It’s not difficult to figure out why someone would write a memoir. People have all sorts of reasons for wanting to examine their lives, record the facts and share their memories and point of view. But what compels people to read about others’ lives? Check the New York Times best-seller list of nonfiction any week of the year. You’ll typically find that biographies and autobiographies dominate the list. People are undisputedly interested in reading real-life accounts of real lives.
Look at this week’s NYTimes list, for example, and you’ll find this list of nonfiction with the highest sales:
- Killing Kennedy, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, recounting the events surrounding the 1963 Kennedy assassination.
- Thomas Jefferson, by Jon Meacham, celebrating Jefferson’s skills as a practical politician.
- Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, on the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
- No Easy Day, by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer, an account by a former member of the Navy SEALs of the mission that killed bin Laden.
- America Again, by Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Barry Julien, Tom Purcell et al., satirical advice on how to bring America back from the brink.
- Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, an Olympic runner’s story of survival as a WWII prisoner.
- The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver, an analysis of predictions.
- Bruce, by Peter A. Carlin, a biography of Bruce Springsteen.
- Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, an autobiography by country music icon Willie Nelson.
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, a report on families living in a Mumbai slum.
- Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir about the author’s 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.
- A Higher Call, by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander, about an encounter between an American pilot and a German pilot in the skies over 1943 Germany.
- Waging Heavy Peace, a memoir by rocker Neil Young.
- The Last Lion, by William Manchester and Paul Reid, a partial biography of Winston Churchill.
- The Patriarch, by David Nasaw, a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy.
- Quiet, by Susan Cain, a close look at the introverted personality.
Total it up, and you’ll see that 10 of the top 16 sellers are biographies or autobiographies. Check back here next week and we’ll talk about why this literary genre is so popular.