Yoko Ono’s had a long and storied career as an avant-garde multimedia artist, author and peace activist. And at the age of 85, her dedication to spreading messages of love and understanding through the arts shows no sign of stopping. Throughout her life, Ono’s had a love affair with books that’s carried through much of her work.

In fact, Ono first met John Lennon while helping John Cage work on his 1969 book, Notations. A collection of graphical scores and holographs with text by over 200 composers, Ono first approached Paul McCartney for a possible submission. He declined but referred her to Lennon, who gave Ono his original handwritten lyrics for the Beatles song, “The Word.”

Speaking once of her and Lennon’s relationship, Oko said, “John and I felt that we were like people in an H. G. Wells story. Two people who are walking so fast that nobody else can see them.”

And recognizing the mercurial nature of the written word, and celebrating its evolutions, she mused, “People say that this new generation is so used to the Internet that their heads are already different. They can’t read a book from beginning to end. That is not a tragedy. The book changes form.”

Perhaps the best example of her elastic interpretation of books can be seen in her 1964 artist’s book Grapefruit (pictured above), which became famous as an early example of conceptual art. A “small but whimsical” book, it’s a collection of poetry, drawings, philosophical musings on life, and delightful activities for grown-ups. It came out over a decade after her first book, An Invisible Flowera heartwarming tale she wrote and illustrated at the age of 19, and more than fifty years before its sequel, Acorn.

On the influential nature of reading, Ono says, “Words are power. And a book is full of words. Be careful what power you get from it. But know that you do.” Her selected titles largely deal with hope, the human condition, healthy living, clean eating and finding the strength to overcome life’s pain.

Read on for a list of books that made a difference to Yoko Ono, and complement with John Lennon’s Library.


The Women by Hilton Als

“This is an incredibly powerful book. Once I started reading it, I had to go on reading until dawn. The author is so much in pain, his pain virtually gets under your skin as you read. For a know it all, I have surprised myself for having learnt so much from this book about us women. It was a humbling experience.” -YO

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales & Ron Soodalter

“Believe it or not, human trafficking happens here in the United States. It’s a disturbing phenomenon. Bales and Soodalter’s riveting account of modern-day slavery is a call to action. We can stop this crime. We must.” -YO

Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke

Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin & Rory Freedman

“This and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan are two great books for you to understand how to care about what you are eating and why.” -YO

50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People by Sally Beare

“I am 77 years old and feeling better than ever. This book has proved to me that longevity has everything to do with one’s state of mind. I just make sure to release all my anger and resentment whenever it hits me, and take a walk. I also dance in my mind to keep myself in good health. Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you’ll start to see a big difference in your life. The best advice is to do three things a day to make somebody happy. Do that for three months, and your life will be totally changed. These 77 years are just a prelude to my life!” -YO

The Ancient Art of Self-Healing by Yogi Bhajan and Siri Amir Singh Khalsa

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertold Brecht

Plundering Appalachia: The Tragedy of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining by Tom Butler & Doug Tompkins

“Once our valleys were green… now they look like the bomb-destroyed cities we created in Iraq. Buy this book and see what is quietly being done to middle America because of a few people’s greed.” -YO

MAO – The Unknown Story by Jung Chang & Jon Halliday

Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old by Deepak Chopra

“For your body and mind. I recommend all books by the same author.” -YO

Days That I’ll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Jonathan Cott

“Jonathan Cott is somebody we all know in our circle to be a quiet genius. Rolling Stone asked him to interview us a few times. This book is a collection of those interviews. Nothing more. Reading it, I thought “Wow, we weren’t bad at all.” Because most writers wanted to sensationalize us, thinking that if they didn’t do that, it might be boring – and nobody would buy the book! So their ‘interviews’ usually came out nothing like what we were like. I have never recommended any books about John and Yoko. But this book made me choke up. I heard John in my ears and felt him in my heart. This is a good book for Lennon fans. And I.. Well, I come out as the second banana (okay, okay!) You will get an inkling of two people in love, sometimes making daring remarks, yet not forgetting to protect each other in the interviews. In fact, this is really the way we were, folks! Have a good read.” -YO

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge 

“This is a book that everybody should read. It’s aneye-openerr. Giving many examples of the fact that our brain has plasticity, which most doctors don’t know. In fact, all doctors, at this point, are localizationists. When your brain is damaged, another part of the brain rewires itself and takes over the same function, making it possible for you to resume normalcy in your life. It is nothing short of miraculous. Get it!” -YO

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass

“I was crying reading the secret letter exchange Kruschev and John Kennedy quite extensively. Together, they thought they could create World Peace. They almost did, just before Kennedy was assassinated. If you want to read all the correspondence between those two, there is a separate 200 page book of it. This book only mentions a few. But it gives the picture of John Kennedy we didn’t know.” -YO

Classified Woman by Sibel Edmonds

“A tell-all book by a former FBI translator. A must-read. It’s frightening that this is the reality.” -YO

The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto 

Healing Visualizations: Creating Health Through Imagery by Gerald Epstein M.D.

“Using the power of IMAGINE, you can improve your health and the health of others using Creative Visualisation. This is a book that gives you the practical usage of IMAGINING. It gives you titles like this: Depression, Diabetes, Dizziness, Fear, Ending a relationship… I am just putting them without any order, but you see that it will be so good if you can cure those symptoms without chemical drugs and/or an operation.
When I read what he claims you can do to fix a cataract without any operation, I was flabbergasted. At the same time, I really wished that I could have given the information to a friend of mine who recently went through a cataract operation. It’s incredible!” -YO

The True Story of the Bilderberg Group by Daniel Estulin

“Read this if you want to know about a very powerful group that includes many of the presidents of very powerful countries, and is working to turn the planet into one country. They are systematically trying to make people dumb and poor – letting one group control them all.” -YO

Every Man Dies Alone: A Novel by Hans Fallada

“This is fiction, but it impressed the hell out of me even though I very rarely have time to read fiction these days. It is the New York Times book review “Notable Book of The Year,” as well. It gives the account of Germans who fought Nazism and were killed or put in jail for life by Nazis for it. A German citizen is killed just for dropping cards all over the city writing his objection of Hitler’s policies. His wife was also sentenced to death, and was in jail indefinitely.” -YO

India – A Portrait by Patrick French

Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich

“Friedrich’s detailed book will show you how the most incredible culture of the 20th century was destroyed and lost by racism. Let’s hope we won’t do this again.” -YO

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi

“At first this book first gives you a ‘reader’s digest’ version of how the world leaders really were. That’s interesting enough. But it goes on to show you how the brain works when a person is depressed, and how to overcome it. It is fascinating and full of important information. I kept reading thinking “great to know the other side of our leaders we didn’t know.” But then, in the end, there is a surprise! It shows the current scientific findings of the link between depression and empathy, we knew only as a moral and idealistic trait. Now it seems they found a point of brain that corresponds to empathy, scientifically, which is connected to depression, its cause, and also as its cure.” -YO

Love Your Body by Louise Hay

“I recently shared this book with my daughter. Now we both read the affirmations daily. Love your body to make it happy and healthy and whole! Here’s an example of how easy it is to practice these ideas: I love to put my feet up at the end of the day and watch them looking kinda good. In my mind I say to them: ‘Thank you for taking me around for so many years to so many places—with happy steps. You’re the best!’ This is a very practical book. Every page just lists a part of your body and one or two lines of blessings you can repeat. Repeat out loud. When you need it quickly – like you had a rough night,  your kidney is hurting,  your liver is feeling heavy but you have to go into the subway/the tube as soon as you can –  go to the pages in Louise Hay and just bless your liver and kidney before your morning starts. Isn’t that great? Don’t feel guilty if you forget to do it! I forget, too, you know. But my liver and kidney seem to understand me by now, that I do care about them.” -YO

The Warmth of the Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting – Ageing Without Growing Old by Marie de Hennezel

An Earth Saving Revolution by Teruo Higa 

The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources by Michael T. Klare

“As Earth’s ever-decreasing non-renewable resources diminish, we must alter our consumption patterns or we will all end up with nothing. This book shows us where we are currently standing and the unfortunate reality we don’t want to face. Reading this book will make you not only face the horrors of reality but will make you feel that you want to work to make a good future.” -YO

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

“This is a very important book. It is the only book about oppression of WOMEN in Asia and Africa, so far that I have read, that gives the work of women turning the oppression into opportunity for them to create economic independence for them and for all women of the region.  Every book on the same subject I’ve read just described the horrors. But this is about the women fighting back successfully without bloodshed! The title, taken from a Chinese proverb, says it all: ‘Women hold up half the sky.’ This book is different from others about gender oppression: It illustrates how women in Africa and Asia are leading a courageous, strong crusade. It is a story of empowerment. We can learn from their wisdom. This book takes a sad song and makes it better, so to speak.” -YO

Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility by Ellen J. Langer

Ultraprevention by Mark Hyman Mark Liponis 

The Revolution is to be Human by Walter Lowenfels

“This title alone gets you in your stomach! I listed because of that. But the book was published in 1973. I just got it from a friend. I don’t think it’s sold anymore.” -YO

And Justice For Some: An Expose of the Lawyers and Judges Who Let Dangerous Criminals Go by Wendy Murphy

“They might get angry with me for recommending this one. That’s how amazingly courageous the author is. Wendy is a professor at the New England School of Law in Boston. Served as a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School as a former Massachusetts Prosecutor who specialized in child abuse and sex crimes. She certainly does not aspire to climb the ladder of worldly success – such as to become a supreme court judge one day, since she dares to name all the judges in this book who have wronged in their profession. I got a little scared recommending this book myself. But her fight for mandatory sentencing laws for child sex offenders has been very successful in all fifty States in United States. It also gives credit to the American public which truly care for the issue. And why the blurbs all call her Wendy, instead of Ms. Murphy? Maybe she is fortunate to be a woman so they all want to call her by her first name!” -YO

Journey of Souls – Case Studies of Life Between Lives by Michael Newton Ph.D

Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins 

“This book gives you a true picture of American world politics that we have not been told. While at consulting firm Chas T. Main, Perkins claims to have worked as an ‘economic hit man,’ cheating developing nations out of trillions by convincing their leaders to accept development loans that ultimately turned into massive debts. It took a lot of courage to write this book because the author, an economic strategist, reveals that he was involved in swindling countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. He is a very brave individual who has stood up to share the truth; my late husband, John, would have liked that.” -YO

The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World by John Perkins

“John Perkins has surpassed his enormous bestseller CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN (which I’m sure you have read already) with THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE. You need to read this one, too. If you are too busy, read the prologue and the last chapter, TODAY IS THE DAY before you read the rest.” -Yoko Ono

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

“It’s actually a book you have to read before OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA, by the same author. This book was the beginning of Michel Pollan’s revolution. A must read.” -YO

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

“We are indeed amusing ourselves to death. This started when Marshall McLuhan stated that the medium was the message. I said right away that the message was the medium. But, alas, my voice was maybe not loud enough, and/or the medium without a serious message is much more amusing to people. So the entertainers became the gods of the people, who screamed: “Keep entertaining us! We want to die being entertained!” The kings of the world wished the same, and they let their countries fall while they were entertained. This is the only book in this list that was published way back in the 1960s. I hope you can get it.” -YO

The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat by Eric Roston

“A very well researched biography of Carbon and humanity that will help you appreciate everything from the Big Bang to the Industrial Revolution to Global Warming and make you want to help save the Earth. It’s easy to read and makes you gain so much knowledge that we will need for the New Age.” -YO

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

“The four agreements are these: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. It’s the how and why one should do these things that make The Four Agreements worth reading and remembering.” -YO

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

“I have shared ‘Fast Food Nation’ and ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ with everyone. Once you read them, you will never look at food in the same way. I believe that our food supply is not just a national issue – it is a global concern, and we should all be working together on this. I once heard that if every person in China jumped at the same time, the axis of the globe would shift. Well, we can shift the axis of this world by stopping the consumption of mass-produced food and focusing on organic and locally grown produce so we can all live longer, healthier lives while improving this beautiful planet we live on. If this book doesn’t make you eat better, I don’t know what will. By changing from consuming chemically ridden mass-produced food to eating locally grown organic food, we can give ourselves a longer and healthier life.” -YO

When the World Outlawed War by David Christopher Naylor Swanson

“Showing the effective campaign the activists made in the 1920’s by discovering that War was illegal. Did we know that? I didn’t.” -YO

Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams, Danny Penman and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Violence – Six Sideways Reflections by Slavoj Žižek

(via Imagine Peace)


Books by Yoko Ono

An Invisible Flower (1952)

“It just made me choke up re-reading “An Invisible Flower.”
I thought of the drawing of two people on horseback John made in 1952
(the same year I made “An Invisible Flower”).
The two people on horseback look very, very much like John and Yoko.
And the date, 18th February, was my 19th birthday.
It seems like we both knew in 1952 that we would fall in love with each other in 15 years time…” -Yoko Ono

Grapefruit (1964)

Acorn (2013)

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