Motivational Memoirs to Keep You Going This September

As the happy new month messages begin to fade, and the full thrust of the new month dawns on us as we realize the year is rapidly coming to an end, here are some motivational memoirs to keep you pumped and ready-to-go throughout the new month.


1. Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)

Why It’s Worth Reading: I once attended a conference where Nelson Mandela addressed the audience via video hookup. Despite the oppression he’d suffered over the decades, he seemed filled with joy and hope. His autobiography communicates that joy and hope, making him a role model for anybody experiencing difficulties in life.


2. History of My Life (Giacomo Casanova)

Why It’s Worth Reading: While this is arguably the world’s most scandalous and, frankly, obscene memoir, Casanova possesses an admirable love of life and ability to appreciate every aspect of it, as well as a clear understanding of his own foibles and the absurdities of the world around him. Note: the only translation that’s any good is that of Willard Trask; all the others are bowdlerized.

3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)

Why It’s Worth Reading: The story of how Angelou overcame the bigotry and abuse of her childhood and transformed her experiences into great literature is a both a record of the injustices of the 20th century (which are now being restored by a white supremacist administration) and a testament to an unconquerable human spirit.

4. Goodbye to All That (Robert Graves)

Why It’s Worth Reading: The popularity of the movies Dunkirk and, yes, Wonder Woman, has revived interest in World War I. Those depictions, however, don’t really capture the horrors of that conflict or the powerful courage that it took to survive them honorably. Robert Graves (best known as the author of “I, Claudius”) both survived the war and wrote this highly self-aware memoir of how it changed both him and the world.

5. Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)

Why It’s Worth Reading: Motivational bromides like “God has a plan for you” and “everything happens for a reason” often fall flat. Let’s face it, sometimes life is absurd and awful, forcing you to create a meaning to sustain you through difficulty and pain. Frankl’s quest to understand his experience in a Nazi death camps shows how this can be accomplished in any situation.

6. The Autobiography of… (Benjamin Franklin)

Why It’s Worth Reading: While this is the shortest autobiography in this list, it’s also the most entertaining. Franklin’s candid observations on life and (to a lesser extent) the politics of his time are both amusing and pertinent. Rather than encouraging the deification of the “founding fathers” this glimpse into the thought process of one of the most brilliant of that crowd helps you realize that greatness emerges as much from your foibles as your goals.

7. The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

Why It’s Worth Reading: If you saw the film based on this book, you have my condolences. Unlike the movie (which was smarmy and “tied nicely up”), the memoir itself is harsh investigation into the nature of parental love and the pain inherent in the very American desire to rise above your circumstances, even if it means leaving your family and friends behind.

8. The Last Lecture (Randy Pausch)

Why It’s Worth Reading: It’s so easy to let fear and the desire for security drive you into living an inauthentic life. Pausch’s reflections on his own life, originally a lecture he delivered after learning he was mortally ill, encourage you to pursue your dreams and do what really counts.