Inspiring People You Need To Know

Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe
by Laura Lynne Jackson

In Signs, Jackson is able to bring the mystical into the everyday. She relates stories of people who have experienced uncanny revelations and instances of unexplained synchronicity, as well as others drawn from her own experience. There’s the lost child who appears to his mother as a deer that approaches her unhesitatingly at a highway rest stop; the name written on a dollar bill that lets a terrified wife know that her husband will be okay; the Elvis Presley song that arrives at the exact moment of Jackson’s own father’s passing; and many others. This is a book that is inspiring and practical, deeply comforting and wonderfully motivational, in asking us to see beyond ourselves to a more magnificent universal design.

Crying in H Mart
by Michelle Zauner

From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity. Vivacious and plainspoken, lyrical and honest, Zauner’s voice is as radiantly alive on the page as it is onstage. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread.

Rat Girl
by Kristin Hersh

Rat Girl chronicles the unraveling of a young woman’s personality, culminating in a suicide attempt; and then her arduous yet inspiring recovery, her unplanned pregnancy at the age of 19, and the birth of her first son. Playful, vivid, and wonderfully warm, this is a visceral and brave memoir by a truly original performer, told in a truly original voice.

My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future
by Indra Nooyi

For a dozen years as one of the world’s most admired CEOs, Indra Nooyi redefined what it means to be an exceptional leader. The first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company — and one of the foremost strategic thinkers of our time — she transformed PepsiCo with a unique vision, a vigorous pursuit of excellence, and a deep sense of purpose. Now, in a rich memoir brimming with grace, grit, and good humor, My Life in Full offers a firsthand view of Nooyi’s legendary career and the sacrifices it so often demanded.

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir
by Cupcake Brown

Orphaned by the death of her mother and left in the hands of a sadistic foster parent, young Cupcake Brown learned to survive by turning tricks, downing hard liquor, and ingesting every drug she could find while hitchhiking up and down the California coast. She stumbled into gangbanging, drug dealing, hustling, prostitution, theft, and, eventually, the best scam of all: a series of 9-to-5 jobs. A Piece of Cake is unlike any memoir you’ll ever read. Moving in its frankness, this is the most satisfying, startlingly funny, and genuinely affecting tour through hell you’ll ever take.

May I Be Happy : A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind
by Cyndi Lee

For all her wisdom as a teacher, Cyndi Lee understood intuitively that she still had a lot to learn. In spite of her success in physically demanding professions – dancer, choreographer, and yoga teacher – Lee was caught in a lifelong cycle of repetitive self-judgment about her body. Instead of the radical contentment expected in international yoga teachers, she realised that hating her body was a form of suffering, which was infecting her closest relationships – including her relationship to herself. Inspired by the honesty and vulnerability of her students, Lee embarked on a journey of self-discovery that led her outward – from the sacred sites of the parched Indian countryside to the center of the 2011 earthquake in Japan – and inward, to seek the counsel of wise women, friends and strangers both. Applying the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation to herself, Lee learned that compassion is the only antidote to hatred, thereby healing her heart and changing her mind. With prose as agile as the yoga sequences she creates, May I Be Happy gives voice to Lee’s belief that every life arises, abides, and ultimately dissolves. By becoming her own best student, Lee internalizes the strength, stability, and clarity she imparts in her Buddhist-inspired yoga classes.

Joy Enough
by Sarah McColl

Lipsticks applied, novels read, imperfect cakes baked—such memories are recalled with “crystalline perfection” (J.C. Hallmann, Brooklyn Rail) in Sarah McColl’s breathtaking testimonial to the joy and pain of loving well. When her mother, Allison, was diagnosed with cancer, McColl dropped everything—including her on-the-rocks marriage—to return to the family farmhouse and fix elaborate meals in the hope of nourishing her back to health. In “thoughtful and finely crafted prose” (Martha Anne Toll, NPR.org) McColl reveals Allison to be an extraordinary woman of infinite love for her unruly brood of children. Mining her dual losses “with humor and charm” (Rachel Kong, New York Times Book Review) to confront her identity as a woman, McColl walks lightly in the footsteps of the woman who came before her. “A gorgeous, painful, exhilarating debut” (Kirstin Valdez-Quade), Joy Enough is an essential guide to clinging fast to the joy left behind, for readers of Ann Hood and Jenny Offill.

The Thing Around Your Neck
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In these twelve riveting stories, the award-winning Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States. Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them.

Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

The Last Black Unicorn
by Tiffany Haddish

From stand-up comedian, actress, and breakout star of Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, comes The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

Young Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present
by Jamia Wilson

Meet figureheads, leaders and pioneers such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, as well as cultural trailblazers and sporting heroes, including Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams.

Eddie Olyczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life
by Eddie Olczyk and Perry Lefko

One of the biggest names in American hockey has written an inspiring and entertaining memoir of his life both on and off the ice. From shooting hundreds of tennis balls at a goal in his childhood living room to the ups and downs of his improbable hockey career to rollicking stories from the booth and the backstretch, Olczyk guides readers on his journey toward his ultimate test: a battle against Stage 3 colon cancer.

I Am a Girl from Africa
by Elizabeth Nyamayaro

Elizabeth Nyamayaro’s I Am a Girl from Africa tells the story of the former United Nations senior advisor’s inspiring full-circle journey after a UN aid worker saved her life when she was eight years old. Later in her life, she would go on to launch the HeForShe campaign and help bring change across the globe.

One Life
by Megan Rapinoe

Only four years old when she kicked her first soccer ball, Megan Rapinoe developed a love – and clear talent – for the game at a young age. But it was her parents who taught her that winning was much less important than how she lived her life. From childhood on, Rapinoe always did what she could to stand up for what was right—even if it meant going up against people who disagreed.

Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators
by Joseph W. Underwood

This collection of inspiration stories from America’s top educators is sure to inspire, celebrate, and motivate the people who make the biggest difference in everyone’s life.

A Life on Our Planet
by David Attenborough

“I am 94. I’ve had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.”

App Kid
by Michael Sayman

Discover the inspiring and deeply personal coming of age memoir from one of Silicon Valley’s youngest entrepreneurs—a second-generation Latino immigrant who taught himself how to code as a thirteen-year-old and went on to claim his share of the American dream.

Unfinished
by Priyanka Chopra Jonas

A remarkable life story rooted in two different worlds, Unfinished offers insights into Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s childhood in India; her formative teenage years in the United States; and her return to India, where against all odds as a newcomer to the pageant world, she won the national and international beauty competitions that launched her global acting career. Whether reflecting on her nomadic early years or the challenges she has faced as she has doggedly pursued her calling, Priyanka shares her challenges and triumphs with warmth and honesty.

All In
by Billie Jean King

In this inspiring and intimate account, Billie Jean King details her life’s journey to find her true self. She recounts her groundbreaking tennis career and the myriad challenges she’s hurdled on her path to publicly acknowledging her sexual identity at the age of fifty-one. Hers is the story of a pathbreaking feminist, a world-class athlete, and an indomitable spirit whose impact has transcended even her spectacular achievements in sports.

Beneath the Surface: My Story
by Michael Phelps

In this candid memoir, Phelps talks openly about his battle with attention deficit disorder, the trauma of his parent’s divorce, and the challenges that come with being thrust into the limelight.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
by Sheryl Sandberg

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg reignited the conversation around women in the workplace. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and coauthor of Option B with Adam Grant.

Chasing Perfection: A Journey to Healing, Fitness, and Self-Love
by Rachel Brooks

Chasing Perfection reveals the life-changing steps fitness and lifestyle expert Rachel Brooks took to overcome depression, negative body image, and eating disorders, to break free of the past, and start living a fulfilling purpose-driven life.

Taste: My Life Through Food
by Stanley Tucci

Before Stanley Tucci became a household name with The Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games, and the perfect Negroni, he grew up in an Italian American family that spent every night around the table. He shared the magic of those meals with us in The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table, and now he takes us beyond the recipes and into the stories behind them.

The Art of Happiness
by 14th Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

Through conversations, stories, and meditations, the Dalai Lama shows us how to defeat day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement. Together with Dr. Cutler, he explores many facets of everyday life, including relationships, loss, and the pursuit of wealth, to illustrate how to ride through life’s obstacles on a deep and abiding source of inner peace.

Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope
by Karamo Brown

An insightful, inspiring, “candid and warm” memoir from Karamo Brown—beloved culture expert from Netflix’s Queer Eye—as he shares his story for the first time, exploring how the challenges in his own life have allowed him to forever transform the lives of those in need.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told be me) story 
by Bess Kalb 

Recounting both family lore and family secrets, Bobby brings us four generations of indomitable women and the men who loved them. There’s Bobby’s mother, who traveled solo from Belarus to America in the 1880s to escape the pogroms, and Bess’s mother, a 1970s rebel who always fought against convention. But it was Bobby and Bess who always had the most powerful bond: Bobby her granddaughter’s fiercest supporter, giving Bess unequivocal love, even if sometimes of the toughest kind. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me marks the creation of a totally new, virtuosic form of memoir: a reconstruction of a beloved grandmother’s words and wisdom to tell her family’s story with equal parts poignancy and hilarity. 

The Year of Magical Thinking 
by Joan Didion 

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, is an account of the year following the death of the author’s husband John Gregory Dunne. Published by Knopf in October 2005, The Year of Magical Thinking was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning. 

The Happiness Project 
by Gretchen Rubin 

Another (slightly) oldie but still goodie: Gretchen Rubin shakes out the cobwebs of her life and figures out how to channel her days toward happiness in a larger sense. If you’re feeling blue, this is a practical how-to for shaking things up. 

The Year of Yes 
by Shonda Rhimes  

Um, what advice wouldn’t we take from the powerhouse of network TV? Rhimes is basically a genius in our book — and in her book, she proves that by giving badass and totally applicable advice about how to silence self-doubt and channel the person you are truly meant to be. There is a reason that this one is a bestseller many-times over, and you’ll find it in the pages.  

Wild
by Cheryl Strayed 

It’s time to indoctrinate yourself into the Cheryl Strayed fan club. At the age of 22, Cheryl Strayed’s life was at a low point: she’d just lost her mother, was getting divorced, and was hooked on heroine. Four years later, she decided to reboot her life with a solitary trek up the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the Mojave Desert to Washington State. You don’t have to take the hike to be bettered by the wisdom Strayed picked up along the way. 

Not That Kind of Girl 
by Lena Dunham 

Yep, we’re counting this one as inspirational. Dunham is one of our favorite (literal) lady bosses; she accomplished a lot during the wild twentysomething years, and she definitely has wisdom to deliver, with wit to boot. 

My Beloved World 
by Sonia Sotomayor 

Long before she became a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor was a little girl living in a housing project in the Bronx. Her father was an alcoholic, and her loving mother was busy working. So, when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of seven, no one was there to sterilize the needles and give her the injections. From then on, she was self-reliant. This book tracks Sotomayor’s incredible career, from the day she was a little girl with a grave responsibility all the way to Princeton, to the Federal District Court, and finally, to the highest court of them all. 

Redefining Realness 
by Janet Mock 

Janet Mock’s memoir came out in 2014, a year after Laverne Cox made her debut as trans inmate Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black. The memoir emerged just as media representation of trans individuals was changing — for the better. You will travel with Mock between the ages of 19 and 25. She mixes pop culture, social justice, personal narrative, and wry perspective for a reading experience that will leave you enlightened and empathetic. 

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly 
by Anthony Bourdain 

The memoir that made him famous; will make you miss him all over again, but you’ll also laugh and smile for what he once gave us. 

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History 
By Vashti Harrison 

Not just a picture book, illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things – bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. 

Little Leaders: Bold Men in Black History 
By Vashti Harrison 

An important book for readers of all ages, this beautifully illustrated and engagingly written volume brings to life true stories of black men in history. Among these biographies, readers will find aviators and artists, politicians and pop stars, athletes and activists. 

Huddle 
by Brooke Baldwin 

Former CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin explores what happens when women come together and harness their collective power through a blend of journalism and personal narrative. 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous 
by Ocean Vuong 

In this Vietnamese-American poet’s debut novel, Vuong weaves a story of family, his first love and being caught in between cultures. The T.S Eliot prize-winning poet gives a sensitive portrayal of his world and the relationships within it, ultimately asking the reader never to give up on themselves. 

Once a Girl, Always a Boy 
by Jo Ivester 

When Jeremy Ivester was born, his parents thought they had a daughter. But over the years, it became clear they had a son. This intimate portrait (written by his mother) charts Jeremy’s journey from childhood through transition to his emergence as an advocate for the transgender community. 

Fairest
by Meredith Talusan 

Fairest is a memoir about a precocious boy with albinism, a “sun child” from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Throughout her journey, Talusan shares poignant and powerful episodes of desirability and love that will remind readers of works such as Call Me By Your Name and Giovanni’s Room. Her evocative reflections will shift our own perceptions of love, identity, gender, and the fairness of life. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
By Maya Angelou 

The autobiography of Maya Angelou: poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read. 

Long Walk to Freedom 
by Nelson Mandela 

Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. 

Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer 
by Jerry L. Ross 

This autobiography tells the story of how Jerry Ross came not only to achieve the goal to become the most-launched astronaut in history, as well as a NASA veteran whose career spanned the entire US Space Shuttle program. 

Shoe Dog: A Memoir
by the Creator of Nike, Phil Knight 

In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. 

Vaccinated
by Paul A. Offit 

His goal—to prevent every disease that commonly attacked children—was unattainable. But Maurice Hilleman came close. 

Eighty Days
by Matthew Goodman 

The dramatic race that ensued would span twenty-eight thousand miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors’ lives forever. 

Becoming  
by Michele Obama 

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.  

How To Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers  
by David M. Rubenstein 

The essential leadership playbook. Learn the principles and guiding philosophies of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and many others through illuminating conversations about their remarkable lives and careers. 

Beyond the Finish
by Brent Pease, Kyle Pease, and Todd Civin 

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, Kyle Pease had grown up supporting his athlete brothers Brent and Evan from the sidelines. While his condition limited his ability to play sports, it didn’t dampen Kyle’s passion for them, nor did it stop the Pease family from including Kyle in various excursions. From rolling his wheelchair up Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park to zipping down Colorado snow slopes, there was never a dull moment with the Pease brothers. Where there was a wheel, there was a way to adventure. 

Black Like Me
by John Howard Griffin

In the Deep South of the 1950s, a color line was etched in blood across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Journalist John Howard Griffin decided to cross that line. Using medication that darkened his skin to deep brown, he exchanged his privileged life as a Southern white man for the disenfranchised world of an unemployed black man. What happened to John Howard Griffin—from the outside and within himself—as he made his way through the segregated Deep South is recorded in this searing work of nonfiction. His audacious, still chillingly relevant eyewitness history is a work about race and humanity every American must read.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by David Eggers

A book that redefines both family and narrative for the twenty-first century. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the moving memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.

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

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

Mortality
by Christopher Hitchens

On June 8, 2010, while on a book tour for a bestselling memoir, Christopher Hitchens was stricken in his New York hotel room with excruciating pain in his chest. In this telling of his ordeal with esophageal cancer, Hitchens poignantly describes the torments of illness, discusses its taboos, and explores how disease transforms experience and changes our relationship to the world around us. By turns personal and philosophical, Hitchens embraces the full panoply of human emotions as cancer invades his body and compels him to grapple with the enigma of death.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
by Timothy Egan

Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous portrait photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But when he was thirty-two years old, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film North America’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared. Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and he is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. The story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

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

The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in “orchestrated chaos” with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain. Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. 

Notes of a Native Son
by James Baldwin

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in “The Harlem Ghetto” to a sobering “Journey to Atlanta.”

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
by Frederick Douglass

Former slave, impassioned abolitionist, brilliant writer, newspaper editor and eloquent orator whose speeches fired the abolitionist cause, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) led an astounding life. Physical abuse, deprivation and tragedy plagued his early years, yet through sheer force of character he was able to overcome these obstacles to become a leading spokesman for his people.

Travels With Charley In Search of America
by John Steinbeck

To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck’s goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and  the unexpected kindness of strangers.

Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert

This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali. By turns rapturous and rueful, this wise and funny author (whom Booklist calls “Anne Lamott’s hip, yoga- practicing, footloose younger sister”) is poised to garner yet more adoring fans.

The Woman Warrior
by Maxine Hong Kingston

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present.

Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius

One of the world’s most famous and influential books, Meditations, by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121–180), incorporates the stoic precepts he used to cope with his life as a warrior and administrator of an empire. Ascending to the imperial throne in A.D. 161, Aurelius found his reign beset by natural disasters and war. In the wake of these challenges, he set down a series of private reflections, outlining a philosophy of commitment to virtue above pleasure and tranquility above happiness.

Claudette Colvin
by Phillip Hoose

On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South. 

Born Standing Up
by Steve Martin

At age 10, Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. The story of these years, during which he practiced and honed his craft, is moving and revelatory.

My Life in France
by Julia Child

Although she would later singlehandedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. Julia’s unforgettable story—struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, a wonderful, nearly fifty-year long marriage that took the Childs across the globe—unfolds with the spirit so key to Julia’s success as a chef and a writer, brilliantly capturing one of America’s most endearing personalities.

Under the Tuscan Sun
by Frances Mayes

Twenty years ago, Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—introduced readers to a wondrous new world when she bought and restored an abandoned villa called Bramasole in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. Under the Tuscan inspired generations to embark on their own journeys—whether that be flying to a foreign country in search of themselves, savoring one of the book’s dozens of delicious seasonal recipes, or simply being transported by Mayes’s signature evocative, sensory language. Now, with a new afterword from the Bard of Tuscany herself, the 20th anniversary edition of Under the Tuscan Sun brings us up-to-date with the book’s most beloved characters.

Running with Scissors
by Augusten Burroughs

Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock- therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.

I Am Malala
by Malala Yousafzai

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Touching the Void
by Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death. The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to base camp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall. How both men overcame the torments of those harrowing days is an epic tale of fear, suffering, and survival, and a poignant testament to unshakable courage and friendship.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
by Alexandra Fuller

From 1972 to 1990, Alexandra Fuller—known to friends and family as Bobo—grew up on several farms in southern and central Africa. Her father joined up on the side of the white government in the Rhodesian civil war, and was often away fighting against the powerful black guerilla factions. Her mother, in turn, flung herself at their African life and its rugged farm work with the same passion and maniacal energy she brought to everything else. She instilled in Bobo, particularly, a love of reading and of storytelling that proved to be her salvation. This is the story of one woman’s unbreakable bond with a continent and the people who inhabit it, a portrait lovingly realized and deeply felt.

This Boy’s Life: A Memoir
by Tobias Wolff

This Boy’s Life is the story of the young, tough-on-the-outside but vulnerable Toby Wolff. Separated by divorce from his father and brother, Toby and his mother travel from Florida to Utah to a small village in Washington state, with many stops along the way. As each place doesn’t quite work out, they pick up to find somewhere new. In the story of their journey, Wolff masterfully recreates the frustrations, cruelties, and joys of adolescence and presents a deeply poignant exploration of memory, dreams, and how we create a self.

Autobiography of a Face
by Lucy Grealy

This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman’s face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the paralyzing fear of never being loved.

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl At The Window
by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

This engaging series of childhood recollections tells about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love. This unusual school had old railroad cars for classrooms, and it was run by an extraordinary man-its founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi–who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.

My Bondage and My Freedom
by Frederick Douglass

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass escaped to freedom and became a passionate advocate for abolition and social change and the foremost spokesperson for the nation’s enslaved African American population in the years preceding the Civil War. My Bondage and My Freedom is Douglass’s masterful recounting of his remarkable life and a fiery condemnation of a political and social system that would reduce people to property and keep an entire race in chains.

The Lives of the Artists
by Giorgio Vasari

These biographies of the great quattrocento artists have long been considered among the most important of contemporary sources on Italian Renaissance art. Vasari, who invented the term “Renaissance,” was the first to outline the influential theory of Renaissance art that traces a progression through Giotto, Brunelleschi, and finally the titanic figures of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael.

Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi

A life story in graphic novel form. Here, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.