Best Autobiographies To Motivate And Inspire You

a woman reading one of the best autobiographies

Sometimes life is hard, and it feels like you are getting nowhere. You can feel like you are going in circles with no results.

That’s when you need a blast of confidence and inspiration to get you moving. Some of the best autobiographies will show you that an average person is capable of amazing things, even you.

Comparison Table

Difference Between Autobiography, Biography, and Memoir

books including some of the best autobiographies

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No there are a lot of different nonfiction books out there, some seem more similar than others. What’s the difference between autobiography, biography, and memoir?


Autobiography

Autobiography is when an author is telling the story of their life. They tend to focus on large chunks of the author’s life and facts. Sometimes there is a ghostwriter to assist the author in being factual and objective.

They usually start when the author is young and goes in chronological order. Though they could be in their current time and then use flashbacks to go back in time. They include events, places, reactions, and other relevant events that happened during that period of time.

They also use letters and photos to tell their story in addition to their writing.


Biography

The main difference between an autobiography and a biography is that biographies are written by someone else. They are usually written about historical or famous people. They can be written with or without the subject’s consent.

They are also written in the third person, creating a distance that isn’t in autobiographies. They also have a more formal tone. They involve a lot of research and facts.


Memoir

A memoir is factual but tends to be more focused on memories than the author’s life as a whole. Usually, memoir focuses on one aspect of the writer’s life like addiction, adolescence, parenting and the like.

They are told from different moments of their life that are strung together with the theme. It can also be more focused on creating a story than facts. They can have dialogue, setting, and character descriptions.

How We Reviewed

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How do we decide what is inspirational and what isn’t? The definition is different for each person. We tried to find stories about transformation, strength, and compelling writing.

From there we looked to sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble to see what people consider are the best autobiographies. We look for books with a high rating and a lot of reviews to get diverse opinions.

We looked through the reviews to see if readers not only find the book inspirational, but fun to read. We wanted to make sure you felt rewarded after finishing even the toughest books.

Top 8 Best Autobiographies to Inspire You

We tried to make sure the stories were different from each other with their story and in different time periods. Hopefully, one of the books sounds inspiring to you.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
  • Back Bay Books
  • Mandela, Nelson (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Nelson Mandela is a famous figure who’s known as a moral, civil rights activist. He spent his whole life fighting racial oppression in South Africa and eventually became president of the country.


He was imprisoned for twenty-seven years for terrorism and his role as the leader of the outlawed ANC. Once he was freed, he became a well-respected leader of his country and won a Nobel Peace Prize. He worked on bringing South Africa back from its segregated society.


This book follows the early years of Mandela’s life and how his struggle made him the man he was.


Readers call this forceful in the best way and allow the reader to see him as a person and not just a figurehead. Mandela discusses his motivation for why he wanted to fight for his people and justice.


Some people found that the best way to read this book was in bits and pieces at a time because the book is filled with so much information.


Some readers found that it was a little dry and wanted more emotion.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Random House Trade
  • Angelou, Maya (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Maya Angelou is known as one of the greatest writers to have ever lived. This autobiography is no different. It may be hard to read because Angelou’s life was tough. This is the first out of a seven-volume series.

At three, Angelou and her brother were abandoned by their mother and sent to their grandmother. There, they dealt with abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powwhitetrash” as she called them.

When she reunited with her mother, Angelou is attacked by a significantly older man. She was only eight. Due to this, she had to learn how to put herself back together and love herself. She does this through falling in love with books and writing, along with kind people.

The book ends with her becoming a mother at sixteen. This book explores racism, identity, rape, and literacy. It shows the strength of the human spirit and that with the right people and passion, life can get better.

People appreciate her style of writing and how it feels like she is talking to the reader versus there being a distance between her and the reader. Many readers had tears in their eyes by the time they finish the book.

Some people found it too depressing and hard to read, which makes sense because Angelou suffered a lot of trauma growing up. Be prepared to read some horrifying situations before jumping in.


All But My Life: A Memoir
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Klein, Gerda Weissmann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

This autobiography is all about Klein's tumultuous six-year period during Nazi reign. Her childhood is destroyed when Nazis stormed into Poland and separated her from her family. They were all sent to different German labor camps.


Over the years, she felt everything was being taken away, all but her life, hence the title. By the end of the war, she lost her parents, brother, home, possessions, and community. Eventually, she was saved by American troops and even married one of the soldiers.


Her tale is all about inner strength and the spirit in humanity. Despite the terrible situation Klein and others in the labor camps create a community to support each other. This book shows the power of hope.


Readers are in awe of Klein’s strength and raw emotional writing. She does not spare the reader of any of the gruesome details, yet readers couldn’t stop reading. People can’t believe that she went through this journey and was able to have a happy ending.


Many readers said they felt honored to read Klein’s autobiography.


Like many books on this list, it can be too heartbreaking to read at times and readers should prepare themselves before they dive in.


Assata: An Autobiography
  • Lawrence Hill Books
  • Shakur, Assata (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Black Panther party is a huge part of the civil rights movement history. Assata Shakur was a part of the party and was powerful enough to be a target of J. Edgar Hoover. She took part in some of the Panther’s more violent protests.

The book portrays Shakur in a more personal light than people know her from media descriptions. She recounts how life made her turn to activism the good and bad point of being a Black Panther.

This book is also a slice of political history. Shakur writes about the strengths and weaknesses and how Black and White revolutionary group got destroyed by the government.

While readers may not agree with her choices, they will respect her reasoning and principles. It’s a journey of finding herself and feeling comfortable in her dark skin.

People are impressed by Shakur’s strength and thoughtful writing. Many people flinch while reading it because Shakur doesn’t hold back from describing how she and other black people were treated at the time. Though it makes her seem more amazing.

The most common complaint is that the book isn’t long enough and that they want more.

Open: An Autobiography
  • Great product!
  • Agassi, Andre (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Agassi is known for his professional tennis skills, but this autobiography is about more than just tennis. His father decided that Agassi would be a tennis player as a baby. His father was known to be moody and demanding.

At thirteen, his father sent him to a Florida tennis camp where he was lonely and scared. He starts to rebel by dying his hair, piercing his ears, and dressing like a punk rocker. He ends up dropping out of school after ninth grade.

By twenty-two, Agassi had won his first grand slam and was rich, famous, and revered. Off the court, he was miserable. He didn’t feel fulfilled by his accomplishments. Eventually, he resented tennis.

The book explores his success while being young, his marriage to Brooke Shields, his growing interest in philanthropy, and all the highs and lows of his life. The book is full of loneliness and confusion and then shifts into confidence and contentment.

Readers could relate to Agassi because he focused more on his failures instead of his wins. People found that it was easy to follow the ups and downs of his career and life. Many were inspired by his love of charity and giving back.

One issue is that Agassi didn’t actually write the book himself. Instead, a ghostwriter did it after listening to thousands of hours of recording of Agassi looking back on his life. Some people feel betrayed by this fact.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Beah, Ishmael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Imagine not only living in a country at war but having to fight as a soldier as a kid. It’s estimated that around three hundred thousand children get turned into soldiers. Beah is one of them.

Can you imagine seeing war as a child soldier or being a killer before you became a teenager? Child soldier stories are nothing new, but there has always been a distance between the interviewer and child.

Beah’s memoir, written when he was twenty-five, leaves no distance between the story and the reader. Beah was running from attacking rebels and wandered around in an unknown place. By thirteen he was picked up by the government army.

Even though he was always a gentle boy, he found out that he can do terrible things. Stuck in a drug-filled life of mass murder, he didn’t get out until he was fifteen. That’s when he was taken to a rehabilitation center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs.

People are amazed at Beah’s story and his unflinching recollection of what he’s done. The autobiography asks what all this violence is for. People are surprised that he was able to pull himself away from the violence and create a whole new life for himself.

Some people found the book to be too graphic because Beah is honest about the atrocities of war. Readers also wished that he included some history as backstory for people not familiar with the war.

Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
  • Grove Press
  • Shakur, Sanyika (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

This is another story about completely reinventing yourself and rebuilding your life. This autobiography was written when Kody Scott, now known as Sanyika Shakur, was in solitary confinement.

He spent sixteen years as a gangbanger in L.A. He joined the Crips when he was only twelve years old. He quickly became one of the most fearsome members, earning the title of Monster. At times, he was so violent that even his fellow members were appalled.

Eventually, he was sent to a maximum security prison, and that’s when everything changed. He renamed himself and became a black nationalist and a member of the New Afrikan Independence Movement. He started to be an activist to prevent more kids from joining gangs.

He doesn’t hide any of the criminal act he’s done or the people’s hurt. What he does do is talk about how America’s inner cities make it easy to join gangs. People living there are depressed, scared, and desperate to survive. He explains this without blaming any one specific person.

This personal transformation has enthralled readers. It gives people who have no experience with this sort of lifestyle an inside look at how the system works and how hard it is to get out. The term” powerful” is used a lot in the reviews. Many people use the book as a prime example that anything is possible and you can change your life’s path.

Some people struggled to believe Shakur’s exploits and wondered if stretched the truth a little bit. There were also complaints about it being a little repetitive.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
  • Knight, Phil (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 04/30/2018 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

Who hasn’t heard of Nike? This book is written by the founder and board chairman of the company. The book shows how Phil Knight started without anything and create an empire. It shows that success has a very messy path and that no single path is the same.


Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his dad when he graduated from business school. His planned to create a business out of importing high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling shoes from the trunk of his car, he made eight thousand dollars in his first year of business.


He talks about the risks he took, the setbacks he faced, the competitors and hostile bankers along with his triumphs. He shows how human the creator of Nike can be and writes about his journey in a way that shows that anyone can create a business of their own.


It’s not all business with this book though. He writes a lot about the relationship with his former track coach Bill Bowerman who became the heart and soul of the company. He writes about his first employees who started as misfits and became shoe-crazed brothers.


Readers appreciate how human Knight made himself and his company. Sharing his mistakes, complications, and success make the readers feel closer to him than your average tycoon memoir usually was. He also shares tips for inspiring entrepreneurs.


Some people felt that it could have more emotion in the writing and wanted more of his perspective. Many people skimmed through the more business-oriented sections of the books because they got bored.

The Verdict

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Inspiration comes in many different forms and luckily so do autobiographies. There are so many stories out there and the world, and we picked on a handful compared to what’s out there. The best way to pick out the best autobiographies for inspiration is to think about what about you that needs inspiring.

Are you feeling lost? Need help starting a business? A reminder of your strength? What will make you feel better about your life?

How difficult of a story do you want to read? Some of these books are tough to read because they are brutal and unflinching. While this is what makes them great, they can be more depressing than motivating.

Overall, the verdict is that any of these books would be great for you. They are well written exciting stories about real people. Some may seem more interesting than others due to your personal preferences.

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Author: Jon Stahl

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