Books about heroes help readers learn to overcome obstacles in the face of adversity. Heroic epics have inspired readers since before written history began, starting with the myths and legends that would form the basis of the earliest religions. The tales of Heracles, Gilgamesh and Odysseus have informed and inspired many books about heroes. Although modern books about heroes don’t usually involve vengeful gods and creatures of myth, the outlines of these more ancient tales provide the backbone for many beloved tales of heroism.
Real-life stories of heroic acts have also inspired many books about heroes. In the face of wars and natural disasters, many regular people have stepped up to perform extraordinary acts of courage and self-sacrifice. Perhaps more incredible are the stories of leaders who deliberately chose to place themselves through trials and tribulations to combat oppression. The lives of these brave leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, have filled the pages of many books about heroes, helping regular people learn about the true face of heroism.
#1 – Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
This nonfiction book tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympian who fought in World War II. While serving in the Pacific theater, Zamperini was in a plane crash and set adrift on a raft in the ocean. He was eventually captured by the Japanese and survived grueling ordeals for over two years. Even through these trials, Zamperini managed to keep his humor and his mental strength.
#2 – The Diary of a Young Girl
When the Nazis took over the Netherlands and began to round up the country’s Jewish population, Anne Frank and her family started a new life hidden behind bookcases in her father’s workplace. With little else to do, Anne began to write her story. Unfortunately, however, Anne’s book did not have the triumphant ending common to many books about heroes. The Frank family was eventually captured by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps; Anne’s diary is the only record of her short and tragic life.
#3 – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series
As with many fictional books about heroes, the main character in this book was an average person before realizing that he had special powers. Percy Jackson discovers that he is the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. When Zeus’ thunderbolt disappears, Percy is forced to retrieve it with the help of some new friends.
#4 – The Iliad
The Iliad is one of the oldest works of Western literature and has inspired many books about heroes since ancient times. The epic poem concerns the events at the end of the Trojan War as the Greeks and the Trojans clash in a series of battles, with many of the Greek gods and goddess interfering with the actions of the mortals.
#5 – Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, the subject of many other books about heroes, retells his extraordinary life story in this autobiography, beginning with his early upbringing. Portions of this book were written while Mandela was imprisoned for 27 long years. Through his writings, Mandela shares his courage and inspiring words to help others face their own challenges.
#6 – His Excellency: George Washington
Joseph J. Ellis
Many books about heroes focus on a single larger-than-life figure, and George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, is the subject of this biography. The book covers several significant periods of Washington’s life, including his military achievements during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. The book also shares many details about Washington’s presidency.
#7 – Ivanhoe
Published in 1820, this tale about heroes kindled a renewed fascination towards medieval times. The book tells the story of Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a Saxon noble living in England during the height of the Norman reign. The story includes many exciting adventures, including a jousting tournament and a rescue mission. The book is also noteworthy for shaping the modern interpretation of the infamous outlaw, Robin Hood, a figure who has also been the subject of many books about heroes.
#8 – Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux
Therese of Lisieux
This autobiography, written by a French Discalced Carmelite nun, focuses on the spiritual and religious beliefs of the author. Before her early death from tuberculosis at age 24, Therese Martin began to write her life’s story, beginning with memories of her early childhood in France. Although Therese Martin did not make any major accomplishments in her life, her simple message of love endures and inspires.
#9 – Schindler’s List
During World War II, Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, owned an important factory in Poland. As the war raged on, Schindler’s Jewish workers were constantly under threat of deportation to the concentration camps. Schindler worked tirelessly to shield his workers from this fate by paying large bribes to his fellow Nazis. Although this book is historical fiction, the basis of the story is accurate to history.
#10 – Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Mahatma Gandhi, a leader of the movement to free India from British control, famously used nonviolent civil disobedience in his efforts to reach his goal. In the first section of the book, Gandhi recounts his early life, discussing the rebellious years that led to significant spiritual changes. Ultimately, Gandhi encourages his readers to experiment in their own lives to help bring peace to the world.
#11 – Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters
Chesley B. Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow
In this book, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger shares the amazing story of how he managed to land a crippled airplane in the Hudson River in 2009, preventing any loss of life. This memoir details his life, beginning with his early interest in aviation, and finally details the events of the plane accident.
#12 – Among Heroes: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s True Story of Friendship
Brandon Webb and John David Mann
As with many nonfiction books about heroes, this book focuses on current events, including the recent military interventions in Afghanistan. In this book, Brandon Webb recounts the tragedies and the triumphs that eight of his fellow Navy SEALs experienced before ultimately giving their lives in service to their country.
#13 – Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue
Like many books about heroes, this collection of true stories celebrates the actions of many regular women who quietly became heroes during World War II. Some women carefully hid Jews in their homes, and others worked to sabotage Nazi war efforts. The book also includes basic information about the war to help readers better understand the challenges these women faced.
#14 – Candy Bomber
Michael O. Tunnell
Many books about heroes focus on the events of World War II, but Candy Bomber focuses on an unusual act of heroism after the war. Germany was left in ruins and split in two by the beginnings of the Cold War. A cargo pilot, Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen, became aware of the suffering of the children in West Berlin. With the help of some friends, he used his plane to drop candy, equipped with tiny parachutes, to the children to give them hope.
#15 – Rosa Parks, My Story
Rosa Parks, famous for refusing to give her bus seat to a white passenger, tells her story in this book. After giving readers a glance at her early years, she details her efforts as part of the civil rights movement in the United States. Although many books about heroes have mentioned Rosa Parks, reading her own firsthand account can help readers understand the true meaning of heroism.