Memoirs Everyone Should Read

I truly love a good memoir. I love celebrity memoirs that are funny and honest (Yes, Please by Amy Poehler). I love memoirs of big events in history, (Columbine by Dave Cullen), and I love memoirs of professional athletes (Open by Andre Agassi).

memoirsMemoirs give me the ability to see an event, person, or situation in a whole new light. In all my time reading there have been a handful of memoirs that not only shook me to my core as I was reading them, but have stuck with me over time.

memoirs everyone should read

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung


A couple of years back I took a year away from college to backpack through Southeast Asia. Cambodia was one of the countries that left the biggest impression on me. Although famous for the incredible temples of Angkor, Cambodia’s history is a very dark story.

Related: The Complete Guide to Visiting Angkor Wat

In Cambodia, a mass genocide, that killed nearly 1/3 of the population, was carried out by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge in the late 70’s and early 80’s. There are several books written by survivors of the regime but one of the best and most popular is First They Killed My Father. I bought this book and read it throughout my stay in Cambodia and it shook me to my core. I found myself crying and shaking at points in this book because it was that intense and mind boggling.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah


A Long Way Gone is a first hand account of what is was like being a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the early 1990’s. As someone who was born in the early 90’s it was so devastating for me to think of how these children were raised compared to how I was raised. Beah recounts in detail being separated from his family and being forced to join an Army that brainwashed children in to using guns and hard drugs, all before the age of 13 years old. This book along with First They Killed My Father were such eye-openers to me in realizing that mass genocide and devastating civil wars are not a thing of the past in every part of the world.

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal


Another disturbing account of a child surviving mass genocide and political turmoil in their country. After being separated from both is mother and his father, Buergenthal arrived at Auschwitz at age 10, certain he was only days away from being walked to the gas chambers. By several strokes of luck Buergenthal survives Auschwitz and two years after his liberation is reunited with his mother, and now is an extremely successful Judge in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This story is the perfect example of how the human spirit can ripped down so much and still rebuild itself into something amazing.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


I read the novel What Alice Forgot a while back and loved it. In the Goodreads reviews section I was seeing a lot of people say that What Alice Forgot was the fiction version of this book, Brain on Fire. I grabbed this book up and soon as I could and I was completely blown away. Susannah is a young woman in her early-20’s with the world at her fingertips when suddenly she starts literally loosing her mind for no explainable reason. After failing to find a diagnosis for quite a while they find Susannah has an extremely rare neurological disease that is slowing turing her brain to mush. This book had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading.

Unhinged: A Memoir of Enduring, Surviving, and Overcoming Family Mental Illness by: Anna Berry


A lot of the books I read are planned out in advance. I make a list, put books on hold, go to the library, get them and don’t stop to look at all (because I’ll add 293729 books to my check out if I do look). I broke that rule one day at the library and I picked up this book on a whim. Holy cow, did it leave me speechless! Berry tells her story of mental illness but also shines light on the fact that people with mental illness are often mis-medicated and/or highly over-medicaed. Berry’s story is inspiring and a true testament to the value of taking control and responsibility of your health and your actions. I literally could not put this book down.

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History by Chris Kyle


After seeing the movie and hearing all the hype it gathered I knew I had to get my hands on this book. This book was impressive to me for a number of reasons, but the thing that impressed me the most is how honest Kyle was in every aspect of his story. Not only with his service, but also how his service related to his relationship with his wife and his kids back home. I think a lot of times civilians can be somewhat detached from what our military men and women go through on a daily basis. This book brings so much light to how much some people sacrifice in the name of their country.

Memoirs everyone should read!


What memoir do you think everybody needs to read?


  • American Sniper was such a great book! Not that the movie wasn’t… but you know how it goes, the book is always better! I really need to get back into reading memoirs again!

    • I agree that American Sniper as a movie was really well done, BUT not as good as the book. ps- I just wrote a post about visiting The Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas! I know you just went recently! Are you doing a re-cap soon?! I would love to hear about what your experience was like compared to what mine was like 🙂

      • Checking out your travel post now! I wish so badly I could go back to Atlantis right now!! No recap this trip, but that just means I have to go back and take more pictures for a recap next time 🙂

  • I still want to read American Sniper and haven’t gotten to it yet! And, I read What Alice Forgot after reading Brain on Fire and all I wanted from WAF was another medical mystery about what was wrong with her brain…but I feel like Moriarty pushed that part of the story to the backburner.

    • I definitely agree with that. I read WAF first, and I liked the obvious fictionalized parts of the book. I think had I read BOF first, I would have been a little let down, just because BOF was so thorough and in-depth. As it was WAF was a perfect “warm-up” for me to read BOF.

  • I cannot imagine surviving the Killing Fields or being a child soldier or a death camp. The resilience of the human spirit amazes me.

    • Amen, Steph! I couldn’t agree more. Even tho some of those books are emotionally exhausting they leave me with such hope that people can rebound from the worst circumstances.

  • i haven’t read any of these… to be honest, i try and stay away from non fiction when it’s really heartbreaking like these sound. i know that sounds horrible, but it just drains me. i am aware of what’s going on in the world, of course, but i have read a few memoirs that are really, well, depressing for lack of a better word, and they really just take everything out of me. but anyway. sometimes i do want a book like this, so i’ll keep these in mind for when i do 🙂 i also clicked on your andre agassi review, i had no idea he hated tennis!

    • I agree completely! I definitely have to be in the right mood for these books. all of these books I’ve read throughout maybe 4 years of a time span. No way could i read all these books back to back to back and still be able to get up and go on with my day without breaking out in sobs. #AllTheFeels

  • I don’t read a lot of Memiors but A Lucky Child seems like something I would really like. I also love American Sniper. If you haven’t already I also recommend 13 Hours and The Lone Survivor.

    • Both of those books are on my to-read list! I’ve heard great things about both, so it’s always good to hear another ringing endorsement! 🙂

  • I need to read American Sniper, it’s been on my list for a while so I need to get it and read it soon! the most recent memoir I read was unbroken (unless that’s not a memoir?)

    • Ahh another book I’ve heard awesome things about! Did you enjoy it?

  • Diane @ Life of Di.

    I absolutely LOVE memoirs! They are probably my favorite thing to read 🙂 I highly recommend you reading The Sound of Gravel – I think you’d enjoy it!

    • I’m looking forward to The Sound of Gravel. You never lead me astray when it comes to books 🙂

  • These all look so interesting! I love memoirs, definitely checking these out.

  • I think that the only memoir that I had heard about was American Sniper. All of those sound like really interesting books, especially the one about the child surviving aushwitz. I’ll keep these in mind the next time I need a nonfiction book.

    • I’m realizing now that they’re all kind of dark books, so they are definitely best read when you’re in the mood for something like that. not beach read material, per say.