Creative Writing Nonfiction 14 min2023-10-31 00:00

50 Best Autobiographies of All Time

best autobiographies

Autobiographies allow us to experience other people’s lives from their own perspectives.

It can be really powerful to see the ways other people describe their own lives, especially when those people are inspiring figures or well-known celebrities.

So, what are some great autobiographies you can read?

This article will give you 50 fantastic autobiographies to add to your reading list across several categories: sports, politics, science, and more.

Top New Autobiography Books

Let’s start our list with recent releases. Here are some great autobiographies that were published within the past five years.

new autobiogarphies

1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama (2020)

In this powerful autobiography, President Barack Obama takes us on the journey that led to his presidency. He describes his time in the White House and how he handled issues like the global financial crisis and Operation Neptune’s Spear.

2. All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King (2021)

Billie Jean King writes about how she became the tennis legend she is today, with 39 Grand Slam titles and six years as the top-ranked female tennis player in the world. She incorporates her insights on leadership, activism, love, happiness, and more.

3. Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman by Alan Rickman (2022)

Alan Rickman, an actor famous for his roles in movies like Die Hard, Harry Potter, and many more, wrote these diaries from 1993 to 2016. These diaries are a rare peek into his inner world and all his real life stories from that time period.

4. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy (2022)

Jennette McCurdy, famous for playing Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon show iCarly, writes about her troubled relationship with her mother and how that dictated her choices until her mom passed away. She writes about her early life, her mental health, her acting career, and her struggle for independence.

5. Finding Me by Viola Davis (2022)

Famous actress Viola Davis writes about how she built her successful career and how she grounded herself in self-love and radical honesty. Her writing is intimate, personal, and moving.

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6. Spare by Prince Harry (2023)

Prince Harry tells the world about the loss of his mother, his time in the British Army, his relationship with Meghan Markle, and the tensions he’s faced with his older brother, the heir. Spare is raw and often heart-wrenching.

7. Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music by Henry Threadgill (2023)

Henry Threadgill, a Pulitzer Prize-winning saxophonist, flutist, and composer, writes about his childhood in Chicago in the 1960s, his service in Vietnam, and his devotion to the art of jazz music.

Best Autobiographies of All Time

Now it’s time to turn to the classics. Let’s look at some famous autobiographies that have truly stood the test of time.

best autobiographies

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969)

Maya Angelou writes about her childhood from age 3 to 16. She underwent many traumatic experiences, including racism and sexual assault, but she overcame those hardships to become one of the greatest American poets of all time. 

The Collected Autobiographies continues her story if I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings leaves you hungry for more.

9. Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. by Luis J. Rodriguez (1993)

Luis J. Rodriguez writes about growing up immersed in L.A. gang culture. In the 1990s, Always Running was one of the most frequently banned books in the U.S. because of its graphic content and daring stance on police brutality.

10. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964)

Famous American writer Ernest Hemingway describes his experiences in Paris in the 1920s. He writes about his first wife Hadley, his son Jack, and his early experiments with the craft of writing.

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11. An Autobiography by Agatha Christie (1977)

Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, invented some of the world’s most famous detectives, such as Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Her autobiography, published after her death, is considered by some to be one of her greatest literary masterpieces.

12. Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan (2004)

Award-winning musician Bob Dylan writes about his life and music in this famous autobiography. However, it’s worth mentioning that this book has been controversial for accusations of plagiarism, so read with discretion.

13. Bare by George Michael (1990)

George Michael, the lead singer of Wham!, writes about his rise to stardom. The people who knew George describe what happened behind the scenes, providing even deeper insight into what he was really like, not just as a performer but also as a person.

Most Famous Autobiographies

Many autobiographies have topped bestseller lists and even become household names. Here are some famous autobiographies that millions of people have read.

most famous autobiographies

14. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl hiding from Nazi persecution throughout the Holocaust, tells her story in this heartbreaking diary. The Diary of a Young Girl is an absolute must-read if you haven’t read it already.

15. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 by Mark Twain (2010)

Mark Twain completed his autobiography by 1910 but asked that it not be published for another 100 years. In 2010, when it was finally published, it became an instant New York Times bestseller that provides an intimate portrait of this famous author’s experiences.

16. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X (1965)

Malcolm X was one of the most famous figures of the American civil rights movement. Alex Haley, an esteemed contributor to Reader’s Digest, compiled this autobiography using interviews and excerpts of Malcolm X’s writing.

17. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)

Frederick Douglass, an esteemed abolitionist and orator, chronicles his life story as a former slave in this vivid autobiographical account. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is widely considered one of the best autobiographies of all time.

18. Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010)

Artist Patti Smith writes about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who later passed away due to AIDS. The book addresses sexuality, politics, and artistic expression in a moving and evocative way.

19. Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash (1997)

Johnny Cash is a famous American musician, known for songs like “Folsom Prison Blues.” In this definitive biography, he writes about his spirituality, memories, and relationships.

20. Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca (1984)

Lee Iacocca, the son of Italian immigrants, became the president of Ford Motor Company and also helped Chrysler turn its fate around. His book tells us, in his own words, how he faced obstacles with integrity and grit.

Inspiring Autobiographies

If you’re looking for inspiration to help you change your life or make a difference in the world, reading an autobiography can be a great place to start. Many people have done incredible things that are sure to motivate you.

Here are some great examples of inspiring autobiographies.

inspiring autobiographies

21. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai (2013)

The Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai for defending the right for Pakistani girls to get an education. Now, she’s one of the most courageous and inspiring figures in the world, and her bestselling memoir describes her journey.

22. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (1946)

Paramahansa Yogananda is the man most often credited with making yoga popular in the U.S. In Autobiography of a Yogi, he writes about his life story as well as his life lessons for readers who want to learn about yoga and finding inner peace.

23. The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane (2017)

Gucci Mane, a prolific trap and hip-hop artist, started writing this memoir while incarcerated. His autobiography tells us about his childhood in Alabama, living on the streets in Atlanta, and his experience making music while overcoming obstacles.

24. Living for Change: An Autobiography by Grace Lee Boggs (1998)

Grace Lee Boggs is a human rights activist who never stopped fighting for a more just society. She writes about how she dedicated her life to her beliefs and helped make the world a fairer place.

25. The Story of My Experiments With Truth by Mohandas K. Gandhi (1925)

Mahatma Gandhi, famous for his civil disobedience campaigns, wrote this autobiography in weekly installments, which he published in his journal Navjivan. Now, the completed book has been named one of the “100 Best Spiritual Books of the 20th Century.”

26. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1902)

As a young child who was both blind and deaf, Helen Keller had no way to communicate with the world. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, helped her learn how to rise above her disabilities. This compassionate memoir provides hope, courage, and faith for all of us.

27. Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock (2017)

Janet Mock is an award-winning writer, director, and producer, as well as a trans rights advocate. In this inspiring memoir, she writes about what she learned in her twenties and how she found her path.

28. Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

Former first lady Michelle Obama writes about her extraordinary life in this inspirational memoir. Becoming is structured in three parts: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. She writes about her childhood growing up in Chicago, her relationship with her husband Barack Obama, and their experiences serving in the White House.

Must-Read Autobiographies for Athletes

It’s not easy to become a record-breaking athlete. It takes a lot of training, grit, and determination.

Many world-famous athletes have written autobiographies explaining how they reached such high levels of accomplishment in their fields. Here are a few great books by successful athletes.

autobiographies for athletes

29. Flying Free: My Victory Over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the US Aerobatic Team by Cecilia Aragon (2020)

Cecilia Aragon started out as a meek, bullied young girl, then rose to become one of the most acclaimed female aerobatic pilots of all time. She writes about her experience joining the U.S. aerobatic team and her lifelong love of math.

30. Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles (2016)

Simone Biles is an American gymnast who’s won seven Olympic medals. In Courage to Soar, she talks about how she overcame obstacles and trained incessantly to become the greatest in her sport.

31. Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi (2009)

Andre Agassi was raised to be a tennis champion from a young age by his exacting father. Though Agassi dominated on the court, he often resented the sport in his personal life, and Open documents his complicated feelings throughout his career.

32. The Game by Ken Dryden (1983)

The Game, which was named one of the “Top 10 Sports Books of All Time” by Sports Illustrated, tells the story of Ken Dryden, a legendary Canadian hockey player. He writes about his fellow players, his life on the road, and his worldview both on and off the ice.

33. Drive: The Story of My Life by Larry Bird (1989)

Larry Bird, who has won three NBA MVP awards, has often been viewed as one of the most private and mysterious basketball legends. In Drive, he reveals all the private feelings that he rarely shared publicly, including the story behind his failed marriage and his decision to transfer schools.

34. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (2015)

William Finnegan started surfing as a young child and went on to chase waves around the world: Australia, Asia, Africa, and more. His autobiography reads almost like an adventure story, showing how he mastered the art of surfing.

35. I Always Wanted to Be Somebody by Althea Gibson (1958)

Althea Gibson was the first African American tennis player to win at Wimbledon. Her autobiography explains how she triumphed over a difficult childhood to achieve athletic success.

36. Strongman: My Story by Eddie Hall (2017)

Eddie “The Beast” Hall is a British strongman who won the World’s Strongest Man competition. He writes about the training, nutrition, and dedication required to make it as a professional strongman.

Top Autobiographies About Politics

Many politicians write autobiographies describing the ways their leadership impacted their communities.

Here are some famous political autobiographies, which might be well worth a read.  

politics autobiographies

37. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1994)

Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa, tells his life story in Long Walk to Freedom. He writes about his experiences growing up, training as a lawyer, becoming an anti-apartheid activist, and getting sentenced to life in prison.

38. Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright (2003)

Madam Secretary tells the story of Madeleine Albright, who served as U.S. Secretary of State during Bill Clinton’s presidency. She writes about how she approached peace in the Middle East, NATO’s interventions abroad, and many other prominent global affairs issues.

39. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (2013)

Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, writes about growing up in a low-income Puerto Rican immigrant family and how her childhood shaped her rise to success. This inspiring story will remind you that anyone with enough dedication can achieve their dreams.

40. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1909)

Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography in the 1770s–1790s, but it wasn’t published until 1909. Now you can read about the life of one of America’s Founding Fathers and his moral views on the society he lived in.

41. An Autobiography by Jawaharlal Nehru (1936)

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote this book while in prison from 1934–1935. He writes about his vision for modern India and his views on both history and the present.

42. Daughter of the East: An Autobiography by Benazir Bhutto (1988)

Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was a prime minister of Pakistan who was executed in 1979. In Daughter of the East, Benazir Bhutto writes about how she took up her father’s mantle and began leading the Pakistan People’s Party.

43. The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris (2019)

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris writes about her upbringing in an immigrant family in California, her passion for justice, and her rise to one of the highest leadership roles in the U.S. She also reckons with the truths that define her country and how we can face them.

Good Autobiographies About Science

Finally, let’s finish our list with some autobiographies written by incredible scientists. These people made discoveries that changed the world, and it’s fascinating to hear about the life events that led them to those discoveries.

science autobiographies

44. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson (1968)

James Watson writes about how he and his partner Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. This tremendous breakthrough won them a Nobel Prize and revolutionized the future of biology.

45. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman (1985)

In this witty and lighthearted autobiography, Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, recounts his life in physics. His voice shines through in this book, which is simultaneously eccentric, funny, and brilliant.

46. My Brief History by Stephen Hawking (2013)

Stephen Hawking writes about how he triumphed over Lou Gehrig’s Disease to become one of the most famous scientists of all time. He also explains his breakthrough research into black holes and quantum gravity.

47. Letters from the Field, 1925–1975 by Margaret Mead (1977)

Margaret Mead sent letters to her family and friends while she was conducting field research in Samoa, New Guinea, Bali, and more. These smart, lyrical, and insightful letters show us the inner world of a wonderful scientist.

48. Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe: A Tribute to Five Decades of Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation by Jane Goodall (2013)

Dr. Jane Goodall tells us about her groundbreaking studies of chimpanzee behavior and her philanthropic work across five decades. Photos accompany her writing to make this book come to life. 

49. An Appetite for Wonder: The Makings of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins (2013)

Richard Dawkins, a renowned evolutionary biologist, writes about his personal evolution as a scientist. An Appetite for Wonder covers his childhood in colonial Kenya, his education at Oxford, and his work championing a gene-centered perspective on evolution.

50. On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks (2015)

Dr. Oliver Sacks was a British neurologist who authored many bestselling books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. In On the Move, he writes about his childhood, his experience coming out as a gay man, his drug addiction, and many more personal experiences in a moving and incisive way.

There you have it—our picks for the top autobiographies of all time.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.