49 Excellent Memoirs Chosen by You

This Riot Recommendation for favorite memoirs is sponsored by Random House, publisher of Tara Westover’s Educated.

Tara Westover was seventeen when she first entered a classroom. Her stunning debut, in the tradition of The Glass Castle, recounts the quest for self-invention that took her from an unschooled childhood with Western survivalists to the halls of Harvard and Cambridge. Educated is the must-read book of 2018, a memoir hailed by Amy Chua, the author of Political Tribes and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, as “breathtaking, heart-wrenching, and inspirational” and by J. D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, as a “powerful tale” that “deserves to be widely read.”


I so admire a good memoir. First of all, the author has to have had an interesting experience or two, else they wouldn’t have memoir material. But they also must possess a talent for shaping that experience into a meaningful story, told in captivating prose. We asked you to think back to the last time you finished a memoir that you just had to tell everyone about, and tell us in the comments. Here’s just a smattering of the titles you submitted!

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan

Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

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

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks

Devotion by Dani Shapiro

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Paper Lion: Confession of a Last-String Quarterback by George Plimpton

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Dry by Augusten Burroughs

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Life Itself by Roger Ebert

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Just Kids by Patti Smith

The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Hunger by Roxane Gay

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kayser

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

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

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly

Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock

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