The Most Inspirational Autobiographies of All Time

Published on July 4, 2022

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Young woman with hovering hair holds open book. Dreaming Girl sits on the floor and reads a book. Flat character vector illustration

In times of hardship and struggle, one of the best ways to find a renewed sense of hope is to draw inspiration from the stories of others. Throughout history, remarkable figures like Nelson Mandela, Viktor E. Frankl and Anne Frank have illustrated the incredible strength and resilience of humanity, proving that we all hold the power to move through intense challenges. That’s why we’ll be sharing the most inspirational autobiographies of all time.

Inspirational Autobiographies That Will Move You

Storytelling is built into our DNA as a means of bonding with one another over shared emotions and experiences. We’re hard-wired to create and consume inspiring narratives with the aim of drawing out the deeper meaning behind life’s most confusing events.

It’s no wonder we love to read the autobiographies of humans who have achieved incredible feats during their lifetime. Here are just six inspirational autobiographies by some of history’s greatest figures:

1. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Statue of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, South Africa.
Statue of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo by creedline/Adobe Stock.

Frequently lauded as one of the most inspirational autobiographies of all time, political and moral hero Nelson Mandela shares his iconic life story in Long Walk to Freedom. He outlines the details of his imprisonment, the fight against apartheid in South Africa and his instrumental role in the human rights movement.

2. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Barack Obama public speaking
Barack Obama” by Joe Crimmings is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

A fascinating memoir by former U.S. President Barack Obama, A Promised Land chronicles the story of his journey to becoming the leader of the free world. He offers a candid perspective on his term as the president, the challenges of running for office as a Black person, and why he believes progress is always possible.

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama votes by mail—October 15th” by Barack Obama is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Once you’ve read Barack Obama’s autobiography, be sure to check out his wife Michelle’s side of the story, too. In Becoming, Obama outlines her inspiring life story from her years growing up in Chicago’s South Side to her role as the first-ever African-American First Lady of the United States, and how she’s risen to prominence as an advocate for women and girls everywhere.

4. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The title 'The Diary of Anne Frank' printed on the first pages of an old English translated book of Anne Frank's diary.
The title ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ printed on the first pages of an old English translated book of Anne Frank’s diary. Photo by Sweeann/Adobe Stock.

In the classic and moving autobiography, Diary of a Young Girl, step into the world of Anne Frank. The 13-year-old Jewish girl chronicled her experiences hiding from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Sharing inspiring perspectives on courage, strength and hope, the diary will remind you of the beautiful fragility of the human experience.

5. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah doing standup comedy
File:Trevor Noah 2019-02-01 – Trevor Noah (46151353405).jpg” by Hayden Schiff from Cincinnati, USA is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In Born a Crime, TV host, actor and comedian Trevor Noah chronicles his life story, beginning in apartheid South Africa. As the book’s title suggests, Noah’s very existence was outlawed, since he was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother. At the time, their interracial relationship was punishable by a five-year prison term. Taking the form of 18 essays, this is one of the inspirational autobiographies that will make you laugh, cry and potentially even take on a new perspective about the world around you.

6. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

A closeup of Viktor E. Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl” by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With millions of copies sold since its release, Man’s Search for Meaning by psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl has inspired generations of readers to find the hidden meaning in their toughest life struggles. In the book, Frankl tells the story of the time he spent laboring in Nazi death camps, arguing that while humans may not be able to avoid suffering, we can all work towards finding a deeper meaning through our challenges so we can continue moving forward with purpose.

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Lead graphic by Mary Long/Adobe Stock. 

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The Author
Mackenzie Patterson is a Toronto-based writer and journalist. She enjoys long walks, iced coffee on tap, and discovering all the latest and greatest health and wellness trends.