While biographical books are often dubbed as “dry literature,” many must-read autobiographies are known for their literary and social values. Written in first person, about an individual’s lived experiences; these are perfect for living the world through the eyes of the narrator.
Once in a while, you should allow a book to change your life.
We often look for the life stories of celebrities to understand the secrets behind their success, and we often miss out on some not-so-popular figures who might have something really meaningful to tell. If you want to get inspired by the real-life stories of people you can relate to – someone who feels like a person next door, you are at the right place.
Here is a list of some autobiographical books you must read if you want to explore the genre and broaden your horizons simultaneously!
7 Must Read Autobiographical Books To
I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”
Divided into five parts, this book is about Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s life and struggles under the Taliban Regime in the SWAT region of Pakistan and her activism for girls’ education. The book describes in detail the lives of the people in the valley and how with the emergence of the Taliban it was disrupted.
Women’s rights have been under constant threat – and it is even more evident with the recent verdicts on abortion in the U.S., the death of Mahsa Amini, and the increasing number of issues related to women’s safety in India. And with the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, Malala’s Autobiography is an important insight into the lives of girls and women under an oppressive regime. Written from the perspective of a young teenager who survived an assassination attempt, you would feel the emotional rollercoaster in the book.
On Pluto: inside the mind of Alzheimer’s – Greg O’Brien
Greg O’Brien is a journalist and an investigative reporter. Diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s – he has recorded his days as the disease progresses. This book is often described as “A chronicle of living with Alzheimer’s, not dying with it.”
“Alzheimer’s is not about the past – the successes, the accolades, the accomplishments. They offer only context and are worthless on places like Pluto.”
“On Pluto” clearly illustrates the isolation that comes with the disease and the treatment that goes beyond just therapy and medication. The author beautifully talks about the human touch, about how simple gestures from loved ones start to matter the most as memory – something humans cling to even on their darkest days – begins to fade. This might be it if you want to read an engaging and thoughtfully penned story.
This book has inspired a documentary – “A Place called Pluto” – that’s been screened worldwide, including at the Tribeca Film Festival, NY. You can access the film along with other similar stories here.
Rumours of Spring – Farah Bashir
We have all, more or less, heard about the conflicts in Kashmir in the 90s. However, most of our views and opinions are formed by the updates we receive from mainstream media or movies like “Haider.” Although writers like Aga Shahid Ali or Arundhati Roy have written about the conflicts in the valley, Farah Bashir takes us to the life of an adolescent girl – living in Kashmir during one of its most tumultuous phases.
“The marching seeped into our silences, punctuated our conversations with pauses, which jumbled our thoughts and language in turn.”
A former photojournalist with Reuters, Farah Bashir has written a humanized, poignant account of the politics and the violence that the Kashmir valley is often associated with. Witnessing death, darkness, and trauma affects young minds and shapes their thought process – Rumours of Spring takes us through that. We see throughout the book how the lives of ordinary people go on in a constant state of fear – of losing a loved one and how they form their understanding of the concept of freedom in such a state.
My Past is a Foreign Country – Zeba Talkhani
Zeba Talkhani records her early days in Saudi in great detail in this book, taking us to the “foreign country” and its patriarchal customs. Her story is about a voyage to freedom. She has drawn parallels from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels to illuminate the Saudi society she grew up in. While she did live a rather ordinary Indian life in Saudi, she talks about some taboo subjects in her book and incidents that are often brushed under the carpet in most conservative societies.
Talkhani’s book discusses her relationship with her mother and explores motherhood from a feminist context, elucidating why and how mother-daughter relationships are often strained. Her take on standards of beauty and body-image issues makes this book even more relatable – easily one of the must-read autobiographies of the time.
“We remained unable to free ourselves of the restrictions placed on us by the patriarchy, even when it threatened to create an insurmountable barrier between us.”
In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park
“Even when you think you’re alone, the birds and mice can hear you whisper.”
North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) is a hermit country with strict rules under the Kim Dictatorship. Yeonmi Park describes the day-to-day nuances in a poverty-stricken country where the government regulates information, movement, and much everything in between. A beautiful narrative of love, loss, trauma, and a journey away from hunger, she describes how her family survived the Orwellian Society of the country and finally made it out. You would feel a range of emotions throughout the book. Her journey from North to South Korea, through China, and walking across the Gobi Desert makes To live an Autobiography that you must read.
Park is an activist and has appeared in multiple conferences and events to bring DPRK’s human rights issues to the limelight, receiving threats from the government. She is currently a South Korean resident. You can also check out her YouTube channel, where she talks about her home country.
Under the Same Sky – Joseph Kim
A North Korean “Defector,” Joseph Kim survived the worst famines that the country faced in the 90s. He is currently an activist. Kim writes about his childhood days and how like most Asian societies, gender bias was a thing even in the house. Under the same sky is a brutal and honest story of survival – of fighting hunger and how the line between right and wrong becomes blurry in desperate times.
“Hunger is humiliation. But hunger is also evil.”
In a look into the Dystopian society of DPRK, the writer talks about failed systems and paints a picture of the gruesome labor camps in the country and what it takes to be able to escape the nation. Definitely a must-read autobiography, this book will leave you in tears as you see the world from a little boy’s perspective.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath – Sylvia Plath
“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”
Sylvia Plath is an American author and poet best known for her Biographical Novel “The Bell Jar”. Her journals, published posthumously, have a number of her poems and a detailed account of her detailed life. In addition to giving insight into the poet’s mind, the book also talks about some important but less-discussed topics of the time, like mental health.
Plath has widely talked about her days spent dealing with mental illnesses while also throwing light on the treatment of the same during the period. Her journals have quite a few of her famous confessional poetry, with context that would help you understand them better (now you know what the poet wanted to convey!). A versatile piece in itself, infused with the views of a twentieth-century feminist writer, her autobiography is a must-read for all literature lovers!