10 moving memoirs — plus how accurate they are

Eliza Anderson, Deseret News
Eliza Anderson, Deseret News
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From canyoneering to drug addiction and war, memoirs give readers a deeper view on the human experience through the words of the people who actually experienced it.

Here are 10 memoirs worth reading and how accurate they are.

1. ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction’

Author: David Sheff.

Sheff’s memoir, “Beautiful Boy,” was made into a film starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in 2018. The book and the film follow David Sheff’s son, Nic Sheff, through his addiction journey.

The book and the film have been praised for their honesty in depicting what drug addiction looks like. The Seattle Times described the 2018 film as “an honest portrait of how addiction affects families. It’s ugly and messy, with moments of grace and hope, but mostly despair.”

Though the memoir has the same shortcoming all personal memoirs face — perspective bias — Sheff makes a strong effort to remain true to his and his son’s story.

To be even more accurate, upon publication, the memoir was accompanied by Nic Sheff’s personal memoir, “Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines.”

2. ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’

Author: Maria von Trapp.

The 1965 musical “The Sound of Music” is based on the first section of von Trapp’s memoir. The memoir is a better account of the family’s experiences than the film, as it covers a much longer amount of time. Most of the book describes the family’s life in the U.S., where they moved after fleeing Europe.

“The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” also provides a more realistic picture of the time, and in Maria’s autobiography, she wrote why she first married the baron. “I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him.”

She continued, “However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. … By and by I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.”

3. ‘Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake’

Authors: Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding.

The truthfulness of Frank William Abagnale Jr.’s memoir, “Catch Me If You Can,” has been questioned heavily since its film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks was released.

Goodreads describes the memoir’s plot: “In his brief but notorious career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and co-piloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a licence, passed himself off as a college sociology professor and cashed over $2.5 million in forged cheques, all before he was 21 years old.”

Historian and journalist Alan C. Logan investigated the story and in 2020, he published a book claiming the Abagnale’s memoir is a large series of lies.

In an interview with the radio station Whyy, Logan claimed that Abagnale’s story “is completely fictitious.”

He added, “Public records obtained by me show that he was confined for the most part in prison during those years.”

4. ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’

Author: Aron Ralston.

In 2003, Aron Ralston was canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah, when a boulder pinned him against the side of a canyon wall for five days. His memoir released the next year, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” was adapted into a film in 2010, “127 Hours.”

Simon & Schuster describes this memoir as “one of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told.”

5. ‘Born to Run’

Author: Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen began working on this memoir after performing at the Super Bowl in 2009. The project took him seven years.

The New York Times wrote that nothing in the memoir is “unmeant or punch-pulling.” The review added, “If anything, Springsteen wants credit for telling it the way it really is and was.”

6. ‘Me’

Author: Elton John.

Professor at Pennsylvania State University John Mauro described John’s memoir as “unflinchingly honest.”

This memoir covers the major events in John’s life, but it’s also about overcoming addiction, finding love and starting a family. “In a voice that is warm, humble, and open, this is Elton on his music and his relationships, his passions and his mistakes,” Barnes & Nobles writes.

7. ‘The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45′

Author: Wladyslaw Szpilman.

On the day that Germany terminated the Polish radio stations, Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor on air. He spent six years hiding in ghettos in Warsaw.

The Jewish Historical Institute wrote, “Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble.”

The memoir was originally published in Polish 1946 and was translated into English in 1999.

8. ‘A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Danny Pearl’

Author: Mariane Pearl.

Mariane Pearl wrote this memoir about her husband, Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent who was abducted and assassinated “while reporting in Pakistan,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Publishers Weekly wrote about the memoir, “Details about the historical, social and political background of the Middle East help illuminate the area and its inhabitants, but ultimately, this is a loving, illuminating and movingly recounted tale of love and courage.”

9. ‘Open’

Author: Andre Agassi.

Biographer Jonathan Eig said this pro tennis player’s memoir “may be the all-time best-written memoir by a major athlete,” per New York Magazine. During his career, Agassi became an olympic gold medalist and eight-time major singles champion, per the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The New York Times reviewed his memoir, saying Agassi’s book is “not just a first-rate sports memoir but a genuine bildungsroman, darkly funny yet also anguished and soulful.”

10. ‘Into Thin Air’

Author: Jon Krakauer.

Journalist and mountaineer Jon Krakauer’s memoir grapples with guilt, survival and human nature after a deadly experience on Mt. Everest.

After summiting the mountain in May 1996, Krakauer started the descent down the nearly 30,000 feet before the other mountaineers in his group. A sudden storm on the top of the mountain resulted in the deaths of six fellow hikers.

The New York Times described the book as “a step-by-step account of how a diverse group of people try to conquer a mountain whose majesty is utterly dwarfed by the hardship required to ascend it.”