Autobiographies transport readers into another individual’s life through the magic of words and ability of the writer to make you see, hear and experience everything that ever impressed, frightened, exhilarated or even saddened them. Although thousands of autobiographies have been written over the centuries by individuals who felt compelled to memorialize their personal tragedies and triumphs in book form, 10 autobiographies worth reading have persisted as ultimate examples that remain in your thoughts months and even years after reading them.
1. Night by Elie Wiesel. An autobiographical memoir vividly depicting life in a Nazi concentration camp, Night is Elie Wiesel’s deep, philosophical attempt to understand how humans could treat other humans so despicably and why God would allow such a horrific event like the Holocaust to murder millions of innocent people.
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Examples of autobiographies like this heart-wrenching, inspiring coming-of-age story told by poet and writer Maya Angelou movingly reveals how Ms. Angelou overcame years of racism, violence and trauma of being black in a hostile, white society by sheer force of character and will.
3. Memoirs of the Second World War by Winston Churchill. This quintessential description of the turbulent, war-torn years between 1940 and 1945 by Great Britain’s Prime Minister is a stirring and eloquent first-hand account of the pivotal events leading to the defeat of Nazism and the end of World War II. They don’t make autobiographies any better than this!
4. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. One of the world’s most famous women, Helen Keller tells her story of being imprisoned in a silent, dark world until meeting her teacher and lifelong friend Annie Sullivan.
5. A Child Called “It” by David Pelzer. A gripping autobiography of a boy who endured horrendous abuse by his biological mother who learned to cope successfully with his posttraumatic stress disorder to eventually find happiness as a husband and father. Other notable examples of autobiographies concerning child abuse include Crossing Over Boundaries by Debra Jean Collins and Nobody’s Child by Micheal Seed.
6. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The heartwarming, absorbing autobiography of English country veterinarian Dr. James Herriot has been translated into several languages and made into a popular television series.
7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This thinly disguised autobiography/memoir chronicles disturbing events in the life of Plath when she wrote for a New York magazine in the 1950s. Starkly written and painstakingly honest in its portrayal of Plath suffering a nervous breakdown, The Bell Jar was Plath’s only novel written several years before her suicide at age 31.
The last three classic examples of autobiographies comprising this list of autobiographies worth reading involve three of the 20th century’s most colorful characters living the most colorful of lives:
8. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Providing a fascinating glimpse into 1920s bohemia, this witty autobiography by Stein is primarily about her companion of over 25 years, Alice B. Toklas, written in stream of conscious form.
9. The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali. The great heavyweight champion boxer and showman Muhammad Ali talks frankly about his days as Cassius Clay, the racism he encountered during his career, his relationship with Howard Cosell and his conversion to Sunni Islam in 1975.
10. My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin. Forever known as The Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin lived a long and fascinating life that included several marriages, paternity lawsuits, claims of being a Communist by the U.S government and eventually being remembered as the greatest film comedian who ever lived.