The best nonfiction books about people who have triumphed over extreme adversity

Who am I?

When I was young, my mother became addicted to Valium. Following years of the inevitable traumas associated with living with addiction, my mother committed suicide six weeks before my wedding. I am an accidental writer, having chosen the law as my primary profession. On its face, my first book, Inflection Point: War and Sacrifice in Corporate America is a behind-the-scenes exploration of high-profile litigation in Big Pharma. However, it is really the story of my personal struggle to come to terms with my own feelings of loss and abandonment as a result of my mother’s passing. In writing this book, I not only healed, but found a second professional passion.


I wrote...

Unblinded: One Man's Courageous Journey Through Darkness to Sight

By Traci Medford-Rosow, Kevin Coughlin,

Book cover of Unblinded: One Man's Courageous Journey Through Darkness to Sight

What is my book about?

Unblinded is the true story of New Yorker Kevin Coughlin, who became blind at age thirty-six due to a rare genetic disorder known as Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. Twenty years later, without medical intervention, Kevin's sight miraculously started to return. He is the only known person in the world who has experienced a spontaneous, non-medically assisted, regeneration of the optic nerve. Unblinded follows Kevin's descent into darkness, and his unexplained reemergence to sight.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Educated: A Memoir

Traci Medford-Rosow Why did I love this book?

Westover’s memoir is a triumph over adversity story. I was drawn to it because Westover’s drive to become educated despite her family’s poverty reminded me of Kevin Coughlin, co-author of my book, and his quest to regain his eyesight after suddenly going blind at age thirty-six due to a rare genetic disease. I have found that by reading and writing about people who have “beaten the odds” it helps me to feel grateful that I, too, am one of these people. The odds that Westover would become educated were very slim, but her determination and perseverance produced the miracle, which is beautifully described in her story. 

By Tara Westover,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE MULTI-MILLION COPY BESTSELLER

Selected as a book of the year by AMAZON, THE TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES, GUARDIAN, NEW YORK TIMES, ECONOMIST, NEW STATESMAN, VOGUE, IRISH TIMES, IRISH EXAMINER and RED MAGAZINE

'One of the best books I have ever read . . . unbelievably moving' Elizabeth Day
'An extraordinary story, beautifully told' Louise O'Neill
'A memoir to stand alongside the classics . . . compelling and joyous' Sunday Times

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the end of the world. She was never put in school, never taken to the doctor. She did not even have a birth certificate…


Book cover of The Choice: Embrace the Possible

Traci Medford-Rosow Why did I love this book?

The details were different, but the outcome was the same. Dr. Eger is a Jewish Holocaust survivor; I am a woman raised in a Christian family in Virginia. She danced for Josef Mengele on the night he sent her mother to the gas chamber; I spent my youth tiptoeing around a mother whose nerves were shot before her thirtieth birthday. Dr. Eger’s mother was murdered; my mother, despite her intelligence, beauty, and talents, chose to end her life before her fiftieth birthday. Despite the differences in our stories, Dr. Eger and I have one very important thing in common. Despite the fact that we were both victimized, we did not want to remain in a victim consciousness, and we chose not to do so. 

The Choice chronicles a sadly familiar story. She and her family were among the hundreds of thousands of European Jews imprisoned, tortured, raped, and killed in concentration camps. In Dr. Eger’s case, it was Auschwitz. Her family perished; she survived. Dr. Eger’s courage and willingness to share her truth reduced the bite of mine. Her triumph made my triumph possible. If she could reach a place of thriveness, then so could I. Like Dr. Eger, I too believe that after all the blame and punishments have been meted out, for others as well as for ourselves, the only viable choice we have left is forgiveness. 

By Edith Eva Eger,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Choice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE AWARD-WINNING SUNDAY TIMES AND NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Even in hell, hope can flower

'I'll be forever changed by her story' - Oprah Winfrey

'Extraordinary ... will stick with you long after you read it' - Bill Gates

'One of those rare and eternal stories you don't want to end' - Desmond Tutu

'A masterpiece of holocaust literature. Her memoir, like her life, is extraordinary, harrowing and inspiring in equal measure' - The Times Literary Supplement

'I can't imagine a more important message for modern times. Eger's book is a triumph' - The New York Times

In 1944, sixteen-year-old…


Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Traci Medford-Rosow Why did I love this book?

I chose Viktor Frankl”s extraordinary book, Man’s Search for Meaning, because, like Dr. Eger’s book, it reveals the indomitable nature of the human heart. The first part of this book is a condensed memoir on the years he spent in a concentration camp during WW2. The second part unpacks, thread by thread, what he learned from this experience, what made the Nazis do what they did, and why some victims can choose life while others perish. Like Dr. Eger’s book, his thesis is the same—ultimately, we have the choice. I also chose this book because my father was one of the soldiers that liberated the survivors of Dachau. After the war, he remained friends with many of the people he helped to liberate and watched them rebuild their lives. This led him to believe that education was the single most important gift you could give someone. He always said, “At the end of the day, they can take everything away from you except what is in your brain.”

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

40 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.


Book cover of Unbroken

Traci Medford-Rosow Why did I love this book?

I choose Unbroken because it is the best example I have read of a triumph over adversity story in terms of overcoming physical and emotional suffering. American soldier, Louis Zamperini, was captured by enemy soldiers when his plane went down in the Pacific Ocean. Overcoming the shark-infested waters by surviving on a raft, only to be eventually captured, Zamperini's chances for survival were slim. Surviving on his ingenuity, will, and refusal to lose hope, Zamperini’s triumph over adversity is a mesmerizing tale of persistence despite all odds.

By Laura Hillenbrand,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of the bestselling and much-loved Seabiscuit, an unforgettable story of one man's journey into extremity. On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood,…


Book cover of Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly

Traci Medford-Rosow Why did I love this book?

Lidsky suddenly became blind as an adult and had to rebuild his life from the ground up. Overcoming the physical, as well as the emotional, obstacles to suddenly losing his eyesight, Lidsky charts his journey from the top to the bottom and back to the top again. Since reading Lidsky’s story and co-authoring Coughlin’s book, I have found gratitude in small things, despite my own personal struggles. More than once, I have said to myself, “If they can keep going in the face of sudden blindness, so can I.”

By Isaac Lidsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eyes Wide Open as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this New York Times bestseller, Isaac Lidsky draws on his experience of achieving immense success, joy, and fulfillment while losing his sight to a blinding disease to show us that it isn’t external circumstances, but how we perceive and respond to them, that governs our reality.

Fear has a tendency to give us tunnel vision—we fill the unknown with our worst imaginings and cling to what’s familiar. But when confronted with new challenges, we need to think more broadly and adapt. When Isaac Lidsky learned that he was beginning to go blind at age thirteen, eventually losing his sight…


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Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

Laurie spoon-feeds orphans in Ethiopia, performs 108 bows at a Buddhist mountain temple, walks shelter dogs in Peru, milks goats in Fuerteventura, and gets lost in Mexico, all the while navigating dating at midlife.

After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…


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