our unwanted thoughts is simply an illusion.

Willpower is a limited resource, and it is much better to manage our condition than to expend all our energy on trying to avoid or change bad thoughts. Instead, we should simply observe and accept them and then try to let them go. We can then invest our energies in what truly matters: leading a value-based life and taking committed action.

Aristotle’s Way

Our primary function as human beings, Aristotle believed, is rational activity in accordance with virtue. Aristotelian happiness, then, is inextricably linked to repeated virtuous action.

To realize our potential, we have to work on our behavior and emotional responses to become the best versions of ourselves. Aristotle strongly believed that we can train ourselves to be good by strengthening our virtues and controlling our vices.

A happy state of mind, he wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics , comes “ from habitually doing the right thing ” (Hall, 2018, p. 7). Aristotle, then, already knew about the vital power of habit. Rather than teaching and intellectual understanding, he considered habituation as the primary route to moral virtue.

In Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life (2018), the classical scholar Edith Hall presents a charming and robust case for the relevance of Aristotle’s virtue ethics as a timeless self-help framework. It can also function as a powerful guide to the meaning of life.

Hall highlights that Aristotle’s idea of the good life ( eudaimonia ) emphasizes our moral responsibility for our actions. We have to actively “do” eudaimonia, because “f or Aristotle, happiness is activity ” (Hall, 2018, p. 26).

The Power of Now

But truly being present is far from a simple matter. The key to living in the present, Tolle writes, is to stop identifying with our minds and the stream of involuntary and incessant thinking we tend to take as our personal essence.

Instead, we have to practice adopting the position of a disinterested observer, watching our minds chatter away, but without taking the chatter too seriously.

Our true essence, then, is not to be found in our shifting emotions or compulsive thinking, but in what lies behind it. Like the Buddhists, Tolle believes that our very notion of self is an illusion, a fiction of the mind that we need to let go. We need to learn to witness our thought patterns rather than identify with them.

Most of our thoughts and emotions revolve around the past or our future. Our past furnishes us with an identity and narratives of cause and effect. Our future, in turn, “ holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form ” (Tolle, 1999, p. 40). But both are illusions.

We need to practice withdrawing our attention from the past and the future and instead be present as “watchers” of our minds. Watching is all we need to do, and it includes refraining from analyzing and judging.

Tolle (1999) writes that the present moment is all we ever have. The now is not only the most precious thing there is, but it is also the only thing there is. “ Give attention to the present ,” he urges, “ give attention to your behavior, to your reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears, and desires as they occur in the present ” (Tolle, 1999, p. 75). Tolle sees this exclusive focus on the present as the royal road to our salvation.

As he puts it:

True salvation is a state of freedom – from fear, from suffering, from a perceived state of lack and insufficiency and therefore from all wanting, needing, grasping, and clinging. It is freedom from compulsive thinking, from negativity, and above all from past and future as a psychological need (Tolle, 1999, p. 122).

There is nothing we can ever do or attain, Tolle writes, that will get us closer to salvation than this moment. By freeing ourselves from our enslavement to our minds, we can radically transform our consciousness. And this radical transformation of consciousness is precisely what is needed to save not only ourselves but also humanity at large and our planet.

Altruism: The Science and Psychology of Kindness

He believes that the meaning of our lives is to practice altruism.

Altruism is the desire to ensure the good of others and to care for them in a benevolent way. Its Christian form (agape) is unconditional love for everyone – for ourselves, our neighbors, and our enemies. But Buddhists go even further, wishing for the happiness of all sentient beings.

In Altruism: The Science and Psychology of Kindness , Ricard (2015) argues that the wider our circle of care is extended and the more unconditional and inclusive it becomes, the more genuine our altruism is.

We all have a biological tendency to care for the wellbeing of our children, our relatives, and the people who are kind to us. But we must cultivate the art of extending our altruism much further. “ The quality and validity of an ethic increases with its degree of universality, ” Ricard writes (2015, p. 154).

In most religions, altruism is the highest moral and spiritual value. Ricard presents altruism as the solution to all our problems – social, economic, and environmental. Altruism, he writes, “ is the Ariadne’s thread allowing us to connect harmoniously the challenges of the economy in the short term, quality of life in the mean term, and our future environment in the long term ” (Ricard, 2015, p. 691).

Buddhist altruism has two faces: loving-kindness and compassion. Buddhists desire not only that all beings find happiness, but also that they understand the causes of that happiness as well as those causes of suffering. There is, then, an important insight-oriented dimension to Buddhist altruism. In other words, it is not just a matter of the heart, but also a matter of our rational brains.

Furthermore, as numerous psychologists have shown, engaging in altruistic acts not only makes others happier; it also makes the one performing the act happier. It is, then, an ancient win–win behavior.

You will no doubt have noticed that some of the ideas on what constitutes the meaning of life explored above are in contradiction. Some, such as Epictetus and Tolle, argue that we can find meaning inside our selves, by shoring up our defenses against the blows of fortune and by being present.

Frankl, Aristotle, Harris, and Ricard, by contrast, argue that meaning has to be located outside our own psyches. We need to do valuable deeds, they maintain, and engage in meaningful and virtuous interactions with others. The Dalai Lama and Ricard propose that our purpose in life is practicing kindness and altruism. Aristotle and Epictetus favor virtuous self-cultivation. All of them present persuasive cases.

The lesson from all of this is both banal and profound. Meaning is subjective. It cannot be imposed. It has to be discovered or created. There is no one-size-fits-all meaning we can simply adopt.

Some prescriptions and suggestions may resonate with us; others won’t. But I fully agree with Frankl that there is no more pressing task than to start the work of identifying what makes life meaningful for us. And when we know what is most meaningful to us, we must ensure that our lives are dedicated to serving these meanings and that we create the best possible conditions for realizing them.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free .

  • Baggini, J. (2005). What’s it all about? Philosophy and the meaning of life. Oxford University Press.
  • Dalai Lama & Cutler, H. C. (2009). The art of happiness: A handbook for living. Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Eagleton, T. (2007). The meaning of life: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.
  • Epictetus & Dobbin, R. (Trans.) (2010). Of human freedom. Penguin.
  • Frankl, V. E. (1946, 2004). Man’s search for meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust. Rider.
  • Hall, E. (2018). Aristotle’s way: How ancient wisdom can transform your life. Bodley Head.
  • Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap. Based on ACT: A revolutionary mindfulness-based programme for overcoming stress, anxiety, and depression. Robinson.
  • Ricard, M. (2015).  Altruism: The power of compassion to change yourself and the world. Little, Brown and Company.
  • Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Hodder & Stoughton.

what is life books

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What our readers think.

Joyce Fletcher

Wonderfully helpful. Thank you for these tips 🙏 ❤

Kate Walker

There is nothing more transformative then a relationship with Jesus. Why leave Him out A discussion without His input is lifeless. I respect the other authors you included but my Soul was not engaged.

Shawn Goldman

Thanks for this great list, but why no books from a Christian perspective? Christianity has been the most influential meaning making system of Western culture. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and the writings of the Philokalia challenge and encourage us to make meaning in our lives. Oh, the Gospels too.


Thank you for the list. My son is in a battle with depression, desperately searching for meaning or a higher purpose.

Gloria Ives

Thank you so much for this list and summary of the various philosophies on meaning. I have some new books now to read

Henry Chang

Great books. Would like to keep a set for my office and library so that more people could share the brilliance of the authors.

SHIMI Mohamed

How about adding Islam it gives us a meaning of life we are not here only for happiness WE are here for test


Nice list of great books. I have read most of them.

You can include the Holy Bible to the list. Many people including myself found the meaning of life through that great book.

Uli Hudak

How about adding the Bible to your list of books to find meaning to life?


Ahahahahaahaha hahahahaaha joke of the year 😀 Hahaha that was super funny! 😀


You won’t be laughing hysterically when you stand before Him, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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What Is Life?

Lynn margulis , dorion sagan , niles eldredge  ( foreword ).

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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What Is Life? Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: What Is Life? compresses a series of lectures given by the notorious physicist Erwin Schrödinger, and is a compelling research on how science, especially biology, chemistry and physics account for the ongoing process that the human body undertakes to simply exist and live .

Favorite quote from the author:

What Is Life? Summary

Life is a miraculous thing. Throughout history, many scientists, religious leaders, and essentially all humans have tried to come up with logical reasoning to explain it. Fast forward to the current days, people are still debating its origins and evolution in time, yet we’ve discovered a few key aspects about it that can help us conduct the research forward. 

However, once in a while, a genius like Erwin Schröedinger comes up with something remarkable and sheds some light on some of humanity’s biggest questions. His comprehensive lectures on how our mind , matter, and consciousness are interconnected are now summed up under What is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger which offers valuable insights on the scientific side of life. 

Here are my three favorite lessons from the book:

  • Atoms behave in a disorderly way until they bond and form special connections.
  • The human species evolved by making infrequent leaps forward and mutating itself.
  • Consciousness is the most elevated mechanism humans have, and it functions in a remarkable way. 

Although these lessons don’t make much sense now, as we dive deeper into them they’ll become more clear and reveal quite interesting insights. Here we go!

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Lesson 1: Atoms define our world, and they function in a remarkable way.

Everybody’s heard about atoms. But what are they, really? Essentially, they’re the tiniest part of any surrounding thing you can get your eyes on, and the way they function isn’t anything short of outstanding. Just think about it: everything you are, you touch or see, is made of atoms. They don’t have much relevance if you take them one by one, but together they form our world . 

Although they don’t really follow an orderly way of functioning, nor any physical laws alone, once they get together in little clusters or molecules, they change their behaviour according to statistical law. In other words, they start following rules and change their orientation as a group. Their group defines what form they’ll take and what is their purpose.

To influence the overall behavior of organisms and follow a specific direction as an average, atoms must form huge groups. Still, tiny groups can have a significant influence. The most relevant example is a group of just a few million atoms forming a gene, which in turn is a part of a chromosome. 

Genes play a role of utmost importance in your life , as they determine your development from the stage of a fertilized egg to maturity. Moreover, genes provide the blueprint and design of your entire being, along with practical implementation. This whole process happens at a microscopic level, but it affects your entire life – that’s how remarkable and important atoms are!

Lesson 2: Our evolution in time is based on quantum jumps that mutate the body in a positive way.

Charles Darwin promoted a large misconception about evolution . He stated that organisms develop in time by smooth, small changes that occur in a continuous and accidental way. Unfortunately, this theory proved to be wrong. In fact, evolution takes place in a much different way.

Discontinuous changes, also called mutations, are responsible for the evolution of organisms. So how does it all happen? Consider the scientific premise that small systems can only possess a certain amount of energy. To grow their energy levels and thus evolve into a better version, the system must take a huge leap forward or a “quantum” leap.

In this process, there’s no intermediary changes, nor a continuous and undergoing development, as Darwin concluded. Instead, these changes occur almost accidentally, and very rarely. What’s fascinating about this process is its close resemblance with the quantum theory, which states that atoms attach to each other to form molecules and they form specific configurations. 

To break their pattern and form new configurations, they must be brought to a new temperature, and even so, it can take up to thousands of years for a molecule to do such a jump, just like in the process of human evolution. As such, the time scale between the quantum theory of molecules and human evolution is the same. Our genes take those infrequent quantum jumps as frequently as molecules do to change their configurations. How fascinating!

Lesson 3: Consciousness is a remarkable trait of humans and it functions separately from sensations.

Consciousness is a trait only humans possess among all living organisms. It separates us from animals and it elevates our organisms significantly. This outstanding mental mechanism helps us survive by producing responses to a large variety of situations and behaviours to match them, according to Schroedinger. 

Of course, involuntary processes like breathing, blinking, or routine processes like brushing your teeth are not the responsibility of your active side of the brain . As such, a behavior is considered conscious only if an external force acts upon you and makes you change that behavior. Seems complicated? Let’s make it easier! Think about walking on the street. You don’t actively think about how to do it, but if suddenly an obstacle pops up, you’re looking for ways to avoid it. That’s active thinking! 

Understanding consciousness brings us one step closer to understanding evolution. Humans evolved because they were interacting with each other and their environments, thus training their minds and elevating their consciousness. Nowadays, the things we learn from an early age weren’t even heard of even tens of years back. To advance as a species, humanity’s consciousness must always evolve.

What Is Life? Review

What is Life? explores the idea of life from a scientific point of view and presents an easy-to-follow perspective on human evolution. By merging years of research with some aspects from Darwin’s theory, quantum physics , and his famous lectures, Erwin Schroedinger manages to conduct thorough research on this intriguing subject. Reading this book will widen your perspective on life overall, how the brain works, why atoms are spectacular in the way they function, quantum theory, and many other fascinating aspects.

Who would I recommend our What Is Life? summary to?

The 30-year-old scientist who is fascinated by quantum physics, the 35-year-old person who is curious about the world and has a passion for science, or the 65-year-old retired person who wants to learn about the fascinating aspects of life from a scientific point of view and has the time for it.

Last Updated on May 19, 2023

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While working with my friend Ovi's company SocialBee, I had the good fortune of Maria writing over 200 summaries for us over the course of 18 months. Maria is a professional SEO copywriter, content writer, and social media marketing specialist. When she's not writing or learning more about marketing, she loves to dance and travel all over the world.

*Four Minute Books participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising commissions by linking to Amazon. We also participate in other affiliate programs, such as Blinkist, MindValley, Audible, Audiobooks, Reading.FM, and others. Our referral links allow us to earn commissions (at no extra cost to you) and keep the site running. Thank you for your support.

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Living Books: Definition and Examples

by Yen Cabag

Living Books Definition Header

Homeschooling offers families more flexibility in the way that children can study and learn. Whereas the traditional picture of schooling makes use of textbooks and workbooks, the Charlotte Mason method is one educational philosophy that uses living books instead. 

But what is the Charlotte Mason (CM) method, anyway? In this post, we hope to give you an overview of this philosophy, as well as the term she coined, “living books.” 

The Charlotte Mason Method

Charlotte Mason was a British educator-reformer who lived during the late 1800s. She set up a training school for equipping governesses and other people working with children by using the principles she established from her years of educating children. 

One of her main principles is that children have minds that are capable of understanding excellently-written literature. This is in contradiction to the popular view that children need their school lessons diluted down from the original language of the classic books. 

With this foundation, the Charlotte Mason method uses rich literature, or “living books,” in place of the dry facts found in textbooks, or the “dumbed-down” version of books written down to children. 

What Is a Living Book? 

A living book is a book written by a passionate and undisputed expert on a subject. It is usually written in a narrative style, thus engaging the reader’s imagination. 

A good example of living books would be classic books . Many of these books were originally written for children, but over the years, we have come to think of them as “hard” books that are for adults. In fact, that is why many of these classics have been adapted for younger readers. 

But Charlotte Mason’s emphasis on the child’s capacity means that homeschooling in the CM method includes using unabridged versions of many classic works, as these original writings are considered living books, containing many details that stir up the imagination, which the retellings often lose. 

We differentiate living books from the following: 

  • Textbooks: These are usually written by an assigned person, or group of persons, with the goal of getting the child to memorize facts in order to pass a test. 
  • Twaddle: This is the term that Charlotte Mason coined to refer to books that are dumbed down for children. 

In using living books, the child educated in the CM way will read a passage and then narrate, or tell back, what they have read. This method ensures that the child pays full attention to a single reading, and their narrating back is considered the way of assimilating the information. 

Because living books contain lots of details to awaken the student’s imagination, it is not uncommon for children educated in this way to remember the scenes months or years after they read a given book. 

Examples of History and Geography Living Books

To give you a better picture of living books and their role in a Charlotte Mason homeschool, here are some books that you can use for history and geography: 

1. A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer 

Learning about the history of the world becomes fun with this history text written in a conversational style. But don’t think that it’s any silly story book: Hillyer effectively weaves the events of history into a captivating tale that makes it come alive for any child.  

2. On the Shores of the Great Sea by M.B. Synge

In this first book in The Story of the World series, you can learn about the early civilizations that cropped up around the Mediterranean Sea. Synge traces history from the time of Abraham all the way to the birth of Christ, giving brief histories of the many people groups during this timeframe. 

Examples of Science Living Books 

For science, the Charlotte Mason method also uses living books, alongside a strong emphasis on nature study. Here are some examples of the best living books for teaching science: 

3. The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess 

Read all about the habits and behavior of birds in this wonderfully written book. Burgess is a master storyteller and shows us just how different kinds of birds survive and thrive in this world, through an enchanting series of stories for each bird. 

4. The Story Book of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre

This classic book is written by French naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre, and tells a story of a couple of children learning important principles in science from their uncle. The narrative style makes it a very engaging read while teaching children crucial concepts to form their foundation of science learning. 

Examples of Living Books for Language Arts 

For language arts, the Charlotte Mason method uses high-quality literature. Some examples include: 

5. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 

This story tells about a group of animals trying to help their friend, Toad, through his reckless driving adventures and the eventual takeover of Toad Hall. The book is full of adventure and covers important themes like morality, camaraderie, and bravery, making it a favorite for children across generations. 

6. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling 

This collection of stories of the fantastical origin of everyday things is an entertaining read for young children, and also helps them to build strong language and vocabulary skills. Rudyard Kipling is an expert at creating long, but very engaging, stories that children love listening to or reading. 

Using Living Books in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool 

Living books is an important foundation for a Charlotte Mason homeschool. If you are interested in learning more about homeschooling, you can check out our guide to homeschool curricula .

Then, start to stock up on living books so you and your child can start enjoying these outstanding books together. 

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

  • Homeschool Curricula: The Best Resources for Successful Learning
  • How to Homeschool: 10 Steps to Successful Homeschooling
  • How to Determine Reading Level and Find the Right Books for Your Child
  • 29 Quotes About Reading Every Bookworm Can Relate To

Yen Cabag

Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.

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Thurston Moore disappears into the cool noise of his memoir

The era-defining sonic youth frontman recalls a life in rock-and-roll.

what is life books

Before social media made everyone needy and uncool, there used to be this thing called mystique — and you could often find it radiating from this other thing called rock-and-roll. In his 1970s suburban Connecticut adolescence, Thurston Moore became obsessed with both, studying his Stooges and Captain Beefheart records, trying to learn the ways in which shy weirdos transformed themselves into heroic mystery-freaks, until he eventually pulled the whole trick off himself, co-founding one of the coolest bands to ever exist.

Sonic Youth isn’t the most unknowable entity in the greater constellation of rock stars. The band didn’t swap identities like David Bowie or live inside a purple fog like Prince. But everything mysterious about Moore’s era-defining group remains so, within the pages of his recent memoir, “ Sonic Life. ” The book is overflowing with eye- and ear-witnessed thrills. But when it comes to the internal stuff — disappointments, regrets, failure, grief — Moore tends to vanish in a puff of smoke. Even on the book’s cover, he’s hiding beneath his signature blond shag and a spritz of cartoon lightning bolts.

At first, “Sonic Life” is a tale about a young fan’s mind getting blown so many times that his participation in the grand mystery of rock-and-roll becomes a foregone conclusion. Venturing into the New York shadows at every opportunity, Moore recounts getting his molecular structure routinely rearranged by live performances from Blondie, the Ramones, Television, Talking Heads and especially Patti Smith, his hero and lodestar. Even back then, Moore says, he knew he’d infiltrated “an exclusive space, experiencing the greatest music being made in the Western world.” He remembers the assaultive synth-and-vocals duo Suicide as “horror movie noise and Beach Boys melodies channeled through nightmares,” and the punky sex-kitsch of the Cramps as “trash action.”

The lyricism of his recollections shouldn’t surprise anyone. Check out how he describes the city itself: “At the tip of Manhattan, where the island narrows to a pointed spear, the streets lose their manicured grid and smash into one another, overlapping into madness.” Lovely. But also, sad. With only those traffic patterns surviving today, Moore’s nightlife testimony becomes a memorial to the lost petri dish of a downtown scene that made Sonic Youth possible.

Moore’s knack for being in the right places at the right times extended into the 1980s after he finally met bassist-guitarist Kim Gordon and formed Sonic Youth, a band that quickly came to represent a convergence of no-wave noise, hardcore punk and high art. In 1986, the band signed to the legendary West Coast punk label SST Records, then in 1990 made the major label leap to DGC, by which time they’d become a portal between the underground and the mainstream through which all cool things must pass.

But even as Sonic Youth caught the public’s ear, Moore remained preoccupied by neighboring frequencies. After attending his first Nirvana gig at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J., circa 1989, Moore was an especially overwhelmed portal attendant, convinced he’d just seen “the seeds of the coming decade. It was going to be more than just cheap thrills, offering instead a radical reconsideration of musical expression at large. … That movement’s progressive, troubled spirit would largely reside behind the glassy blue eyes of Kurt Cobain, anointed as if by some lost angel, an artist destined to shine, scorched and exquisite, if only for a fleeting moment.”

Does Moore understand Nirvana better than he understands Sonic Youth? He rarely touches on his own band’s social impact or spiritual meaning — but he is willing to explain its creative mechanics, describing a “sonic democracy” in which “the only method was to listen, feel, reveal, and refine.” He knows how great it all sounded, too, capturing the generational resonance of his clanging guitar strings in two perfect words: “electric bells.”

What emerges beneath the noise, though, might be a picture of loneliness — something hinted at early in the action when Moore describes landing a vinyl copy of the Stooges debut album: “It would become my best friend.” Moore’s decades-long bandmates Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley hardly appear in these pages. He describes his partnership with Gordon in more detail, but without effusion. The most memorable thing about the couple’s wedding day is the fact that Moore wore a T-shirt for the Maryland hardcore band Void.

The only Lou Reed bio you need to read

Is that mystique? Or obfuscation? Every Sonic Youth fan knows how the band fell apart in 2011 after Moore’s affair with book editor Eva Prinz destroyed his marriage to Gordon. Near the end of “Sonic Life,” Moore finally addresses the fallout as if reciting a statement drafted by his lawyer: “The circumstances that led me to a place where I would even consider such an extreme and difficult decision — to leave my marriage to Kim, my partner and bandmate of almost thirty years, the mother of our child, the adored aunt to my nieces and nephews — are intensely personal, and I would never capitalize on them publicly, here or anywhere.”

Earlier, he writes, “Kim and I were aware of how our marriage positioned us as parental figures of a sort to some of the younger musicians we met” — not to mention the entirety of Sonic Youth’s young fan base. These two were among the most iconic couples in rock history, leading an important band that everyone assumed would last forever. Moore knows all of this, right? He must. But if he really is hiding out in the pages of his own memoir, let’s hope it’s not to protect our collective ideas about the sanctity of his art. Very much unlike rock bands, art scenes, friendships, marriages or life itself, the music of Sonic Youth remains indestructible.

Chris Richards is The Washington Post’s popular music critic.

By Thurston Moore

Doubleday. 472 pp. $35

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What We Learn from the Lives of Critics

By Parul Sehgal

A person laying down by a large window with piles of books.

In the annals of literary revenge, critics come in for as much bludgeoning as you might assume, and, somehow, still less than we might deserve. John Updike , notably, had his fictional alter ego, the writer Henry Bech, bring all his imagination to bear as he serially dispatched his harshest critics (“satanic legions deserving only annihilation”). In a blunter mode, the romance novelist Jilly Cooper once named an incontinent goat for a reviewer who had savaged her work.

But, to see the job done properly, call in a critic. In the novel “ Max Jamison ” (1970), which was lauded in its time and is now cruelly out of print, the critic Wilfrid Sheed paints a merciless picture of his profession. Max, a film and theatre reviewer, tramps up and down Broadway excreting opinion, as contractually obliged, and hating himself for it. He is honorable, in his way. He refuses to pander, to flatter the powerful, to build a brand. He chokes on his own stock phrases. He cannot stop reviewing himself or his surroundings. His wife begs him not to grade their lovemaking. No inventive punishments prove necessary for Max—not when he is condemned to cart around his own curdled consciousness day after day. His punishment is being Max Jamison; his punishment is life itself.

“ Life Itself ” is the title of the 2011 memoir by an actual film critic, Roger Ebert, and though it’s a supernaturally sunny account of the gig, Ebert allows that there is something “unnatural” about spending his days the way he does. “Man has rehearsed for hundreds of thousands of years to learn a certain sense of time,” he writes. “He gets up in the morning and the hours wheel in their ancient order across the sky until it grows dark again and he goes to sleep. A movie critic gets up in the morning and in two hours it is dark again, and the passage of time is fractured by editing and dissolves and flashbacks and jump cuts. ‘Get a life,’ they say.”

Read our reviews of notable new fiction and nonfiction, updated every Wednesday.

what is life books

But what is that life in the dark? Out of what soil spring these beings who absorb art and photosynthesize it into pronouncements, or, worse, into principles . (Max Jamison: “Upholding standards like a minor customs official, while genius slips quietly by. Vulgar, sleazy old genius, that knows no standards.”) “Ruderal,” from the Latin for “rubble,” is what botanists call the plants that crop up in disturbed areas, in-between places, cracks and fissures. A genre builds; we can trace the life cycles of these in-between organisms. There are recent memoirs by the critics Margo Jefferson, Darryl Pinckney , and Janet Malcolm, along with accounts by the wives and children of critics, biographies of Elizabeth Hardwick , Gene Siskel, and Roger Ebert , remembrances of George Steiner . A cottage industry of books collates the lives, loves, and slights of Susan Sontag .

Such stories are spun out of deskbound lives, lives spent immured in one’s mind, one’s room. The critic vanishes into a book, and then steals furtive glances out the window, testing one reality against another. From my own window, I can see the ginkgo trees crisping, going gold. Winter is coming for criticism, too, we’re regularly told, with warnings about its eclipse trailed by hectoring about the role of the critic (by the critic), about the need for her wisdom and authority. The warnings aren’t new. Here’s Mary McCarthy, commissioned by The Nation to take on the critical establishment in “Our Critics, Right or Wrong,” a 1935 series. Here’s Elizabeth Hardwick’s 1959 essay for Harper’s on the decline of book reviewing. There have been others; there will be more.

Let’s sidestep such impulses as we do the noisome ginkgo berries that litter the sidewalks. Let’s poke around in these ruderal lives. What primes someone for this work? What comes of being in such close contact with one’s own consciousness—one’s own taste, limitations, deprivations? Not just a life of the mind but a life in the mind, perpetually observing one’s own responses. Margo Jefferson, in her memoir “ Constructing a Nervous System ,” calls this observing self Monster, and makes it a character. Monster mocks, Monster annotates, Monster will not be appeased.

In this particular mind, my mind, there’s the furry feeling of encroaching fever. I haul off to bed, taking with me eighty-three books. All the lives of critics I can ransack from my shelves—memoirs, manifestos, letters, biographies—and whatever new volumes I’ve cadged from publishers. I take with me food critics, theatre critics, candid widows, disabused daughters, and the masthead of Partisan Review . I take the baby, also feverish, who naps, cheek squashed upon a fat and splendid collection of Kenneth Tynan’s theatre reviews, 1951-59. A colleague, a film reviewer, learns that I mean to write about the lives of critics, and e-mails: “It will be good to find out about critics who have lives.”

Who was the real Max Jamison? Speculation abounded. Was it Pauline Kael ? Was it Richard Gilman—who is the subject of a recent account, “ The Critic’s Daughter ,” by his eldest child, the writer Priscilla Gilman? Was it Anatole Broyard, a longtime Times book reviewer, a friend of Gilman’s, and himself the subject of a book by his daughter Bliss, “ One Drop ”? No, Sheed insisted, it wasn’t even himself. Max was meant to be the very essence of a critic.

My bedroom window overlooks the neighbor’s garden and, across it, a stretch of row houses. Now, in the early evening, lights flick on in various rooms, and I imagine them inhabited by the writers whose books lie scattered on my bed. V. S. Pritchett, in the aerie, is writing on a plank of wood on his lap. Sontag, one floor below, is flying on Dexedrine; her son is—as she once described—lighting and feeding her cigarette after cigarette so she never needs to lift her hands from the typewriter. In another frenzy, in another study, Pauline Kael is filling up her legal pads, wearing a rubber thimble, as she did, on the tip of her thumb. Lucy Sante and Darryl Pinckney, in the living room, riffle through vinyl records; Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy sit down for tea, his spiked with gin. Vivian Gornick laces up her walking shoes. Randall Jarrell calls to his wife—in a detail from Mary von Schrader Jarrell’s memoir of their marriage—that he needs her now , he has something she simply must see. “You’ll be glad you came,” he promises. It is a lettuce leaf, no bigger than a canary feather. “I knew you’d want to see it.” He pops it into his mouth: “It was much too good for this world.” It’s a febrile, sentimental fantasy, this house of critics—interrupted mercifully by the critics themselves, rapping at the glass.

They want out. The books weighing down my bedspread attest that a fair number of these writers would be dismayed to find themselves identified, in any meaningful way, as critics. Few chose the profession; it was as if a sinkhole opened up along their paths to somewhere more interesting and illustrious. Pauline Kael wanted to be a playwright. Margo Jefferson wanted to be a night-club pianist. Writers often turned to criticism to support themselves (those were the days!), because it was the only form of writing they could reliably complete. A startling number wished to be better known for work in other genres. Susan Sontag and Lionel Trilling bemoaned the fact that they weren’t recognized for their novels. “I defeated myself long ago when I rejected the way of chutzpah and mishegoss in favor of reason and diffidence,” Trilling wrote in his journal. Criticism is not a respectable job for “a thinking adult,” according to Renata Adler.

It’s a pity that so many showed the same signs of the unfortunate orientation at a young age. In fact, a Max Jamison composite comes together rather neatly. Here’s roughly what we’re dealing with: A family that’s marginalized in some way. A child, inculcated early in holding herself apart, perhaps nurturing some deeply held feelings of difference, even freakishness, develops a taste for blissful alienation, confirmed by engulfment in art. (Food critics attest to precocious appetite in a more literal fashion. Raymond Sokolov, in the memoir “ Steal the Menu ,” reports that, as an infant, he drank three bottles at every feeding.) Education is likely to be spotty and marked by cheerful hostility to received opinion. Elizabeth Hardwick sat incredulous at exam time, watching her classmates diligently scribbling—she was supposed to tell the professors what she knew they already knew?

For the work itself, there’s a carnal receptivity. (See the titles of Pauline Kael’s collected reviews: “ I Lost It at the Movies ,” “ Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. ” Or Anatole Broyard’s “ Aroused by Books .”) There is a creeping worry about ennui. The best critics maintain sensitivity, avoiding calluses, like a safecracker sanding down his fingertips. (Sontag: “I must begin to risk my sanity, to re-open my nerves.”) Notes from the home front reveal a different story. The superpower of the professional noticer may be a preternatural ability to ignore decisive realities in their own lives: facts, families.

In “One Drop,” Bliss Broyard examines the consequences of her father’s decision to pass as white. In “ Also a Poet ,” Ada Calhoun writes about her father, the late Peter Schjeldahl, this magazine’s longtime art critic, “The main difference is that I’ve been fascinated by him, and he’s often seemed to forget I was there.” Accounts of friendship, like the new book “ Maestros & Monsters ,” by Robert Boyers, the editor of Salmagundi , about his long association with Susan Sontag and George Steiner, sometimes devolve into ledgers of humiliations. But perhaps the greatest tribute to the uses and abuses of critical myopia comes from Gina James, Pauline Kael’s daughter (and assistant, driver, typist). At her mother’s memorial, in 2001, James said, “A lack of introspection, self-awareness, restraint or hesitation gave Pauline a supreme freedom to speak up, to speak her mind, to find her honest voice. She turned her lack of self-awareness into a triumph.”

A fork in the path—where is the critic’s real life found, anyway? In the voice of the reviews: plump and plush, swollen with certainties? Or in the bonier voice of the journals and the diaries, the 3 A.M . voice, full of need, doubt, and self-recrimination, that asks what it has been for, all this work, all these fine distinctions? What fuels that shame-filled secret voice—of self to self, the ceaseless internal chastisements of Max Jamison? What has happened when a life lived for sentences comes to feel like a life sentence?

I look up from my book, a little word-drunk, a little vaporous. The room is suddenly very dark. How much time has passed? The baby is speaking—when did that happen? She has one word and wields it majestically, pointing, in alarm and amazement: This, this . Someone has swept the sidewalk of the ginkgo berries. I have been reading Elizabeth Hardwick’s 1981 story “Back Issues,” in which a woman thumbs through old periodicals at the New York Public Library, admiring and pained—all those reviews, all those forgotten monuments to thought. “More hours of these lives were spent on book reviews than on lovemaking or even on making a living,” she reflects. Hardwick spent a lifetime doing the same—mucking about in other people’s sentences, other people’s minds, squandering herself, she sometimes thought, to parse other people’s desires. I can hear my children’s voices in the next room. The real mark of the life of a critic might be how much of it she is willing to give away.

The critic’s life “is heroic,” Henry James wrote, “for it is immensely vicarious.” V. S. Pritchett preferred the model of “unselfing”—the ability to channel someone else, the quality he most admired in novelists. The word is associated with the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, who encountered this notion in the work of Simone Weil. For Murdoch, unselfing arose from “a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality”:

I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel.

Murdoch holds unselfing to be an antidote for all that narrows us—for solipsism, for tribalism. Art as well as nature enables it: the books heaped on my bed convey something of that desire for self-transcendence, self-forgetfulness. Randall Jarrell writes, in this spirit, of William Carlos Williams, “When you have read ‘Paterson,’ you know for the rest of your life what it is like to be a waterfall.” The forms of Marianne Moore , he saw, “have the lacy, mathematical extravagance of snowflakes, seem as arbitrary as the prohibitions in fairy tales; but they work as those work—disregard them and everything goes to pieces.”

What becomes of our man Max? He trades reviewing for academia and then makes a hasty return; the air feels sluggish anywhere else. When we leave him, he is convinced that he hasn’t written a worthy piece in years, although he has learned that if you hang around for long enough you will be referred to as “our leading drama critic.” But, sometimes, taking his son to a movie, he feels it again—a “wild, dirty joy” he remembers from his own youth. It’s an echo of the initial receptivity that condemned him to this strange life spent beckoning, making that appeal to behold, to take in.

Like my younger daughter, the critic says, with alarm and amazement, This , this . The injunction comes fringed with futility, and pain—how could it not? We strive to escape the self only to be returned to it. The way that our best critics float into the text, reporting from within vast spaces, can be born only from concentrated, claustrophobic thinking and stillness. These irreconcilabilities become the form. To extend the life of a work—a novel, a poem, a play—we feed it our own. ♦

New Yorker Favorites

The killer who got into Harvard .

The contested legacies of Napoleon .

Why 1956 was a radical year in hair dye .

The legends of Lizzie Borden .

The skyscraper that could have toppled over in a windstorm .

The day the dinosaurs died .

Fiction by Amy Tan: “Immortal Heart”

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By Mosab Abu Toha

“The Keep”

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By Teju Cole

Lifebook Online Review

by Liz Hurley

Lifebook Online review

When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. However, this does not influence our evaluations.

This is probably the most comprehensive Lifebook Online review out there.

I'll be taking you through the 6 need-to-knows about Lifebook and sharing my personal experience of completing it. Both the good and the bad .

By the end of this Lifebook review you’ll know what Lifebook online is, what's included, how it works, how much it costs, and much much more.

I can't tell you if Lifebook Online is right for you. That’s something that you need to decide for yourself.

But I can equip you with what you need to know to make that decision. 

Before we get started ..

Lifebook two years on

It's now two years since I took Lifebook and I'm still benefitting from it. In fact, the benefits have accrued. Before Lifebook I felt stretched too thin and unable to relax. Now I'm just effortlessly occupied with things that add value to my life, my family and my community.

And I achieved a dream. I've always wanted to live by the coast. So I left the country and did just that. Now I swim in the sea everyday. This may be a small thing to you, but it was an impossible dream for me before Lifebook.

what is life books

This is a lengthy review, so if you're short on time, here's the highlights:

Quick summary

Learn how to :

  • Become a self directed person with a clear, coherent life vision 
  • Bring awareness to every aspect of your life
  • Free yourself of limiting thoughts and embrace empowering beliefs
  • Set clear goals for every area of your life
  • Identify motivations that will fuel your ambitions and keep you on track
  • Develop plans for achieving what you want with both stretch and challenge built in
  • A holistic, overarching system that develops the whole person, rather than focussing on a single area of your life
  • A structure that promotes compounding progress
  • Examples throughout make it easy to understand and to create your Lifebook — you’re guided through the whole process
  • Strong focus on results, effective and motivating delivery
  • It works (for me at least). I noticed rapid benefits across all areas of my life, especially Emotional life, Intellectual life, and Health.
  • I now have a vision of where I want to be in life and easy to follow and actionable steps to get there
  • Additional support through the Lifebook Community and coaching calls with the founders
  • Not all the categories may apply to you depending on where you are in your life
  • Won’t suit those not prepared to put the work in
  • Would benefit from more stills and/or video footage so it is less of a ‘talking head’ course

The Lifebook binder is no longer provided

Course length : Lifebook Online is a six week program. Each week requires about four hours in total of your undivided attention. 

Cost:   $399 gives you access to the course and lifetime access thereafter. Sign up to a free Lifebook Masterclass here .

Best for : Anyone prepared to dig deep and put in the necessary effort to achieve a rich and fulfilled life – whatever your starting point.

Overall : Lifebook Online provides you with a clear, actionable framework that enables you to live a rich and fulfilling life. It's taught well and the structured nature of the course means it's easy to follow and build your life vision. For me it was worth the money as I noticed lots of improvement. The refund policy allows you to try Lifebook with limited risk, which is also a plus. For maximum results you really need to ‘lean in' to the process, so it's less suited to people who are overly cynical.

Now for my more detailed Lifebook review – I’ll be covering:

  • 6 Lifebook Need to Knows
  • Key takeaways from every Lifebook category lesson
  • What I liked, and thought could be improved
  • Whether Lifebook is unique and possible alternatives
  • Who Lifebook is for and what others have said
  • Verdict- is Lifebook worth it?

Let’s get started with the basics:

Six Lifebook Need to Knows

1.what is lifebook online.

Lifebook Online is a uniquely structured framework that you engage with over six weeks to achieve fulfilment in twelve aspects (or categories) of your life. 

The twelve Lifebook categories are interwoven so that working on one triggers success in the others. This compounds benefits, locks in progress and goes beyond traditional goal setting.

On completion, your unique visions and plans will be enshrined in a keepsake book. 

But don’t panic, it’s not War and Peace. It’s a concise summary of your visions, motivations and strategies for living your best life. Without sacrifice or compromise. Here’s a category page from mine:

Lifebook category page

2.What are the 12 Categories of Lifebook?

The 12 categories of Lifebook

Lifebook online is designed around 12 key aspects of life, or categories. The 12 Lifebook categories are:

  • Health and fitness
  • Intellectual life
  • Emotional life
  • Spiritual life
  • Social life
  • Quality of life
  • Life vision

3.How Does Lifebook Online Work?

The 12 Lifebook Category Lessons are delivered in order and you can only complete two a week. 

Within each category you are guided to answer the same four introspective questions. 

The questions help you let go of limiting ideas and replace them with positive beliefs. You then form an ideal vision, empowering motivations and clear strategies for success within each category. 

Each Lifebook Category Lesson follows a similar format: 

  • A dynamic explanation of why that category matters
  • Anecdotes and examples from lived experience to help you grasp the significance of, and applications for, that category
  • Guidance for answering the four introspective questions 
  • Help completing the category templates so you can establish where you are currently, what’s holding you back, what’ll drive you forward, plus a plan of action

The total time this takes is a minimum of about 4 hours a week:

  • Around 80 minutes for each category video (2x categories =160 minutes)
  • 40 minutes to complete each section of your Lifebook (2x categories = 80 minutes)
  • =240 minutes total (4 hours)

As the course proceeds you will see how success in each category depends on success in the others. 

Jon provides the inspiration and tools to help you work it all out. But ultimately this course is about digging deep, putting in the work and finding the answers inside yourself.

“The magic formula… is unique to you and comes from inside you.”

This short video will give you an idea about what Lifebook is and how it works:

4.What’s Included in Lifebook?

It’s important to know what you’re getting when you enrol in Lifebook – because it’s a lot!

  • A pre and post assessment to gauge your starting point and overall progress.
  • A 60-90 minute video lesson full of wisdom and actionable tips for each category.
  • A framework of introspective questions to help you identify where you are within each category, what you want to achieve and your motivations and plans for getting there.
  • Templates populated with suggestions you can adopt, edit or replace. 
  • Support from your cohort of learners, the global Lifebook community and even a smaller ‘accountability’ group which you can form yourself.
  • Access to live coaching calls from Jon and Missy, as well as access to archived calls.

5. How much does Lifebook Online cost?

The cost for Lifebook Online is $399 up front.

You can claim a refund 15 days from purchase date so that gives you two weeks of lessons to decide if it's right for you. And though all the categories are equally important, they are carefully ordered so that you cover the four most influential and empowering ones in the first two weeks.

If you choose not to take a refund and complete the course, you get lifetime access to Lifebook Online and Lifebook Mastery plus a 30 day free trial of Lifebook Membership which can be cancelled at any time.

And if you think about it, $399 for 20 hours of training works out to only $20 an hour. That’s great value considering a life coach will set you back between $100-$400 an hour.

6.Who are Jon and Missy Butcher and What is Mindvalley?

John and Missy Butcher

“Our purpose is to create the highest possible quality of life we can, for ourselves and the people we love, while helping others around us do the same.”

Jon and Missy Butcher are the founders and instructors of Lifebook.

They’re now successful entrepreneurs but the Lifebook program was born out of Jon’s own struggle with anxiety and depression. 

Over 20 years they’ve honed Lifebook into a powerful goal setting system which has not only provided Jon and Missy with their perfect life, but can be adapted by you to achieve yours.

This short video will give you a glimpse into Jon and Missy’s life and how they achieved it:

Jon and Missy have now partnered with Mindvalley to offer the course on an online platform.

Mindvalley is dedicated to the global provision of transformative learning programs across a range of categories such as:

  • Performance
  • Soul and 
  • Relationships

It has over 10 million students and more than 200 best selling authors and speakers.

Jim Kwik is one of its most popular instructors and you can read our reviews on his Superbrain and Super Reading courses to get an idea of what else is on offer.

If you do decide to go for Lifebook Online, here’s what to expect:

Inside Lifebook Online

The start of LIfebook online

Lifebook currently runs on a weekly basis. 

You join with a cohort of fellow students who you can share your journey with via the Discussion Tab for each lesson.

The Lifebook program takes six weeks to complete and you are limited to completing two categories a week. Likely because:

  • There’s soooo much to think about and process for each category! 
  • Every category needs equal attention because success in one depends on success in the others.
  • You may feel overwhelmed if you try to do too much at once

Lifebook Online Templates and Resources

Alongside the category videos you gain access to:

  • Editable (Windows or Mac) templates and resources for creating your Lifebook
  • The Lifebook community of fellow learners
  • Live coaching calls with Jon and Missy (running twice a year)
  • Archived coaching calls that provide answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources such as podcasts, articles, books, etc.

To give you an idea of what to expect, I’ve provided key takeaways for each Lifebook Online section below:


The introduction is divided into six sections.

After a brief welcome message, you get to take the Lifebook Assessment.

The Lifebook Assessment

This is a great way to begin your Lifebook Journey.

It sets you up for what’s to come and provides a baseline for measuring your progress.

If Lifebook is a map, the Lifebook Assessment is the ‘ You Are Here ’ indicator. Even the best map can’t help you unless you know where you are on it, right?

The assessment measures your current levels of satisfaction in each of the 12 categories.

Some questions are straightforward. Others more challenging. 

It requires a lot of introspection (that’s why it’s called the Intra-Spect Assessment) and you may uncover some limiting beliefs or uncomfortable truths. 

All the questions are formatted using a sliding scale for determining how far you agree or disagree with a statement.

Here’s an example:

Lifebook online assessment

It takes around 20 minutes to complete and the answers are, of course, kept confidential.

At the end, you’ll  be given a Life Quotient score (mine was 84, moderate) – the aim of Lifebook being to increase it.

There are graphical representations of your score in each of the categories to help you identify the one that needs the most work – your category of key focus .

Lifebook online pre-assessment results

Once you’ve chosen your category of key focus, you’ll be told which of the other categories connects most closely to it. That becomes your support category. 

So, my area of key focus was Emotional , for which the support category was Health and Fitness . So to maximize my chances of becoming more emotionally fulfilled, I had to pay special attention to my health and fitness. 

I can’t emphasize enough how useful this is to know before you start the program. It would be easy to become overwhelmed by trying to work on all 12 categories simultaneously.

The Lifebook assessment is a super helpful tool for establishing a baseline, keeping you on track and helping to create the right mindset for what lies ahead.

And what’s more, your report is emailed to you or is downloadable as a PDF so you can include it in your keepsake Lifebook.

The Lifebook warm-up

After the assessment, there are four more activities to take before you begin the weekly lessons.

These include an overview of how Lifebook got started and evolved, as well as how it works.

There’s also a section on FAQs which was invaluable. There were all sorts of questions that it was handy to know the answers to before getting started!

Although the FAQ section is billed as nearly 3 hours long, it’s quick to scroll through the questions and just focus on those that concern or interest you.

In total I spent around 40 minutes on the Introduction – and that included the Assessment. 

And then, I was ready to begin.

I’ve outlined key takeaways from each category below. 

Since you can only take two categories each week, I’ve summarised them on a weekly basis:

Week 1/6: Your Health and Fitness and Your Intellectual Life

Week one opens with a short tutorial of how to get the most of the Lifebook resources (the templates and inspirational materials). 

You're shown how to create a folder on your PC for your Lifebook and work on it whilst watching the videos at the same time. 

It’s a small thing, but I loved the inclusivity behind the thought – after all, not everyone is equally tech savvy.

You then get to take the first category lesson – Health and Fitness.

Lifebook Category 1: Your Health and Fitness

Lifebook Health and Fitness category

Jon starts out by emphasizing the interconnectedness of all the categories. Strength in one category supports success in all the others. So each category is immensely important.

That said, Health and Fitness has consciously been chosen first. And Jon explains why:

“A win here, is a win everywhere, health and fitness is the base, the foundation. It sets the stage for success.”

And it’s relatively simple to identify where you are with this category and where you’d like to be.

But as you may have discovered in the past, even simple, focussed plans to get fit and healthy often falter.

And that’s because the focus is too narrow. 

This video helps you to reimagine your health and fitness from a new perspective. One which is deeply connected to every other aspect of your life.

By building strength in the other categories, alongside this one, you will not just set goals, but lock them in at an unprecedented level. It’s what Jon refers to as a ‘stacking effect’.

Lifebook Category 2: Your Intellectual Life 

Lifebook Intellectual Category

“If you don’t dedicate yourself to a life of continuous learning, there is no question that you’ll be left behind.”

For Jon this is a defining category. As he puts it, ”Our minds are the reason we’ve made it this far as a species. Period.”

By the end of this category you’ll have learned to:

  • Appreciate the importance of devoting time to conscious, mindful thought
  • Understand how what you think about manifests itself in your reality
  • Be far more reflective and attentive
  • Develop strategies for arriving at the truth and differentiating between what works and what doesn’t.

Week one ends with the opportunity to review archived coaching sessions with Jon and Missy in which questions relating to the first two categories are answered.

You can scroll through the questions quickly to the ones that interest you and easily find the answers in the time stamped videos.

There are also links to any resources that are mentioned in the Category videos or coaching sessions. 

This is super helpful for providing support and ideas for completing your Lifebook thoughtfully in week 1.

Week 2/6: Your Emotional Life and Your Character

Lifebook category 3: your emotional life.

Lifebook Emotional Category

“If you have a healthy, open relationship with your emotions… if you treat them as tools of awareness, you’ll have a built in barometer that’s going to help you make good decisions in life.”

Following the Lifebook Assessment, it was obvious that this was my key area of focus. So I paid special attention here.

Unsurprisingly, I found it more challenging than the first two categories. It’s much harder to tackle the four introspective categories in relation to your emotional life. 

Or at least it was for me.

The overall goal here is to connect to your emotions and make them work for you rather than simply react to them.

The key takeaways I gained from this video were that:

  • It is possible to create emotional states that make you happy and limit those that make you sad
  • There are surprisingly simple strategies for making this possible

Jon is brutally honest in this video about his past struggle with crippling anxieties and the lessons he drew from this painful time. 

He’s been deep into this category. Not because he wanted to, but because he had to. 

For him, this is a high leverage category: 

“If you create a serious win in the emotional category you automatically win at life. This may be the only category that works this way.”

WHY? Because if you ask yourself why you truly want anything in life, the answer is always because you think it’ll make you happy.

“Because happiness is the whole aim and end of human existence.” (Aristotle)

Jon’s moving description of his own struggle with his emotional and mental health, together with his sharing of the wisdom gained from this time is tremendously motivating.

It made it possible for me to get through this challenging category and devote some serious and productive introspection to creating this section of my Lifebook.

He ends this section with a reminder that even after Lifebook, Life will hurt sometimes. The secret is to allow yourself to experience the sadness and pain, but also to learn from it. 

Lifebook Category 4: Your Character 

Lifebook Character Category

You won’t be surprised (by now) to read that Jon starts out by highlighting the pivotal importance of this category.

Remember, success in one category automatically generates success in the others. The benefits compound.

What shone out for me was Jon’s discussion of the character trait of self discipline.

Lifebook Character Quote

My category of key focus was Emotional Life. The supporting category for this is Health and Fitness. What has always let me down in terms of getting fit is lack of self discipline. This was clearly something I had to bear in mind when constructing my Lifebook page for this category.

It was during this video that the penny really dropped for me in terms of what Jon means when he says, “ every category exerts a strong gravitational pull on every other.”

Overall in this section you get to:

  • Define the kind of person you need to be to achieve your goals
  • Develop strategies for building these traits into your life
  • Understand that you can mould and develop yourself

Any questions you have about Emotional LIfe and Character are likely to be answered in the archived Coaching Sessions for Week 2.

And there are a huge number of additional links and resources to provide extra support if you need it.

Week 3/6: Your Spiritual Life and Your Love Relationship

Lifebook category 5: your spiritual life.

Lifebook Spiritual Category

“Most people have very fuzzy spiritual beliefs.”

This category opens with Jon discussing: 

  • The difficulties of defining spirituality
  • What he does, and doesn’t, mean by it
  • Your responsibility for bringing consciousness to your beliefs about who you are, and why you’re here
  • The new perspective this will give you on the purpose and meaning of your life
  • The questions you need to ask yourself when defining your vision for this category

This was a tough category for me to think about. It’s not tangible. And it’s hard to disentangle your personal spirituality from the religious and cultural ‘noise’ you’ve picked up along the way.

But put in the effort and, as Jon says, “ it’s going to take you to some interesting places.”

After all, if you don’t dig deep and think about your belief as to why you’re here , then you can’t fulfil your purpose.

“ The 2 most important days of your life are the day you were born — and the day you find out why. ” – Mark Twain

Lifebook Category 6: Your Love Relationship

”Every good, healthy relationship should yield something positive for both people .”

Wherever you are in this category, and whatever your sexual orientation, this lesson helps you get clear about what you want in this area of your life and how you can achieve it.

Even if you have chosen to remain single, you can use the wisdom from this video to redefine your relationship with yourself (which I did):

Lifebook online Love category

Jon sets the context for this category by opening up on his own love relationship with Missy, how it was achieved and the intense commitment that goes into maintaining it.

After this video lesson you’ll understand:

  • The importance of letting go of limiting beliefs for this category
  • How to define the ideal love relationship from a holistic perspective
  • What personality traits you need to work on to get the relationship you want to have
  • How to get clear on your purpose for wanting what you do from a love relationship
  • What you need to do to achieve it

There are lots of actionable tips in this video to help you create and sustain a fulfilled relationship. As well as the questions you need to ask if your relationship is to survive tough times.

“What happens next is up to you. It all starts by finding the courage to ask for what you really want. To dig deep, open up and to bring it to this chapter of your Lifebook.”

This section ends, as usual with archived coaching calls that answer questions in this week’s two categories. There are links to additional resources and even some bonus content.

Week 4/6: Parenting and Social Life

Lifebook category 7: parenting.

Lifebook Online Parenting category

“This category is important because the future of the entire human race depends on at least some of us doing it well.”

This lesson totally enshrines the interconnected and holistic nature of the Lifebook program: to succeed here, you have to be 12 category smart !

Because, as Jon says, you literally are what being human means to your child

During this session you’ll:

  • Create a vision for this category by asking yourself the right questions
  • Arrive at a meaningful purpose for being a great parent, and
  • Identify guiding principles for your parenting strategy

You’ll even get practical guidance on developing specific strategies for individual children and how to get on track when things go awry – which they will.

That said, one drawback here is that this category won’t apply to everybody.

If you have grandchildren, it would be easy to adapt what you learn here. But what if you don’t have children and/or have made a conscious decision not to have them?

I turned to the FAQ section for this week and it turns out to be a question that lots of people have asked.

Jon and Missy’s response was that you can apply the learning to younger people you may influence or even to ‘parenting your parents’.

There was no practical guidance (either in the call or within the community) for doing this. And you might not be in a position to mentor younger people or want (or be able to) parent your parents.

So whilst this is indeed a vitally important category, if it’s not relevant to you, you will need to take this on board before committing to Lifebook.

Lifebook Category 8: Social Life

Lifebook Online Social category

“We’ve got a deep need to share our lives with other people.”

Jon opens this category by reminding us that as social animals, we need interaction with others to flourish.

But he also explains means we sometimes waste valuable energy and time on relationships that are draining and unhealthy.

So in this section you will learn to:

  • Bring consciousness to what you want and need out of your relationships
  • Define the traits you need to cultivate to be the kind of friend you want to have
  • Form a clear rationale as to why you want the things you do from your relationships-in order to provide the fuel you need to make them happen
  • Appreciate how doing this will impact on the other life categories

This was a challenging area for me. 

Being a single parent with a career took up my time. So I welcomed the opportunity to get clear on the values and qualities I want to cultivate in my relationships, and therefore in myself. 

As well as identifying what I did not want to tolerate.

It was also great to be given ‘permission’ to let go of relationships that are holding me back – to develop what Jon refers to as a no jackass policy. It felt ruthless, but at the same time liberating! 

And as this inspiring quote from the Lifebook templates for this category says:

“ Associate yourself with people of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company” – George Washington

Week 5/6: Financial Life and Career

Lifebook category 9: financial life.

“ Money reveals who you are and it allows you to express yourself on a much bigger scale. If you’re a jerk, having money allows you to be a huge jerk. If you’re a kind giving person, money allows you to be that on a much bigger scale. “

I was intrigued to read that many Lifebook students find this to be the most profound category of them all.

I assumed a self awareness program would emphasize spiritual wealth and renounce money and material possessions.

And therein lies the problem.

Jon begins this session by pointing up the conflicting beliefs we have about money. We associate it with selfishness and greed and even describe it as the root of evil. 

Yet most of us want more of it and spend our lives in pursuit of it – even defining ourselves by what we do to earn it.

To help unravel our contradictory attitudes to money, Jon explains what money actually is in the context of its historical development. 

If you get on board with what Jon has to say in this category, you will completely rethink your attitude to money and, most importantly, what it represents . 

To say more would give too much away. But if you can bring your consciousness to what money represents, there won’t be a category of your life that won’t benefit.

And it’s not all theoretical, by the end of this lesson you will not only have a healthy attitude to money, but lots of practical tips to help you plan for a secure financial future

Lifebook Category 10: Career

Lifebook Career Category

“What this quote says for me is, the best thing you can do for your career is to become the best person you can be.”

The quote also encapsulates what Lifebook is all about –  success in every category, is dependent on (and supported by) success in the others.

And it’s important to get that, because the majority of your time is invested in your work life.

During this session you will:

  • Think deeply about how you got where you are today – because for change to occur you need to think differently
  • Explore the foundations for a successful and fulfilling career 
  • Align your career path with all your goals and visions
  • Find more purpose in your work if you don’t want a career charge
  • Develop strategies to find a career that make the best possible use of you 

This was another category that I wrestled with somewhat. I’m retired now and I want to enjoy my time off, rather than find paid work.

There were suggestions for practical things you could do once retired – volunteering, passion projects, hobbies, etc. 

But no examples (in the community or templates) to help with completing a Lifebook page for this category if you are fully retired.

So whilst I agree that all 12 categories are vital. Some may not be relevant to you (depending on where you are in your life). 

And you will have to think independently about how to tackle this chapter of your Lifebook if, like me, you’re retired.

As usual, the week is rounded off with with archived coaching calls on these two categories and more bonus content.

Week 6/6: Quality of Life and Life Vision

Lifebook category 11: quality of life.

Lifebook Quality of Life category

“A high quality of life is an effect. The cause lies in how you choose to live in the other 11 categories.”

This is where everything comes together. The contentment you seek rests on your fulfilment in all the other categories. As Jon says, this is what the hard work you’ve done so far is all about.

In this lesson you learn to bring consciousness to:

  • The material things you want to have
  • The experiences you want to create
  • The environments you want to be surrounded by

Jon walks you through the tension between wanting material things and the negative associations connected to materialism. 

He’ll help you reimagine your relationship to ‘things’ and give you lots of actionable advice to make both big and small improvements that can enhance the quality of your life.

Above all, he’ll convince you to:

“Do something, anything, to take your quality of life to the next level.”

Lifebook Category 12: Life Vision

Your Lifebook journey ends with a guided visualization which takes you to the future, where you get to see and experience your ideal life. 

Having created the mental equivalent of what you want, you commit your vision to paper and take the steps you’ve outlined in the other eleven categories towards achieving it.

The Journey Continues

Once you have completed the six week course you will:

  • Retain access to Lifebook Online so you can revisit the lessons whenever you wish 
  • Gain lifelong access to Lifebook Mastery – a structured system for ensuring your visions become reality
  • Get 30 days free access to Lifebook Membership which you can cancel at anytime

Lifebook Membership includes:

  • Monthly live coaching calls with Jon and Missy
  • Access to the community of other Lifebook students
  • The opportunity to explore each Lifebook category in more detail on a monthly basis.
  • Access to a wide range of resources including interviews and articles

Lifebook Online resources

What I Liked About Lifebook Online

Highly structured course with a strong focus on results.

As an educator myself I know that for learning to be lasting, it has to take place within a coherent, sound framework.

The Lifebook system has been developed over nearly two decades to provide a consistent, methodical scaffold that supports you in a deeply personal exploration of your own individual life.

The twelve categories have been meticulously selected to interconnect on a deep level. So that building strength in any one category, leads to success in the others. 

The benefits compound.

Example Templates Make It Easy To Create Your Lifebook

Lifebook Templates

Editable templates for every category are supplied by Lifebook. They contain example statements that you can use, edit or discard.

This is super helpful. Creating pages for 12 areas of your life can be challenging and having something to work from or to act as inspiration definitely helps with completion.

I found I invariably edited what was already there as a starting point. Then, I returned to each page at a later stage (as my understanding of the program developed) and personalized my statements more and more till I had something I could definitely work with.

Had I started with blank pages I would have found this a much slower and less motivating process.

Along with each template were inspirational quotes and pictures you can also use to customize your Lifebook pages.

Effective And Motivating Delivery

Jon’s presentation is crystal clear and fluent. He speaks with conviction and his sincerity and enthusiasm are palpable.

His examples and anecdotes are super helpful for driving home key takeaways and learning points.

Jon also shares intensely personal events from his own life including his long struggle with crippling mental health issues. This helps you understand the origins of Lifebook, and just how far he has come because of it.

Active and Supportive Community of Fellow Learners

You can communicate with other Lifebook students (known as the Lifebook Tribe) in a number of ways.

  • Through the Discussion link for each Category which connects you with students in your cohort
  • Through the Community Page to connect to the wider Lifebook community
  • By forming an Accountability Team with individually selected Lifebook students

It’s a place to share success, seek advice and connect with like-minded people. It’s lively and engaged and will definitely help you to finish the program should you experience any blips.

Life Coaching Calls with Jon and Missy

Any questions that can’t be answered by the Lifebook Tribe can be submitted to Lifebook Online itself. With luck, they might be selected to be answered in a live Coaching Call with Jon and Missy.

These take place twice a year.

However, previous coaching calls are archived and sorted into categories so that you can easily find the answers to previously asked questions.

Pre and Post Assessment to Measure Progress

The pre course introspective assessment measures your current levels of satisfaction in each of the 12 categories.

It’s a super helpful tool for establishing a baseline, keeping you on track and helping to create the right mindset for what lies ahead. Your report is emailed to you so you can include it in your keepsake book.

The post course assessment enables you to make comparisons with your starting point and see, graphically, the progress you’ve made.

I started out with a score of 84 (moderate) and ended up here:

Lifebook Assessment Score

And this is one of the visual representations you will receive that shows how you have progressed in the different categories.

Additional Tutorials and Resources

The FAQ section at the end of each week’s lessons had lots of amazing links to additional resources to help you in your quest. These included books, articles and podcasts.

There were also tutorials that helped you complete the course as effectively and efficiently as possible.

What I liked about this was it suggested that Mindvalley really listen to their students, take on board their needs and questions and make sure that the whole community can benefit from answers and improvements.

What Could Be Improved

Very much a talking heads course.

The majority of every session consists of Jon talking to the camera.

Jon’s a great motivational speaker but I did notice that sessions where there were more stills and videos (such as the Financial Life) were easier to stay focussed on.

Not All The Categories May Apply To You

Depending on where you are in life, you may find that not all the categories are relevant. At least not directly.

I’m retired for example, so I had to modify the career category and much of what Jon had to say in the lesson was not relevant.

If you don’t have children, you will have to do the same. This is something to bear in mind.

A Big Commitment of Time and Emotion

Lifebook is highly structured, Jon walks you through your journey and the templates mean you don’t start with a blank slate.

But you need to set aside some quality time and dig deep to produce your own unique Lifebook.

The content of your Lifebook comes from you, without serious commitment on your part you won’t get the results you want. 

Lifebook book

Despite the many pictures on Mindvalley of students clutching a Lifebook binder, these are no longer provided.

Given that this is now a global, online course the postage of these items alone would make the cost prohibitive.

I purchased a similar binder on Amazon which I am happy with but it is an issue for some students that they will not receive a folder for their Lifebook.

Who is Lifebook Online for?

Lifebook online is suitable for anyone who can tick one or more of the following boxes:

  • Is prepared to put in time and effort to achieve a fulfilled life
  • Is not expecting an overnight transformation but is committed to the process of change
  • Feels there is something missing from their life
  • Wants to make a change and needs motivation and guidance to get started
  • Has set goals in the past and either failed to achieve them, or had lapses
  • Wants to be a better version of themselves
  • Is open to the possibility that they don’t have to settle for second best and that they just might be the author of their own destiny

At the same time, it is probably not suited to anyone who:

  • Is not committed to putting in some serious thought and effort 
  • Wants instant results
  • Is overly cynical and over analytical
  • Is not open to the possibility that they can be the change they want to see (to quote Ghandi)

You get lots of inspiration and actionable advice from Jon and Missy. And a coherent, interconnected structure to help you reorient your life. But at the end of the day you do need to be prepared to do some hard work. 

If you’re looking for someone to wave a magic wand and change your life for you, you need to look elsewhere.

Is there anything better than Lifebook Online?

You only need to do a Google search to realise that there are thousands of self-improvement courses available online.

Courses I have personally reviewed include two on MasterClass for developing self expression and authenticity. One with Robin Roberts and the other with RuPaul . 

These were great classes – but they are not in the same league as Lifebook Online. However, if you purchase a MasterClass Pass there are over 150 other classes you will have access to, so you can develop aspects of your life that you yourself choose.

If you want to develop your problem solving and reasoning skills brilliant.org is a great platform, though it isn't as holistic as Lifebook since it focuses on logic and critical thinking.

If you’re looking for something a little more structured than Lifebook with assignments and accreditation the Coursera platform has a couple of courses you could investigate:

The University of Pennsylvania course (Foundations of Positive Psychology), and the Yale Science of Well Being Course.

You can take many Coursera courses for free but must pay to receive a certificate on completion

The Yale course is probably the closest to Lifebook Online in that it provides a structured step by step course (based on psychological science) for boosting happiness and fulfilment.

So, in summary, If you're looking for a more academic approach and certification at the end, the Yale course is worthy of consideration. 

But if you want a course that puts you in the driving seat and results in a book summarizing your unique visions, motivations and strategies for maximising your potential in every area of your life, then Lifebook is for you.

Lifebook Online: What Others Have Said

Lifebook Online Community

No review would be complete without taking into account the opinions of others.

So I took a look at the comments on Reddit, Trustpilot and within the Lifebook Community to gauge the reactions of others who had taken the course.

I’ve provided a selection below:

An appreciation of the structured and integrated nature of Lifebook was a common theme amongst commentators. As was a recognition that this was what made the program successful:

Gratitude to the founders for sharing this resource was another common theme amongst students:

The fact is, I was unable to find any negative comments about the program. This Lifebook review is probably the most critical you will find out there.

Is the Content Unique?

Yes, it appears to be.

I can find no evidence that Jon and Missy have produced any resources other than those available on Mindvalley – or produced by Mindvalley and available on Youtube as glimpses into the Lifebook program.

What You Will Need

All you need to complete this program is commitment and an open mind. 

Oh, and it may be handy to have a printer to print out your Lifebook pages when you have completed them.

How to Get the Most Out of Lifebook Online

Lifebook is about the journey, not the destination.

The Lifebook you create will not be set in stone. You will revisit it, tweak it, edit it and transform it.

So don’t worry about getting it right first time . Go with your gut, get as much down ‘on paper’ as you can. Refine it later.

Hold the interconnected nature of the categories in mind

Jon Butcher explains the 12 categories

It’s possible to set goals in one category which exercise what Jon calls, ‘gravitational pull’ on some, or even all, of the others.

Here’s an example.

I chose to develop self discipline as a character trait. This linked directly to my health and fitness plan to exercise and my spiritual goal to meditate regularly. In fact it supported my visions and strategies for all the other categories in some way.

Go back and edit earlier category goals and strategies as you complete new categories so you can maximize this interconnectedness.

Your goals and plans should be challenging but achievable

Jon shares his own visions and strategies for each category. As well as others from within the Lifebook Community.

These are beautiful, poetic, spiritual statements. My advice would be not to try to emulate or better them. It’s not a competition. Jon’s own statements are the result of over two decades of working on his Lifebook!

So build in stretch and challenge, but make your goals clear and achievable – once you’ve reached them you can go back and raise the bar.

You don’t have to do everything at once

Before starting the course, you take the Lifebook Assessment. 

As a result of this you will identify a key category of focus and a strong supporting category.

These are the power points that will move you forward. Work on them first.

Verdict: Is Lifebook Online Worth It?

In my opinion: absolutely. 

The Lifebook Framework is a powerful approach to self improvement which is coherent and interconnected in a way that locks in progress in every area of your life, not just one.

The structure of the course, together with the templates, really help guide you through the process and get results.

That being said there are some people this course will not suit, in my view:

  • Those who are not prepared to put in some time and effort
  • Anyone wanting instant results
  • Those preferring a more academic/scientific approach
  • Anyone who is not willing to lean into the process

For me, it went way beyond my expectations. I’ve let go of beliefs that have been holding me back, reinvented myself, have a clear vision for the rest of my life and a road map to get me there. 

Judging by the comments and reviews I’ve read, others who’ve taken the course agree.

Lifebook really put me in the driver’s seat. And the option to get a refund removes the risk of you being out of pocket if you don’t enjoy it.

$399 is a bit of a cost – but for 20 hours of potentially life changing training is a bargain IMHO. It works out at just $20 an hour whereas a life coach could set you back $400 for just one hour of their time.

Overall for me this was a great investment that has allowed me to live my best life on an ongoing basis. And at the end of the day:

“ There is no greater cause that you could ever commit to than to take this one life that you’ve been given, this short time that you have on this planet, and make it the best it can possibly be. That’s kind of our one job.”

Lifebook 12 months on

Where am I 12 months on from Lifebook?

My focus categories were Emotional Life and Health and Fitness.

I'm lighter and healthier with a manageable but progressive program of fitness. I create far more opportunities to be happy and far fewer that make me sad. I became vegan, started to grow my own vegetables, created a garden, took up masses of crafts and basically learned to be happy in retirement. Which I was convinced I would never do. And I'm active in the community as an elected councillor.

In fact, I would describe myself as being more quietly happy than I have ever been.

Would I have done all this without Lifebook? I doubt it given the circumstances of 2021!

The fact is, the methodical scaffold Lifebook leaves you with, and the interwoven nature of the categories keeps the learning moving forward. You might think you've focused on one category, but a review (which I do monthly) reveals great strides elsewhere.

And that's what makes the difference.

Lifebook garden

Related article: Best Mindvalley courses , best personal development courses

Frequently Asked Questions

Lifebook Online is a uniquely structured framework that you engage with over six weeks to achieve fulfilment in twelve aspects (or categories) of your life. 

Lifebook Online is a six week course. You cover 2 Lifebook Categories a week which takes a minimum of four hours a week.

$399 gives you access to the course and lifetime access thereafter.

Sadly not, but you can claim a refund 15 days from purchase date so that gives you two weeks of lessons to decide if it's right for you.

Yes, you can claim a refund 15 days from the purchase date.

There are twelve Lifebook categories

Health and fitness, Intellectual life, Emotional life, Character, Spiritual life, Love life, Parenting, Social life, Financial, Career, Quality of life, Life vision

what is life books

Liz Hurley has 30+ years of high school teaching experience and is one of our senior writers here at Learnopoly.

5 thoughts on “Lifebook Online Review”

I am a South African from the Province of Eastern Cape and very eager to join the Lifebook membership

This article is beautifully written, and encompasses the entirety of the Lifebook Online program. Although I have taken a few free Mindvalley courses, I have been on the fence about truly committing to the Lifebook program. After reading your review, I am determined that this is definitely the next step for me in my life journey. Thank you for such a concise and well documented description of Lifebook and how it can create such positive changes in one’s life- if one is committed to the process of change.

Thank you, Natalie. I hope you get as much out of Lifebook Online as I did!

I have embarked on the journey with Lifebook – I am halfway through it and loving it. I would like to know if I receive a certification at the completion of this course? Your answer is appreciated.

Hi Suzana, Thanks for reaching out. There is no certificate for completing Lifebook, but you will of course have your actual Lifebook that you will have created using the templates to help you. I still have mine and regularly update it.

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‘Life without consequences’: the fraternity bros who built a multimillion-dollar drug ring

In his book Among the Bros, Max Marshall shines a light on a case in Charleston and what it says about Greek life in America

I n June of 2016, the police chief in Charleston, South Carolina, held a press conference. Eight men between the ages of 19 and 25 had been arrested in one of the largest drug busts in the city’s history. The arrests came as a result of an investigation into the murder of Patrick Moffly, a 23-year-old former student and son of a luxury real estate developer who had been shot in the chest a few months prior. Authorities had confiscated not only drugs but seven firearms, a grenade launcher and over $200,000 in cash from a small stash house the young men rented.

Watching this on television was Max Marshall, an investigative journalist. He was intrigued. The suspects looked familiar – not because he knew them personally, but because of their swoopy haircuts.

They looked like the young men who played lacrosse at his former prep school in Dallas, guys who drove big SUVs and threw parties that girls wanted to go to.

The press conference set Marshall – an alum of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at Columbia University – on a path to writing Among the Bros: A Fraternity Crime Story, a book that focuses on Mikey Schmidt, one of the men arrested that day, and Rob Liljeberg, his closest friend and ally. The pair met in the Kappa Alpha fraternity at the College of Charleston and were kindred spirits, bonding over their love of weed and Super Smash Bros. Schmidt was making money selling fake IDs, while Liljeberg was dealing weed to others in the fraternity. Seeing an opening, they teamed up to sell harder drugs to other students in Charleston and began recruiting other members of Kappa Alpha to deal.

Soon enough, the members of this mid-tier fraternity were at the center of a multimillion-dollar drug ring, made all the more noxious by their school’s notoriety for excess drinking and drug use. Yet, for years, they skirted legal repercussions.

They weren’t the only ones. When members of the college’s more elite Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity completely destroyed cabins in Tugaloo state park over a weekend of drug- and alcohol-fueled debauchery, they faced only a minor charge. The young men went as far as they wanted, knowing they would have a soft place to land – and that they were still the most viable candidates for high-paying corporate jobs upon graduating.

“I do think, in a way, this book is about the consequence of a life without consequences,” Marshall told me when we spoke over Zoom in early November.

building with columns and pointed roof

Among the Bros has been pitched as a salacious true crime thriller about young men running wild. But Marshall uses the drug ring to show how the fraternity ethos shapes elite societies as a whole, beyond the College of Charleston: with impunity.

For years, I believed I had a firm grasp on what is known as “Greek life”, with its white guys in pastel shorts and polo shirts. They were characters in classic American comedies like Old School and Animal House, but I knew that in real life frat boy culture and parties were a hotbed of sexual assault and racism.

But Marshall shows how being asked to join a fraternity means having a safe place to behave badly between high school and the job that frat puts you on the fast track towards. In his book, he quotes a Cornell Greek life website: “While only 2% of America’s population is involved in fraternities, 80% of Fortune 500 executives, 76% of US senators and congressmen, 85% of supreme court justices, and all but two presidents since 1825 have been fraternity men.”

In that vein, the former fraternity members Marshall interviewed for Among the Bros said their experience selling drugs in college was good prep for their careers: “They’d say things like, ‘I learned supply chain economics, salesmanship, delegation and marketing.’” As a reader, it’s hard to not feel pangs of anger at how for some (“some” being young white men), recklessness could be a stepping stone to a six-figure salary.

Among the Bros is also full of tales of the secretive hazing rituals during Hell Week at various colleges, in which pledges endure brutal tests of endurance before being initiated into a fraternity. A friend of Marshall’s who attended Duke said pledges had to drink a kiddie pool of their own vomit and then the “softest kid” was instructed to self-haze. “Everyone assumed the boy would just put a cigar out on his own leg, but instead he took a bottle of beer, smashed it over his own head, and carved his fraternity’s initials into his forearm with a shard of glass,” Marshall writes.

In another anecdote from the book, a former pledge from the College of Charleston’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter is asked to tell a story about the groom – his fraternity brother – at a bachelor party. While the groom’s high school friends share funny memories, the pledge reveals that the groom waterboarded him during Hell Week. He justifies his story by telling the other groomsmen: “Y’all have only had good experiences with [the groom]. You’ve never had what I’ve had with him, and you never will.”

It’s hard to wrap your mind around men having fond memories of brutal treatment, but Marshall explained that it was not so simple as looking back on one event of hazing and condemning the entire system: “It’s almost a rational choice of thinking, ‘This was my entry into an oil and gas or real estate job. This is how I got into private equity or politics. And there’s always going to be a group of people who are always going to look out for me whenever I need a favor.’”

And for those in the bubble, there’s an attitude that the more intense the hazing experience was, the better story you might have, the more other men will respect you.

A college student drinking through a long beer bong while people’s feet dangle from a house roof above him

Above all, Marshall’s book explores coming of age in a world that will not hold you accountable, even by law enforcement. “When you can get away with anything, it does lead to an arrested development. If you drive drunk and don’t go get a DUI, how do you learn not to drive drunk? If you commit a much worse crime and don’t get punished, how do you learn not to?” he said.

The availability of Xanax plays an outsized role in the life of frat students, quickly becoming the drug of choice as a hangover cure. When Marshall asked students at the College of Charleston about their experiences with Xanax, many described how amazing taking Xanax felt on a Sunday morning after four or five nights of partying. The Sunday morning Xanax habit soon transferred into taking Xanax with alcohol on nights out. “When two Xanax bars and six Keystone Lights enter the central nervous system, the pathways that turn short-term memories into long-term memories get severed, leaving no way of storing what’s happening for the morning,” Marshall writes in Among the Bros.

In the book, Marshall explains that Xanax fell under a category of drugs you were not warned about by adults or when learning about drugs in high school. “I didn’t expect to see Xanax as a sort of party drug when I went to school,” Marshall told me. He especially didn’t anticipate Xanax being the party drug of choice for students, “I started to see friends dealing [Xanax] and dropping out of school because they were developing dependencies.”

For the most part, the young men in Among the Bros who were arrested in the drug bust have not faced life-altering consequences. Through police cooperation, some walked away free from charges, while others received suspended sentences and got off with only probation. Schmidt, the only young man who agreed to speak with Marshall on the record, faced a 10-year sentence with no parole, while the rest of the young men were able to graduate on probation. “They are for the most part living in their home towns and just sort of climbing the corporate ladder,” Marshall said of the men involved in the drug ring.

All the men involved in Kappa Alpha’s drug ring were white – in fact, they were often described by their fellow students at the College of Charleston and law enforcement as looking like normal white boys. They were protected by wealthy parents, the best lawyers, and a “boys will be boys” culture. They were emboldened to test the boundaries of their privilege, and they came out with barely a scratch.

It would be hard to read Among the Bros and not hope fraternity culture faces a reckoning – but Marshall’s storytelling does not intend to cast judgment or even offer solutions to the larger problems within fraternity culture. “I hope people that take the time to read this book also see that it’s not a finger-waggy exposé where I feel like I’m above it all,” he explained. “I just wanted to hold a mirror up to it, as cliche as that is.”

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The Ten Best Books About Travel of 2023

Take a trip without leaving home with these adventurous reads from this year

Laura Kiniry

Laura Kiniry

Travel Correspondent


It’s often said that travel is all about the journey, whether it’s planning a remote island holiday or setting out on the adventure of a lifetime across the Arctic Ocean. But it can be almost as thrilling to roam the world from the comfort of our homes. Just take our pick of 2023 travel books, which include everything from humor-fueled essay collections and thought-provoking narratives to tomes brimming with full-page colorful photographs and tips on finding the most welcoming LGBTQ+ spots around the globe. They all share the uncanny ability to transport readers through time and space without ever having to open the front door.

Whether it’s a deep delve into a Balkan landscape of healing plants and foraging, or a more than 2,000-mile road trip through America’s racial history, here are ten travel books that are more than worthy of this year’s holiday wish lists.

Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance by Alvin Hall

From 1936 to 1967, the Green Book served as an annual travel guide for African Americans, helping them to identify welcoming hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses across the United States during the Jim Crow era. Compiled by Black New York City postman Victor Hugo Green , this essential reference publication included places like Manhattan’s Hotel Theresa , once considered the “Waldorf of Harlem,” and the Moulin Rouge Hotel in Las Vegas, frequented by celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald during its five-month stint in 1955.

Award-winning broadcaster Alvin Hall first learned about the Green Book in 2015, and he was immediately intrigued. Several years later, he and a friend, activist Janée Woods Weber , set out on a 2,000-plus-mile cross-country road trip from Detroit to New Orleans, visiting many of the establishments once featured in the guide’s pages. (Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has a nearly complete collection of the Green Book , which Hall utilized.) Along the way, Hall also gathered memories from some of the guide’s last surviving users.

The result, Driving the Green Book: a Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance , is a poignant 288-page journey along America’s open roads, delving into the country’s racial past, detailing the Green Book ’s life-saving history and bringing it all together in one remarkable read.

Preview thumbnail for 'Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance

Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance

Join award-winning broadcaster Alvin Hall on a journey through America’s haunted racial past, with the legendary Green Book as your guide.

The Last Ride of the Pony Express: My 2,000-Mile Horseback Journey Into the Old West by Will Grant

In 2019, American journalist Will Grant embarked on a five-month, 2,000 mile journey on horseback from Missouri to California. His goal: to follow the historic route of the Pony Express , a legendary frontier mail system operating between April 1860 and October 1861, which used a series of horse-mounted riders and relay stations to deliver mail from one end to the other in just ten days. Although the express service went bankrupt after only 18 months, it remains an iconic symbol of America’s Old West.

Grant chronicles his 142-day adventure in The Last Ride of the Pony Express , a first-person narrative describing his trip across the Great Plains of Nebraska and the sagebrush steppe of Wyoming in the company of his two horses, Badger and Chicken Fry. While Grant reflects on the West’s modernization over time, it’s his vivid descriptions of the communities and local residents—including ranchers, farmers and migrant sheep herders—along the way that make the book a real page-turner.

Preview thumbnail for 'The Last Ride of the Pony Express: My 2,000-mile Horseback Journey into the Old West

The Last Ride of the Pony Express: My 2,000-mile Horseback Journey into the Old West

The Last Ride of the Pony Express is a tale of adventure by a horseman who defies most modern conveniences, and is an unforgettable narrative that will forever change how you see the West, the Pony Express, and America as a whole.

Unforgettable Journeys Europe: Discover the Joys of Slow Travel

The latest in the Unforgettable Journeys series by DK Eyewitness, a publisher of nonfiction books known for its visual travel guides, Unforgettable Journeys Europe highlights the notion that travel really is all about the “getting there.” This inspirational tome details 150 of Europe’s best slow adventures, such as kayaking through Lithuania and crossing the Arctic Circle by train.

The bucket list is organized by modes of transportation, with sections titled “By Bike” and “By Rail,” for example. Illustrations, photos, maps and plenty of practical information (including start and end points for trails, difficulty ratings and website links) are then spread throughout the text, making the book as much colorful reference as it is inspiring read. In the “On Foot” chapter, there’s a description of Scotland’s Fife Pilgrim Way , a 56-mile trek along an ancient pilgrim route with cathedral and countryside views. Along with details on what to see during the multiday hike, the book features a selection of highlighted tips, like what to do (pick wild berries while passing through Clatto Reservoir ) and how to splurge (dinner and an overnight stay at the cozy, Michelin-starred Peat Inn ) en route.

Preview thumbnail for 'Unforgettable Journeys Europe: Discover the Joys of Slow Travel (Dk Eyewitness)

Unforgettable Journeys Europe: Discover the Joys of Slow Travel (Dk Eyewitness)

Inspirational travel book covering 150 of Europe's most incredible journeys, including routes on foot and by bike, road, rail and water.

Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time by Kapka Kassabova

After a decade of living in the Scottish Highlands, native Bulgarian Kapka Kassabova returned to her roots in southwestern Bulgaria’s remote Mesta Valley, a rural region known for its array of wild crops and their vast medicinal properties. Over several seasons (Kassabova’s move occurred at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic), the poet and writer set out to study the deep relationship between the area’s people and plants, as well as with the land itself. Her resulting text—with chapters like “Pine Syrup,” “Honey Sellers” and “Shepherd’s Superfood”—is an autobiographical exploration of one of the globe’s lesser-known corners, one brimming with forages, healers and a wealth of folk traditions.

“ Elixir is the vibrant, beautiful story of a singular, remarkable place,” writes Foreword book reviewer Catherine Thureson. “It issues a call to reclaim the physical, emotional and spiritual connection between humanity and the natural world.”

Preview thumbnail for 'Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time

Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time

In Elixir , in a wild river valley and amid the three mountains that define it, Kapka Kassabova seeks out the deep connection between people, plants, and place.

The Life Cycle by Kate Rawles

British writer and cyclist Kate Rawles has a penchant for raising awareness about environmental challenges through her own adventures—and inspiring action in the process. In 2006, Rawles cycled 4,553 miles from Texas to Alaska , interviewing Americans about climate change along the way. Her latest endeavor—an 8,288-mile, 13-month journey across the length of the Andes Mountains on a self-built bamboo bicycle she nicknamed “Woody”—is the basis for her new book, The Life Cycle .

During this largely solo endeavor in 2017 and 2018, the author crossed some of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems, including South America’s Atacama Desert and the Bolivian salt flats. Simultaneously, she found herself witnessing the devastating effects of extreme biodiversity loss caused by industries such as logging and gold mining, and met with activists and communities working to regenerate these habitats—sharing their concerns and insight throughout the narrative.

Preview thumbnail for 'The Life Cycle: 8,000 Miles in the Andes by Bamboo Bike

The Life Cycle: 8,000 Miles in the Andes by Bamboo Bike

Pedalling hard for thirteen months, eco adventurer Kate Rawles cycled the length of the Andes on an eccentric bicycle she built herself. The Life Cycle charts her mission to find out why biodiversity is so important, what's happening to it, and what can be done to protect it.

Unravelling the Silk Road by Chris Aslan

An extremely well-researched story of three ancient trade routes that helped define a continent, Chris Aslan’s Unravelling the Silk Road “merges trauma with textiles to track the past and present experiences of the people of Central Asia,” writes author Clare Hunter . He explores the roles played by wool, a textile used by the region’s nomads for both yurts and clothing; silk, a commodity that was once more valuable than gold; and cotton, the cause of Russian and then Soviet colonization, since it provided cheap material for the global superpower.

Turkish-born Aslan interweaves his own personal experiences (the author once picked cotton with locals and worked with nomadic yak herders in Central Asia’s Pamir Mountains) with the history of each route and its impact on the lives of local residents ​​ —as well as the region itself. Aslan also examines how political and cultural changes are affecting new trade routes and the people who depend on them.

Preview thumbnail for 'Unravelling the Silk Road: Travels and Textiles in Central Asia

Unravelling the Silk Road: Travels and Textiles in Central Asia

Veteran traveler and textile expert Chris Aslan explores the Silk, Wool and Cotton Roads of Central Asia.

The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise​​ by Pico Iyer

British-born essayist and acclaimed writer Pico Iyer is no stranger to travel journalism. The author—whose childhood was divided among English, Indian and U.S. cultures—is known for works like 1989’s Video Night in Kathmandu , a stark look at modern Asia, and The Global Soul , a 2001 collection of essays on finding home in a world of international airports and shopping malls. For more than 40 years, Iyer has traveled the globe, reflecting on the planet and our role within it.

“After years of travel, I’d begun to wonder what kind of paradise can ever be found in a world of unceasing conflict,” writes Iyer in his latest book, The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise , “and whether the very search for it might not simply aggravate our differences.” The result is a retrospective look at his own travels and encounters—from North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang to Jerusalem’s Ethiopian chapels—through the idea of “paradise,” what it means and whether it exists.

Preview thumbnail for 'The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise

The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise

Traveling from Iran to North Korea, from the Dalai Lama’s Himalayas to the ghostly temples of Japan, Pico Iyer brings together a lifetime of explorations to upend our ideas of utopia and ask how we might find peace in the midst of difficulty and suffering.

The Pride Atlas: 500 Iconic Destinations for Queer Travelers by Maartje Hensen

Big, bold and colorful, The Pride Atlas is a valuable resource for LGBTQ+ folks and their allies, as well as a perfect coffee table topper. Compiled by queer author and photographer Maartje Hensen , its 400 pages are brimming with eye-catching photos and practical information, such as websites like Meetup and Couchsurfing that are useful for connecting with similarly minded locals and travelers, and resources regarding laws and cultural attitudes worldwide.

At the heart of the book are 500 destinations from around the globe, each one of them highlighting a way of engaging with LGBTQ+ culture. You’ll find drag shows, Pride parades, campsites, microbrew pubs and other places, from San Francisco’s Transgender District to Haircuts for Anyone , an inclusive and affirmative hair salon in Montreal that charges by sliding scale.

“Hopefully,” writes Hensen, “ The Pride Atlas expands your horizons and inspires you to go out into the world, to (un)learn from others … because, like gender, the world doesn’t fit into binary.” Indeed.

Preview thumbnail for 'The Pride Atlas: 500 Iconic Destinations for Queer Travelers

The Pride Atlas: 500 Iconic Destinations for Queer Travelers

Combining immersive photography with expertly researched travel writing, this is the ultimate guidebook for LGBTQ+ travelers—whether you're planning your next getaway, daydreaming from the comfort of your armchair, or seeking to learn about queer culture in other parts of the world.

Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel by Shahnaz Habib

An enlightening and entertaining debut essay collection by a U.S.-based Indian Muslim author, Airplane Mode brings a unique and under-represented perspective to the world of travel. Shahnaz Habib approaches such topics as the origins of passports, colonial modes of thinking about travel—like safaris and pilgrimages—and terms like “pseudiscovery,” which she uses to describe an explorer’s claim of discovering something that’s existed for thousands of years, with both wit and curiosity, incorporating her own personal narratives to boot.

Perhaps Annabel Abbs, author of Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women , says it best in her praise for Airplane Mode, which has been long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence . She calls it “a fascinating, wide-ranging and insightful travelogue that poses some of the biggest questions of all: Who gets to travel, and what is it that makes us so keen to travel in the first place?”

Preview thumbnail for 'Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel

Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel

This witty personal and cultural history of travel from the perspective of a Third World-raised woman of color, Airplane Mode , asks: what does it mean to be a joyous traveler when we live in the ruins of colonialism, capitalism and climate change?

Oh My Mother!: A Memoir in Nine Adventures by Connie Wang

The closest Chinese expression to “Oh, my god” is wode ma ya , which literally translates to “Oh, my mother.” It’s a declaration of astonishment, as well as the title for journalist Connie Wang ’s humorous and heartfelt book, Oh My Mother!: A Memoir in Nine Adventures . Wang details the complicated relationship between herself and her stubborn and “wildly opinionated” mother, Qing Li, across nine essays, taking readers from time-share properties in Cancun and Aruba to a Magic Mike strip show in Las Vegas. “This is our memoir—a long personal essay, if you will—and it was forged through shared fact-checking,” Wang writes in the book. “Qing was the first person to read each chapter as it was written, and she is this book’s first editor.” According to Kirkus Reviews , the author “drives to the heart of how a daughter comes to know her mother as someone with a life beyond motherhood.”

Preview thumbnail for 'Oh My Mother!: A Memoir in Nine Adventures

Oh My Mother!: A Memoir in Nine Adventures

A dazzling mother-daughter adventure around the world in pursuit of self-discovery, a family reckoning, and Asian American defiance

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Laura Kiniry

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Laura Kiniry is a San Francisco-based freelance writer specializing in food, drink, and travel. She contributes to a variety of outlets including American Way , O-The Oprah Magazine , BBC.com , and numerous AAA pubs.


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Life Descends Into Chaos in This Year’s Booker Prize Winner

“Prophet Song,” a novel by Paul Lynch, is set in Dublin during a political crisis.

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By Benjamin Markovits

Benjamin Markovits’s most recent novel, “The Sidekick,” is about the complicated friendship between a sportswriter and an N.B.A. star.

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PROPHET SONG , by Paul Lynch

A novel titled “Prophet Song” promises some degree of timeliness, and, indeed, it comes at a moment when the fear it addresses is daily in the news: that the social contract is about to break, that what we think of as ordinary life is about to be transformed into a constant existential struggle, which will be played out not in a state of nature but in something arguably worse, at the fault line between opposing ideologies. This week, the novel, by the Irish writer Paul Lynch, won the Booker Prize .

The story is set in a version of contemporary Dublin. There’s a brief reference to a pandemic early on. Molly, the protagonist’s teenage daughter, has been “disinfecting door handles, taps and toilet flushers” to stop the spread of a “virus” familiar enough to all of us that it doesn’t need to be named. But it makes no further appearance. The purpose, really, is to set the mood (apocalyptic) and a stage from which the trauma of the past few years can slide almost imperceptibly into a disaster less familiar.

Eilish, Molly’s mother, hears a knock at the door. There are two policemen outside who want to speak to her husband, Larry. “It is nothing to worry about,” one of them says, though of course Eilish starts to worry and questions her husband when he comes home. A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, as the saying goes, has appeared on their horizon.

Eilish is a biologist who works for a biotech company; Larry is the deputy general secretary of the teachers’ union. They have four children and live comfortable middle-class lives with all of the usual anxieties: battles with teenagers, fights with aging parents. But the tone from the beginning has a suppressed intensity; the novel opens with Eilish staring wistfully at garden trees. A “National Alliance Party” has recently taken control and passed an Emergency Powers Act. Larry, as a frontline trade unionist, is in the government’s sights. A big demonstration is planned. Eilish doesn’t want him to go but eventually relents. They live in a free society, after all, with a constitution and the rule of law. So he marches. What follows is a descent into chaos.

To get us there, Lynch makes a number of significant decisions. The “emergency” is never explained. Maybe it was entirely the invention of the National Alliance Party. This means that the political crisis here is a kind of blank; it has no history. There are opposing sides: the nationalists versus everyone else (eventually called “the rebels”). But we never learn what they’re arguing about, apart from the rule of law.

That the story is set in Ireland, with its long history of sectarian conflict, gives gravity even to this absence. We hear occasional church bells but no real mention of religious difference, or even unionist or anti-unionist attitudes. There is, however, a border to the north, which becomes one of the possible outlets for emigration.

Lynch stays deliberately vague, partly so that the story can serve as a more general allegory, but there’s a cost to the allegory, too. Without an emergency, without any kind of immediate history, it’s hard to understand what the nationalists are fighting for, and so they become not ideological opponents but a mindless destructive force. When one of Eilish’s colleagues, a man who wears an N.A.P. pin on his lapel, is promoted above her for political reasons, she looks into his eyes “and sees in the face an abyss.” In other words, it’s hard to sympathize with them.

Lynch, of course, isn’t asking us to. But without some moral ambiguity, there’s a danger that a novel like this can turn into an instance of preaching to the choir: We know who the baddies are, and it’s not us. We’re not complicit in whatever has gone wrong in this society. The worst we have to fear is that we might become victims of something similar: “All your life you’ve been asleep, all of us sleeping and now the great waking begins.”

The other big decision is stylistic. There are sections and chapters in the novel but no paragraphs. Dialogue is not punctuated with quotation marks, and is often interrupted by descriptions and sudden dives into interiority. All of which means that following a conversation takes some detective work. But it also suggests that there’s no real difference on the page between a thing said and a thing thought — you can feel the paranoia creeping in. Thinking is as bad as saying; saying is as futile as thinking.

As Eilish moves further from her ordinary middle-class life, Lynch has to build the story out of some other kind of material. The lyric momentum of the prose has to do much of that work. There are many, many lines and passages of great beauty and power: “The weight of her body has come to rest in her skull so that she dizzies against the wall.” Lynch is very good, too, at low-key but vivid and instantaneous scene-setting: “a low and cold grayness and the fire in ashes, litter strewn about the fallow field.” But there are also times when Lynch doesn’t quite trust the situation he has put his characters in to carry the emotional weight, and the metaphors start to get in the way: “How an instant can slow and open upon some field of other time, she is wading without light through a compounding darkness fearing the surroundment of wolves.”

This is not a funny book; it’s fairly relentless, even before things go haywire. I wouldn’t have minded a little more acceptable, less intense life. As Eilish herself reflects, “Happiness hides in the humdrum.” It’s successfully hidden here. And without humor, as Martin Amis once wrote, a person must “rig up his probity ex nihilo ”: There’s nothing to show that a writer is trustworthy.

And yet as the novel goes on, as catastrophe deepens, relentlessness itself proves persuasive. Lynch is extraordinarily good at the bureaucratic intricacies of the descent into chaos. We follow Eilish from hospital to hospital as she tries to track down her wounded son, make contact with her declining father, find a way out. There are no paragraphs because there is no relief from anxiety, only an unending sentence that refuses to reach a full stop.

After a while, questions of complicity, of seeing both sides, become irrelevant. “Prophet Song” is less interested in “Could it happen here?” than in the follow-up “Would you know when to leave?” Public collapses expose private fault lines, too: weaknesses in marriages, bad parenting, personal failures of courage. As we approach the endgame, Lynch’s decision to leave the political context blank starts to pay off. What’s happening to Eilish opens out into a much larger and older story of displacement, as she struggles to find a passage with whatever family she has left into something like civilization.

PROPHET SONG | By Paul Lynch | Atlantic Monthly Press | 309 pp. | $27

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Barbra Streisand Talks About Her Epic Memoir: ‘God, I Hope People Like This Book… I Forgot What I Wrote 10 Years Ago, When I Started’

By Chris Willman

Chris Willman

Senior Music Writer and Chief Music Critic

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my name is barbra book memoir interview

Hello, gorgeous. That’s what some Barbra Streisand fans have been murmuring to their physical editions of “My Name Is Barbra,” her memoir, since it came out one month ago, and over that time has become a nightly bedtime companion (its 970-page length not quite built for bingeing), as well as a sort of objet d’art, and objet d’heft. Streisand may be the only entertainer alive whose multifaceted career merits all that and possibly more, to the point that, as the book nears its index-less close, a tireless reader might reasonably wish it’d actually cracked the four-figure page mark.

Or listening to it. Because the 48-hour audiobook is turning out to be a must-hear, even among those who think they’re only moderately interested in a Streisand autobiography. “I’ve read this manuscript probably easily a half dozen times,” says Rick Kot, the just-retired executive editor at Viking who oversaw production on the book, “but listening to her read it, it’s a real performance. I mean, obviously I want people to buy the (print) book too, but I have friends who are doing the audiobook and the hardcover simultaneously, and I get constant reports from people.

Streisand herself says, by way of introduction, that she’s been wary of the press nearly her whole life. “In my early interviews I was always criticized, I don’t know for what — being a kook … I never understood the criticism, so I stopped giving interviews.” “My Name Is Barbra” makes up for lost Q&A time by serving as an effective act of self-interrogation, 10 years in the making… but it’s good that she’s indulging in the traditional kind, too. The following conversation has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

This book gave me everything I wanted, and lots I didn’t know I wanted.

Really? Ah, that’s a nice compliment. It gave you everything you wanted — I like that. Because you know, when I finished the book, I thought, God, I hope people like this book. It was a long time, and I forgot what I wrote 10 years ago, when I started the book. It’s been a long journey.

Ten years is a good amount of time to birth something into the world. But then you worked on “Yentl” for about 15, so maybe 10 doesn’t seem that long.

That’s true, but at my age it seems longer. Yeah, I was only 40 then — can you imagine, 40 years ago?

The book is so beautifully written, and elegant, but funny, and not overwritten at all. I’m curious if you felt your voice translates naturally to the page, or whether there was a long period of adjustment…

It really totally does. I write like I talk, put it that way. And I didn’t know how that would be treated. When I read a beautiful passage in a book, and it’s so literate, the language… I kept saying to my editor, “Am I being too basic in my language?” Because I so admire beautiful wording. I think, well, is my language OK? The words I use, it’s very plain, I find. So I didn’t know how good it was. It’s lovely to hear your compliments, and some of the reviews… I was ecstatic with, I guess, most of the reviews. I don’t think I ever saw a bad one. They were so appreciative of me and my style that I was kind of overwhelmed by the reception.

Has anything at all surprised you about the reaction to the book? Not necessarily even about the quality of it, but which sections most fascinate people? At least as you’re getting feedback from friends. I don’t know if you eavesdrop at all on what general readers are saying online.

You know, some of my closest friends haven’t responded yet. [Laughs.] I’m thinking, what? But, you know, it is a long book.

The audiobook is a source of rapt fascination in itself, as you surely know.

The other one is the e-book. I was doing the pictures for the book, and said, “I want to change this, this, this”… “No, you can’t. It’s overdue. The book will never be published in time, if you futz around with the pictures.” So that’s why I did the e-book, which I was able to go back and do my pictures all over again, add many more, and redo the captions. That’s a whole other job.

How long did you take to record the 48 hours? Did you do all of that in kind of a marathon?

It took me six weeks, I think, to do the audiobook. I was so sick of myself — can you imagine? I mean, you write a book for 10 years, then you’ve gotta say it out loud…

And then (for the print edition) you have to put the pictures in, and then you have to design the cover… Well, I did that first. I had the cover before the book. That’s like the way I do albums, actually. I see the cover, and then I fill it in with the songs that go with the cover. That’s how I did the one called “Wet” (from 1979, all songs involving a water theme), or there are several of them like that, you know. I just do it backwards.

It’s interesting to me that you went back and watched a lot of your films, and sometimes you changed your perceptions of them. You write that with “Funny Lady,” you hadn’t been able to watch it since it came out, and then you were pleasantly surprised by it, and it was better than you thought. Your memory of it was unfairly tainted by thinking more about the business dealings behind it. And so there were experiences like that…

Yeah, yeah. I never watch my films. Why would I watch them? But I had to watch my films to talk about them, to write about them. It’s interesting. I was proud of that one that was the first one for my company, Barwood Films, “Up the Sandbox” (from 1972)…

I was just going to bring that up. I loved the chapter on “Up the Sandbox,” because that’s a movie that made a big impact on me and was formative when I was young. It was one of the first R-rated movies I saw…

Come on. Come on! Really? Do you remember how old you were?

I would have been 11 or 12…

And it just had a big impact on me as a kid in terms of changing my expectations of what I wanted out of movies — wanting to be surprised by them. So I was looking forward to that chapter, if there was even going to be one. And you wrote so much about it, like you did most of your films, I was very pleased.

So I’m very taken with you being 12 years old. I was 14 (going to those foreign films, growing up). I mean, you were a baby! Who took you to see “Up the Sandbox”?

I made my mother take me. The ad campaign intrigued me. It looked subversive, which was intriguing at that age, wanting to see more mature fare. It did introduce me to a feminist viewpoint on screen, and sort of more of a foreign film sensibility in American film, I think…

Wow. But had you seen me in “Funny Girl” or the other musicals, “Hello Dolly” and “Clear Day”?

Probably just “Funny Girl”… and “What’s Up, Doc?,” which came out just before that.

Ah. “What’s Up Doc?,” yeah — I didn’t understand that movie, but it sure became a big hit. [Streisand writes in the book about how she first saw the movie in a private screening where no one laughed, and she was so convinced it was a bomb that she sold off her share of the film.] So I guess I wasn’t too interested in the financial aspect of a movie. But, it was rewarding to make “Up the Sandbox.”

Something you say about yourself in here is, “I would make a great critic, especially of myself.” And it really does feel like there’s a lot of kind of film criticism, or self-criticism, embedded in the film-by-film, making-of chapters here, where you have a lot of objective-seeming insights into what went right or wrong. This is a great book for people who like cinematographers, for instance, because you discuss learning from how “Gordy” (Gordon Willis) lit you a certain way…

Right, right.

Some people are going to want to read this for the love affairs, and some people are going to want to read it for the cinematography discussions.

Yeah. My cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, who I did three projects with, presented me with a cinematographers’ award (the American Society of Cinematographers’ Board of Governors Award, in 2015). That was thrilling, because then I could thank all those great cinematographers — and never mention the ones that weren’t, which was only about one. You know, the difference of making a movie with (cinematographer) David Watkin and (camera operator) Peter McDonald on “Yentl,” as I say in the book, is that they accepted me, a first-time woman director. And it’s probably because they had a queen, obviously, and a prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. So, it wasn’t such a big deal that I was a woman in England.

That’s an interesting realization.

So when I came to New York to do “Prince of Tides” [on which Streisand had a less smooth relationship with her DP], I said, “Well, the first shot starts on a plate and then he shoves it and then it goes up to the mother’s face…” And the first thing he said to me was, “You can’t do that.” “What? ‘You can’t do that?’” He said, “We would have to take away the wall for that shot.” I said, “That’s right!” That’s why, when we did “Yentl,” Peter said, “We’ll make the set so that it comes apart.” So the first song I sing in “Yentl”… I was used to doing things in the theater in one take, obviously, and that’s what I wanted to do in the movie as well. When I sing a song, I want it, if I can figure it out, in one take. A camera can accommodate that. That was what was so much fun in directing.

You say at one point in the book that an editor told you you needed to leave some blood on the page — which was an interesting image — and implicit in that exchange is that you didn’t always want to leave blood on the page.

No, I did not.

What was the most difficult bloodletting, as it were, in this book?

Well, it was mainly about the men in my life. I could never talk about it in an interview, so don’t expect me to talk about it now. It’s like, me alone with my book is one thing, but the thought of saying some of these words out loud, I don’t know — it’s too personal. So I can’t do it. I mean, I’m sorry I even said certain things, but she was kind of adamant about it. “You can’t not say this or that.” So, I trusted that. But I can’t say certain things out loud.

I think I know what the answer is to this last question, but want to ask it anyway, about the prospect of future performances. Every time you’ve done a tour, I think we felt lucky that maybe it was one more tour than we were already expecting. And when we saw you the last time you played L.A.…

Well, you have to know that every time I finished one of those tours, I always said, “That’s it. It’s too stressful for me. I cannot do it.” But when I needed to buy a painting, I needed a certain amount of money. And you know, you don’t make a lot… well, I didn’t make a lot of money in films. And I sold out (her share of) “What’s Up, Doc?,” and I sold out “The Way We Were” because I didn’t want to give him (producer Ray Stark) another film. And I was sorry about that. Then I wouldn’t have had to do those extra concerts.

I feel very lucky that I was able to make a name for myself and become a movie star. That was like such a dream — me, a movie star? My mother said it would never happen. And that’s a big impetus, to prove her wrong, you know?

And somehow looking through these magazines that came out, and pictures, I thought, “Wow, I grew into my face.” How did that happen? Was that fate? I mean, I was a funny-looking kid and teenager. And somehow I sort of grew into my face without having to cap my teeth or change my nose or whatever. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that truth and reality got me to where I wanted to go without having to compromise.

Well, it sounds like if we ever want to hear you sing live again, somebody has to find some really expensive paintings that you can’t do without.

Well, until I need another painting and I can’t afford it. Who knows, you know? I haven’t sung in like three years.

I want to try to sing certain songs, the songs that I did at my first job at the Lion [the gay club in Greenwich Village where Streisand performed circa 1960]. I thought it’d be interesting; I have all those lists of songs I used to sing, but I never got around to (on record). I have to call my album “Songs I Never Got Around to Singing,” or something like that.

I mean, I love the recording process. I like the privacy of it. So I do plan on singing again, but I don’t know if I could (in a concert setting). I have a bad back now. And I never had it operated on, so, you know, it’s hard to move around. Maybe if I could sit up on a stage, just in one chair. I don’t know; I have no idea. But, at the moment, I can’t see it in my future.

It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.

It was nice talking to you, too. Thank you. I’m going to have an ice cream cone, I don’t know about you.

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Author and humorist David Sedaris is at Orpheum Theater on April 15.

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David Sedaris will read, sign his new book in New Orleans

Victor Andrews

Victor Andrews

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  • Dec 6, 2023
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David Sedaris, best-selling author and humorist, will read and sign his new book "Happy-Go-Lucky," at the Orpheum Theater on April 24, 2024.

"An Evening With David Sedaris" will feature readings from the new release, plus signings of the book.

In addition to his latest book, the author is known for his essays in national publications, as well as anthologies. Together with his sister Amy Sedaris, he has written several plays.

He has also been nominated for several Grammy Awards for his spoken-word readings.

Tickets for the event at 129 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans, start at $55.

For more information, visit octaviabooks.com .

Email Victor Andrews at [email protected] .

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