20 Memoirs and Biographies that Show the Creative Mind at Work

These 20 books about artists, inventors, actors, and other creative individuals illustrate the creative process so that you can awaken your own muse.

How can you see the creative process of a genius at work? Take a dive into these 20 memoirs and biographies of some of the greatest inventors, artists, actors, and other creative individuals to learn the secrets of unlocking your own inspiration.

1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs was not easy to work for but he was one of the most innovative people who ever lived. His motto: “By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things.”

2. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
British writer George Orwell’s sheer passion for Spanish culture and landscapes drips from even the most gruesome Spanish Civil War accounts.

3. Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
This masterpiece of graphic nonfiction follows American physicist Richard Feynman from his childhood to his work on the Manhattan Project to the Challenger disaster. Feynman believed in the imaginative wonder and adventure of science.

4. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
The title is taken from a mnemonic device science writer Joshua Foer uses to memorize a deck of playing cards for the U.S. Memory Championship.  While documenting the championship, Foer explores how far we can stretch human memory.

5. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s husband dies and her only daughter falls mysteriously and gravely ill in the same year. To cope with and understand her grief, Didion writes about the aftermath in exacting and nuanced detail. The result is a testament to the human ability to suffer and survive through imagination, curiosity and memory.

6. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
Beard’s series of autobiographical essays show how adulthood thinly covers our childhood curiosities, obsessions and longings.

7. Then Again by Diane Keaton
This new autobiography from the Annie Hall star is far more than an account of a long and varied acting career: Keaton’s memoir stretches back through two generations, using her mother’s journals to recount a story of the dreams and yearnings of an American family.

8. Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus
The jazz legend’s memoir is a feverish, winding, living thing that is a reflection of the improvisation and movement of jazz itself.

9. Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos M. N. Eire
Eire was airlifted out of Cuba with 14,000 other children in the aftermath of Castro’s Revolution. His magical and exotic memoir shows his path from the loss of his parents and country to rebirth and redemption.

10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death by Jean-Dominique Bauby translated by Jeremy Leggatt
French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote this memoir about his experience of living with locked-in syndrome using 200,000 blinks of his right eyelid to communicate letters for his transcriptionist.   

11. Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie
In his 1943 memoir, Woody Guthrie tells the story of a cowboy’s son who hits the road, guitar slung over one shoulder, to ramble on towards glory.

12. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
On the New York Times 2003 bestseller list for more than 100 weeks, Reading Lolita tells the story of a teacher in Iran who runs an all-female book club, where their discussion of Western literature helps them express their views about their place in society.

13. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
This book is an honest account of living with manic depression and how one wildly successful scientist balances her creative mania with her unpredictable depression.

14. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto GuevaraChe Guevara’s transforms during his youthful odyssey by motorcycle, raft, steamship, horse, bus and car through the Andes, Atacama Desert and the Amazon River Desert.

15. Naked by David Sedaris
Sedaris’ series of essays is just plain funny but it also illustrates how having an interesting and curious inner world makes modern life more bearable. 

16. The Night of the Gun by David Carr
New York Times columnist and reporter David Carr investigates his own memory by conducting interviews with the people who were present on the worst night of his life—the night his best friend pulled a gun on him.

17. If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
This is Levi’s legendary account of his year in Auschwitz when he was 25 years old. What makes the book remarkable and packed full of creative thinking is Levi’s unique ability to show the humanity of his captors.

18. The Perfect Stranger by PJ Kavanagh
The English poet PJ Kavanagh meets a fellow student, Sally Phillips, the “perfect stranger” of the title, who transforms his entire existence.

19. Camus, A Romance by Elizabeth Hawes
Part memoir, part biography, Elizabeth Hawes shows how the authors we love can inform who we become.

20. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Laced with Marquez’s usual Colombian magic and folklore, this book tells the story of how one of the best writers of that last century started writing.