The last year has ranged from frustrating and disappointing, to outright terrifying. At times, it’s felt like people are the worst. Yet, there have always been (and always will be) incredible humans in this world. Each of these memoirs will restore your faith in humanity in different ways.
Many times, it’s the stories of people overcoming the odds under adverse or upsetting conditions that gives us hope. Below, you’ll find a variety of books that cover topics across centuries and continents.
Because it’s been such a tough year, you might want to start your journey through these titles on the lighter side. That’s why we’ve ranked our list from “you’ll laugh the whole way through” to “you’d better have a box of tissues.”
Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs
Before you panic, the dogs do not die. Olive, Mabel & Me is a true story about a sports commentator, Andrew Cotter, who put his two dogs in makeshift competitions to stay busy during quarantine in 2020. You’ll be laughing the entire time, while being reminded how lucky we are to have dogs. There are some tender moments, of course, but this story is sure to resonate with dog owners and animal lovers in the best way possible.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban
Malala Yousafzai made headlines in 2021 when, as a 15-year-old, she was hunted down and shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting women’s rights to education. While the premise of I Am Malala is both heartbreaking and infuriating, her remarkable recovery and mission for peace make it abundantly clear why she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a great story about bravery that has a happy ending.
The Story of My Life
Most people learn about Helen Keller in middle school, but then never really talk about her again. Her biography, The Story of My Life, is a great reminder of what someone can accomplish with tenacity and drive. Blind and deaf by the time she was 19 months old, Keller was determined to learn about the world regardless of her disabilities. She was full of love and compassion for others and has been inspiring people for over a century.
The Sun Is a Compass: My 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds
Similar to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, The Sun Is a Compass is the story of Caroline Van Hemert, a biologist who grew tired of her stifling laboratory. After setting off on a 4,000-mile journey through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, her love for nature and science was reignited. It’s a great story about the resilience of the human spirit.
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives
When Caitlin Alifirenka was in school, she received an assignment to become pen pals with Martin Ganda, who lived in Zimbabwe. I Will Always Write Back shares the story of how these two became best friends, and includes some of their correspondence. It’s a great reminder of the things we take for granted, and how similar people are, no matter where they’re from.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
Paul Farmer is a little-known name today, but he found his calling bringing modern medicine to the most rural parts of the world and those who needed it most. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder tells his story and will give you faith in the ability of one person to change countless lives.
This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President
This memoir by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Africa’s first female president is a moving story about standing up for your beliefs and doing what’s right. It also offers a good history lesson on Liberia and West Africa.
Steve & Me
Written by Terri Irwin just two years after her husband died, Steve & Me shares experiences and stories from some of the most well-known wildlife enthusiasts in history. It’s a beautiful love story about humans and the planet. While Steve Irwin’s death was tragic, this book helps solidify his legacy forever.
The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story
If there’s still any question about how brave, intelligent, and important nurses are, The Language of Kindness will fill in all the gaps. Author Christie Watson shares 20-years-worth of stories about compassion, heartbreak, and love. It’s a tearjerker, for sure (there are few happy reasons someone enters a hospital). Ultimately, though, it will remind you that we all share the same emotions.
Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson
Tuesdays with Morrie is author Mitch Albom’s story about a college professor and mentor he reconnected with shortly before the man passed away. It’s full of wisdom and tidbits about the meaning of life, all wrapped in a gentle reminder about the important impact teachers can have on our lives.
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying
Author Nina Riggs, a wife and mother diagnosed with terminal cancer, shares her journey in this touching memoir. The Bright Hour is tremendously sad (how could it not be?), but it’s also full of inspiring advice on how to live a meaningful life. Riggs not only strives to live the rest of her life with dignity, but to find peace in death, as well. It’s a story everyone should read.
The Choice: Embrace the Possible
The final and most heart-wrenching book on our list is The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. Imprisoned as a teenager in Auschwitz, Eger’s story is, of course, heartbreaking, but she focuses mostly on her journey to healing and forgiveness. It will remind you that humans can remain positive and hopeful even in the worst of circumstances.