Seven books that changed my life.

I originally wrote this post for Daniel Riding as a guest on his site. Here it is for those who haven't seen it.

There are books you read for pleasure, others for fun, even more just because you are lying on a beach and having nothing else to do. And then, there are the books you read that change your life. Here are seven that changed mine, for good and bad.




The Name of the Rose. Umberto Eco

At last, proof that a detective novel could be more than a whodunnit. Here were characters, philosophy, intelligence and history, all wrapped up in a murder mystery. The denouement was integral to the theme of the book, and left the reader with a wonderful sense of rightness. I’ve read it five times now, each time finding something new to like.


Lord of the Rings. J R R Tolkien

When I was fifteen, I went through a phase of reading long books. War and Peace. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. And this. Each was over a thousand pages. But it is this one I fell in love with. Tolkien created a world filled with wizards, trolls, elves, dwarves and hobbits that was believable and wonderful at the same time. Written during the war, it has passed the test of time and is still as relevant today as it was when I read it all those years ago.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee

Another book where I became lost in created world. This time of the Amercan Deep South. Who couldn’t fail to love Atticus Finch as the father we all wished we could have. Harper Lee will publish a new novel soon. I wish she had decided not to. One book is her gift to the world. It’s enough.

Master and Commander.  Patrick O’Neill

I really want to nominate the whole Aubrey-Maturin series of twenty books. I’ve read them all twice. Humanity, an understanding of nature, and adventure, all set against the Napoleonic wars. Brilliant.

David Copperfield. Charles Dickens

I was given this by an aunt when I was eight. She had seen the first episodes of the TV series and thought it was a children’s book. I read it slowly but thoroughly over the next year. I think it gave me my love of reading. The realisation that there were these other worlds that one could explore through books. I will be forever grateful to my Aunt Nancy.


From those wonderful folks that gave you Pearl Harbor.. Jerry Della Femina

I was in my twenties, I’d done a degree and a master’s. I’d worked in a few jobs but nothing had really interested me, so I was a bit of job-hopper. Then I picked up this book for 5p at a Thrift Store and thought that his job sounded fun. I ended up getting a position and have spent the last twenty-five years as an advertising Creative Director. The book is probably out of print now but just watch Mad Men and you’ll get the whole gist of the story.

The Red and the Black. Stendhal

You know that feeling when you never want to a book to end? I enjoyed that with this book. As soon as I finished it, I immediately turned to page one and started it all over again. A wonderful novel about love and life and people.


So those are the seven books that changed my life. None of them particularly intellectual, but all affected me in one way or another. What are the seven books that changed your life? 



Martin Lee has been writing for his whole adult life as a university  researcher, social worker and advertising creative  director. His debut novel, Death in Shanghai, will be published on the September 10th. You can find our more about him over at or his Facebook page.