A brutal and blistering account of its writer’s experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Nazi death camps, Night gained only a little attention when it was first published in the 1960s. However, it’s since become a seminal work of memoir and Holocaust literature, translated into over 30 languages. In 1986, Wiesel acquired a Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work as a political activist and advocated against hatred and genocide.
Another blockbuster tale about addiction, hitting rock bottom and finding a road back, Wild chronicles the author’s grueling 1,100-mile solo hike up the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother’s death and her marriage separation. Strayed’s critically-lauded memoir about love, grief, and hard-won survival was later made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.
3. The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck
Inside this self-help book, life coach and sociologist Martha Beck applies a process to discovering and developing integrity: the quality of being “in harmony with ourselves” that can ease suffering and lead to a more purposeful and cheerful life. Playfully modeled after Dante’s Divine Comedy, Beck’s four-step technique for kicking harmful practices and attaining greater fulfillment has accumulated praise not only from Oprah but from bestselling writers Glennon Doyle and Elizabeth Gilbert.
4. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Dubbed “an instant American classic” in this brilliant New York Times review, Caste makes the case that American citizens should be understood as a race-based caste method, similar to those found in India and pre-WWII Germany. While the chronology of America’s brutal racial hierarchy can be tough to read, exploring how caste systems are created and eternalized can help us begin to break them down.
5. Hidden Valley Road by Martha Kolker
Praised by Oprah as “a riveting genuine story of an American family that reads like a medical detective voyage,” Hidden Valley Road chronicles the story of the Galvin family: twelve children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite the Galvins’ difficult and often depressing journey, their case illuminated the genetic sources of much mental illness and how it can be effectively treated.
This blockbuster memoir by America’s precious former First Lady would have been a hit without Oprah’s assistance. Still, Winfrey acknowledges the book’s impact goes beyond the simple fact of its celebrity author: “It is Michelle Obama’s subjective life story, of course,” she says, “but I believe it’s going to spark within you the desire; to think about your becoming.”
7. The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin
A memoir by a man who passed thirty years on death row for two murders he didn’t commit, Hardin’s anecdote is a powerful examination of social and legal justice, systemic racism, and the stability of the human spirit. By turns brutal and inspiring to read, Hardin’s challenging journey has given him a unique perspective on what it means to live and be free.
8. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
An unflinching look at addiction, disordered eating, and how gender roles can hurt relations between men and women, Glennon Doyle’s memoir details her pilgrimage to rock bottom and back again after learning of her husband’s unfaithfulness. Doyle’s storytelling made the book a sensation and testament to how our pain can make us building stronger relationships and a more authentic self.
9. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhard Tolle
A self-help book regarding transcending the human ego to build a better world, A New Earth committed that by emphasizing the present moment, we can keep an end to both individual and global suffering. Oprah discovered Tolle’s spiritual teachings so powerful that she partnered with him on a chart-topping podcast to bring his work to a broader audience.
10. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
The fourth of Angelou’s seven autobiographies, The Heart of a Woman, is honored as a brilliant account of maternity and the self. It chronicles a time when Angelou toured Africa, became a Civil Rights activist and published writer, and had a fateful meeting with Billie Holiday – all while raising her son to manhood.
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