The 20 Most Influential Autobiography Books of the 21st Century

Are you looking for the best autobiography books? I’ve got you covered.

The list below includes books from some of the most influential men and women of all time, both current and past, including Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, and Barack Obama. 

Let’s get right in!

1. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Found in the attic where she lived her last years, Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary reminds us of the horrors of war and testifies to the strength of the human spirit. 

In 1942, Anne’s family went into hiding after the Nazis took over Holland.

For the next two years, they hid safely with another family in an old office building until they were betrayed to the Gestapo.

Anne’s diary vividly details her experiences during this torrid period. 

Thoughtful, emotional, fascinating, her account offers poignant commentary on human courage and frailty.

What’s in it for you: The most compelling first-person account of the Holocaust. 

2. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming narrates the ups and downs, both public and private, of one of the most iconic women of our era.

In her memoir, Michelle invites you into her world, detailing the experiences that have defined her from her childhood to the White House. 

What’s in it for you: An intimate, remarkable memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

3. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey had a dream to become a comedian on TV one day.

From her youthful days to her successful acting career, Tina reveals it all, including what we’ve all suspected: you haven’t made it until someone calls you bossy.  

What’s in it for you: Laugh-out-loud personal essays from the Emmy Award-winning actress.

4. Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover

The first time she sat in a classroom, Tara Westover was seventeen years old.

Her survivalist family was utterly isolated from society, barring Tara from receiving a formal education.

However, inspired by a brother who got himself enrolled in college, Tara determined to seek a new life searching for knowledge. 

This quest ultimately transformed her life, taking her across continents and prestigious universities like Harvard and Cambridge.

What’s in it for you: The ultimate book on courage and self-reinvention.

5. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Trevor’s birth was a crime: born to a white father and a black mother in an era when such a union was a criminal offense punishable by five years behind bars.

To protect him, Trevor’s mother went to unimaginable heights to hide him from the government.

Finally freed by the end of South Africa’s oppressive white rule, Trevor and his mother began an adventure of a lifetime, living openly and majestically.

Born a Crime chronicles Trevor’s ups and downs as he tries to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist.

What’s in it for you: A poignant, breathtaking memoir about coming of age during the apartheid.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

At eight years old, Maya was attacked by a man several times her age, inflicting a pain she dealt with her entire life. 

Years later, Maya learns that self-love, kindness, a strong spirit, and the ideas of remarkable authors will set her free from any imprisonment.   

What’s in it for you: An incredible journey that will touch the hearts and minds of many readers.

7. Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel

In Night, Elie Wiesel narrates how he survived in the gruesome Nazi Death Camps as a teenager. 

Deeply poignant and candid, Wiesel’s account lays bare humankind’s capacity for inhumanity toward each other.

Night offers philosophical and personal questions about the nature of the Holocaust, its meaning, and its legacy.

What’s in it for you: An eloquent narration of life in Nazi death camps.

8. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle tells the story of a remarkably dysfunctional yet vibrant family.

When sober, Jeannette’s dad was nothing short of an angel. 

But when drunk, he lied and cheated and destroyed.

With a free-spirited mother who hated the responsibility of raising a family, the Walls children had to learn to fend for themselves.

They loved, fed, clothed, and protected each other, eventually making it to New York; their parents followed them, though homeless and broke while their children prospered.

What’s in it for you: A remarkable memoir from one of the world’s best storytellers.

9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler has been on Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade and Saturday Night Live.

She has been in movies like Blades of Glory, They Came Together, and Baby Mama.

Famous for her one-liners, this book offers Amy’s entire comedic repertoire, as she makes you howl with laughter while offering you honest, personal advice about life.

What’s in it for you: A thoughtful, funny, inspirational read.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

In this highly intense book, Malcolm X narrates his life story and the revolution of the Black Muslim movement.

He pokes holes in the promise of the American Dream, revealing its limitations and deception. In addition, he emphasizes the inherent racism prevalent in society, denying nonwhite citizens the chance to dream.

Although times have changed and the world seems like a better place, Malcolm’s perspective still offers unique insights into the urgent issues of today.   

What’s in it for you: A remarkable, brilliant, monumental book.

11. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

When the Taliban seized control of Swat Valley, Pakistan, one young girl protested.

Malala Yousafzai decided she wasn’t going to keep mute and fought for the right to an education.

On October 9, 2012, she was shot in the head, with almost no chance of surviving. 

Miraculously, though, she managed to recover, later embarking on a remarkable journey from her remote Pakistan valley to the United Nations halls in New York. 

I am Malala will inspire you to believe in the power of one person’s voice to change the world.

What’s in it for you: A memoir by the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

12. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air narrates the story of a neurosurgeon who, at age thirty-six, discovers he has stage IV lung cancer.

Everything in his life seems to come crashing down: his future plans with his wife, his career.

Faced with impossible odds, one question remains at the forefront of his thinking: What makes life worth living when faced with imminent death?  

What’s in it for you: An exquisite, beautifully written memoir that explores the meaning of life.

13. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Born in Depression-era Brooklyn, Frank struggled immensely in his childhood.

His mother, Angela, had no money to feed Frank and his siblings, while his father, Malachy, was a drunken sloth.

Malachy, however, does nurture in Frank the desire for one thing: story.

Frank lives for Malachy’s tales, which may account for his survival.

Through poverty, starvation, and cruelty, Frank survives to tell his story with eloquence, kindness, and forgiveness.

What’s in it for you: A powerful memoir of an eventful childhood in Ireland. 

14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought her entire life was over.

After her mother’s death, her family had broken apart, and her own marriage soon unraveled. 

Four years later, with nothing to lose, she decided to hike alone over one thousand miles across the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Told with suspense and eloquence, Wild narrates the maddening journey of a young woman as she overcomes all odds to find strength and healing.

What’s in it for you: An inspiring memoir of a young woman’s journey to find hope and strength despite the odds against her.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

In this wildly humorous book, Mindy invites you into her world and shares her opinion on several topics, including what makes a great best friend, the key traits of a great guy, the perfect amount of fame, and how to keep a trim figure.

What’s in it for you: A wild tour with an exceptionally talented actress as she offers her opinions on romance, friendship, and Hollywood.

16. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In her thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert was married, had a country home and a successful career—all symbols of a happy life. Yet, she felt unfulfilled, consumed by fear and confusion.

This book describes how she left everything behind her to embark on a journey to find herself. She had fun in Italy, devoted herself spiritually in India, and balanced pleasure and divine transcendence in Indonesia.

What’s in it for you: A memoir to inspire you to find your best self.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin wrote his biography between 1771 and 1790. Detailing his rise from obscurity to widespread fame, this book is one of the most influential autobiographies ever written. 

What’s in it for you: A biography of one of the most successful and influential men in history.

18. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a vital force who fought against racial oppression in South Africa. 

Although imprisoned at some point in his life, his efforts against apartheid won him the Nobel Peace Prize and widespread respect.

Long Walk to Freedom is his personal account of his struggles, setbacks, renewed hope, and ultimate victory.

What’s in it for you: Essential reading for history lovers.

19. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

In this book, Barack Obama narrates his journey from a young, lost man to becoming America’s first black president.

He takes us on a compelling journey from his early political days to pivotal moments in his career, all the while reflecting on his journey, shortcomings, and victories. 

More importantly, he delves deeply into his reign as president, offering unprecedented access into the behind-the-scenes moments of his presidency.

What’s’ in it for you: A deeply touching memoir from one of the most iconic US presidents.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Detailing the events of Frederick Douglass’s life, this book is one of the most influential works to propel the abolitionist movement during the early 19th century United States.

Physical abuse and tragedy hobbled his early years, yet Frederick managed to overcome these obstacles to become an influential spokesman for his people. 

What’s in it for you: A memoir filled with remarkable passion and storytelling.

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