The best inspirational life-changing memoirs

Why am I passionate about this?

John was born in Brisbane, Australia, and grew up roaming the beaches and playing backyard sports with his mates. His career spanned from mowing lawns and packing groceries, to being the Global Head of Acquisitions for a public listed travel company. In between bouts of work, he has travelled through over 80 countries, and been shot at, tear-gassed, robbed at gunpoint, and locked up in an African jail. He has stowed away in a Columbian cargo plane and been a passenger in two train derailments. John now lives with his family in the comparative safety of the Currumbin Valley on Australia’s Gold Coast. He considers it their base camp.


I wrote...

On the Road . . . with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year

By John Ahern,

Book cover of On the Road . . . with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year

What is my book about?

John Ahern has a high-flying job, a big house, a loving wife, and two great kids. But if this success why does he sense is failing as a husband and father? Craving a great adventure to bring his family closer together, John blows his career apart and buys a busted-up old RV online to chase an improbable dream; a year on the road... with kids.

From the North Pole to Africa’s highest peaks, John and his family roll through thirty countries, getting mugged by monkeys, charmed by snake-handlers, and challenged by their quest to live a life less ordinary. It’s a life-changing trip. Take it!

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Into the Wild

John Ahern Why did I love this book?

Krakauer’s biography of university graduate Chris McCandless shunning his privileged upbringing and heading into the wilds of America immediately triggered memories of my own idealistic anti-authoritarian youth. Chris’s occasional want for self-destructive impulses also magnetically appealed to me, as I expect it would to anyone who has experienced the dangerous allure of edgy, high-risk adventures. Given it’s on the back cover, it’s no spoiler that Chris, wonderfully self-named Alex Supertramp, perishes in Alaska. The advance knowledge of the demise of this beautiful free spirit makes his wanderings across America all the more poignant and painful to read, particularly when it occurs at the point when Chris appears to have finally discovered purpose in his search for meaning. I have never forgotten his story.

By Jon Krakauer,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Into the Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Krakauer’s page-turning bestseller explores a famed missing person mystery while unraveling the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

"Terrifying... Eloquent... A heart-rending drama of human yearning." —New York Times

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all…


Book cover of My Family and Other Animals

John Ahern Why did I love this book?

While writing my own memoir, Durrell’s classic was recommended to me as a great example of how a writer can make every little occurrence meaningful, deploying sharp dialogue and near poetic prose. I confess I picked up this book more as an assignment than for pleasure. But the author’s first paragraph was so hilarious in an understated English way, I was hooked by line four. Durrell writes engagingly of six years of his childhood in Corfu from 1933 to 1939, whereas a boy, Gerald discovers zoology and a unique love of animals. I never thought I’d be glued to a page about rose-beetles, but as this and other creature’s habits start to mirror that of his own family, the story came to life in multiple ways. Corfu provides an idealistically remote and natural setting for his childhood adventure. This tale reminds me yet again that one of the great gifts of travel is the power of time out, in which one’s freewheeling mind, away from the noise of the world, can help capture personal discoveries.

By Gerald Durrell,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked My Family and Other Animals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inspiration behind ITV's hit family drama, The Durrells.

My Family and Other Animals is Gerald Durrell's hilarious account of five years in his childhood spent living with his family on the island of Corfu. With snakes, scorpions, toads, owls and geckos competing for space with one bookworm brother and another who's gun-mad, as well as an obsessive sister, young Gerald has an awful lot of natural history to observe. This richly detailed, informative and riotously funny memoir of eccentric family life is a twentieth-century classic.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics…


Book cover of Notes from a Small Island

John Ahern Why did I love this book?

To me, travel writer Bill Bryson represents the world’s yogi-master in literary observational humor. This book is snigger, snigger, chortle, laugh-out-loud funny. Notes from a Small Island is Bill’s first book (I call him Bill because he writes in such a familial way, I feel like I am travelling with him as a friend while reading). Written after the American teacher had spent 20 years living in England, it describes Bryson’s rambling journey around the farms, clifftops, and motorways of the great isle. His observations as an outsider hilariously expose the inanities and insanities of the Brits and their unique cultural habits. ‘Notes’ became a UK bestseller on release in 1992, because the Brits like to laugh at themselves, but any foreigner who has ever visited those wavy green shores, will surely nod along knowingly, sharing in Bill’s confusion about the popularity of warm beer and cold pies and milky tea served with the teabag still in the cup.

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Notes from a Small Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1995, before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire to move back to the States for a few years with his family, Bill Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of the nation's public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite; a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named…


Book cover of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

John Ahern Why did I love this book?

As a serial traveler, I am attracted to the word ‘wild’ in a book’s title. Cheryl Strayed’s no-holds-barred rip-roaringly honest autobiography describes her eleven-hundred-mile walk along the Pacific Crest Trail on the border ranges of California. Before then, Cheryl wasn’t a writer, walker, or a traveler, and leapt into her journey with a degree of ignorance I find ridiculous and refreshing. As Strayed walks (or limps with blackened toes in the wrong sized shoes), the harsh, dirty, and beautiful environs of the mountain trail provide the perfect backdrop to her own out-of-control life. Recovering from a period littered with death and drugs and a crumbling marriage, Cheryl never once attempts to paper over her cracks, giving ultimate legitimacy to the book’s sub-title A journey from Lost to Found. Wild may not be a literary masterpiece in the realm of a Durrell, but it has the underbelly of a beast of truth, and the scorching honesty and real-life relatability of the author’s inner journey kept me on the trail with her till the end.

By Cheryl Strayed,

Why should I read it?

29 authors picked Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the…


Book cover of The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari

John Ahern Why did I love this book?

How could I leave out the doyen of modern-day autobiographical travel writing? Paul Theroux’s list of books describing his overland adventures and the history and culture of places he rides through, is impressive. He is funny, cantankerous, offensive, likable, and informative. I chose his last book Zona because he travels the same path I myself once took. It also differs from his earlier tomes in one distinct way; Paul undertook the hard overland journey from Cape Town to Angola at age 71, when most of us expect to be tucked up in bed with a warm toddy and a cat purring at our feet. His perspective from an older man commentates on and compares the Africa he once knew to now. At times, it’s a depressing tale, exposing stories of hunger and starvation, genocide, nature clogging with plastic, and vast examples of greed, climate change, wilderness destruction, and species extinction. Somehow, Theroux takes the reader on this journey while still managing to find the lighter side of humanity and giving us hope for the future. Real travelers, as Paul would call them, will love it.

By Paul Theroux,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Train to Zona Verde as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following the success of the acclaimed Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and The Great Railway Bazaar, The Last Train to Zona Verde is an ode to the last African journey of the world's most celebrated travel writer, Paul Theroux.

'Happy again, back in the kingdom of light,' writes Paul Theroux as he sets out on a new journey though the continent he knows and loves best.

Having travelled down the right-hand side of Africa in Dark Star Safari, he sets out this time from Cape Town, heading northwards in a new direction, up the left-hand side, through South Africa…


You might also like...

Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

Book cover of Rip Current

Sharon Ward Author Of In Deep

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the underwater world, so as an adult, I learned to scuba dive. I took to it like a fish to water, and my husband and I spent the next several years traveling to tropical islands to experience the local dive conditions whenever possible. I loved learning how every island had a different culture and a different undersea environment. Since I love tropical islands, scuba diving, mysteries, and adventure stories, these books really hit my sweet spot.

Sharon's book list on mysteries set on a tropical island

What is my book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary. When a young internet influencer…

Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

What is this book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.
Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary.
Soon after a young internet…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in grief, Namibia, and the American West?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about grief, Namibia, and the American West.

Grief Explore 84 books about grief
Namibia Explore 7 books about Namibia
The American West Explore 131 books about the American West