In the unprecedented tumult of 2020, these inspirational tales of remarkable people provided a new vantage point from which to view the broadening horizon of this vast and changing world. These are true stories of love and loss, of family, faith, and failure, of self-examination, confession, and success against all odds. Within these pages, the authors leave their mark on a world made just a little better, a little brighter, and a little more informed. Here are some of the year’s best memoirs:
1. A promised Land by Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama’s critically acclaimed memoir is wonderfully rich and detailed, the prose crafted with a deft hand. Included in the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2020, this book is an intimate self-examination of the life and career of the 44th President of the United States.
Giving readers a first-person view of his life as politician, husband, and father, this powerfully introspective story of Obama’s presidency, its trials and tribulations, and the journey that led to it gives its audience “…a sense of what it’s like to be the president of the United States.”
2. The Answer Is…: Reflections on my life by Alex Trebek
A humorous and heartfelt “aperçu of Alex Trebek,” brings readers into the life and mind of the man who has been the face of “Jeopardy!” for more than three and a half decades.
What followed Trebek’s announcement of his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis was an outpouring of love and sympathy that convinced him to write his memoirs. In these pages, Trebek details moments of his life in witty and honest vignettes that leave readers closer to the man who many felt was already part of the family.
3. Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Tretheway utilizes her mastery of the craft of language to tell a story that is in turns agonizing, beautiful, and devastatingly mournful.
The daughter of a marriage between a black American woman and a white Canadian man, Tretheway writes Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir as both a poetic elegy to the senseless murder of her mother thirty-five years prior, and as a forceful navigation of a minefield of racism, discrimination, grief, and suppressed pain. Nineteen at the time of her mother’s death, Tretheway returns to the city she swore she would never come back to as an adult. The memoir that is her confrontation with the anguish and injustice of her mother’s killing is an absolute tour de force.
4. Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim OUr Humanityby Bringing Emotional Intelligence to TEchnology by Rana el Kaliouby with carol colman
In this candid memoir, author Rana el Kaliouby explores her journey as an Egyptian American Muslim woman to and through the American tech industry.
While her book is a commentary on navigating the perils of a world in the throes of an “empathy crisis”—a world in which, despite being constantly connected, people are more alone than ever—her story is also that of a woman trying to reconcile her dreams with the expectations of her upbringing.
5. Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss by Jenna Bush Hager
Jenna Bush Hager’s heartfelt collection of personal essays provides a charming look into what it was like growing up in two presidential families.
Having lost three of her grandparents in the space of a single year, Bush Hager draws on her loving memories of her paternal grandparents—George and Barbara Bush—and her maternal grandparents—Harold and Jenna Welch, the author’s namesake—as she explores what it is to remember the people whose lives, love, and lessons shaped who she is as a woman, a mother, and a public figure.
6. I Have Something to Tell You: A Memoir by Chasten Buttigieg
Honest and engaging, this delightful memoir is a sincere conversation between Buttigieg and the reader. It is at once a compassionate coming-of-age story and a deeply interesting glimpse behind the scenes of his husband’s political campaign as the nations first openly gay presidential candidate.
From his childhood in Michigan to coming out to himself and his family, from fighting to put himself through to meeting his future husband, Chasten Buttigieg speaks with an endearing voice to lend hope; not just to the LGBTQIA community or future leaders, but to everyone.
7. One Life by Megan Rapinoe and Emma Brockes
Two-time Women’s World Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe has crafted a memoir that uses her platform as a world-famous soccer player to examine and discuss a multitude of timely issues, ranging from politics to racial injustice to feminism.
This is a story about soccer, of course, but it is also about much more. Rapinoe tells the story of her life and her career in an honest and unapologetic way, using her power and position as an out lesbian athlete activist to bring about the crucially needed change she believes so strongly in.
8. The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey
Profound, intimate, and at times heartbreaking, this memoir is a candid examination of how every step of Mariah Carey’s life made her the internationally famous woman she is today. Through the triumphs and tragedies, this story is a testament to the necessity and power of believing in oneself. From her troubled childhood through a terrifying marriage to a final return to the top of the chart, this well-written and honest memoir is a unique and beautiful opportunity to get to know—and admire—the icon that is Mariah Carey in a way like never before.
9. What Can i Do?: my path from climate despair to action by Jane fonda
The deeply personal call to action that is Jane Fonda’s What Can I Do? asks and attempts to answer the all-pervasive question plaguing the minds of those concerned with the largest environmental crisis the world has ever seen.
Fonda does a clean, concise, and compelling job of answering this question at the end of each chapter, giving readers simple strategies and additional resources to make an impact in their own lives and actions. This is more than a well-written memoir: it is bone-deep commitment to the cause and a rallying cry to those who would fight to save the future of the planet.
In a memoir that is as well-written as the author is well-spoken, Omar tells a deeply absorbing story of survival and tenacity in the face of heartbreak and danger.
Congresswoman Omar is a Representative of the state of Minnesota and is one of the first two Muslim women to serve in the United States Congress. The story of her life and career is an extraordinary political memoir, but it is also the story of a black woman, a Muslim woman, a refugee, and a mother in modern-day America. This is an inspiring and eye-opening must-read.
11. greenlights by Matthew mcconaughey
As McConaughey says, “This is not a traditional memoir…This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” In this ‘playbook,’ McConaughey presents a quick and fascinating read, proving himself to be a skilled author as well as a talented actor. Readers are given a raw and down-to-Earth view of events in McConaughey’s life—some famous, some infamous, some mundane, but all significant.
While it is clear he marches to his own beat, his well-crafted and enjoyable personal stories trade polish for the true ring of authenticity. With a dash of self-help and a lot of wit, this is a great read for die-hard fans and casual viewers alike.