15 Great Memoirs Written by Men.

I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering. ~ Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s wit could well apply to many of today’s memoirs. But the truth is that among the deluge of memoirs published every year there are some gems.

In a previous post I compiled 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women. One of my readers suggested I give men equal time and bring together a list of memoirs written by male authors. So here it is – a totally subjective listing but all terrific reads.  What’s a favorite memoir of yours that I haven’t included?


Experience: A Memoir by Martin Amis

“The son of the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis explores his relationship with this father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley’s life. He also examines the life and legacy of his cousin, Lucy Partington, who was abducted and murdered by one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Experience also deconstructs the changing literary scene, including Amis’ portraits of Saul Bellow, Salman Rushdie, Allan Bloom, Philip Larkin, and Robert Graves, among others.” ~ from Amazon.com

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

“In 1929 Robert Graves went to live abroad permanently, vowing ‘never to make England my home again’. This is his superb account of his life up until that ‘bitter leave-taking’: from his childhood and desperately unhappy school days at Charterhouse, to his time serving as a young officer in the First World War that was to haunt him throughout his life.” ~ from Amazon.com

Dispatches by Michael Herr

“American correspondent Herr’s documentary recalls the heavy combat he witnessed in Vietnam as well as the obscene speech, private fears and nightmares of the soldiers. “Herr captures the almost hallucinatory madness of the war,” said PW. “This is a compelling, truth-telling book with a visceral impact, its images stuck in the mind like shards from a pineapple bomb.” ~ from Publishers Weekly

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

“In All Creatures Great and Small, we meet the young Herriot as he takes up his calling and discovers that the realities of veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire are very different from the sterile setting of veterinary school. From caring for his patients in the depths of winter on the remotest homesteads to dealing with uncooperative owners and critically ill animals, Herriot discovers the wondrous variety and never-ending challenges of veterinary practice as his humor, compassion, and love of the animal world shine forth.” ~ from Amazon.com

Wordstruck: A Memoir by Robert MacNeil

“People become writers, in large part, because they are in love with language. Wordstruck is the story of one such writer’s unabashed affair with words, from his Halifax childhood awash with intriguing accents to life as a traveling journalist who “delighted in finding pockets of distinctive English, as a botanist is thrilled to discover a new variety of plant.” ~ from goodreads.com

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

“Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood,” writes Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes. “Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” Welcome, then, to the pinnacle of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. Born in Brooklyn in 1930 to recent Irish immigrants Malachy and Angela McCourt, Frank grew up in Limerick after his parents returned to Ireland because of poor prospects in America.” ~ from Amazon.com

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller

“Miller, the accidental memoirist who struck gold with the likable ramble Blue Like Jazz, writes about the challenges inherent in getting unstuck creatively and spiritually. After Jazz sold more than a million copies but his other books didn’t follow suit, he had a classic case of writer’s block. Two movie producers contacted him about creating a film out of his life, but Miller’s initial enthusiasm was dampened when they concluded that his real life needed doctoring lest it be too directionless for the screen.” ~ from Publishers Weekly

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette

“… poetic yet highly political, angry yet infused with the love of life–is what transforms Becoming a Man from simple autobiography into an intense record of struggle and salvation. Paul Monette did not lead a life different from many gay men–he struggled courageously with his family, his sexuality, his AIDS diagnosis–but in bearing witness to his and others’ pain, he creates a personal testimony that illuminates the darkest corners of our culture even as it finds unexpected reserves of hope.” ~ from Amazon.com

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

“[Nabokov] has fleshed the bare bones of historical data with hilarious anecdotes and with a felicity of style that makes Speak, Memory a constant pleasure to read. Confirmed Nabokovians will relish the further clues and references to his fictional works that shine like nuggets in the silver stream of his prose.”  ~ from Harper’s

Steinbeck: A Life in Letters by John Steinbeck

“Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck was a prolific correspondent. Opening with letters written during Steinbeck’s early years in California, and closing with an unfinished, 1968 note written in Sag Harbor, New York, this collection of around 850 letters to friends, family, his editor and a diverse circle of well-known and influential public figures gives an insight into the raw creative processes of one of the most naturally-gifted and hard-working writing minds of this century.” ~ from Amazon.com

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

“A meditation on Styron’s ( Sophie’s Choice ) serious depression at the age of 60, this essay evokes with detachment and dignity the months-long turmoil whose symptoms included the novelist’s “dank joylessness,” insomnia, physical aversion to alcohol (previously “an invaluable senior partner of my intellect”) and his persistent “fantasies of self-destruction” leading to psychiatric treatment and hospitalization.” ~ from Publishers Weekly

Self-Consciousness by John Updike

“Updike’s memoir–it is by no means an autobiography, but rather, as the title brilliantly suggests, a thoughtful communing with past selves–is, as expected, wonderfully written. It is also disarmingly frank about certain aspects of the writer’s life,” maintained PW. Updike discusses his psoriasis and stuttering, his parents and failures as husband and father, his politics, the ways in which God permeates his life, and his profound commitment to writing.” ~ from Publishers Weekly

Night by Elie Wiesel

“In Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, a scholarly, pious teenager is wracked with guilt at having survived the horror of the Holocaust and the genocidal campaign that consumed his family. His memories of the nightmare world of the death camps present him with an intolerable question: how can the God he once so fervently believed in have allowed these monstrous events to occur? There are no easy answers in this harrowing book, which probes life’s essential riddles with the lucid anguish only great literature achieves. It marks the crucial first step in Wiesel’s lifelong project to bear witness for those who died.” ~ from Amazon.com

This Boy’s Life: A Memoir by Tobias Wolff

“In PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Wolff’s fourth book, he recounts his coming-of-age with customary skill and self-assurance. Seeking a better life in the Northwestern U.S. with his divorced mother, whose “strange docility, almost paralysis, with men of the tyrant breed” taught Wolff the virtue of rebellion, he considered himself “in hiding,” moved to invent a private, “better” version of himself in order to rise above his troubles.”  ~ from Publishers Weekly

Black Boy by Richard Wright

“Autobiography by Richard Wright, published in 1945 and considered to be one of his finest works… From the 1960s the work came to be understood as the story of Wright’s coming of age and development as a writer whose race, though a primary component of his life, was but one of many that formed him as an artist.”  ~ from The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Photo by  kim fleming

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4 Responses to 15 Great Memoirs Written by Men.

  1. Hi Dan:
    Another enjoyable post, as usual. I’ve got an addition to your list of male memoirists. I read it several years ago and it truly resonated with me. It’s The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride. The book alternates between James conflicting feelings about being raised by his mother Ruth, a white Jewess who married an African American man in 1940, and Ruth’s own story of her past and leading up to her life raising 12 children in the projects. It’s clear that McBride struggles to find his own identity in this unorthodox family, but you can also feel the love and admiration as well. Thanks for jogging my memory a bit!

  2. Pingback: Life Gets in the Way of Writing Memoir | Clarbojahn's Blog

  3. Pingback: Free Copy of Donald Miller’s Book Write your Story | The Writers Help

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