Help me find inspiration
July 18, 2011 1:51 AM   Subscribe

What are the best biographies/autobiographies/memoirs/novels for inspiration and psyching up?

I'm looking for stories (biographies/autobiographies/memoirs/novels) for inspiration in taking risks and living my best life. A few criteria:

- Stories about accomplished people who have a quirky side and didn't go exactly by the book, took risks, didn't fit in, etc.

- Books that are NOT worshipful and don't gloss over details... more about how people lived their lives, struggled with hard decisions, made mistakes, had issues... not just about how awesome they are. Preferably not people born to wealth and privilege, or ones who had to struggle with some sort of adversity.

- Preferably entrepreneurs/business people, so I can use these books as inspirations for my business. Artists, explorers, inventors, investors, etc. are welcome too.

- Preferably intelligent, quirky women, but men are okay too!

- Preferably available in Kindle format, but not necessary

Thank you, fellow Mefites!
posted by 3491again to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson is an amazing story of personal survival. I'm sure anyone reading it would be left thinking that most things are possible with a sufficient amount of determination.

Another suggestion. The open boat journey across a swathe of the South Atlantic in 1916 underaken by Ernest Shackelton to find rescuers for his Antartica expedition. The journey was deadly serious and called for amazing skills and fortitude from the crew members however the way that seemingly impossible difficulties keep presenting themselves is almost humorous but I'm sure cannot help but inspire anyone. I have read a good account of this journey but I cannot now find the reference - I suspect there is more than one account. Probably amongst those shown on the relevant wikipedia page.
posted by southof40 at 3:40 AM on July 18, 2011

I agree,with "Touching the Void", but also "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer- actually anything by JK, "The Bang Bang Club", read it now because there are rumours that they might be turning it into a Hollywood epic-read it first, before it has a happy ending- "Once, in a House on Fire" by Andrea Ashworth- an English book that you might otherwise not have seen - absolutely brilliant! Also, the wonderful "Shadow Divers"
" A Piece of Cake" by Cupcake Brown and anything that Maya Angelou has written- yes I'm biased towards the female - but everyone should read these books!
posted by hitchcockblonde at 4:10 AM on July 18, 2011

I like Tracy Kidder's stuff:
Mountains Beyond Mountains - Paul Farmer is certainly a bit of a maverick... and while not really a businessman is a great example of how to build a movement (which he did through his work with Partners in Health in Haiti, and now in Peru, Russia, and Rwanda...).
Strength in What Remains - great story about a medical student from Burundi who fled the genocide...
posted by noonday at 7:09 AM on July 18, 2011

Jacques Pepin's The Apprentice, Ben Franklin's autobiography, Lee Iacocca's autobiography, In Code: A Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, the She's Such A Geek anthology (great mini-memoirs about the intersection of gender politics and a particular field's attractions and annoyances), Ellen Ullman's Close to the Machine, 21 Dog Years by Mike Daisey, Atul Gawande's Better, Florence Nightingale's On Nursing, Ursula Nordstrom's Dear Genius, R.K. Narayan's My Days.
posted by brainwane at 9:11 AM on July 18, 2011

I found Midge Ure's autobiography to be surprisingly inspiring. (If you're in the U.S., I realize that Midge Ure is not exactly a household name. If you're not familiar with him at all, he was in the '80s band Ultravox and cowrote/produced "Do They Know It's Christmas?" with Bob Geldof and then co-organized Live Aid.)

He came from a pretty poor background to become extraordinarily successful, lost nearly everything due to a combination of bad luck, bad decisions, and (eventually) alcoholism, then pulled himself together in order to save his family, his sanity, and his creativity. He comes across as a really humble, funny, and hard-working guy.
posted by scody at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2011

You might try a biography of Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross. Other suggestions: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg, and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.
posted by alspeigh at 2:29 PM on July 18, 2011

Tina Fey's Bossypants.
posted by brainwane at 9:03 PM on July 18, 2011

Seconding Mountains Beyond Mountains, which I read just last month and is the most important book I've read in the last decade.

When it came to healthcare for the poor, Dr. Farmer didn't just not go by the book, he threw it out the fu**ing window.
posted by qsysopr at 5:13 AM on July 19, 2011

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