Best Autobiography

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What are the best in-depth biographies? (Please exclude Memoirs/Autobiographies. You can find many lists for those books, including this one.) All Votes Add Books To This List. Walter Isaacson (Goodreads Author) 4.14 avg rating — 1,018,669 ratings. Score: 53,782, and 540 people voted. Here are the 70 best biographies of time, ranked and curated from my master list of hundreds of memoirs and books. Night (The Night Trilogy #1) (1958), Elie Wiesel 115 pages. Rated 4.3 over 951,200 reviews on Goodreads.

The best way to learn about is to listen to those who have achieved the same types of goals you’ve set for yourself. But you don’t have to have a direct connection to Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or any other mogul to get this insider insight. Autobiographies give a personal look at these successful people's motivations, successes, failures and lessons learned.

Here are 10 of the best autobiographies from the brightest minds in business:

1. Miracles Happen

In her autobiography, describes the principles that helped her build one of the largest cosmetics retailers operating today. Her book covers everything from the importance of expecting great things to dreaming big to paying close attention to her target market.

Related: 3 Short Books to Read to Maximize Your Productivity and Marketing

A champion of women, a savvy business executive and a first-rate marketer, Mary Kay Ash’s company is a legacy of her life and vision.

2. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

Not every highly successful entrepreneur set out to conquer the business world. Yvon Chouinard, for example, began his business career as a highly skilled outdoorsman whose passions included mountain climbing and environmental causes.

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Let My People Go Surfing is the incredible story of how he leveraged these passions to design innovative sports equipment and found one of the most environmentally-responsible companies in the world.

3. Iacocca: An Autobiography

Named the 18th greatest CEO of all time, Lee Iacocca was a man who changed the automobile industry for the better and brought Chrysler back from the brink of destruction. Born to Italian immigrants, his career started at Ford -- until he clashed with Henry Ford II and was fired in 1978. Despite this conflict, he was quickly courted by Chrysler, which he rebuilt from the ground up.

Iacocca is his story in his own words -- from his childhood in Pennsylvania to his celebrity status as a business icon.

4. Direct from Dell: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry

Dell founder started his PC company in the same way that many other technology companies begin -- in his dorm room at college. With less than $1,000, he built his fledgling company into a powerhouse that transformed the way PCs were manufactured, purchased and delivered.

InDirect from Dell, he tells both the story of the company’s growth and his own management strategies.

5. The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company

The HP Way describes how Hewlett and Packard met at college and decided after graduation to found a company together in the one-car garage workshop that’s now known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley. From tossing a coin to determine the company name to defining their own management strategies, this autobiography is an inside look at a company that chose to do things its own way.

Related: Rather Than Trying to Reinvent the Wheel, Be Inspired by These 5 Books

6. Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Starbucks is known for its ubiquity, but its “shop on every street corner” success didn’t come out of the blue. In Pour Your Heart Into It, CEO discusses the customer-service principles that made Starbucks a household name. In addition, he shares the wisdom he’s learned and the techniques he’s used to keep Starbucks focused on customer and employee satisfaction, despite its staggering growth.

7. Sam Walton: Made In America

Love it or hate it, Walmart is one of the most successful businesses in American history. In Made in America, the chain’s founder details his company’s growth from a single dime store in Arkansas to the retail giant it is today, describing his successes and mistakes in an approachable, down-home writing style.

8. Jack: Straight from the Gut

Jack Welch is the man responsible for building General Electric into a multinational conglomerate that touches everything from lightbulbs to commercial lending and leasing. Straight from the Gut is Welch’s engaging first-hand story, starting with his childhood and moving through his meteoric rise through GE’s ranks. His autobiography discusses his career, business mistakes and successes, all in his trademark, no-nonsense style.

9. Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way

The playfully naughty title of this autobiography perfectly captures the personality of its author, billionaire entrepreneur . Losing My Virginity continues in the same vein, a unique and sometimes outrageous look inside the life and business of Branson and his cofounders. A perfect example of how an ambitious company can disrupt established but complacent industries, Branson’s autobiography is both entertaining and inspirational.

10. Built from Scratch: How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew the Home Depot from Nothing to $30 Billion

From being fired to building a multi-billion dollar business, Built From Scratch gives a first-hand look at the story of Home Depot founders, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. An excellent example of grit and determination, the story of Home Depot is one that will inspire all to keep going -- no matter what.

Have another autobiography that should be added to this list? Share your recommendations in the comments section below!

Related: The 5 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read, or Read Again, in 2015

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

How to start your autobiography can be a tricky issue.

Do you begin with your birth? With a description of your parents, or maybe even your grandparents?

With the first notable thing you did? With the biggest crisis point in your life, and then go back to the beginning?

While there is no single “best” way to start an autobiography, there are different approaches. The key is to find the one that works best for your story.

If you’d like to hire a ghostwriter to help you with your autobiography, contact Barry Fox & Nadine Taylor.

How to start an autobiography: 4 examples

Here are excerpts showing four interesting ways that have been used to open an autobiography. One author uses his birth name to foreshadow the life that lies ahead; one paints a simple sketch of his parents; one talks about the beliefs that shaped him; and one reflects on the influence of chance.

Each opening is different, and each is just right for its subject. Perhaps one of these approaches will be right for you! (I’ve linked the titles of each book below to Amazon so you can click on the “Look Inside” button and read more.)


In the opening paragraph of Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa hints at the tumultuous life he must face:

Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “trouble maker.” I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered.

In Take Me Home, singer-song writer John Denver uses only a few words to sketch a portrait of his parents:

They met in Tulsa. Dad was a ploughboy from western Oklahoma; Mom was a hometown girl. He was in the Army Air Corps, studying the mechanics of flight at the Spartan School of Aeronautics, and she had been first-prize winner in a jitterbug contest the year before. It was 1942: She was just turning eighteen, a high-school senior; and he was twenty-one.

Chris Kyle begins his American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by listing the life-long beliefs he inherited from his family and environment:

Every story has a beginning.

Mine starts in north-central Texas. I grew up in small towns where I learned the importance of family and tradition. Values, like patriotism, self-reliance, and watching out for your family and neighbors. I’m proud to say that I still try to live my life according to those values. I have a strong sense of justice. It’s pretty much black-and-white. I don’t see too much gray. I think it’s important to protect others. I don’t mind hard work. At the same time, I like to have fun; life’s too short not to.

Former President Ronald Reagan opens An American Life by talking about the effects of chance:

If I’d gotten the job I wanted at Montgomery Ward, I suppose I never would have left Illinois.

I’ve often wondered at how lives are shaped by what seem like small and inconsequential events, how an apparently random turn in the road can lead you a long way from where you intended to go—and a long way from wherever you expected to go. For me, the first of these turns occurred in the summer of 1932, in the abyss of the Depression.

How to start an autobiography?

There is no single best way. The goal is to draw your readers in with your first sentence—to make them want to read more by telling them something about you that makes you and your life story irresistible.

If you can do that, you’ve figured out how to start an autobiography.

Before deciding how you’d like to open your autobiography, go back and review the purpose of the autobiography and consider what it must contain.

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Once you know where you’re headed, you’ll be able to zero in on the “right” opening more effectively.

See Also “How to Start a Memoir” and “Writing a Memoir: 11 Tips.”

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