8 Incredible Autobiographies That Will Change Your View of History

    These unbelievable stories stretch beyond the pages of your average history book.

    Even the most learned scholars know there’s always something new to discover when it comes to history. These eight autobiographies help you do just that, opening a window to an untold past. From the story of a young woman-turned-CIA spy to a boy solider in Africa, these books of first-hand accounts of history will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

    Marita: The Spy Who Loved Castro

    By Marita Lorenz

    In 1959, 19-year-old Marita Lorenz traveled to Cuba and met Fidel Castro. They fell in love and she stayed with him for several months before fleeing to America. It was there the CIA recruited her to assassinate Castro. But she couldn’t do it. Her story doesn’t end there, though. In her own words, Lorenz vividly documents her life—from testifying about JFK’s assassination to joining the FBI. 

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    Marita: The Spy Who Loved Castro

    By Marita Lorenz

    Hitler's Last Secretary

    By Traudl Junge

    Traudl Junge worked as Hitler’s last private secretary from 1942 until his death in 1945. Her story was the inspiration for the 2004 German film, Downfall, which chronicles Hitler’s final ten days. At the time she started her employment with Hitler she was 22, and later claimed she was not aware of the horrors caused by the Nazis but that she should have used her closeness to the Nazi Party to investigate their activities. Her intimate and chilling memoir details just what it was like to spend everyday with a monster.  

    Hitler's Last Secretary

    By Traudl Junge

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

    Though you might have read this one in history class, it’s definitely worth a re-read. One of the most famous first-hand accounts written by a former slave, Douglass’ narrative details his life—including his escape from slavery and his role as a leader for the abolitionist movement. After settling in Massachusetts with his wife, Frederick Douglass became an anti-slavery lecturer—famously speaking at the Massachusetts’s Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in 1841. 

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

    The White Album

    By Joan Didion

    Not to be confused with The Beatles’ famous White Album, Didion’s 1979 collection of essays focus on the history of California in the 1960s and ‘70s. Offering a first-hand account of growing up there, Didion discusses Black Panther Party meetings, experiences with drugs, and the murder of Sharon Tate by members of the Manson family—which cast a dark cloud over the otherwise sunny Hollywood. If you’re looking for a first-hand account of the time period, Didion’s essays are a must-read. 

    The White Album

    By Joan Didion

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    England to Me

    By Emily Hahn

    After spending much of World War II in China, Emily Hahn—who has been hailed by The New Yorker as “a forgotten American literary treasure”— headed to England in 1946 during very uncertain times. Though the war had ended, there were still reminders of it everywhere. And as she tries to settle into the English countryside and find her place there, she reflects on the state of the world as well as the state of her wellbeing. 

    Related: The Guadalcanal Battle: An Eyewitness Account of One of the Most Pivotal Offensives of World War II 

    England to Me

    By Emily Hahn

    A Long Way Gone

    By Ishmael Beah

    When Ishmael Beah was just 12-years-old in Sierra Leone, his world changed as he fled attacking rebels during the Sierra Leone Civil War. By the age of 13, he was forced into the government army—given an AK-47 and told to kill. Written when he was 25-years-old, Beah tells his heartbreaking story in A Long Way Gone. From struggling with drugs and violence to making his way to America in hopes of a better life, Beah’s story offers a first-hand account of horrors most people can’t even imagine. 

    A Long Way Gone

    By Ishmael Beah

    Brown Girl Dreaming

    By Jacqueline Woodson

    Winner of the National Book Award, Jacqueline Woodson reflects on her childhood in South Carolina and New York, and offers an important and powerful commentary on race in America. Through vivid poems, she explains what it was like growing up as an African American in the 1960s and ‘70s—during which time she became aware of the Civil Rights movement. Her poems off a powerful look at the past as she searches for her place in the world. 

    Brown Girl Dreaming

    By Jacqueline Woodson

    All But My Life

    By Gerda Weissmann Klein

    Gerda Weissmann Klein’s heartbreaking first-hand account of what it was like to be a teenager in Nazi-occupied Europe will give you a horrifying look at what people truly went through. Living in Poland, once the Nazis invaded she was separated from her family and never saw them again. Being tossed around from work camp to work camp—and even embarking on a 350-mile journey that only a fraction of prisoner’s survived—Gerda never lost the will to live. Reflecting on her terrible ordeal, Gerda offers readers a window into the past. 

    Related: All I Have is a Voice: 12 Epic World War II Novels (from Early Bird Books)

    All But My Life

    By Gerda Weissmann Klein

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    Featured image of Castro (far left), Che Guevara (center), and other leading revolutionaries, marching through the streets in protest at the La Coubre explosion on March 5, 1960: Wikipedia

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