No matter who you are and where you are in your life, there’s always going to be a time when you could use a little inspiration. We know there’s few things in life more inspiring than reading about those who have achieved greatness; whether that greatness is artistic, political or historically important is kind of irrelevant when considering the myriad of ways in which someone can go about making a difference in this crazy, mixed up world. With that in mind, we here at Goliath have collected 10 biographies (or autobiographies, since we aren’t being picky about which format the life story comes to you in) that we’re betting will inspire you to better yourself upon reading.
10. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor (Bruce Campbell)
Immensely funny and surprisingly genuine, Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor isn’t your stereotypical autobiography; for starters, it’s written by a man who many would know by face (or perhaps by voice), but maybe not by name. Bruce Campbell, B movie extraordinaire and star of movies such as Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Bubba Ho-Tep, is the definition of a working-class actor, the type who never achieves stardom but manages to eke out a living doing what he loves. It’s this blue collar career that Campbell devotes much of his autobiography to, detailing the difficulties of acting full-time when your name isn’t the first one plastered onto a movie poster. Oddly inspirational (especially for those looking to get into acting), If Chins Could Kill is also laugh out loud hilarious, mostly due to Campbell’s strange, off-kilter personality and his relentless anecdotes.
9. My Life (Bill Clinton)
Written by the former President of the United States himself (and edited thoroughly by Justin Cooper), My Life holds the distinction of commanding the largest ever advance book fee, rumored to be somewhere in the range of $12 million dollars. What else would you expect from a weighty tome (1000+ pages) that quite literally details what it takes to become the mightiest man in the Western world? Following the upstart politician from his humble roots in Hope, Arkansas, to the Oval Office, My Life does well in inundating the audience with anecdotes and political tidbits from the man himself, and the text’s underlying message (that change occurs in incremental but often beneficial movements) is a positive one. While some may criticize old Bill for the philandering in and around the White House, the fact remains that he did more good as President than damn near all of his contemporaries; for that alone, we’d recommend My Life as a solid read.
8. Born Standing Up: A Comics Life (Steve Martin)
There’s no doubting that Steve Martin remains one of the most prolific and acclaimed comedians in contemporary memory, a fact which makes his memoir Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life all the more enticing to read. With a cover quote from Jerry Seinfeld that calls it “one of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written,” Born Standing Up follows Martin through his younger years, through his difficult relationships with his family and through his gradual progression to stardom, all the while punctuated by his acerbic wit and genuine honesty. Detailing the differences between performing stand up (which he retired from in 1981) and performing in films, Martin speaks candidly about the sterling career he’s enjoyed and the legacy he hopes to leave when he’s finished on the silver screen. A must-read for anyone who enjoys comedy or who hopes to make the world a happier place through laughter.
7. Just Kids (Patti Smith)
Written by wickedly influential punk rocker Patti Smith, whose album Horses would inspire innumerable young musicians (perhaps most notably Michael Stipe, Courtney Love and Morrissey, who have all expressed admiration for the musician) to pick up instruments and make some noise, Just Kids is a memoir which details Smith’s escapades in the New York City music scene of the 1970s, along with her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, a noted and controversial photographer. Described as a love letter to New York, Just Kids is beautifully written by Smith herself and explores what it takes to stick as an artist in a world constantly trying to exploit, manage and sell your creations. Winner of the 2010 National Book Award, Just Kids is a highly acclaimed biography sure to inspire even the most stubborn of readers.
6. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey (Che Guevara)
Many a curious mind have turned to Che Guevara’s memoir The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey for deeper insight into the musings of the young revolutionary, and to their satisfaction have found a tome worthy of the legendary figure who produced it. The Motorcycle Diaries, written by Guevara as he traversed almost 2,800 miles on his electric motorbike, is a text that encompasses, in Guevara’s own words, ” a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup,” and affords the man plastered on t-shirts worldwide an opportunity to present himself on his own terms. It’s an excellent read for any young adventurer who yearns to set out and travel the world; and if you don’t already have that desire, you damn sure will after reading through this collection of thoughts from one of history’s most inspirational figures.
5. Cash: The Autobiography (Johnny Cash)
It’s no secret that Johnny Cash lived quite a life; even those unfamiliar with The Man in Black’s music will undoubtedly be aware of the storied existence which produced said music. While the 2005 biopic Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, did an excellent job of summarizing Cash’s life and career, like with all things its best to hear the words straight from the horse’s mouth. Cash: The Autobiography was written by both Johnny Cash and Patrick Carr and conveys Cash’s tumultuous life in stark, honest terms, a life which included his battles with drug addiction and his decades-long courtship of June Carter, whom he eventually married. A must-read for any music fan, Cash: The Autobiography is perfect for anyone looking for advice on how to overcome adversity.
4. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (David Lipsky)
This is one of the more unorthodox entries on this list, but we’re going to allow it in lieu of a traditional biography due to the overwhelming genius of the subject at hand. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is composed of the recorded transcripts between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and the late author David Foster Wallace, and the back and forth between the two is not something to be missed. Containing innumerable insights into the life, writing and incomparable mind of one of the true literary geniuses of the last 50 years, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself functions less like a biography and more like a dialogue, a conversation had with one of the greatest minds of his or any generation. Whether you’re a fan of Wallace’s writing or not, hearing him speak in his colloquial yet wildly intelligent manner is enough of a reason to check out this soon-to-be feature film (starring Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg).
3. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier (Ishmael Beah)
The heartbreaking story of a young man forced into duty as a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is an interesting example of the non-fiction classification. Amid rumors of exaggeration and falsifying facts, Beah crafted a narrative that draws attention to the horrific practices that occurred during the Sierra Leone civil war and the vast ramifications that stemmed from these acts. While the veracity of his claims has been defended on numerous occasions, the fact remains that the text exists as a beautifully written memoir that is capable of evoking both affect and empathy in even the stoniest of readers. It’s a truly inspiring tale that should be read and examined by all as a testament to what can be accomplished in the face of the longest odds.
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
Maya Angelou, the literary titan who passed away just last year, is the author of one of history’s greatest biographies. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has become synonymous with Angelou’s name, and its legacy is on par with even the most storied of Angelou’s fiction. Following the author on her tragic life journey as she deals with topics as varied as rape, race and identity, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings plays as part autobiography and part literary fiction, leaving some to question the text’s genre. Semantics aside, it’s a text that is often taught in schools, despite its difficult and graphic subject matter, due to the overwhelming sincerity of the content and the beauty with which the horrible themes are dissected and analyzed.
1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Alex Hayley)
Coauthored by Alex Hayley and based on a series of interviews between the journalist and the late Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the definitive story of the radical man behind some of the most important ideas of black nationalism and black identity. Framed as a conversion narrative, the text has become widely acknowledged as one of the great non-fiction texts of its generation, and its influence over the genre cannot be overstated. Brilliant, controversial, radical and, most importantly, sincere, this text oscillates between overwhelming anger and a desire for something better, something as simple and transcendental as love itself.