The best memoirs from a wide array of people

Louis Menand Author Of The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War
By Louis Menand

Who am I?

I started my career as a graduate student studying the Victorian period, a great age for autobiography. And although autobiography is no longer taught much in English departments, I guess I retain my passion for the genre. The greatest, of course, is Rousseau’s Confessions.


I wrote...

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

By Louis Menand,

Book cover of The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

What is my book about?

In his follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand offers a new intellectual and cultural history of the postwar years. The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense--economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham

By Carolyn Brown,

Book cover of Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham

Why this book?

Even if you know nothing about dance, this (not short) memoir takes you inside one of the most imaginative collaborations of the twentieth-century avant-garde, and gives you the flavor of some of its extraordinary characters—not only Cage and Cunningham, but Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Morton Feldman, and others.


Tristes Tropiques

By Claude Levi-Strauss, Doreen Weightman, John Weightman

Book cover of Tristes Tropiques

Why this book?

OK, this is a classic. But it is not only a compelling story about the author’s experiences doing fieldwork in Brazil. It is also an introduction to structural anthropology (the field Lévi-Stauss created ), a great work of French prose (the Weightmans’ is the preferable translation), and a meditation on the future of the human race (not good).


A Dance with Fred Astaire

By Jonas Mekas,

Book cover of A Dance with Fred Astaire

Why this book?

Mekas was a Lithuanian émigré who became an impresario of experimental cinema. He lived a long and eventful life, and this eccentric book is a fascinating account of it.


The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age

By Richard Seaver,

Book cover of The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age

Why this book?

Despite the cheesy title, this is a revealing window on the world of postwar publishing. Seaver “discovered” Samuel Beckett as a graduate student in Paris after the war, and he eventually became an editor at Beckett’s American publisher, Grove, during its heyday under Barney Rosset.


POPism: The Warhol Sixties

By Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett,

Book cover of POPism: The Warhol Sixties

Why this book?

OK, Warhol probably did not write a single word of this book, and OK, you should believe nothing in it (or that Warhol ever said). But Pat Hackett channels Warhol’s voice and attitude uncannily, and the stories, however dubious the provenance, are funny and insightful about the art world of the nineteen sixties.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in making movies, editors, and Hollywood?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about making movies, editors, and Hollywood.

Making Movies Explore 14 books about making movies
Editors Explore 7 books about editors
Hollywood Explore 87 books about Hollywood

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Walden and Civil Disobedience, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and The Republic of Plato if you like this list.