The 49 Best Memoirs We've Ever Read

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Do you like books that make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you need to open a second box of tissues? Would you rather discover a new author, or read something by one of your favorite celebrities? No matter your literary preferences, we’re willing to bet there’s at least one memoir here that will strike your fancy.

best memoirs the yellow house

1. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

In this winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Brown tells the story of 100 years of her family and their home in New Orleans—including how the house continues to exert its influence even after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Buy the book

best memoirs in the darkroom

2. In The Darkroom by Susan Faludi

Journalist Faludi always had a strained relationship with her abusive, estranged father. And it only got more complicated when he called out of the blue to tell her that he had transitioned, and was now living as a woman in Budapest. Buy the book

best memoirs hunger

3. Hunger by Roxane Gay

In this intense, brutally honest book, cultural critic Gay writes with unflinching honesty about her relationship with her body leading up to, during and after a violent childhood sexual assault. Buy the book

best memoirs my mothers daughter

4. My Mother's Daughter by Perdita Felicien

Growing up in Canada, Felicien and her Caribbean mother faced racism, domestic abuse and even homelessness. Her debut is about overcoming those hardships and becoming a two-time Olympian and favorite to win gold in the 100-meter hurdles in Athens. Buy the book

best memoirs argonauts

5. The Argonautsby Maggie Nelson

Nelson's genre-bending 2015 memoir binds an account of the author's relationship with her partner and a journey to and through a pregnancy to a rigorous exploration of sexuality, gender and family. Buy the book

wishful drinking carrie fisher

6. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

This darkly funny and raw memoir is about growing up as Hollywood royalty, landing the role of a lifetime at 19 years old and learning from failed relationships, all while struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health issues. Buy the book

best memoirs fun home

7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel’s critically acclaimed graphic memoir recounts growing up and discovering her sexual identity, while living in a household with a stern, closeted father who ran a funeral home. Buy the book

best memoirs yes please

8. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Poehler recounts her glory days on Saturday Night Live and Park and Rec with this poignant tale of her rise to Knopedom. She offers more than enough life advice and stories to relate to in her 2014 memoir. Buy the book

best memoirs little failure

9. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Named for a nickname from the author’s immigrant mother for not getting into an Ivy League school, this is a hilarious, touching recollection of the awkwardness of shaping an American identity in his adopted home of Queens and beyond. Buy the book

best memoirs becoming

10. Becoming by Michelle Obama

In this intimate and powerful memoir, Obama recounts her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, her time spent at the White House and more. Buy the book

best memoirs deraniyagal

11. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami claimed the lives of Deraniyagala’s husband and two young sons. Her account is totally devastating, yet somehow vaguely hopeful. Buy the book

best memoirs didion

12. The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

After the death of her husband and serious illness of her daughter, Didion attempted to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness." Buy the book

best memoirs ward

13. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Over five years, acclaimed writer Ward lost five men in her life to drugs, accidents and suicide. Dealing with these losses, she confronted the reality of living through all the dying. Buy the book

best memoirs smith

14. Just Kids by Patti Smith

Smith’s remarkable memoir tells the story of her longtime relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, against the backdrop of a gritty city during a magical time (NYC in the 1960s). Buy the book

best memoirs bourdain

15. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

In the book that launched his career, Bourdain strips the glamour away from the chef’s life, writing crudely and hilariously about what actually goes on in restaurant kitchens. Buy the book

best memoirs fisher

16. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher

Fisher is like the fairy godmother of great food writing. It’s hard to pick just one of her books, but this one, about her first trip to France, holds a special place in our hearts. Buy the book

best memoirs angelou

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

Angelou’s 1969 screed about literature’s power to overcome racism and trauma was on The New York Times best-seller list for a record two years. It’s that good. Buy the book

best memoirs grealy

18. Autobiography Of A Face by Lucy Grealy

Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer at age nine. She survived, but only after having a third of her jaw removed. She tells her story without sentimentality but with considerable wit. Buy the book

best memoirs martin

19. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Before he was the star we know today, Martin was a magician and Disneyland entertainer dipping his toe into comedy. Stories of his pre-SNL days are fun and endearing. Buy the book

best memoirs satrapi

20. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This graphic memoir recalls Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran during and after the Islamic revolution of the late 70s and early 80s, and is alternatively darkly funny and tragically sad. Buy the book

best memoirs mann

21. Hold Still by Sally Mann

Through both text and image, the controversial photographer examines her preoccupation with family, race, mortality and the American South. Buy the book

best memoirs nabokov

22. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

First published in 1951 and then assiduously revised in 1966, Speak, Memory provides insight into Nabokov's life and major works, including Lolita and Pnin. Buy the book

best memoirs mccourt

23. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

On growing up in Ireland (the basis of this memoir), McCourt wrote, “I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.” Buy the book

best memoirs malala

24. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

This memoir by 20-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Yousafzai (who was attacked by the Taliban for her outspokenness on the importance of girls’ education) is stunningly inspirational. Buy the book

best memoirs child

25. My Life In France by Julia Child

The legendary chef and TV personality teamed up with her nephew to write lovingly about her years in France, before going on to change the culinary world forever. NBD. Buy the book

best memoirs graham

26. Personal History by Katharine Graham

Graham led her family’s newspaper, the little known Washington Post, for more than two decades. She was leaning in before Sheryl Sandberg was born. Buy the book

best memoirs coddington

27. Grace by Grace Coddington

After a decades-long tenure as American Vogue’s creative director, Coddington has a lot of stories. Her 2012 memoir is a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most storied names in fashion. Buy the book

best memoirs walls

28. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

This memoir about the author’s childhood in poverty is a testament to the power of resilience and finding the good in even the most difficult situations. Buy the book

best memoirs wiesel

29. Night by Elie Wiesel

Wiesel's acclaimed memoir about his experience at Auschwitz during the Nazi regime is horrific, sincere and inspirational. Even if you’ve read it, pick it up again. Buy the book

best memoirs know my name

30. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Miller, who was known anonymously after she was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner in 2015, reclaims her identity to tell her story, which illuminates a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable while protecting perpetrators. Buy the book

best memoirs karr

31. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

Karr’s memoir about her childhood in East Texas in the 1960s is haunting. Maybe give your mom a call when you finish. Buy the book

best memoirs eggers

32. A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Eggers was in his early 20s when his parents died, leaving him to raise his younger brother. This semi-fictionalized account is a testament to resilience and brotherly love. Buy the book

best memoirs moran

33. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Moran is an unapologetic feminist, which is not—as she so delightfully proves in this book—mutually exclusive with being really (really) funny. Buy the book

best memoirs homes

34. The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes

Homes’ biological mother was a woman having an affair with an older, married man. Thirty years later, her birth parents came looking for her, laying the groundwork for this heartbreaking and funny memoir. Buy the book

best memoirs sedaris

35. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Any of Sedaris’s hilarious books could’ve made this list, but this one’s titular story (about the author’s attempt to learn French after moving to Paris) puts it over the edge. Buy the book

best memoirs strayed

36. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Reeling from the loss of her mother and the end of her marriage, Strayed hiked the Pacific Crescent Trail, from the Mexican border through Oregon. It’s an unforgettable journey. Buy the book

best memoirs fey

37. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Before she was Liz Lemon, Fey was a quirky kid from Pennsylvania who dreamed of becoming a comedian. Her book, about everything from internet trolls to the myth of "having it all" is inspiring and pee-your-pants funny. Buy the book

best memoirs steinem

38. My Life Of The Road by Gloria Steinem

From her itinerant childhood to her career as a journalist and her first experience with activism, My Life on the Road is a fascinating account of the noted feminists’ incredible adventures up through the early 2010s. Buy the book

best memoirs klein

39. You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein

The head writer of Inside Amy Schumer muses on everything from being an adult tomboy (a tom-man) to why some women are wolves and others are poodles. Buy the book

best memoirs thoreau

40. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Part social experiment and part manual for self-reliance (among other things), 1854’s Walden details the two years Thoreau spent in a cabin he built in Massachusetts. Buy the book

best memoirs orwell1

41. Homage To Catalonia by George Orwell

In 1936, Orwell went to Spain to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against Franco’s Fascists. His honest and lyrically beautiful account describes the war and his thoughts on it. Buy the book

best memoirs levy

42. The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

When journalist Levy took an assignment in Mongolia, she was married, pregnant and happy. A month later, she was none of those things. Her memoir is about picking up the pieces. Buy the book

best memoirs kaysen

43. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

In 1967, 18-year-old Kaysen spent two years in the psych ward of McLean Hospital (which counted Sylvia Plath and James Taylor as alumni). Her memoir is a vivid portrait of her fellow patients and their keepers. Buy the book

best memoirs ephron

44. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

From one of our favorite writers of all time, a candid and dryly funny look at women who are aging and dealing with all the stuff that goes along with it. Buy the book

best memoirs obama

45. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Obama’s 2004 memoir (long before the whole president thing) is a compelling meditation on growing up as the son of a black African father and a white American mother. Buy the book

best memoirs richards

46. Life by Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones guitarist tells it like it is—even if what it is isn’t especially pretty, from the band’s early days to his longtime struggles with drug addiction. Buy the book

best memoirs lawson

47. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

A funny and tragic examination of her own severe depression, Lawson’s memoir makes light of mental illness without trivializing it. Buy the book

best memoirs keaton

48. Then Again by Diane Keaton

Focusing on her relationships rather than her career, Keaton’s book reads like a love letter to her mother, her two children and the men with whom she was romantically involved. Buy the book

best memoirs plath

49. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

It’s an emotional read, but this courageous novel based on Plath’s own experiences made it OK to talk about depression. Buy the book

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...