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10 Autobiographies That Will Inspire You

An autobiography is usually written late in the author’s life. Starting from early childhood, the book chronologically details key events and ponders on insights from those life experiences. But autobiographies can be written by anyone; young or old, famous or ordinary, the best autobiographers are those who tap into their lives and draw out universal human experiences like dreams, failures, grief, healing, and hope.

Here are ten autobiographies that you may take inspiration from as you work towards telling your own story.

The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank

Posthumously published by her father, Anne Frank’s diary is a staple of many lists of must-read nonfiction. The 13-year-old Dutch had charted the time she spent hiding with her family in sealed-off annex rooms at the back of her father’s company building in Amsterdam. Calling the checkered notebook “Kitty”, Anne recorded the moments she shared with her family with such pure hope, clinging to her ideals because “[she] still believe[d], in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Sadly, she and her family were caught and sent to a concentration camp where she died of typhus, but her father managed to survive and save Anne’s writing, which has been translated in over 70 languages as well as adapted for the stage and the screen.

Image: “Anne Frank Zentrum”, by Rodrigo Galindez, licensed under CC BY 2.0

I Am Malala
by Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt at the age of 15. After her recovery, she co-authored a book with British journalist Christina Lamb and later on became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her autobiography details her early life as the daughter of a teacher who was also an activist for equal education, the rise and fall of a militant student group, and her near-death experience. The book has been banned in schools in Pakistan but has sold almost 2 million copies worldwide.

Image: “Malala and Freida Pinto meet the Youth For Change panel”, by DFID - UK Department for International Development, licensed under CC BY 2.0

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

This book is the first in a series of seven autobiographies about the storied life of American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. Before writing the autobiography at 40, Angelou had had a varied career, working as a nightclub performer, sex worker, journalist, educator, and civil rights worker. She was challenged by novelist James Baldwin and book editor Robert Loomis to create a literary autobiography, and she did so by writing about her childhood trauma, family, racism, black motherhood, and the quest for independence.

Image: “Maya Angelou”, by Kyle T., licensed under CC BY 2.0

An Autobiography
by Agatha Christie

By the time English writer Dame Agatha Christie passed on, she had produced 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She had turned down multiple requests for permission to write her biography when she told her literary agent that she refused to have her life written about. However, she seemed to realize that it was inevitable, so she set out to write her own account. An Autobiography took Christie 15 years to write, and was published almost two years after her death and translated to Greek, Polish, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Image: “Agatha Christie”, by Violetriga, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Living to Tell the Tale
by Gabriel García Márquez

The autobiography of Gabriel García Márquez is as colorful as the oeuvre of magic realism that catapulted him to worldwide renown. Living to Tell the Tale unfolds like a conversation, weaving through tales of García Márquez’ eccentric family members, references to real-life events like the Banana Massacre in Ciénaga, Colombia, myths and mysteries of his homeland, and his passion for his craft. Spanning his childhood, journalism career, and proposal to his would-be wife, the book was supposed to be the first in a trilogy, but García Márquez passed away before the project came to fruition.

Image: “Gabriel Garcia Marquez”, by Jose Lara, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Long Walk to Freedom
by Nelson Mandela

Anti-apartheid revolutionary and former president Nelson Mandela dedicated his autobiography to his children, grandchildren, and fellow South Africans. The book tells of his childhood, coming of age, education, and imprisonment for nearly three decades. Four years after his death, a follow-up memoir about his presidential years was published using his unfinished draft, handwritten notes, and archive material.

Image: “Nelson Mandela”, by South Africa The Good News, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Story of My Experiments with Truth
by Mahatma Gandhi

Social activist Mahatma Gandhi was urged by his peers to paint the background of his political convictions. He did so by writing his autobiography in weekly installments from 1925 to 1929 in his journal Navjivan. Gandhi chronicled reminiscences of his childhood, child marriage, educational experiences, social work, and political awakening.

Image: “Mahatma-Gandhi, studio, 1931”, by Elliott & Fry

Emma and I
by Sheila Hocken

Born with progressive blindness, Sheila Hocken met Emma, her chocolate Labrador retriever guide dog, when she was 17 and no longer able to make her way around by sight. With her canine companion by her side, Sheila navigates several jobs and undergoes surgery that helps her regain vision.

Credit: Getty Images

A Fortunate Life
by Albert Facey

World War I veteran Albert Facey published an autobiography that would become a classic of Australian literature, selling over one million copies and being made into a TV mini-series. Facey had written about his life from an early age, sharing his stories with family and friends for decades. Encouraged by his wife, he set about arranging his notes into a manuscript by hand, had it typed up at a press, and requested twenty copies for his usual audience. However, his work caught the eye of Puffin Books and was acquired for commercial publication. After his death, his home was turned into a tourist attraction and a memorial library was made in his name.

Image: “Albert Facey memorial library, Mundaring”, by JarrahTree, licensed under CC BY 2.5 AU

My Struggle
by Karl Ove Knausgård

Karl Ove Knausgård was regarded as one of the greatest literary sensations of the 21st century after his publication of a series of six autobiographical novels about his private and inner life. While classified as fiction, My Struggle depicts Knausgård as the protagonist and his family as the cast of characters. Knausgård had intended to use the project to break his writer’s block on another novel he was writing about his relationship with his father, but My Struggle became a media sensation in itself and overtook his life and the lives of his family members, several of which even attempted legal intervention. Knausgård eventually prevailed and finished the series amid controversy, and he has been referred to as a “Norwegian Proust.”

Image: “Karl Ove Knausgård”, by Soppakanuuna, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0