When life gets tough, stories about bravery can help to boost your spirits and keep you going during difficult times. Whether you want to try something new, change your life or make an impact on society, books about courage and perseverance can give you the strength to act when all else fails.
In this blog post, we’ve included fictional stories as well as autobiographies and non-fiction essays that have inspired us in the past. These have all produced that tingle-down-the-spine sensation that book lovers know so well and I still turn to these in moments of need. There’s a mixure of short and long reads, books for old and young, together with book quotes to help fire up your fortitude and augment your audacity.
This post contains affiliate links which means that if you buy a book through this page, then we will receive a small amount of commission at no cost to yourself.
UPDATED FEBRUARY 2022
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
We challenge you to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy tale and not feel empowered. It’s still one of the most inspirational fictional stories about bravery and shows how the smallest person can triumph when confronted with a seemingly unstoppable adversary. The main character Frodo, has no magical powers or wealth, yet his belief in good coupled with a cast-iron determination and the support of his friends, helps him to defeat the forces that wish to destroy the world.
Just as Frodo had to battle through many obstacles to achieve his goal, so too did Tolkien. It took 12 years for him to write The Lord of the Rings. The Second World War broke out during this time but he carried on. Once the book was finished, he then had to convince his publisher George Allen & Unwin to accept such a huge manuscript. A masterclass in determination.
‘Even the smallest person can change the course of history.’
Buy The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien from Bookshop.org
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
On the Shortness of Life (De Brevitate Vitae) by Seneca the Younger may be almost 2000 years old, but the ideas in this little book are still as fresh today. In the 111pp essay, Seneca urges us to make the most of our lives – to exist with purpose and not waste our time in empty pursuits. It’s a great kick up the butt if you’re feeling reticent about changing your life or the world. The time to act is now.
Seneca was involved in the murky world of Roman politics throughout his life and managed to dodge execution until Nero ordered the Stoic philosopher to take his own life at the age of 68. By then, he had written many philosophical works and a number of plays – leaving a legacy that’s still studied today.
“Life is long if you know how to use it.”
Buy On the Shortness of Life by Seneca | Amazon
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s terrifying account of hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex is one of the most well-known and poignant books about courage in the world. Anne Frank started her diary when she was 13-years-old and recorded her thoughts in several notebooks until she was captured two years later. As weeks turn into months, Anne holds onto hope and happiness, turning to nature to keep her spirits high. She urges the reader to stay strong and appreciate the basic joys of life.
I have visited Anne’s annex in Amsterdam myself and it was painful to imagine Anne’s fears and hopes within those walls, especially knowing her tragic fate. Her words remind us to seize the day and ensure that no one else has to suffer her fate.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is one of those books that people tend to love or hate. It’s a compact read about an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert to find a treasure buried near the Pyramids. Philosophical in tone, the tale centres about having the courage to follow your dream. It doesn’t have a traditional plot, more a meandering sequence of events and musings, but if you’re in the right frame of mind, this book can motivate you to pursue your true path.
Paulo Coelho originally published The Alchemist with a small press in 1988 and when they handed him back the rights six months later, he refused to give up on the book. He contacted a larger publisher and persuaded an editor to give The Alchemist another chance. More than 30 years on, the book has sold millions of copies globally in more than 80 languages.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography I Am Malala tells the story of her courage in speaking up against the Taliban in Pakistan and fighting for girls’ rights to education. Narrowly surviving assassination, Malala lived to write an account of her life and has campaigned for girls and women all over the world ever since. She advocates using your voice and the pen to battle against injustice. If you feel powerless, Malala’s story will give you the willpower to carry on.
We also recommend the sensitively-written picture book version of I Am Malala, Malala’s Magic Pencil for younger readers.
“I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”
The Harry Potter Series by J.K.Rowling
Bravery is central to the Harry Potter series, and one of Harry’s strongest characteristics. He stands up to his enemies and protects his friends – regardless of the danger involved. Like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the odds are often stacked against Harry, but he keeps on going. Whether you read or watch the Harry Potter series, you’re bound to come away feeling bigger, bolder and more resolute about your life.
J.K. Rowling’s rags to riches transformation is almost as well-known as her fictional world. Another reason to keep on following your dreams!
“I’m going to keep going until I succeed — or die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known it for years.”
Holes by Louis Sachar
A personal favourite, Holes by Louis Sachar is a middle-grade/YA novel about Stanley Yelnats, a 14-year-old boy who is sent to a remote juvenile correction camp after being wrongly convicted of theft. The book alternates between 3 narratives – one in the present and two in the past – to weave an intricate tale of injustice, fate and friendship. Stanley and his friends work together to survive the harsh prison conditions, frequently breaking rules to help each other out. This is one of those books about courage that every kid should read.
Louis Sachar decided to write for kids after he was employed as a lunchtime supervisor at a primary school. Later he worked a part-time job until his writing paid him a full salary.
“Nothing in life is easy. But that’s no reason to give up. you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it.”
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers is more about motivation than bravery, but this bestselling psychology book will boost your goals and empower you to act. A collection of case studies, Outliers looks at a range of successful people and attempts to determine patterns in their behaviour. The most famous example is the 10000-hour rule which suggests that it takes this amount of time to become an expert at something. Although critics are still on the fence about Gladwell’s claims, this is a fascinating book that might help spur you on.
Malcolm Gladwell admits that he wasn’t particularly gifted at school and rejected by many employers until he got a job in journalism and worked his way up the ranks.
“Achievement is talent plus preparation”
The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
Katniss Everdeen is one of the most courageous rebels in YA fiction. A gladiator and activist, Katniss’s constant priority to put family, friends and community before her own needs, is both inspirational and moving. The Hunger Games Series is a female take on the David versus Goliath story and shows the ability of one person to stand up against injustice.
Suzanne Collins was prompted to write The Hunger Games after seeing footage of the Iraq War on TV. She wanted to explore the moral issues surroundng a ‘just-war’.
“If he wants me broken, then I will have to be whole.”
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Both the book and the film of The Color Purple broke my heart. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, we follow Celie, a black woman born into poverty and abuse as she tries to find contentment. Celie has a beautiful and loving spirit which along with the support of her sisterhood, gives her incredible resilience in the face of adversity. This will make you determined to seek joy even in in the darkest times.
Alice Walker dedicated herself to reading and writing when she was blinded in one eye as a child. After attending the only high school that was available for people of colour, she gained a full scholarship to college. A civil rights activist, publisher and feminist, Alice Walker continues to campaign for equality and peace.
“Well, I say, we all have to start somewhere if us want to do better, and our own self is what us have to hand.”
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
When 11-year-old Addie discovers that women were once wrongly-persecuted for being ‘witches’ in her town, she decides to campaign for a memorial to mark their lives. The book centres around the perception of neurodiversity in society, a quality that Addie, the condemned women and Elle, the author all share. Despite struggling against bullying in her life, Addie is unflinching in her quest to commemorate the lives lost in the past – and in doing so, comes to accept her own identity and her autism.
Elle McNicoll wrote A Kind of Spark with her own experiences of neurodiversity in mind, but Addie is very much her own character and shows huge courage in the face of resistance and lack of understanding. Elle nearly didn’t submit the manuscript to publisher thinking it too niche, but the book was snapped up and has won numerous awards.
“Other people’s minds are small.
Your mind is enormous. You don’t want to be like other people.”
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover’s bestselling memoir, Educated, demonstrates the power of will in the face of almost unsurmountable circumstances. Born into a fundamentalist Mormon family who had completely cut themselves off from society, Tara manages to not only escape mental and physical abuse, but also to attain the highest level of education – eventually gaining a doctorate at the University of Cambridge. This is one of those stories about bravery and persistence that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.
“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”
Manifesto on Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo
Ever felt like you’ve never quite fitted in? Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo shares insights into her life, loves and writing in ths frank autobiography. Born to mixed race parents, and growing up in a large household, it took Bernardine a while to find her path, but when she finally set upon a creative lifestyle, she knew that she’d never sway from her goals. Manifesto is an ode to being true to yourself and following your deepest passions in the face of societal pressure.
Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other in 2019. She was 60-years-old and had devoted her life to her writing – always believing that her dream would eventually come true. It took great perseverance to reach this point.
Beyond Possible by Nimsdai Purja
Nimsdai Purja, a Nepalese elite soldier, had a seemingly impossible goal – to climb all 14 “death zone” mountains in 7 months. The previous record was set almost 8 years. He completed the challenge, named Project Possible in an incredible 6 months.
Beyond Possible tells his story, from growing up in near-poverty in Nepal to conquering the world’s toughest peaks in record time against the odds. This is a tale of immense bravery and perseverance – both physical and mental. Nimsdai Purja shares his inspirational journey in this bestselling autobiograpy.
Although not all of these stories about bravery have happy endings, no one can deny that they continue to change the world. We hope that these books about courage will help you if the time ever comes when you need a supportive voice to cheer you on.
Which stories about bravery have helped you to survive, grow and thrive? Please share them in the comments!
If you found this post useful then you might also enjoy: