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Great books about values, character, and being a good person

Books for learning which core values matter and how to you use them to make moral choices in a complicated, divisive world

Books about core values and how to be a good person.

What does it mean to be a good person? Who decides about right and wrong? Which core values matter and how do you use them to find meaning and purpose in life? These are some of the big questions people are asking today as we look around at divisiveness and conflict. And I have good news for you. Humans have been asking these questions for a long time, and there are some very good books that can help you find the answers.

While researching for the book, Rooted in Decency, I read hundreds of resources on values and morality, from the classics to the lastest science about how our brains and bodies works together to help us make moral choices and find meaning in life. I read books that explain where values come from, which ones matter, and how we use our values to make moral choices and to be a good person. But let me save you some time! These are some of the most interesting and readable books about values, morality, and being a good person.

Which books on values made the list

In the sections below, you’ll find some of the best books on values and being a good person for adults as well as for children. You’ll find books on values from secular, scientific, and religious perspectives so I’ve written some notes to help you narrow the list to find the book that best meets what you want to know about being a good person and creating your moral compass. Side note, these pages include affiliate links but that's not why I chose to recommend the books.

The 4 Essential Core Values

Drawing on sources ancient and modern, religious to scientific, Rooted in Decency gets to the heart of your questions on values. With built-in journaling pages, you can explore your moral compass and clarify how to use values in your decisions.

Find answers to questions like:

  • Which values are important to being a good person?
  • Are values and morals a personal choice?
  • How do I use a moral compass to guide my choices?
Book on values and defining a moral compass: Rooted in Decency
The Respect Value Continuum from Rooted in Decency

One of the Value Continuums from Rooted in Decency

Tools to navigate the complexity of moral choices

Real moral choices are rarely black and white. With its Value Continuums, Rooted in Decency gives readers tools to consider the subtlety in moral choices, and to decide how to find balance between competing moral priorities.

Browse the Table of Contents

Featured Books on Values, Being a Good Person

Book about how humans make moral choices and they prioritize different core values

The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion

By Jonathan Haidt

If you're wondering why different groups in society seem to have different core values and different ideas about what it means to be a good person, start with this book. Haidt's research is foundational for understanding how people think through moral choices yet he shares his insights in a tone that's easy to follow. Discover why it seems like different groups in society don't share common values (even though they do.)

Buy on Amazon
Book about how to be a good person

Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted living in a brokenhearted world

By Pema Chodron

This is a beautifully written book on the value of compassion, self-awareness, and how to be a good person. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, writes in an uplifting, compassionate voice that helps us clarify what we value, and how we want to act with values, without ever really seeming to talk about values. She helps readers find purpose, joy, and open-hearted connection with humanity.

Buy on Amazon
Book about lying and the value of honesty


By Sam Harris

Harris is a best-selling author and neuroscientist also known for his book, The Moral Landscape: How science can determine human values, which takes a scientific view of how we can objectively understand right and wrong. In this book, Lying, Harris focuses on one value in particular, honesty. It's a quick read with some thought-provoking ideas about why even white lies told by good people are a bad idea.

Buy on Amazon
Book about joy, compassion, and lasting happiness

The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world

By Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama

You will likely feel plenty of joy while reading The Book of Joy. The delightful wisdom from these two global icons reveals how one can be a person of compassion and goodness and how we can find joy, despite a difficult world. This book is less about values per se, and more about following the moral example of two people who are on a different spiritual level than most of us.

Buy on Amazon
Book about ethics, values-based decisions

The Power of Ethics: How to make good choices in a complicated world

By Susan Liautaud and Lisa Sweetingham

Based in real-world examples, The Power of Ethics is a practical guide for making decisions in the business world while being true to core values and shared moral principles.

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Book about morality and shared values

Morality: Restoring common good in divided times

By Jonathan Sacks

The Washington Post called this book "Breathtaking" and I wholeheartedly agree. The late Rabbi Sacks was a moral philosopher with a spiritual leader's wisdom into the human condition. He crosses human history touching on our moral evolution, and how we ended up here in this toxic culture. He makes a compelling case for shared human values that can counteract the rising toxicity of individualism.

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Books about values and morals for children

The Talking with Trees Series

By Colleen Doyle Bryant

The Talking with Trees series of books on values for children helps elementary school aged children learn the value of honesty, respect, responsibility and more good, moral traits. Written in a secular (non-religious) tone, these books are used in curriculums around the world to help children learn how making choices that are honest, respectful, responsible, and kind feels good in their hearts. (Full disclosure- I wrote this series, and the Talking Trees teach ideas about developing a moral compass, but in simpler terms for children in grades K-4. Includes the books Be Proud (honesty, conscience), Be Bigger (respect, perseverance), and What if (responsibility and respect). Learn more at the Talking with Trees Books website or the Amazon link below.

Buy on Amazon
Book about the moral emotion of shame and  and the value of your being your whole self

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women reclaiming power and courage in a culture of shame

By Brene Brown

If you're wondering how to be a good person, or how to be a better person because you're feeling ashamed, Brene Brown offers insight and tools that help readers to see the value in themselves and to grow beyond guilt and shame so they can embrace their whole selves. This isn't a book about developing particular moral values-- it's more about how moral emotions (guilt and shame in particular) may cause readers to seek perfection in an unhealthy way. Brown helps readers see how to find true purpose, meaning, and joy by reclaiming our whole imperfect selves.

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Book about developing moral qualities in children

NurtureShock: New thinking about children

By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

This book isn't a book you'd typically see on a list about values. But I'm including it because it offers some surprising insights about how children learn the value of honesty and self-control, both important values. The book also reveals important misconceptions about self-esteem, and the way children develop an internal sense of whether they are a good person.

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Book about the science behind being a good person

Born To Be Good: The science of a meaningful life

By Dacher Keltner

In an easy-to-read style, Born To Be Good shows how humans have evolved to behave in ways that reflect shared values so we are better able to cooperate and trust each other. Keltner's research reveals the biology that compels us not only toward making good moral decisions, but it also shows how acting with shared values, like compassion and gratitude, help us find meaning in life.

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Book about values and people's moral journeys

The Second Mountain

By David Brooks

David Brooks, who has written several books on values, morals, and society, focuses in The Second Mountain on how to find fulfillment and moral joy in life. He includes a helpful view of how our values and moral priorities have changed as a society, highlighting the damaging effects of individualism. The Second Mountain builds on one of his previous books on values, The Road to Character, in which he wrote about individuals and their personal, moral, value-based journeys.

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Book about values and vices and how to make peace with your whole self

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers

By Debbie Ford

We all have that positive, moral self we put out to the world, but if you're ready to make peace with your darker side and the choices you aren't proud of, then this book is for you. Debbie Ford helps readers see that we are capable of virtue and vice, good and bad. She guides readers to understand the ways they violate their own moral code and how to acknowledge their dark side so they can bring out the light and live authentically.

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Book about morality and the immoral choices humans have made in recent history

Humanity: A moral history of the twentieth century

By Jonathan Glover

For all of our supposed moral progress, humanity has still experienced brutal atrocities in recent history. Renowned moral philosopher Jonathan Glover explains what, why, and how humans have ignored core human values during some of the major events of the twentieth century.

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Book about the neuroscience behind moral / values-based choices

Behave: The biology of humans at our best and worst

By Robert Sapolsky

Why do we make the choices we make? Sapolsky reveals the neuroscience behind our moral decision making. He's surprisingly funny and accessible despite the scientific terms he references. Getting through some of the heavier science is well worth it for his insights that show how we may think we're making values-based mental choices but biology and evolution are spurring us along.

Buy on Amazon
Book about core values and common decency

Rooted in Decency: Finding inner peace in a world gone sideways

By Colleen Doyle Bryant

Clarify your moral compass and see how Value Continuums can help you navigate real moral issues today.

Author Colleen Doyle Bryant
Colleen Doyle Bryant is the author of five books and more than 50 learning resources about character and values for kids, teens, and adults. Her latest book, Rooted in Decency, looks at the decline in common decency in society and ways that we can build more trust and cooperation. Learn more at

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