9 Interesting & Insightful Autobiographies and Memoirs

Learning about history, political movements, and different cultures can be tricky on a macro level. When you look at the big picture, these things can be difficult to truly understand. Through the eyes of a single person, however, everything gets personal. If you want to explore everywhere from New York City and the American countryside to Haiti and Pakistan from the perspective of people who have experienced life there, check out these ten insightful autobiographies and memoirs. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

9 Interesting & Insightful Autobiographies and Memoirs

Title Author(s)
1. Insomniac City Bill Hayes
2. A Wedding in Haiti Julia Alvarez
3. I Am Malala Malala Yousafzai & Patricia McCormick
4. 21st-Century Yokel Tom Cox
5. The Unspeakable Meghan Daum
6. Sunshine State Sarah Gerard
7. Margarita Wednesdays Deborah Rodriguez
8. Figures in a Landscape Paul Theroux
9. Broken Pieces Rachel Thompson

The History of Memoirs

Memoirs can be traced back all the way to the days of Ancient Rome. Julius Caesar wrote about his experience in battle in his work Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which translates to Commentaries on the Gallic War. Documenting life is also a longstanding custom in Japan. The Japanese tradition of Nikki bungaku, or poetic diary, dates back to around the year 935. This unique form of journaling is made up of several autobiographical poems, interspersed with sections of prose. In the 18th century, memoirists were generally people who were exceptional in their profession, who wrote in order to provide the public with an official account of their exploits. In the 20th century, many of these books began to focus on war, especially World War II, a subject that has been explored for decades through all sorts of media. Memoirs written by ordinary people began to gain popularity in the early 1990s, as a result of technological advances (such as the Internet) that made it easier for people to share their stories with the world.

10 Great Biographical Films

  1. Schindler's List (1993)
  2. The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)
  3. Frida (2002)
  4. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  5. Milk (2008)
  6. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  7. The Post (2017)
  8. Lincoln (2012)
  9. Malcolm X (1992)
  10. The Imitation Game (2014)

The Power of Autobiography

In Depth

Memoirs and autobiographies delve into some of the most personal moments of their subjects' lives. Whether you feel the need for inspiration, or want to seek wisdom from relatable experiences, reading them can expand your perspective and help you gain insight. We've collected nine interesting and insightful examples of this genre, presented in no particular order.

At #1 is "Insomniac City." Writer and photographer Bill Hayes captures the beauty of New York City and the last days of his beloved partner, neurologist Oliver Sacks. Comprised of journal entries, ideas, and short stories, Hayes' memoir details his journey from losing his former partner in San Francisco, to leaving for New York in 2009, and falling in love with a man thirty years older than him. He weaves his prose with photographs that depict life in the city and his passionate love for Sacks.

At #2 is "A Wedding in Haiti." Dominican novelist Julia Alvarez shares her trip to a remote town in Haiti where she attended the wedding of Piti, one of her coffee farmers. As she recounts her perilous travel to the country, she details its cultural differences with the Dominican Republic. The second part of her book also discusses the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. She narrates the tragic devastation that she witnessed when she returned to extend help to Piti and his family.

She narrates the tragic devastation that she witnessed when she returned to extend help to Piti and his family.

What we have at #3 is "I Am Malala." Co-written by Patricia McCormick, Malala Yousafzai's account shares how she stood up for education, fought for women's rights, and became an international advocate and a global symbol of peace. The narrative details how she was shot in the head at the age of fifteen by a Taliban gunman, and her slow miraculous recovery. It also delves into the political and cultural events that surrounded her, while she and her family were vocal about the need for primary education in Pakistan.

Coming in at #4 is "21st-Century Yokel." Best known for writing about his cats, Tom Cox gives us a thematically varied tale that's sure to resonate with lovers of the countryside. Composed of quirky essays that explore landscapes, passion for animals, social history, local folklore, and Tom's family, the book shows the little comedies of life through his long walks in Devon. His unique and entertaining writing style immerses readers in his observations, in which he vividly describes the beauty of the place where he grew up.

Next, at #5 is "The Unspeakable." Journalist Meghan Daum shares a riveting memoir that explores the conflict between primal reactions and public social behavior. As she discusses the death of her mother, whom she neither loved nor hated, dating a man who identifies himself as Jesus Christ, being mistaken for a lesbian, and not wanting children, her sharp and witty perspective gives a candid and refreshing look at the everyday complexities of life.

As she discusses the death of her mother, whom she neither loved nor hated, dating a man who identifies himself as Jesus Christ, being mistaken for a lesbian, and not wanting children, her sharp and witty perspective gives a candid and refreshing look at the everyday complexities of life.

At #6 is "Sunshine State," a collection of essays that delve into Sarah Gerard's recollections of growing up in Florida. Her narrative mainly explores the topics of friendship, homelessness, and the environment, and depicts the familiarity she experienced as she came of age. Her first piece, entitled "BFF," is a raw examination of toxic friendship. She vividly describes the emotional ups and downs that come with being best friends, and reveals honest, intimate feelings such as jealousy, loss, and vulnerability.

At #7 is "Margarita Wednesdays." After being forced to flee war-torn Afghanistan, Deborah Rodriguez first lived in California where she found herself unhappy and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She then decided to settle in Mexico, where she started to recover and overcome her personal struggles with new adventures. She narrates her inspiring journey from opening a salon that helped her get back to her passion, to establishing "Project Mariposa," which aims to provide help for young women who want to be independent and self-sufficient.

Next up, at #8 is "Figures in a Landscape." Paul Theroux presents a collection of travel essays, magazine articles, and literary criticism. His adventures take readers to Morocco, Asia, Africa, and Hawaii, immersing them in an array of sights and experiences. Including personal essays about his family, the book also features his interviews with writers who have influenced him, as well as celebrities such as Robin Williams and Elizabeth Taylor.

Including personal essays about his family, the book also features his interviews with writers who have influenced him, as well as celebrities such as Robin Williams and Elizabeth Taylor.

Finally, at #9 is "Broken Pieces." Rachel Thompson's confessional memoir chronicles how she was sexually abused as a child, and physically and emotionally taken advantage of by lovers in her adulthood. Her poignant essays, odes, and poems clearly describe intensely personal moments of her life, tackling topics such as love, date rape, and grief. She presents fragments of her trauma as she exposes her vulnerable self to readers and explains how she eventually became the bright, dynamic individual she is now.