15 Best Autobiographies Everyone Should Read at Least Once in Their Lives
You may think you know your favorite authors, singers, politicians, and public figures well, but you only see parts they allow you to see.
The only way to get inside knowledge of these public personalities is through a written account of their lives, and who better than them to write one?
Autobiographies are your keys to the lives of famous people, where they share their fears, struggles, emotions, and life stories with their fans.
They are a bit more intimate and emotional than biographies because an autobiography tells the person’s life story the way they want it told.
Some autobiographies will leave you inspired, while others will leave you in tears.
The following are 15 autobiographies that are must-reads that will leave you satisfied.
15 AUTOBIOGRAPHIES YOU SHOULD READ AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFE
1. Nelson Mandela’s – “A Long Walk to Freedom”
Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly the most popular African leader of the 20th century, and his autobiography chronicles his life story, down to the long years he spent in prison for his county, South Africa.
If you’re a fan of this great man, then you can’t miss out on reading this book. He tells the story, and it is equal parts inspirational, funny, and emotional.
Nelson Mandela takes you through his childhood in South Africa during the apartheid, his early education, his work as an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the infamous ANC that landed him in prison for 27 years.
It goes on to talk about his eventual release and election as South Africa’s first black president. You will find this book in most bestsellers lists, and it is undoubtedly one of the most beloved autobiographies of all time.
2. Maya Angelou’s – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Maya Angelou published her autobiography in 1969, and people cannot get over it till today. If you love the work of Maya Angelou, then you’ll definitely love her writing in ‘I know why the caged bird sings.’
The book has seven volumes, and each of them talks about a different point in the early life of the poet. Although the themes of this book are quite dark (racism and sexual abuse of a minor), Maya overcomes the darkness in her life through her love for literature and incredible strength.
Maya writes about her early childhood, when she moves in with her grandmother in Arkansas at the age of 3, how she dealt with the weight of racism and prejudice as a young black girl growing up in a racist world, and her eventual rape and childbirth.
While reading this book, you may see it as a work of fiction because she incorporated a lot of fiction techniques, but it is an autobiography.
3. Anne Frank’s – “The Diary of a Young Girl”
Anne Frank was born in Germany prior to the Nazi invasion, and her experiences as a young Jewish girl in the middle of World War II were all documented in a diary of sorts.
So, although this autobiography isn’t exactly like the others on this list, it inspires a lot of emotion in a reader. You can’t help but feel sad for this 13-year old that is hiding with her family amidst death and destruction, yet she doesn’t seem moved by the bad.
Her diary contains happy experiences, crushes, sleepovers, and good memories that you sometimes forget that she is in the middle of a war that took the lives of over 16 million of her fellow Jews.
Her diary continues until she turns 15, and that is where it ends. If you haven’t already read this, you should read it as soon as possible, and if you already have, it’s definitely worth a second read!
4. Trevor Noah’s – “Born a Crime”
You may know Trevor Noah as the incredibly funny and smart comedian who makes fun of everyone and everything, but he wasn’t always that way.
When he released his autobiography in 2016, he received rave reviews, and his book is currently featured on several book lists. Trevor Noah covers everything in his book, from racism, crime, domestic violence, and oppression.
Of course, the book isn’t completely dark so that you will be introduced to the culture, family, language of South Africa in which Trevor grew up.
Perhaps the most prominent theme of the book is the strength and determination of a woman witnessed in his mother, Patricia Noah.
She is a significant part of the book, and her relentless defiance of societal norms and oppressive laws set the pace for the spirit you see in her son now. Their relationship and strong bond transcend race and ethnicity, and you won’t find it challenging to relate to them.
5. Benjamin Franklin’s – “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”
Benjamin Franklin is undoubtedly one of the most famous personalities in history, as he was a founding father of the United States of America.
And although he lived in the 18th century, there are a lot of things to learn from him.
If you didn’t read this autobiography in school, this is another opportunity for you to read it because this is a piece of history that you cannot overlook. Franklin’s story is sectioned into 4 parts, with each one talking about a particular time of his life.
The first section is a letter to his son detailing parts of his childhood and how he discovered his writing ability. The next two sections focus mostly on his rise to prominence in the new country of America.
The final section is the shortest, and Franklin wrote it shortly before his death. Franklin never got to publish his autobiography, but it was published a few years after his death with new editions coming out over time.
6. Stephen King’s – “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”
Stephen King is the king of horror, so it’s a bit of a pleasant surprise that his autobiography doesn’t contain any of the spine-tingling horror that made him famous.
Stephen King is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing characters in the world of writing, but he is also one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen.
In his book, King not only tells readers about the various experiences he’s had as a writer, but he goes ahead to advise upcoming writers as well. So, it isn’t a surprise that King’s work was featured on the Goodreads list of the best of 21st-century Non-fiction.
The book has five sections, with each of them offering different aspects of what makes King who he is. You hear about the incidents that led to his writing career, his advice to writers, and how his life was affected by the accident that nearly claimed his life.
This body of work is indispensable to aspiring writers, and if you aren’t one, you can still benefit from his life experiences.
7. Frank McCourt’s – “Angela’s Ashes”
Angela’s Ashes was so good that it won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997, a year after its publication.
It covers Frank McCourt’s life story, from his childhood in the US and his later life in Ireland. Angela’s Ashes has some pretty dark plots since it focuses on McCourt’s impoverished childhood, deaths of his siblings, and his father’s struggle with alcoholism.
This story is a heart-rending tale of survival and how the circumstances of life affect a family. Frank had to grow up too fast, and the book centers on his relationship with his mother, Angela.
You are exposed to the hard and sometimes unhealthy relationship he had with Angela and the rest of the people in his life.
Frank’s story is one of resilience and rugged determination to succeed and meet a goal – his is to get a ticket back to America. You may shed a few tears while reading this story, and it is completely worth it.
8. Barack Obama’s – “Dreams From My Father”
Barack Obama is a household name by this time, and he is one of the most influential people in the world. As a former president of the United States, Obama opened doors as the first black president in America.
Although at the time this autobiography was published, Obama was not even close to his presidential dreams, but he was doing well as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. His book is on the list of NYT best memoirs of the past 50 years.
Dreams of my father primarily explored topics on race and race relations, and they are recounted through his point of view as a young African-American.
The book recounts his childhood, early education, parents’ divorce, and his struggle to reconnect with the father he had not seen since his childhood.
You will also get a look at his college education and his eventual emotional return to his father’s country after his father’s death.
9. Malcolm X’s – “The autobiography of Malcolm X”
The autobiography of Malcolm X is a combined effort between the renowned activist Malcolm X and Alex Haley, a journalist.
Malcolm X’s Autobiography follows his childhood, right from his mother’s pregnancy, his spirituality, and continues till the year before his death. Malcolm X had strong opinions and principles, all of which are made evident in his book.
Perhaps the most prominent theme in this book is the intense spirituality. Malcolm X’s conversion to Islam was a highly significant part of his life story, and this book sheds a lot of light on that.
So, this book is sort of a spiritual text in the sense that it highlights the change that Malcolm X went through after converting.
10. Sam Walton’s – “Made in America”
Walmart is one of the biggest chain store franchises in the world, and you most probably have heard about it. Sam Walton was the founder of Walmart and Sam’s club.
At a time, Walmart was the biggest chain store brand and the largest private employer of labor.
This made Sam Walton one of the richest men in the world, and the richest man in the world for some time. Today, Sam Walton would have been the richest man in the world, but he died at the age of 74 in 1992.
Made in America has a narrative style with Sam Walton talking about his life before and after he went on to establish Walmart at age 45.
The book also contains snippets of his experiments with different business practices, his business style, and the evolution of Walmart.
You find yourself liking Sam as a person, and in the end, you feel like you knew him personally. Throughout the book, quotes and anecdotes from Sam’s friends, family, and associates add a personal touch to what is already a good read.
11. Richard Wright’s – “Black Boy”
Reading Richard Wright’s Black Boy for the first time is not at all like reading an autobiography, rather it reads like a novel. Black Boy chronicles the life of Richard Wright in the South and after he moved to Chicago. The key themes in this book are racism, prejudice, poverty, and religion.
According to Wright, a lot of his writing is influenced by the way he was brought up, and he really showed it in this book, which is featured in The Guardian’s 100 best non-fiction books.
Richard Wright grew up in a poor, black home in the middle of the racist South, and it details the journey his family took as they traveled around looking for greener pastures.
The book comes in 2 parts, one part chronicling his Southern childhood, and the other part talking about his life in Chicago.
Most of his young life was a fight against the world he was born into and a struggle to fit in.
So, if you’ve ever related to the effort to fit in, you will find this book inspiring and educative.
12. Adolf Hitler’s – “Mein Kampf”
Mein Kampf directly translates to “my struggle,” and it is the manifesto of probably the most hated man in the world – Adolf Hitler. Hitler will always be known for his extreme anti-Semitism, the creation of the Nazi party, and the holocaust.
Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while serving time in prison for political crimes. He initially wrote it as a manifesto, but he eventually released a second volume.
While he wrote this before his rise to power in Germany, this book is an entrance into the mind of one of the worst dictators of the modern world.
The book detailed a lot of his plans for Germany and his ideologies and thought regarding Jews. You also get an idea of his early days and insight on how he became who he is known as today.
13. Frederick Douglass’ – “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”
Slavery is an aspect of world history that is usually underreported in many schools, so if you want to understand more of the experiences of an American slave, then this is the book for you.
Frederick Douglass was born in 1818, and he lived through the abolition period, where he was known as a prominent member of the abolitionist movement. He was known for his controversial writing that challenged slavery and slaveholders.
This book is only the first in the list of autobiographies that Douglass wrote during his life, and it is a real eye-opener.
Douglass was an influential writer, and his works sparked a revolution and are still quoted in the fight for equality among minorities in America. The book is still considered a bestseller today.
14. Mahatma Gandhi’s – “The Story of My Experiments with the Truth”
Mahatma Gandhi published his life story from his childhood until 1921, and it has been a bestseller ever since. It was first released in installments on his journal Navjivan between 1925 and 1929 and was later compiled into a complete edition.
The autobiography has 5 volumes that start from Gandhi’s childhood, his growing years, and his several experiments with different ideologies.
As a child, Gandhi tried out different practices that don’t align with the character he later adopts as an adult. He tried out eating meat, smoking, and drinking, and you watch him develop his religious inclinations.
His later volumes show his life as he moves to another country and his eventual movement into peaceful campaigns against injustice and oppression.
Gandhi’s principle of peace and kindness follows him even after his death, and he is a role model for many. His story is an inspiration, and it is something that everyone needs to apply in the world today.
15. Helen Keller’s – “The Story of My Life”
Helen Keller’s autobiography is a testament to her highly inspirational life and experiences as a blind and deaf woman in America.
If you’ve heard about Helen Keller, then you know that she is a strong woman and a testimony that you can do anything you want with your life regardless of your circumstances. Helen Keller became deaf and blind at a young age, in a time that being deaf and blind was a possible life sentence.
As recorded in her book, she started learning how to sign at an early age and could recognize people by their footsteps.
She, later on, met some professionals, including Alexander Graham Bell (who the book is dedicated to), and her famous teacher, Anne Sullivan, who helped her live life as normally as possible. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts and was the first deaf-blind woman to do so in history.
The story of my life contains stories from Keller’s early life and her journey while surrounded by her constant companion and governess, Anne Sullivan.
If there’s ever a story of overcoming your circumstances and rising above the hand you’ve been dealt by life, it’s Helen Keller’s!
Autobiographies offer you the chance to observe the rise of several notable people in the world.
They usually contain the authors’ raw feelings and emotions and offer you to see the world through their eyes. They are indispensable fountains of wisdom and inspiration.
If you love reading, then you will definitely enjoy any one of these books, and if you look well enough, you can learn their secrets and apply them to your own success story.
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