I’m obsessed with autobiographies! I always have at least two or three on my bedside table. The reason I love autobiographies so much is because they’re an enjoyable way of rekindling motivation and learning from the lives of extraordinary people.
In this post, I share with you my 10 favorite autobiographies. They’re perfect companions for the beach or relaxing in a hammock. They’re ideal for passing the time on long flights or falling asleep at night. But most of all, they can be the gentle push in the back you need when your motivation wanes or before taking a scary step. I hope they bring you as much joy and inspiration as they have to me!
10. “Tough” by Terry Crews
Terry Crews is an American actor (you may know him from the hilarious series Brooklyn 99), former NFL player, and host of America’s Got Talent. For years, Terry devoted himself to building a strong physique and asserting self-confidence. On the surface, he seemed unshakeable: he’d escaped an abusive father, achieved professional success in the NFL, and made his way into the glamorous world of Hollywood. However, his obsession with maintaining a tough exterior and repressing his emotions led to addiction and jeopardized his most meaningful relationships.
In Tough, Terry Crews delves into various aspects of life where he sought to control: masculinity, shame, sexuality, encounters with racism, and relationships. Throughout the book, he candidly shares the setbacks and triumphs he encountered while facing his insecurities, painful memories, and self-imposed limitations.
9. “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is one of the most inspiring and revered figures of the 20th century. He has dedicated his life to the struggle against racial oppression in South Africa, which cost him 27 years in prison (27 years! Can you imagine?). After his triumphant release in 1990, Mandela became South Africa’s first black president and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela’s influence in the fight for human rights and racial equality is still revered around the world.
Long Walk to Freedom is the memoir of this modern hero. What a story! And what a character!
8. “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight
Fresh out of business school at the age of twenty-four, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and started selling high-quality running shoes at low prices. Nike was born.
Phil Knight tells his story from selling shoes out of the trunk of his car in 1963 to running a multi-billion-dollar business today. The incredible risks he took, the fierce competition, the hostile bankers, the setbacks and triumphs. Above all, he evokes the people at the heart of Nike’s identity. And so is Shoe Dog a collection of portraits of eccentric and brilliant characters obsessively devoted to success and innovation.
7. “Educated” by Tara Westover
Tara Westover’s memoir delves into her extraordinary upbringing in a strict, survivalist family in rural Idaho. With limited formal education, she eventually goes on to pursue higher education at prestigious universities.
Educated explores the tension between Tara’s desire for education and her loyalty to her family. She offers a powerful story of self-discovery, resilience, and the transformative power of education. The book has won endless praise and awards.
6. “Total Recall” by Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger’s autobiography is a fascinating and humorous account of his life journey. Schwarzenegger (or Schnitzel, as some call him 😄) was born in a small town in Austria in the 1940s, right after the war (10 km from where I live). At the age of 23, he became Mr. Universe, the highest title in bodybuilding. By 30, he had amassed a fortune thanks to real estate investment. At 35, he was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. And at 56, governor of California.
Total Recall reflects Schwarzenegger’s unshakeable determination and ambition. This book is fun and leaves you with the feeling that anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
5. “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls
Jeanette Walls’ memoir recounts her unconventional and nomadic upbringing in a dysfunctional family. Jeannette’s parents were brilliant and charismatic. When he was sober, her father would mesmerize his children, sharing with them his knowledge of physics and geology, as well as his fearless approach to life. However, when he succumbed to alcohol, he turned dishonest and destructive. As for Jeannette’s mother, she was a carefree spirit, rejecting the notion of domesticity and shirking the responsibility of raising a family.
The Glass Castle beautifully portrays the complexities of family dynamics, showcasing moments of love and danger while addressing the impact of childhood experiences on one’s adult life.
4. “Will” by Will Smith
In this book, Will Smith shares his inspiring journey from a middle-class Philadelphia family to an acclaimed rapper and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His success is fascinating, but what makes the book so moving is the shadow caused by his relentless ambition.
Will gives an insight into Smith’s tenacity, work ethic, and unshakeable self-confidence, which have driven him to achieve his dreams. It also shows the other side of the coin, and resonates ominously with the slap he gave Chris Rock on the Oscars stage in 2022 (the book was published just before).
3. “Open” by Andre Agassi
From birth, Andre Agassi’s life seemed destined to follow the path laid out by his demanding father: to become a tennis champion. By the age of twenty-two, Agassi had already won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles, attaining immense wealth, fame, and the tennis’ highest honors. Despite his success, he openly discusses his love-hate relationship with the sport, shedding light on the mental and emotional challenges athletes may encounter.
I’m not interested a bit in tennis but I loved reading Open. Agassi takes readers through his professional and personal life, revealing the struggles and pressures he faced throughout his tennis career.
2. “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb
Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and author. One morning, her life takes an unexpected turn when her fiancé breaks the news that he wants to leave her. To cope with this tsunami, she turns to Wendell, a quirky psychotherapist. Alongside her own story, Lori Gottlieb recounts the therapeutic journeys of her patients: an egocentric Hollywood producer, a bride facing a terminal illness, a woman contemplating suicide, and a young lady attracted to bad boys. Remarkably, Gottlieb soon realizes that the questions they’re asking are the same ones she’s now addressing with Wendell.
I loved Maybe you should talk to someone so much that I read it twice in four years! The book is funny and so human. Lori Gotlieb shows the story beneath the surface and makes the most arrogant, plaintive, or superficial people lovable.
1. “The Choice” by Edith Eger
Edith Eger was a teenager in 1944 when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. Against all odds, Edith survived the Holocaust and, after the war, moved with her husband to the United States where, after many tribulations, she became an eminent psychologist.
I know Holocaust stories can be frightening, but The choice is much more than a traumatic memoir. It’s a beautiful quest to overcome guilt, shame, and the ghosts of the past. A life-changing experience!
More sources of inspiration
These ten autobiographies offer a window into the lives of extraordinary individuals, each with their own unique stories and valuable life lessons. Embracing the wisdom and experiences of these inspiring figures will empower you to face challenges and cultivate resilience and determination in your scientific (and other) pursuits. If you’re looking for inspiring movies, you can check out this blog post.
Now, I have a question for you: What are your favorite autobiographies, the ones that deeply inspire you? I’d love you to share them with me (e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m always on the lookout for new autobiographies.