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The 15 Best Memoirs to Teach and Transport You in 2022

Reading can transport you into a life beyond your own. These memoirs will give you plenty of food for thought along the way.
by Tania Strauss | Apr 25 2022

One of the great pleasures of reading is to slip into another place, another time, and another life for a while – and to learn more about the world by becoming someone else. How better to do this than by reading a great memoir: a book whose purpose is to take you on a transporting, lyrical journey into the author’s intimate experience?

Memoir and autobiography are slightly different, though they both recount the author’s experience. An autobiography is a fact-focused, (usually) chronological account of a person’s entire life, while a memoir often focuses on a specific series of events from a more intimate perspective. Autobiographies are meant to inform first and foremost; memoirs are often more literary in style and intention, as they tell a story to make a specific point about the writer’s experience.

Many memoirs deal with the heavy subject matter because hardship often has something essential to teach us about the world and the complexities of being human. But empathizing with others can console and inspire us as we navigate our own hardships – and even push us to work towards a better world. 

So if you’re looking for inspiration, understanding, or simply a great read, here are 15 classic and contemporary memoirs to give you a window into another life, and its lessons: 


1. Becoming by Michelle Obama


Michelle Obama has had a remarkable life by any measure, and this memoir by America’s beloved former First Lady was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. But rather than relying on her own celebrity to do the work, in Becoming, Obama offers an honest and insightful account of the remarkable trajectory of her life – from her working-class roots in Chicago to her time in the White House. It was a challenging journey that she never expected to make, but managed very much on her own terms. 


2. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle 


An unflinching look at addiction, disordered eating, and how gender roles can harm relations between men and women, Glennon Doyle’s memoir details her journey to rock bottom and back again after learning of her husband’s infidelity. Doyle’s vulnerable storytelling made the book a sensation and is a testament to the ways in which our pain can help us build stronger relationships and a more authentic self. Love Warrior was followed just three years later by Untamed, also in the Blinkist library, which relates how Doyle’s life was turned upside down when she unexpectedly fell in love with soccer star Abby Wambach – an upheaval that derailed her life but allowed her to finally fully come into herself 


3. Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay


Roxane Gay is known for being honest and unsparing, whether it’s in her books, New York Times advice column, or her straight-shooting Twitter account. In 2017, she cemented that reputation with Hunger, an unflinching memoir about a childhood sexual assault and the extreme weight gain she experienced in the aftermath. Despite being a difficult account of trauma, pain, and the prejudices faced by both Black and obese people, Hunger is also an affirming account of what it means to embrace who you are and what you’ve been through.


4. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


Joan Didion has been one of America’s most celebrated writers since the 1960s, but it was her 2005 memoir about the death of her husband, and her daughter’s sudden illness, that brought her to international fame. An incisive, unsparing, and occasionally even funny look at grief and mortality, Magical Thinking is frequently cited as one of the best books ever written on mourning. And with Didion’s death late last year from Parkison’s, there’s no better time to get acquainted with her singularly brilliant, widely imitated writing style


5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank


Anne Frank’s Diary, written while her Jewish family hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic, is one of the great classics of memoir, as well as a vital first-person account of the Holocaust. Perhaps because Anne Frank never intended her diary to be published, it has an honesty, immediacy, and texture of lived experience that has touched millions, and that gave a face to the uncountable losses of the Holocaust. 


6. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Written in 2015, as police killings of Black people were becoming a newly visible – but by no means actually new – phenomenon, Between the World and Me is a beautiful and painful account of the realities of being a Black man in modern America. Inspired by James Baldwin and taking the form of a letter to his teenage son, Coates combines personal stories with history and politics to prepare his son – and other boys like him – for the world that awaits him. 


7. Will by Will Smith and Mark Manson


Will Smith’s 2022 memoir charts his unlikely rise from a challenging, occasionally violent childhood in West Philadelphia to the top of the entertainment industry – and to hard-won happiness that his fame didn’t necessarily guarantee. The honest and inspiring account would be a worthwhile read at any time, but perhaps the scandalous slap, just a couple of months after its publication, has made Smith’s story a bit more likely to intrigue.  


8. Know My Name by Chanel Miller


When Chanel Miller became one of the most known women in America in 2016, nobody actually knew her name. The anonymous victim in the widely publicized “Stanford Rape Case,” Miller’s victim’s statement was published by Buzzfeed and sparked a national reckoning due to its stunning emotional clarity about her rape, and the arduous legal process that followed. In 2019, Miller finally made her identity public in order to publish this critically lauded memoir. It paints a vibrant picture of the woman who survived an awful ordeal and sheds light on the personal and legal plight of other victims of sexual assault. 


9. We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai


While I Am Malala may be Yousafzai’s more famous book, We Are Displaced feels especially worth reading right now. Youzafzai combines the story of her own flight from her native Pakistan with the voices of many girls she has met in refugee camps, who have been also displaced by hardship and conflict. With the War in Ukraine causing a new crisis in an ongoing problem, there’s no better time to pursue a greater understanding of what refugees face. 


10. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


The first and most famous of Maya Angelou’s seven memoirs, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is essential reading. Angelou’s lyrical account of coming into herself after early experiences of rape, racism, and crippling self-doubt is a story of personal (and literary) triumph. It’s considered a key work of Civil Rights Literature and Women’s Literature and is often credited with helping to reshape the entire genre of memoir.   


11. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama


Dreams was published long before Barack Obama was a political phenomenon, but his 1995 memoir is part of what helped him become one. Showcasing his eloquence, intelligence, and capacity for insight and empathy, Dreams charts Obama’s nomadic early life and his quest to find an identity for himself at the intersection between races and nations. 


12. Night by Eli Wiesel


A brutal and blistering account of Wiesel’s experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Nazi death camps, Night gained only minor attention when it was first published in the 1960s. It’s now seen as one of the greatest and most important memoirs ever written and is one of the most widely-read pieces of Holocaust literature, translated into over 30 languages. In 1986, Wiesel received a Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work as a political activist and advocate against hatred and genocide. 


13. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado


A fantastical account of a very bad relationship, In the Dream House explores the writer’s own experience as a victim of psychological abuse, as well as how such relationships are understood in our wider culture. Machado’s unconventional narrative experiments with form and genre, touching on everything from fairy tales to legal history and was nominated for several awards when it was published in 2019.  


14. Men We Reaped by Jesamine Ward


Over the course of four years, award-winning writer Jesamine Ward lost five different men in her life, all of them under 32 years old – including her brother in a car crash. In trying to understand these tragedies, Ward shows how these seemingly unconnected deaths are tied together by factors such as race, poverty, and gender, which determine our circumstances in ways we cannot fully control. 


15. Wild by Cheryl Strayed


A blockbuster book about addiction, hitting rock bottom and finding a road back, Wild chronicles the author’s grueling 1,100-mile solo hike up the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the breakup of her marriage. Strayed’s critically-lauded memoir about love, grief, and hard-won survival was an Oprah’s Book Club pick and was later made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. 

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