21 Best Autobiographies Every Writer Should Read

Are you looking for the best autobiographies to add to your reading list? Take a look at a few suggestions in our guide!

If you are interested in learning about the life of a famous person, you should consider reading their autobiography. An autobiography is a great way to learn more about what their life was like, some of the challenges they had to overcome, and the impact they had on the world. With so many famous historical figures publishing autobiographies, the list can be long, but some autobiographies are better than others.

What are some of the top autobiographies you should consider exploring? See if you can learn some lessons from their life that you can apply to your own.

1. The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou, 2004

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Without a doubt, any list of the greatest autobiographies of all time has to start with The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou. This is one of the most famous memoirs of all time. This is a remarkable collection that provides some insight into the minds of one of the greatest authors of all time. 

“She said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors.”

Maya Angelou, The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou

2. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, 1945

Anne Frank
Anne Frank via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This is one of the greatest autobiographies of all time. The Diary of a Young Girl is known throughout the world, and it is a collection of writings from Anne Frank. During the two years she was hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. She shares intimate details regarding the Nazi occupation, what her life was like growing up, and the heartbreaking impacts of WWII. 

“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Some people would instead call Becoming by Michelle Obama a Memoir, but it is in fact, an autobiography. This book is divided into three parts, giving people some insight into her life history and how she has tackled some of the world’s biggest challenges. It also lets people know the tremendous responsibility she shouldered over the years and what she sacrificed for others. Want to read more autobiographies? Check out our round-up of the best memoir writers.

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

4. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1909

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin via Wikipedia, Public Domain

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was written between 1771 and 1790 but was not published until the early 1900s. It focuses on his early life and unique adulthood, particularly his role as a founding father of the United States. He also attempted to follow 13 virtues in his life to achieve moral perfection. His suggestions for leading a viable life are as valid today as they were back then. 

“If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.”

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

5. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, 1994

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Nelson Mandela was one of the leading activists against the apartheid movement in Africa. He was arrested numerous times, spent decades in prison, but eventually rose to become the first black president of South Africa. This autobiography gives people an inside look at what his life was like, his formal education, and what his time in prison meant to him. 

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

6.  An Autobiography by Agatha Christie, 1997

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Any fan of mysteries is likely a fan of Agatha Christie. Her autobiography looks at what it takes to become one of the most prolific mystery writers of all time. This autobiography accounts for her life through to the age of 75. It is more than 500 pages long but reads like a conversation with the author herself.

“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them. ”

Agatha Christie, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

7.  I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, 2013

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Never underestimate the power of one voice and how it can change the world. That is exactly what I Am Malala seeks to communicate. She is a rare person in society in that she is immediately recognizable by a single name. She ignited the promise of activism among the young generation and has already driven tremendous change throughout the world.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

8. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 1845

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Frederick Douglass was one of the leading abolitionists, and he helped countless enslaved people escape the horrible shackles of slavery. His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, gives people a first-hand look at his harrowing childhood and adventurous adulthood. Even though it is difficult to grapple with some of the darker sides of American History, it is critical to take a closer look at just what his experience was like. 

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

Frederick Douglass

9. Autobiography of an Androgyne by Earl Lind, 1918

This autobiography was written in 1918, and Autobiography of an Androgyne is unique. It has clear prose and serves as a guide for those seeking to transcend the binary state of the world. It is considered to be a groundbreaking book in the world of transgender literature. It is also a reminder of how far the world has come, yet also how far the world has to go. 

“This should be sufficient to show that homosexuality was discussed among the Romans and Greeks, and it is well known that the Bible is not quiet about it.”

Earl Lind, Autobiography of an Androgyne

10. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, 1965

Malcolm X
Malcolm X via Wikipedia, Public Domain

The Civil Rights Movement is still alive and well to this day, and Malcolm X is widely seen as one of the most outstanding civil rights leaders in the history of the United States. This autobiography was written in conjunction with Alex Haley and contained a lot of interviews with Malcolm X and excerpts from his writing. Unfortunately, Malcolm X was tragically assassinated, but his fight for racial justice lives on to this day. 

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.”

Malcolm X, The Autobiography

11. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, 1946

Paramahansa Yogananda
Paramahansa Yogananda via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Yoga has become incredibly popular during the past few decades, but the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda has been in print for over 75 years. It has been estimated that this book has been printed over four million times, and it has widely been credited as sparking the popularity of yoga in the United States. This autobiography guides readers on how they can cultivate their inner strength. 

“Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you. The future will take care of itself……”

Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

12. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 by Mark Twain, 2010

Mark Twain
Mark Twain via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Samuel Clemens, who is better known by his pen name Mark Twain, is one of the most prolific writers of all time. A master of the written word, his autobiography allows people to look at what it takes to become one of the greatest writers of all time. His autobiography was not published until 100 years after he had passed away.

“In this Autobiography I shall keep in mind that I am speaking from the grave. I am literally speaking from the grave, because I shall be dead when the book is published.”

Mark Twain, Autobiography of Mark Twain

13. Living for Change: An Autobiography by Grace Lee Boggs, 1998

Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs via Wikipedia, Public Domain

If you would like to see what life was like for someone who lived more than 100 years, Living for Change: An Autobiography is an autobiography worth exploring. Grace Lee Bloggs played an integral role in numerous social movements, and this autobiography details her life as an intellectual, activist, and partner alongside some of the leading social justice warriors of the past century.

“Look on yourself as a citizen in a kingdom of persons, he advised. Act always as if the maxim of your action could become a universal law, always treating mankind, as much in your own person as in that of another, as an end, never as a means.”

Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change: An Autobiography

14. Becoming A Visible Man by Jamison Green, 2004

Jamison Green
Jamison Green via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Jamison Green is an educator, author, and civil rights activist. His autobiographical account provides an inside look at what life is like as someone who has transitioned from female to male. Becoming A Visible Man mixes theory, activism, and personal stories together to provide a riveting look at what life is like as a member of a marginalized community. 

“Being true to oneself creates the integrity and self-respect we need to have if we are to extend that respect to others.”

Jamison Green, Becoming a Visible Man

15. An American Life By Ronald Reagan, 1999

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Ronald Reagan is remembered as the president who brought the Cold War to an end, and his eight years serving as president of the United States so a lot of change in the country. This autobiography, An American Life, gives everyone a look at the mindset behind his decisions and the impact he has had on the country and the world. 

“For more than five years, I’d made little progress with my efforts at quiet diplomacy—for one thing, the Soviet leaders kept dying on me.”

Ronald Reagan, An American Life

16. Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan, 2004

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Bob Dylan has won various Grammy awards for his contributions to music, but his autobiography also won a Quill Award alongside a Nobel Prize in literature. He is a gifted storyteller, which is certainly something that shines through in this autobiography. 

“Some people seem to fade away but then when they are truly gone, it’s like they didn’t fade away at all.”

Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One

17. Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash, 1997

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Always seemed dressed in black, Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash lets people inside one of the most talented, and darkest, musical minds in history. It tells a story regarding some of his most pivotal musical moments, his life on stage, and the impact he had on pop culture. This book is a unique opportunity to dive into his mind.

“They’re powerful, those songs. At times they’ve been my only way back, the only door out of the dark, bad places the black dog calls home.”

Johnny Cash, Cash

18. Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. by Luis J. Rodríguez, 1993

Luis J. Rodríguez
Luis J. Rodríguez via Wikipedia, Public Domain

This is a classic autobiography, and it is frequently listed among banned books. Always Running talks about what life is like in a Los Angeles gang. It provides an inside look at what his battles were like, what he had to do to survive, and the impact gang life had on himself, his family and Los Angeles as a whole. 

When you win, we win; but when you go down, you go down alone.”

Luis J. Rodríguez, Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.

19. Flying Free: My Victory over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the US Aerobatic Team by Cecilia Aragon, 2020

Cecilia Aragon grew up as a shy, bullied girl. In her autobiography, Flying Free: My Victory over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the US Aerobatic Team, she talks about what she had to do to sore above it all. She had a special strength in math, and she was eventually introduced to flying. It eventually clicks everything into place for her, and she works hard to accomplish her dreams. This story lets the reader walk along her unique path with her, from a bullied girl to a triumphant success. 

“This was my first real job, one that might even lead to a career, and I had to hang onto it. I wanted to hang onto it. I had to succeed at something.”

Cecilia Aragon, Flying Free: My Victory over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the US Aerobatic Team

20. A Full Life by Jimmy Carter, 2016

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Even though Jimmy Carter may not be remembered as the greatest president, he is one of the greatest people ever to hold the Oval Office. Of course, A lot of problems marked his presidency, but his autobiography is about much more than just his career in the Oval Office. His impact on Habitat for Humanity cannot be overstated, and A Full Life gives people a look at just what he has meant to the world. 

“I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”

Jimmy Carter

21. Courage to Soar: a Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles, 2016

Simone Biles
Simone Biles via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Simone Biles is widely seen as the most accomplished gymnast of all time, but she also struggled with various mental health issues. Nevertheless, her impact on society is significant, and Courage to Soar: a Body in Motion, a Life in Balance, provides everyone with a look at what her journey has been like. The autobiography has a friendly, generous, and soothing voice as it describes all of the challenges she had to overcome in her life. 

“I would hope I would inspire kids everywhere to know that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Simone Biles, Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance

FAQs About the Best Autobiographies

What is the top-selling autobiography?

It is difficult to say what the best-selling autobiography is of all time. The most recent best-selling autobiography is Becoming Michelle, about Michelle Obama. One of the best-selling autobiographies of the past few hundred years is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. You might be interested in exploring more biography authors, check out our round-up of best biography authors

How many pages are in the longest autobiography ever written?

The length of pages can vary depending on how it is printed, but the longest autobiography is widely considered to be Finn Kalle Päätalo. It is 26 volumes, and it is considered to be the longest autobiographical narrative in the world. 

Is autobiography or biography better?

One is not necessarily better. A biography provides a different perspective because it is not necessarily written by the main focus of the biography itself. On the other hand, an autobiography may provide you with a better perspective on the mindset of the individual. You may also want to explore essays about autobiographies to learn more. 

Looking for more reading material? Check out our round-up of the best Hemingway books!

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