Memoirs are special books—they’re the stories of real people’s lives, as told by the authors themselves. The writers look back on their lives and share the lessons they’ve learned along the way through firsthand accounts of their experiences.
Memoirs can be funny, sad, intriguing—and just as unbelievable as fiction. Pick up one of these truly enlightening and inspiring books next time you need a good read.
The Best Memoirs for Everyone
Here’s a list of our favorite memoirs by people from all walks of life.
1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Former first lady Michelle Obama is known for her grace, poise, and myriad accomplishments (from being the first African American first lady to crushing Carpool Karaoke). In her memoir, she takes readers inside her fascinating world with inspirational stories of her past and present.
2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Funny-woman Amy Poehler, veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade, Saturday Night Live, and Parks and Recreation, doesn’t disappoint in this hilarious collection of stories, lists, and poetry that will make you laugh—and think.
3. Night by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel’s memoir of surviving the Holocaust is deeply affecting and thought-provoking. This book is famous for a reason—the devastating stories are unforgettable.
Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. His mother, father, and sister were killed there, and Night is Wiesel’s record of his memories of them.
4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s tragic story is well known—but if you haven’t read her story in her words, you should put this book high on your reading list. Anne’s surprisingly poignant and observant diary entries while in hiding from the Nazis will tug at your heart strings and make you believe that good people exist.
5. Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover’s story is nearly unbelievable—her survivalist family kept her out of school until the age of 17, and Westover spent most of her childhood avoiding her violent brothers and working in her father’s junkyard.
Her quest for an education takes her far from her family, but her insight into what home means will stay with you.
6. The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
This beautifully written, heart-rending book was written by Nina Riggs after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Her thoughts and reflections on how to live while dying are brilliant and moving.
7. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Jeanette Walls’ memoir of her dysfunctional yet surprisingly vibrant family life is a perennial bestseller for good reason. Walls’ father taught her and her siblings about all manner of subjects—when he was sober—but was destructive when drunk. Her free-spirited mother preferred not to be tied down in domestic duties, leaving Walls and her siblings to take care of themselves and each other.
8. The Size of Everything by Erin Cole
Erin Cole, the eponymous bridal designer, is a glamorous, successful businesswoman—you would never guess that her childhood was profoundly dysfunctional.
Cole was raised in poverty on a steady diet of abuse and alcoholism. As a child, she often went hungry or was force-fed until she vomited. She was beaten and bullied at home and school. She was living on her own by age sixteen.
9. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Phil Knight doesn’t often open up, but this book gives readers a glimpse into the inside of one of the world’s most iconic athletic brands, and how Knight grew Nike into a $30 billion company.
Read about the setbacks, obstacles, risks, and ultimate triumphs of this successful businessman, and follow the meteoric rise of the ubiquitous swoosh.
10. The Hooligans of Kandahar by Joseph Kassabian
Twenty-one-year-old Joseph Kassabian was a junior fire team leader in Afghanistan, part of a squad tasked with training the Afghan National Police and rebuilding the country.
But many of the officers they are supposed to train are Taliban sleeper agents, the family of Taliban fighters, or addicts and child slave–smugglers. Kassabian’s Staff Sergeant is unstable and violent, leaving the men to take care of themselves in a strange, war-torn country.
11. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
This powerful book is about the sudden crumbling of Joan Didion’s family. First, her daughter was struck with a mysterious illness and put in a coma on life support. A few days later, Didion’s husband of forty years died from a massive coronary.
Didion’s daughter pulled through, but Didion herself was still left to make sense of the heartbreak and chaos after the loss of her husband. Intensely personal yet universally applicable, this book is sure to stick with you.
12. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Born in Depression-era Brooklyn and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland, Frank McCourt tells the story of his Irish Catholic childhood. His father drinks his wages, so his mother, Angela, is unable to feed Frank and his siblings.
But it is his father’s ability to tell a story that allows Frank to survive the hunger, poverty, and cruelty and grow up to become a storyteller himself.
13. Hunger by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay explores her own struggles with food, body image, appearance, and health, but her emotional and psychological trials are highly relatable. Her searingly honest and intimate prose delves into the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care.
14. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Famed poet Maya Angelou’s memoir captures the longing of a lonely childhood. When her mother sends her and her brother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, the siblings must endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the locals.
At eight years old, Angelou was attacked by a much older man, and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya realizes that she can find freedom in the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors.
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers’ was a senior in college when he lost both of his parents to cancer and inherited his eight-year-old brother. Surprisingly hilarious, wildly inventive, and deeply heartfelt, this is the story of the love that holds a family together.
16. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi was nearly done with a decade of training to become a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In this heartbreaking book, Kalanithi documents his transformation from doctor to patient, and how he deals with his own mortality as a husband, new father, and, ultimately, as a person.
Published by his wife after his death, this poignant and observant book is profoundly moving.
Stories of Humanity
Memoirs are a lovely way to connect with real people, learn something new, and get some insight on the trials and tribulations that impact all of us.
If you’re thinking of writing a memoir of your own, TCK Publishing is accepting submissions!
What would your memoir be about? What’s your favorite memoir? Tell us in the comments below!
If you liked this article, you might also like:
- 25 Memoir and Autobiography Publishers Currently Accepting Submissions
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- Write a Bestselling Memoir: The True Story that Became a New York Times Bestseller with Regina Calcaterra
- Teresa Rhyne On Going from Unknown Author to #1 NYT Bestselling Memoirist
Melissa Drumm is a lifelong book lover. She is passionate about helping authors make their work the best it can be. You can find some of her writing here on the TCK blog, and learn more about her other projects at melissadrumm.com. When she’s not writing, editing, or reading, you’ll usually find her in the kitchen, baking.