The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

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The 30 best biographies of all time.

The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

Biographer Richard Holmes once wrote that his work was “a kind of pursuit… writing about the pursuit of that fleeting figure, in such a way as to bring them alive in the present.”

At the risk of sounding cliché, the best biographies do exactly this: bring their subjects to life. A great biography isn’t just a laundry list of events that happened to someone. Rather, it should weave a narrative and tell a story in almost the same way a novel does. In this way, biography differs from the rest of nonfiction .

All the biographies on this list are just as captivating as excellent novels , if not more so. With that, please enjoy the 30 best biographies of all time — some historical, some recent, but all remarkable, life-giving tributes to their subjects.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great biographies out there, you can also take our 30-second quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized biography recommendation  😉

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1. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

This biography of esteemed mathematician John Nash was both a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize and the basis for the award-winning film of the same name. Nasar thoroughly explores Nash’s prestigious career, from his beginnings at MIT to his work at the RAND Corporation — as well the internal battle he waged against schizophrenia, a disorder that nearly derailed his life.

2. Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game - Updated Edition by Andrew Hodges

Hodges’ 1983 biography of Alan Turing sheds light on the inner workings of this brilliant mathematician, cryptologist, and computer pioneer. Indeed, despite the title ( a nod to his work during WWII ), a great deal of the “enigmatic” Turing is laid out in this book. It covers his heroic code-breaking efforts during the war, his computer designs and contributions to mathematical biology in the years following, and of course, the vicious persecution that befell him in the 1950s — when homosexual acts were still a crime punishable by English law.

3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is not only the inspiration for a hit Broadway musical, but also a work of creative genius itself. This massive undertaking of over 800 pages details every knowable moment of the youngest Founding Father’s life: from his role in the Revolutionary War and early American government to his sordid (and ultimately career-destroying) affair with Maria Reynolds. He may never have been president, but he was a fascinating and unique figure in American history — plus it’s fun to get the truth behind the songs.

Prefer to read about fascinating First Ladies rather than almost-presidents? Check out this awesome list of books about First Ladies over on The Archive.

4. Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

A prolific essayist, short story writer, and novelist, Hurston turned her hand to biographical writing in 1927 with this incredible work, kept under lock and key until it was published 2018. It’s based on Hurston’s interviews with the last remaining survivor of the Middle Passage slave trade, a man named Cudjo Lewis. Rendered in searing detail and Lewis’ highly affecting African-American vernacular, this biography of the “last black cargo” will transport you back in time to an era that, chillingly, is not nearly as far away from us as it feels.

5. Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert

Though many a biography of him has been attempted, Gilbert’s is the final authority on Winston Churchill — considered by many to be Britain’s greatest prime minister ever. A dexterous balance of in-depth research and intimately drawn details makes this biography a perfect tribute to the mercurial man who led Britain through World War II.

Just what those circumstances are occupies much of Bodanis's book, which pays homage to Einstein and, just as important, to predecessors such as Maxwell, Faraday, and Lavoisier, who are not as well known as Einstein today. Balancing writerly energy and scholarly weight, Bodanis offers a primer in modern physics and cosmology, explaining that the universe today is an expression of mass that will, in some vastly distant future, one day slide back to the energy side of the equation, replacing the \'dominion of matter\' with \'a great stillness\'--a vision that is at once lovely and profoundly frightening.

Without sliding into easy psychobiography, Bodanis explores other circumstances as well; namely, Einstein's background and character, which combined with a sterling intelligence to afford him an idiosyncratic view of the way things work--a view that would change the world. --Gregory McNamee

6. E=mc²: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis

This “biography of the world’s most famous equation” is a one-of-a-kind take on the genre: rather than being the story of Einstein, it really does follow the history of the equation itself. From the origins and development of its individual elements (energy, mass, and light) to their ramifications in the twentieth century, Bodanis turns what could be an extremely dry subject into engaging fare for readers of all stripes.

7. Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario

When Enrique was only five years old, his mother left Honduras for the United States, promising a quick return. Eleven years later, Enrique finally decided to take matters into his own hands in order to see her again: he would traverse Central and South America via railway, risking his life atop the “train of death” and at the hands of the immigration authorities, to reunite with his mother. This tale of Enrique’s perilous journey is not for the faint of heart, but it is an account of incredible devotion and sharp commentary on the pain of separation among immigrant families.

8. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

Herrera’s 1983 biography of renowned painter Frida Kahlo, one of the most recognizable names in modern art, has since become the definitive account on her life. And while Kahlo no doubt endured a great deal of suffering (a horrific accident when she was eighteen, a husband who had constant affairs), the focal point of the book is not her pain. Instead, it’s her artistic brilliance and immense resolve to leave her mark on the world — a mark that will not soon be forgotten, in part thanks to Herrera’s dedicated work.

9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Perhaps the most impressive biographical feat of the twenty-first century, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about a woman whose cells completely changed the trajectory of modern medicine. Rebecca Skloot skillfully commemorates the previously unknown life of a poor black woman whose cancer cells were taken, without her knowledge, for medical testing — and without whom we wouldn’t have many of the critical cures we depend upon today.

10. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, hitchhiked to Alaska and disappeared into the Denali wilderness in April 1992. Five months later, McCandless was found emaciated and deceased in his shelter — but of what cause? Krakauer’s biography of McCandless retraces his steps back to the beginning of the trek, attempting to suss out what the young man was looking for on his journey, and whether he fully understood what dangers lay before him.

11. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families by James Agee

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.” From this line derives the central issue of Agee and Evans’ work: who truly deserves our praise and recognition? According to this 1941 biography, it’s the barely-surviving sharecropper families who were severely impacted by the American “Dust Bowl” — hundreds of people entrenched in poverty, whose humanity Evans and Agee desperately implore their audience to see in their book.

12. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Another mysterious explorer takes center stage in this gripping 2009 biography. Grann tells the story of Percy Fawcett, the archaeologist who vanished in the Amazon along with his son in 1925, supposedly in search of an ancient lost city. Parallel to this narrative, Grann describes his own travels in the Amazon 80 years later: discovering firsthand what threats Fawcett may have encountered, and coming to realize what the “Lost City of Z” really was.

13. Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang

Though many of us will be familiar with the name Mao Zedong, this prodigious biography sheds unprecedented light upon the power-hungry “Red Emperor.” Chang and Halliday begin with the shocking statistic that Mao was responsible for 70 million deaths during peacetime — more than any other twentieth-century world leader. From there, they unravel Mao’s complex ideologies, motivations, and missions, breaking down his long-propagated “hero” persona and thrusting forth a new, grislier image of one of China’s biggest revolutionaries.

14. Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson by Andrew Wilson

Titled after one of her most evocative poems, this shimmering bio of Sylvia Plath takes an unusual approach. Instead of focusing on her years of depression and tempestuous marriage to poet Ted Hughes, it chronicles her life before she ever came to Cambridge. Wilson closely examines her early family and relationships, feelings and experiences, with information taken from her meticulous diaries — setting a strong precedent for other Plath biographers to follow.

15. The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes

What if you had twenty-four different people living inside you, and you never knew which one was going to come out? Such was the life of Billy Milligan, the subject of this haunting biography by the author of Flowers for Algernon . Keyes recounts, in a refreshingly straightforward style, the events of Billy’s life and how his psyche came to be “split”... as well as how, with Keyes’ help, he attempted to put the fragments of himself back together.

16. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

This gorgeously constructed biography follows Paul Farmer, a doctor who’s worked for decades to eradicate infectious diseases around the globe, particularly in underprivileged areas. Though Farmer’s humanitarian accomplishments are extraordinary in and of themselves, the true charm of this book comes from Kidder’s personal relationship with him — and the sense of fulfillment the reader sustains from reading about someone genuinely heroic, written by someone else who truly understands and admires what they do.

17. Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

Here’s another bio that will reshape your views of a famed historical tyrant, though this time in a surprisingly favorable light. Decorated scholar Andrew Roberts delves into the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, from his near-flawless military instincts to his complex and confusing relationship with his wife. But Roberts’ attitude toward his subject is what really makes this work shine: rather than ridiculing him ( as it would undoubtedly be easy to do ), he approaches the “petty tyrant” with a healthy amount of deference.

18. The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson IV by Robert A. Caro

Lyndon Johnson might not seem as intriguing or scandalous as figures like Kennedy, Nixon, or W. Bush. But in this expertly woven biography, Robert Caro lays out the long, winding road of his political career, and it’s full of twists you wouldn’t expect. Johnson himself was a surprisingly cunning figure, gradually maneuvering his way closer and closer to power. Finally, in 1963, he got his greatest wish — but at what cost? Fans of Adam McKay’s Vice , this is the book for you.

19. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Anyone who grew up reading Little House on the Prairie will surely be fascinated by this tell-all biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Caroline Fraser draws upon never-before-published historical resources to create a lush study of the author’s life — not in the gently narrated manner of the Little House series, but in raw and startling truths about her upbringing, marriage, and volatile relationship with her daughter (and alleged ghostwriter) Rose Wilder Lane.

20. Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi

Compiled just after the superstar’s untimely death in 2016, this intimate snapshot of Prince’s life is actually a largely visual work — Shahidi served as his private photographer from the early 2000s until his passing. And whatever they say about pictures being worth a thousand words, Shahidi’s are worth more still: Prince’s incredible vibrance, contagious excitement, and altogether singular personality come through in every shot.

21. Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Could there be a more fitting title for a book about the husband-wife team who discovered radioactivity? What you may not know is that these nuclear pioneers also had a fascinating personal history. Marie Sklodowska met Pierre Curie when she came to work in his lab in 1891, and just a few years later they were married. Their passion for each other bled into their passion for their work, and vice-versa — and in almost no time at all, they were on their way to their first of their Nobel Prizes.

22. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

She may not have been assassinated or killed in a mysterious plane crash, but Rosemary Kennedy’s fate is in many ways the worst of “the Kennedy Curse.” As if a botched lobotomy that left her almost completely incapacitated weren’t enough, her parents then hid her away from society, almost never to be seen again. Yet in this new biography, penned by devoted Kennedy scholar Kate Larson, the full truth of Rosemary’s post-lobotomy life is at last revealed.

23. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

This appropriately lyrical biography of brilliant Jazz Age poet and renowned feminist, Edna St. Vincent Millay, is indeed a perfect balance of savage and beautiful. While Millay’s poetic work was delicate and subtle, the woman herself was feisty and unpredictable, harboring unusual and occasionally destructive habits that Milford fervently explores.

24. Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes

Holmes’ famous philosophy of “biography as pursuit” is thoroughly proven here in his first full-length biographical work. Shelley: The Pursuit details an almost feverish tracking of Percy Shelley as a dark and cutting figure in the Romantic period — reforming many previous historical conceptions about him through Holmes’ compelling and resolute writing.

25. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Another Gothic figure has been made newly known through this work, detailing the life of prolific horror and mystery writer Shirley Jackson. Author Ruth Franklin digs deep into the existence of the reclusive and mysterious Jackson, drawing penetrating comparisons between the true events of her life and the dark nature of her fiction.

26. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

Fans of Into the Wild and The Lost City of Z will find their next adventure fix in this 2017 book about Christopher Knight, a man who lived by himself in the Maine woods for almost thirty years. The tale of this so-called “last true hermit” will captivate readers who have always fantasized about escaping society, with vivid descriptions of Knight’s rural setup, his carefully calculated moves and how he managed to survive the deadly cold of the Maine winters.

27. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The man, the myth, the legend: Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, is properly immortalized in Isaacson’s masterful biography. It divulges the details of Jobs’ little-known childhood and tracks his fateful path from garage engineer to leader of one of the largest tech companies in the world — not to mention his formative role in other legendary companies like Pixar, and indeed within the Silicon Valley ecosystem as a whole.

28. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini was just twenty-six when his US Army bomber crashed and burned in the Pacific, leaving him and two other men afloat on a raft for forty-seven days — only to be captured by the Japanese Navy and tortured as a POW for the next two and a half years. In this gripping biography, Laura Hillenbrand tracks Zamperini’s story from beginning to end… including how he embraced Christian evangelism as a means of recovery, and even came to forgive his tormentors in his later years.

29. Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff

Everyone knows of Vladimir Nabokov — but what about his wife, Vera, whom he called “the best-humored woman I have ever known”? According to Schiff, she was a genius in her own right, supporting Vladimir not only as his partner, but also as his all-around editor and translator. And she kept up that trademark humor throughout it all, inspiring her husband’s work and injecting some of her own creative flair into it along the way.

30. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

William Shakespeare is a notoriously slippery historical figure — no one really knows when he was born, what he looked like, or how many plays he wrote. But that didn’t stop Stephen Greenblatt, who in 2004 turned out this magnificently detailed biography of the Bard: a series of imaginative reenactments of his writing process, and insights on how the social and political ideals of the time would have influenced him. Indeed, no one exists in a vacuum, not even Shakespeare — hence the conscious depiction of him in this book as a “will in the world,” rather than an isolated writer shut up in his own musty study.

If you're looking for more inspiring nonfiction, check out this list of 30 engaging self-help books , or this list of the last century's best memoirs !

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The 50 Best Biographies of All Time

Think you know the full and complete story about George Washington, Steve Jobs, or Joan of Arc? Think again.

best biographies

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Biographies have always been controversial. On his deathbed, the novelist Henry James told his nephew that his “sole wish” was to “frustrate as utterly as possible the postmortem exploiter” by destroying his personal letters and journals. And one of our greatest living writers, Hermione Lee, once compared biographies to autopsies that add “a new terror to death”—the potential muddying of someone’s legacy when their life is held up to the scrutiny of investigation.

Why do we read so many books about the lives and deaths of strangers, as told by second-hand and third-hand sources? Is it merely our love for gossip, or are we trying to understand ourselves through the triumphs and failures of others?

To keep this list from blossoming into hundreds of titles, we only included books currently in print and translated into English. We also limited it to one book per author, and one book per subject. In ranked order, here are the best biographies of all time.

Crown The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss

You’re probably familiar with The Count of Monte Cristo , the 1844 revenge novel by Alexandre Dumas. But did you know it was based on the life of Dumas’s father, the mixed-race General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, son of a French nobleman and a Haitian slave? Thanks to Reiss’s masterful pacing and plotting, this rip-roaring biography of Thomas-Alexandre reads more like an adventure novel than a work of nonfiction. The Black Count won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2013, and it’s only a matter of time before a filmmaker turns it into a big-screen blockbuster.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown

Few biographies are as genuinely fun to read as this barnburner from the irreverent English critic Craig Brown. Princess Margaret may have been everyone’s favorite character from Netflix’s The Crown , but Brown’s eye for ostentatious details and revelatory insights will help you see why everyone in the 1950s—from Pablo Picasso and Gore Vidal to Peter Sellers and Andy Warhol—was obsessed with her. When book critic Parul Sehgal says that she “ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice,” you know you’re in for a treat.

Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller, by Alec Nevala-Lee

If you want to feel optimistic about the future again, look no further than this brilliant biography of Buckminster Fuller, the “modern Leonardo da Vinci” of the 1960s and 1970s who came up with the idea of a “Spaceship Earth” and inspired Silicon Valley’s belief that technology could be a global force for good (while earning plenty of critics who found his ideas impractical). Alec Nevala-Lee’s writing is as serene and precise as one of Fuller’s geodesic domes, and his research into never-before-seen documents makes this a genuinely groundbreaking book full of surprises.

Free Press Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, by Robin D.G. Kelley

The late American jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk has been so heavily mythologized that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. But Robin D. G. Kelley’s biography is an essential book for jazz fans looking to understand the man behind the myths. Monk’s family provided Kelley with full access to their archives, resulting in chapter after chapter of fascinating details, from his birth in small-town North Carolina to his death across the Hudson from Manhattan.

University of Chicago Press Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Meryle Secrest

There are dozens of books about America’s most celebrated architect, but Secrest’s 1998 biography is still the most fun to read. For one, she doesn’t shy away from the fact that Wright could be an absolute monster, even to his own friends and family. Secondly, her research into more than 100,000 letters, as well as interviews with nearly every surviving person who knew Wright, makes this book a one-of-a-kind look at how Wright’s personal life influenced his architecture.

Ralph Ellison: A Biography, by Arnold Rampersad

Ralph Ellison’s landmark novel, Invisible Man , is about a Black man who faced systemic racism in the Deep South during his youth, then migrated to New York, only to find oppression of a slightly different kind. What makes Arnold Rampersand’s honest and insightful biography of Ellison so compelling is how he connects the dots between Invisible Man and Ellison’s own journey from small-town Oklahoma to New York’s literary scene during the Harlem Renaissance.

Oscar Wilde: A Life, by Matthew Sturgis

Now remembered for his 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde was one of the most fascinating men of the fin-de-siècle thanks to his poems, plays, and some of the earliest reported “celebrity trials.” Sturgis’s scintillating biography is the most encyclopedic chronicle of Wilde’s life to date, thanks to new research into his personal notebooks and a full transcript of his libel trial.

Beacon Press A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks, by Angela Jackson

The poet Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950, but because she spent most of her life in Chicago instead of New York, she hasn’t been studied or celebrated as often as her peers in the Harlem Renaissance. Luckily, Angela Jackson’s biography is full of new details about Brooks’s personal life, and how it influenced her poetry across five decades.

Atria Books Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, by Dana Stevens

Was Buster Keaton the most influential filmmaker of the first half of the twentieth century? Dana Stevens makes a compelling case in this dazzling mix of biography, essays, and cultural history. Much like Keaton’s filmography, Stevens playfully jumps from genre to genre in an endlessly entertaining way, while illuminating how Keaton’s influence on film and television continues to this day.

Algonquin Books Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation, by Dean Jobb

Dean Jobb is a master of narrative nonfiction on par with Erik Larsen, author of The Devil in the White City . Jobb’s biography of Leo Koretz, the Bernie Madoff of the Jazz Age, is among the few great biographies that read like a thriller. Set in Chicago during the 1880s through the 1920s, it’s also filled with sumptuous period details, from lakeside mansions to streets choked with Model Ts.

Vintage Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermione Lee

Hermione Lee’s biographies of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton could easily have made this list. But her book about a less famous person—Penelope Fitzgerald, the English novelist who wrote The Bookshop, The Blue Flower , and The Beginning of Spring —might be her best yet. At just over 500 pages, it’s considerably shorter than those other biographies, partially because Fitzgerald’s life wasn’t nearly as well documented. But Lee’s conciseness is exactly what makes this book a more enjoyable read, along with the thrilling feeling that she’s uncovering a new story literary historians haven’t already explored.

Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, by Heather Clark

Many biographers have written about Sylvia Plath, often drawing parallels between her poetry and her death by suicide at the age of thirty. But in this startling book, Plath isn’t wholly defined by her tragedy, and Heather Clark’s craftsmanship as a writer makes it a joy to read. It’s also the most comprehensive account of Plath’s final year yet put to paper, with new information that will change the way you think of her life, poetry, and death.

Pontius Pilate, by Ann Wroe

Compared to most biography subjects, there isn’t much surviving documentation about the life of Pontius Pilate, the Judaean governor who ordered the execution of the historical Jesus in the first century AD. But Ann Wroe leans into all that uncertainty in her groundbreaking book, making for a fascinating mix of research and informed speculation that often feels like reading a really good historical novel.

Brand: History Book Club Bolívar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana

In the early nineteenth century, Simón Bolívar led six modern countries—Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela—to independence from the Spanish Empire. In this rousing work of biography and geopolitical history, Marie Arana deftly chronicles his epic life with propulsive prose, including a killer first sentence: “They heard him before they saw him: the sound of hooves striking the earth, steady as a heartbeat, urgent as a revolution.”

Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, by Yunte Huang

Ever read a biography of a fictional character? In the 1930s and 1940s, Charlie Chan came to popularity as a Chinese American police detective in Earl Derr Biggers’s mystery novels and their big-screen adaptations. In writing this book, Yunte Huang became something of a detective himself to track down the real-life inspiration for the character, a Hawaiian cop named Chang Apana born shortly after the Civil War. The result is an astute blend between biography and cultural criticism as Huang analyzes how Chan served as a crucial counterpoint to stereotypical Chinese villains in early Hollywood.

Random House Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford

Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the most fascinating women of the twentieth century—an openly bisexual poet, playwright, and feminist icon who helped make Greenwich Village a cultural bohemia in the 1920s. With a knack for torrid details and creative insights, Nancy Milford successfully captures what made Millay so irresistible—right down to her voice, “an instrument of seduction” that captivated men and women alike.

Simon & Schuster Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Few people have the luxury of choosing their own biographers, but that’s exactly what the late co-founder of Apple did when he tapped Walter Isaacson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. Adapted for the big screen by Aaron Sorkin in 2015, Steve Jobs is full of plot twists and suspense thanks to a mind-blowing amount of research on the part of Isaacson, who interviewed Jobs more than forty times and spoke with just about everyone who’d ever come into contact with him.

Brand: Random House Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), by Stacy Schiff

The Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said, “Without my wife, I wouldn’t have written a single novel.” And while Stacy Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra could also easily make this list, her telling of Véra Nabokova’s life in Russia, Europe, and the United States is revolutionary for finally bringing Véra out of her husband’s shadow. It’s also one of the most romantic biographies you’ll ever read, with some truly unforgettable images, like Vera’s habit of carrying a handgun to protect Vladimir on butterfly-hunting excursions.

Greenblatt, Stephen Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt

We know what you’re thinking. Who needs another book about Shakespeare?! But Greenblatt’s masterful biography is like traveling back in time to see firsthand how a small-town Englishman became the greatest writer of all time. Like Wroe’s biography of Pontius Pilate, there’s plenty of speculation here, as there are very few surviving records of Shakespeare’s daily life, but Greenblatt’s best trick is the way he pulls details from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets to construct a compelling narrative.

Crown Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

When Kiese Laymon calls a book a “literary miracle,” you pay attention. James Baldwin’s legacy has enjoyed something of a revival over the last few years thanks to films like I Am Not Your Negro and If Beale Street Could Talk , as well as books like Glaude’s new biography. It’s genuinely a bit of a miracle how he manages to combine the story of Baldwin’s life with interpretations of Baldwin’s work—as well as Glaude’s own story of discovering, resisting, and rediscovering Baldwin’s books throughout his life.

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The 21 most captivating biographies of all time

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  • Biographies illuminate pivotal times and people in history. 
  • The biography books on this list are heavily researched and fascinating stories.
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Insider Today

For centuries, books have allowed readers to be whisked away to magical lands, romantic beaches, and historical events. Biographies take readers through time to a single, remarkable life memorialized in gripping, dramatic, or emotional stories. They give us the rare opportunity to understand our heroes — or even just someone we would never otherwise know. 

To create this list, I chose biographies that were highly researched, entertainingly written, and offer a fully encompassing lens of a person whose story is important to know in 2021. 

The 21 best biographies of all time:

The biography of a beloved supreme court justice.

best biography person

"Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg" by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $16.25

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Supreme Court Justice and feminist icon who spent her life fighting for gender equality and civil rights in the legal system. This is an inspirational biography that follows her triumphs and struggles, dissents, and quotes, packaged with chapters titled after Notorious B.I.G. tracks — a nod to the many memes memorializing Ginsburg as an iconic dissident. 

The startlingly true biography of a previously unknown woman

best biography person

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $8.06

Henrietta was a poor tobacco farmer, whose "immortal" cells have been used to develop the polio vaccine, study cancer, and even test the effects of an atomic bomb — despite being taken from her without her knowledge or consent. This biography traverses the unethical experiments on African Americans, the devastation of Henrietta Lacks' family, and the multimillion-dollar industry launched by the cells of a woman who lies somewhere in an unmarked grave.

The poignant biography of an atomic bomb survivor

best biography person

"A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai: Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb" by Paul Glynn, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $16.51

Takashi Nagai was a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. A renowned scientist and spiritual man, Nagai continued to live in his ruined city after the attack, suffering from leukemia while physically and spiritually helping his community heal. Takashi Nagai's life was dedicated to selfless service and his story is a deeply moving one of suffering, forgiveness, and survival.

The highly researched biography of Malcolm X

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"The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X" by Les Payne and Tamara Payne, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $18.99

Written by the investigative journalist Les Payne and finished by his daughter after his passing, Malcolm X's biography "The Dead are Arising" was written and researched over 30 years. This National Book Award and Pulitzer-winning biography uses vignettes to create an accurate, detailed, and gripping portrayal of the revolutionary minister and famous human rights activist. 

The remarkable biography of an Indigenous war leader

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"The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History" by Joseph M. Marshall III, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $14.99 

Crazy Horse was a legendary Lakota war leader, most famous for his role in the Battle of the Little Bighorn where Indigenous people defeated Custer's cavalry. A descendant of Crazy Horse's community, Joseph M. Marshall III drew from research and oral traditions that have rarely been shared but offer a powerful and culturally rich story of this acclaimed Lakota hero.

The captivating biography about the cofounder of Apple

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"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $16.75

Steve Jobs is a cofounder of Apple whose inventiveness reimagined technology and creativity in the 21st century. Water Issacson draws from 40 interviews with Steve Jobs, as well as interviews with over 100 of his family members and friends to create an encompassing and fascinating portrait of such an influential man.

The shocking biography of a woman committed to an insane asylum

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"The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear" by Kate Moore, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $22.49

This biography is about Elizabeth Packard, a woman who was committed to an asylum in 1860 by her husband for being an outspoken woman and wife. Her story illuminates the conditions inside the hospital and the sinister ways of caretakers, an unfortunately true history that reflects the abuses suffered by many women of the time.

The defining biography of a formerly enslaved man

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"Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $12.79

50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States, Cudjo Lewis was captured, enslaved, and transported to the US. In 1931, the author spent three months with Cudjo learning the details of his life beginning in Africa, crossing the Middle Passage, and his years enslaved before the Civil War. This biography offers a first-hand account of this unspoken piece of painful history.

The biography of a famous Mexican painter

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"Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo" by Hayden Herrera, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $24.89

Filled with a wealth of her life experiences, this biography of Frida Kahlo conveys her intelligence, strength, and artistry in a cohesive timeline. The book spans her childhood during the Mexican Revolution, the terrible accident that changed her life, and her passionate relationships, all while intertwining her paintings and their histories through her story.

The exciting biography of Susan Sontag

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"Sontag: Her Life and Work" by Benjamin Moser, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $20.24

Susan Sontag was a 20th-century writer, essayist, and cultural icon with a dark reputation. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, archived works, and photographs, this biography extends across Sontag's entire life while reading like an emotional and exciting literary drama.

The biography that inspired a hit musical

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"Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $11.04

The inspiration for the similarly titled Broadway musical, this comprehensive biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton aims to tell the story of his decisions, sacrifice, and patriotism that led to many political and economic effects we still see today. In this history, readers encounter Hamilton's childhood friends, his highly public affair, and his dreams of American prosperity. 

The award-winning biography of an artistically influential man

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"The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke" by Jeffrey C Stewart, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $25.71

Alain Locke was a writer, artist, and theorist who is known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Outlining his personal and private life, Alain Locke's biography is a blooming image of his art, his influences, and the far-reaching ways he promoted African American artistic and literary creations.

The remarkable biography of Ida B. Wells

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"Ida: A Sword Among Lions" by Paula J. Giddings, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $15.99

This award-winning biography of Ida B. Wells is adored for its ability to celebrate Ida's crusade of activism and simultaneously highlight the racially driven abuses legally suffered by Black women in America during her lifetime. Ida traveled the country, exposing and opposing lynchings by reporting on the horrific acts and telling the stories of victims' communities and families. 

The tumultuous biography that radiates queer hope

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"The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" by Randy Shilts, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $11.80

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California who was assassinated after 11 months in office. Harvey's inspirational biography is set against the rise of LGBTQIA+ activism in the 1970s, telling not only Harvey Milk's story but that of hope and perseverance in the queer community. 

The biography of a determined young woman

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"Obachan: A Young Girl's Struggle for Freedom in Twentieth-Century Japan" by Tani Hanes, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $9.99

Written by her granddaughter, this biography of Mitsuko Hanamura is an amazing journey of an extraordinary and strong young woman. In 1929, Mitsuko was sent away to live with relatives at 13 and, at 15, forced into labor to help her family pay their debts. Determined to gain an education as well as her independence, Mitsuko's story is inspirational and emotional as she perseveres against abuse. 

The biography of an undocumented mother

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"The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story" by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $18.40

Born in Mexico and growing up undocumented in Arizona, Aida Hernandez was a teen mother who dreamed of moving to New York. After being deported and separated from her child, Aida found herself back in Mexico, fighting to return to the United States and reunite with her son. This suspenseful biography follows Aida through immigration courts and detention centers on her determined journey that illuminates the flaws of the United States' immigration and justice systems.

The astounding biography of an inspiring woman

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"The Black Rose: The Dramatic Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaire" by Tananarive Due, available on Amazon for $19

Madam C.J. Walker is most well-known as the first Black female millionaire, though she was also a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and born to former slaves in Louisiana. Researched and outlined by famous writer Alex Haley before his death, the book was written by author Tananarive Due, who brings Haley's work to life in this fascinating biography of an outstanding American pioneer.

A biography of the long-buried memories of a Hiroshima survivor

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"Surviving Hiroshima: A Young Woman's Story" by Anthony Drago and Douglas Wellman, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $15.59

When Kaleria Palichikoff was a child, her family fled Russia for the safety of Japan until the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima when she was 22 years old. Struggling to survive in the wake of unimaginable devastation, Kaleria set out to help victims and treat the effects of radiation. As one of the few English-speaking survivors, Kaleria was interviewed extensively by the US Army and was finally able to make a new life for herself in America after the war.

A shocking biography of survival during World War II

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"Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival" by Laura Hillenbrand, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $8.69

During World War II, Louis Zamperini was a lieutenant bombardier who crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1943. Struggling to stay alive, Zamperini pulled himself to a life raft where he would face great trials of starvation, sharks, and enemy aircraft. This biography creates an image of Louis from boyhood to his military service and depicts a historical account of atrocities during World War II.  

The comprehensive biography of an infamous leader

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"Mao: The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $15.39

Mao was a Chinese leader, a founder of the People's Republic of China, and a nearly 30-year chairman of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in 1976. Known as a highly controversial figure who would stop at very little in his plight to rule the world, the author spent nearly 10 years painstakingly researching and uncovering the painful truths surrounding his political rule.

The emotional biography of a Syrian refugee

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"A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival" by Melissa Fleming, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $15.33

When Syrian refugee Doaa met Bassem, they decided to flee Egypt for Europe, becoming two of thousands seeking refuge and making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. After four days at sea, their ship was attacked and sank, leaving Doaa struggling to survive with two small children clinging to her and only a small inflation device around her wrist. This is an emotional biography about Doaa's strength and her dangerous and deadly journey towards freedom.

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50 Must-Read Biographies

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Rebecca Hussey

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

View All posts by Rebecca Hussey

The best biographies give us a satisfying glimpse into a great person’s life, while also teaching us about the context in which that person lived. Through biography, we can also learn history, psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy, and more. Reading a great biography is both fun and educational. What’s not to love?

Below I’ve listed 50 of the best biographies out there. You will find a mix of subjects, including important figures in literature, science, politics, history, art, and more. I’ve tried to keep this list focused on biography only, so there is little in the way of memoir or autobiography. In a couple cases, authors have written about their family members, but for the most part, these are books where the focus is on the biographical subject, not the author.

50 must-read biographies. book lists | biographies | must-read biographies | books about other people | great biographies | nonfiction reads

The first handful are group biographies, and after that, I’ve arranged them alphabetically by subject. Book descriptions come from Goodreads.

Take a look and let me know about your favorite biography in the comments!

All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen

“In  All We Know , Lisa Cohen describes their [Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland’s] glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself,  All We Know  explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.”

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

“Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers,’ calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women.”

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie

“In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them – in works that readers of all kinds could admire.  The Life You Save May Be Your Own  is their story – a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.”

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

“As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.”

The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

“In a sweeping narrative, Fraser traces the cultural, familial and political roots of each of Henry’s queens, pushes aside the stereotypes that have long defined them, and illuminates the complex character of each.”

John Adams by David McCullough

“In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot — ‘the colossus of independence,’ as Thomas Jefferson called him.”

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming

“Emotionally riveting and eye-opening,  A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea  is the incredible story of a young woman, an international crisis, and the triumph of the human spirit. Melissa Fleming shares the harrowing journey of Doaa Al Zamel, a young Syrian refugee in search of a better life.”

At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers

“One terrifying night in 1848, a young African princess’s village is raided by warriors. The invaders kill her mother and father, the King and Queen, and take her captive. Two years later, a British naval captain rescues her and takes her to England where she is presented to Queen Victoria, and becomes a loved and respected member of the royal court.”

John Brown by W.E.B. Du Bois

“ John Brown is W. E. B. Du Bois’s groundbreaking political biography that paved the way for his transition from academia to a lifelong career in social activism. This biography is unlike Du Bois’s earlier work; it is intended as a work of consciousness-raising on the politics of race.”

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter

“[Eunice Hunton Carter] was black and a woman and a prosecutor, a graduate of Smith College and the granddaughter of slaves, as dazzlingly unlikely a combination as one could imagine in New York of the 1930s ― and without the strategy she devised, Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history, would never have been convicted.”

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

“An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives and experiences of her family members.”

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

“Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnet, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world.”

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

“Einstein was a rebel and nonconformist from boyhood days, and these character traits drove both his life and his science. In this narrative, Walter Isaacson explains how his mind worked and the mysteries of the universe that he discovered.”

Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

“In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States.”

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

“After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve ‘the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century’: What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett & his quest for the Lost City of Z?”

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

“Amanda Foreman draws on a wealth of fresh research and writes colorfully and penetratingly about the fascinating Georgiana, whose struggle against her own weaknesses, whose great beauty and flamboyance, and whose determination to play a part in the affairs of the world make her a vibrant, astonishingly contemporary figure.”

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik Ping Zhu

“Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. [This book], created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work.”

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

“A woman of enormous talent and remarkable drive, Zora Neale Hurston published seven books, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years. Today, nearly every black woman writer of significance—including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker—acknowledges Hurston as a literary foremother.”

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

“ Shirley Jackson  reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the literary genius behind such classics as ‘The Lottery’ and  The Haunting of Hill House .”

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro

“This is the story of the rise to national power of a desperately poor young man from the Texas Hill Country. The Path to Power reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy, and ambition that set LBJ apart.”

The Life of Samuel Johnson   by James Boswell

“Poet, lexicographer, critic, moralist and Great Cham, Dr. Johnson had in his friend Boswell the ideal biographer. Notoriously and self-confessedly intemperate, Boswell shared with Johnson a huge appetite for life and threw equal energy into recording its every aspect in minute but telling detail.”

Barbara Jordan: American Hero by Mary Beth Rogers

“Barbara Jordan was the first African American to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction, the first black woman elected to Congress from the South, and the first to deliver the keynote address at a national party convention. Yet Jordan herself remained a mystery.”

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

“This engrossing biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo reveals a woman of extreme magnetism and originality, an artist whose sensual vibrancy came straight from her own experiences: her childhood near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution; a devastating accident at age eighteen that left her crippled and unable to bear children.”

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical by Sherie M. Randolph

“Often photographed in a cowboy hat with her middle finger held defiantly in the air, Florynce ‘Flo’ Kennedy (1916–2000) left a vibrant legacy as a leader of the Black Power and feminist movements. In the first biography of Kennedy, Sherie M. Randolph traces the life and political influence of this strikingly bold and controversial radical activist.”

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

“In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food.”

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma by Peter Popham

“Peter Popham … draws upon previously untapped testimony and fresh revelations to tell the story of a woman whose bravery and determination have captivated people around the globe. Celebrated today as one of the world’s greatest exponents of non-violent political defiance since Mahatma Gandhi, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only four years after her first experience of politics.”

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”   by Zora Neale Hurston

“In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine.”

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.”

The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart

“A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro — the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.”

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux

“Drawing from the private archives of the poet’s estate and numerous interviews, Alexis De Veaux demystifies Lorde’s iconic status, charting her conservative childhood in Harlem; her early marriage to a white, gay man with whom she had two children; her emergence as an outspoken black feminist lesbian; and her canonization as a seminal poet of American literature.”

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams

“Thurgood Marshall stands today as the great architect of American race relations, having expanded the foundation of individual rights for all Americans. His victory in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the landmark Supreme Court case outlawing school segregation, would have him a historic figure even if he had not gone on to become the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court.”

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

“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. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself.”

The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts

“ The Mayor of Castro Street  is Shilts’s acclaimed story of Harvey Milk, the man whose personal life, public career, and tragic assassination mirrored the dramatic and unprecedented emergence of the gay community in America during the 1970s.”

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

“The most famous poet of the Jazz Age, Millay captivated the nation: She smoked in public, took many lovers (men and women, single and married), flouted convention sensationally, and became the embodiment of the New Woman.”

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell

This book is “a vivid portrait of Montaigne, showing how his ideas gave birth to our modern sense of our inner selves, from Shakespeare’s plays to the dilemmas we face today.”

The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm

“From the moment it was first published in The New Yorker, this brilliant work of literary criticism aroused great attention. Janet Malcolm brings her shrewd intelligence to bear on the legend of Sylvia Plath and the wildly productive industry of Plath biographies.”

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley   by Peter Guralnick

“Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, [this book] traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed, creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis and his world.

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

“Kate Summerscale brilliantly recreates the Victorian world, chronicling in exquisite and compelling detail the life of Isabella Robinson, wherein the longings of a frustrated wife collided with a society clinging to rigid ideas about sanity, the boundaries of privacy, the institution of marriage, and female sexuality.”

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

“A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained?”

The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan by Claire Tomalin

“When Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan met in 1857, she was 18: a professional actress performing in his production of  The Frozen Deep . He was 45: a literary legend, a national treasure, married with ten children. This meeting sparked a love affair that lasted over a decade, destroying Dickens’s marriage and ending with Nelly’s near-disappearance from the public record.”

Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter

“Slowly, but surely, Sojourner climbed from beneath the weight of slavery, secured respect for herself, and utilized the distinction of her race to become not only a symbol for black women, but for the feminist movement as a whole.”

The Black Rose by Tananarive Due

“Born to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty and indignity to become America’s first black female millionaire, the head of a hugely successful beauty company, and a leading philanthropist in African American causes.”

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

“With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life, [Chernow] carries the reader through Washington’s troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian Wars, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention and his magnificent performance as America’s first president.”

Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings

“ Ida: A Sword Among Lions  is a sweeping narrative about a country and a crusader embroiled in the struggle against lynching: a practice that imperiled not only the lives of black men and women, but also a nation based on law and riven by race.”

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

“But the true saga of [Wilder’s] life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser—the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series—masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography.”

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

“Although mother and daughter, these two brilliant women never knew one another – Wollstonecraft died of an infection in 1797 at the age of thirty-eight, a week after giving birth. Nevertheless their lives were so closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other.”

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

“Subscribing to Virginia Woolf’s own belief in the fluidity and elusiveness of identity, Lee comes at her subject from a multitude of perspectives, producing a richly layered portrait of the writer and the woman that leaves all of her complexities and contradictions intact.”

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

“Of the great figures in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine.”

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

“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.”

Want to read more about great biographies? Check out this post on presidential biographies , this list of biographies and memoirs about remarkable women , and this list of 100 must-read musician biographies and memoirs .

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Byron: A Life in Ten Letters by Andrew Stauffer

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"Mad, bad and dangerous to know" was how Lady Caroline Lamb famously characterised Lord Byron. It's a fair description, in many ways, said John Banville in The Guardian . But George Gordon, the 6th Baron Byron, "must also have been, at the simplest level, wonderful company". He didn't take himself too seriously, and his lust for life was immense: "I shall not live long," he wrote to his publisher John Murray in 1819, "& for that reason I must live while I can." In Byron: A Life in Ten Letters, Andrew Stauffer uses Bryon's "vivid and hugely entertaining letters" as a series of entry points into his tempestuous life. Each chapter begins with an extract from a letter; Stauffer then discusses the context that inspired it. It is an impressively "rounded portrait, venereal scars and all, of one of the prime movers of the Romantic movement".

Stauffer concedes that his approach is not particularly original, said D.J. Taylor in The Wall Street Journal : fragmented biographies are in vogue. "But there is something about Byron's headlong scamper about the world of his day that lends itself to this miniaturist treatment". We first see him as a Cambridge undergraduate, "planning endless bachelor parties"; then en route to Greece in 1810, where he swims the Hellespont with his friend Lt William Ekenhead; and later writing ghost stories on Lake Geneva with Percy and Mary Shelley. "The letters are practically Messianic in their intensity, aflame with relish for the incidental scenery or the women Byron is pursuing." It's a wonder, given the pace at which he lived his 36 years, that Byron had any time for serious writing.

The poet depicted in these pages often emerges as a "cold-hearted shit", said John Walsh in The Sunday Times . During his short-lived marriage to Annabella Milbanke – a "brilliant mathematician with a strong moral centre" – he installed his half-sister Augusta Leigh at their Piccadilly home, and "made the women compete with each other in caressing him". The night his wife gave birth, he "sat in the empty drawing room below, throwing empty bottles at the ceiling". In time, polite opinion turned against him, and he left England, never to return. Stauffer sometimes brings an incongruously "21st century perspective to 19th century behaviour": he describes Byron as a "sex tourist in Italy", and talks of Shelley's bisexual experiences as "polyamory". But no matter. This is a "devilishly readable book", which brings Regency England to "howling life", and its "disgraceful but irresistible subject into dazzling focus".

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Although Keir Starmer is almost certain to be our next prime minister, he remains an "oddly elusive" figure, said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian . People often complain that they don't really know what he stands for, and he talks about personal matters somewhat stiffly, as if holding something back. All this makes a book such as Keir Starmer: The Biography feel long overdue. Tom Baldwin is a former journalist who worked for five years as a Labour spin doctor; he was originally recruited to ghostwrite Starmer's own memoir, but Starmer backed out of the project last year, agreeing instead to cooperate on this biography. The result, while not exactly revelatory – Baldwin warns that his pages won't be "spattered with blood" – does a job that "very precisely mirrors its subject": it is careful, nuanced and eminently capable. "It is, in short, as intimate an insight into Britain's likely next prime minister as readers are probably going to get." 

The most interesting chapters concern Starmer's "difficult early life", said Robert Shrimsley in the FT . Starmer grew up in a cramped semi in Surrey with a "seriously ill mother", Jo (she had Still's disease); a "cold, difficult" father, Rodney (a toolmaker); and three siblings (one of whom, Nick, has learning difficulties). Television was banned in the Starmer household, the "radio played only Beethoven or Shostakovich", and Rodney "barracked and bullied" visiting schoolfriends, said Patrick Maguire in The Times . Although Starmer was the only one of the siblings to go to grammar school and university, and then became a leading barrister, his dad never once told him he made him proud. Only after his death in 2018 did Starmer find out this wasn't "the full story": hidden in his father's wardrobe was a "scrapbook of every newspaper story about his son".

Many politicians pose as regular people, but Starmer emerges from this as someone who really is quite ordinary, said Matthew d'Ancona in the Evening Standard . He is happiest spending time with his family, or organising weekend eight-a-side football games. As his deputy, Angela Rayner, puts it: he is "the least political person I know in politics". The "one nagging question" is how much Baldwin's political sympathies have coloured his portrait, said Ben Riley-Smith in The Daily Telegraph . Had he discovered "less laudable aspects of Sir Keir's story", would he have "forensically interrogated" them? This may not, then, quite be a definitive biography – but it is engaging and "skilfully done".

The fame of the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy rested largely on the heroines he created, said Norma Clarke in Literary Review. With the likes of Tess Durbeyfield (Tess of the d'Urbervilles) and Sue Bridehead (Jude the Obscure), he displayed, as one young reader wrote to him, a "complete understanding of a woman's soul". But as Paula Byrne shows in this fascinating book, the women Hardy knew in real life were less fortunate. Byrne doggedly details them all, from Hardy's "strong-minded" mother, Jemima, to the "pretty girls" who "turned his head" in his youth, to his wives, Emma Gifford and Florence Dugdale (pictured, with Hardy). Hardy's women, she concludes, "paid a large price" for the "magnificent fictional women he invented". "In a sign of trouble to come, young Hardy fell in love violently and often," said Susie Goldsbrough in The Times . His first serious entanglement, says Byrne, "was with a Dorset maidservant called Eliza Nicholls, whom he dumped for her young sister". 

In his mid-30s, Hardy married Emma, a solicitor's daughter. Although initially happy, the marriage soured as "Emma gained weight" and became increasingly eccentric. By the time of her death, aged 72, in 1912, she was living in the attic of their Dorset home – and the much younger Florence was living with them, having been employed as Hardy's typist. After Hardy married Florence in 1914, she had to put up with him "enthusiastically mourning the wife he had spent years complaining about" – and who now became the subject of an "astonishing" series of love poems. Although Byrne is sometimes hampered by a lack of evidence (Hardy destroyed most of Emma's letters, together with the journal she wrote about him), this is still an "absorbing" portrait of the women who suffered for Hardy's art.

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In January 2008 – 11 months after the notorious occasion when she shaved off her own hair in a Los Angeles salon – Britney Spears was asked by her parents to meet them at their beach house, said Anna Leszkiewicz in The New Statesman . "There she was ambushed by police and taken to hospital against her will." A month later, the state of California placed the pop star under a "conservatorship" – a legal arrangement giving her father, Jamie, full control of her finances and personal life. For the next 13 years, Spears was "told what to eat, what medication to take, when she could see her children", even when she could and couldn't use the lavatory. Meanwhile, her father "paid himself a $6m salary" from the proceeds of her endless concerts and recordings. It's no surprise, in the circumstances, that Spears's memoir reads "like a dark fairy tale". Powerful and compellingly candid, it tells of how a "young girl, both adored and vilified for her beauty, talent and fame", was effectively "imprisoned" by her jealous and avaricious family.

The truth, of course, is that Spears had always been controlled and infantilised, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph . She became a "people-pleasing child performer" at a young age, supporting her family by appearing in theatrical musicals. Aged 16, male music executives moulded her into "America's teen pop princess" – and soon she was being taken advantage of by "narcissistic self-serving boyfriends", and "hounded by paparazzi". When she rebelled against her "powerlessness", her sanity was called into question – a process she "specifically likens to a witch trial". Her memoir, written without self-pity, is gripping and "forensically convincing". Finally, we know what it feels like to be the "madwoman in the attic of pop".

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"Imagine a story of sex, drugs and secrets inside Downing Street. A story of a political wife accused of meddling, and a resignation honours list mired in scandal," said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian . But no, it's not the one you're imagining: this biography by Linda McDougall tells the "irresistible tale" of Marcia Williams, political secretary and "office wife" to Labour PM Harold Wilson. Baroness Falkender, as she became in 1974, was one of the most controversial and vilified political figures of the 1960s and 1970s. According to many, she was a "hysterical tyrant" with a "dark hold" over Wilson. McDougall offers a more nuanced portrait. Without ignoring Williams's flaws, she outlines the strains she must have been under, as a high-achieving woman with a troubled personal life living in rampantly sexist times. Her Williams, while "no heroine", is "fascinating". 

Williams, the daughter of a Northamptonshire builder, first met Wilson in the mid-1950s, when she became a secretary at Labour HQ, said Frances Wilson in The Daily Telegraph . She began sending the then-shadow chancellor anonymous letters, alerting him to machinations within the party. She soon became Wilson's private secretary – at which point, McDougall admits, they probably had a brief affair. (She later allegedly told Wilson's wife, Mary: "I went to bed with your husband six times in 1956 and it wasn't satisfactory.") In 1964, when Wilson became PM, he appointed Williams his political secretary, a newly created role that made her one of Britain's first unelected political advisers. She stayed in it when Wilson lost power in 1970, and went with him back to Downing Street when he regained it in 1974.

It was then that Private Eye revealed that "Lady Forkbender" had a shocking secret, said Anne de Courcy in The Spectator . In 1968 and 1969, Williams had given birth to two children – the result of an affair with political journalist Walter Terry. The births had been hushed up; Williams concealed her pregnancies by wearing a baggy coat at work. Amid a public outcry, McDougall suggests, Williams resorted to taking amphetamine pills and Valium, "prescribed by Wilson's doctor", which contributed to the "hysterical outbursts" for which she became known. Further scandal followed in 1976, when it was revealed that Williams had hand-written Wilson's controversial resignation honours list (dubbed the "Lavender List") on a sheet of lilac paper. McDougall's sympathetic book is a "gripping" portrait both of an "extraordinary woman", and of the "emotional dynamics of Downing Street".

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Lou Reed, the lead vocalist of the Velvet Underground, who died in 2013, already has a longish shelf of biographies. This one is the first to make use of his personal archive, "and it shows", said David Keenan in Literary Review . "It feels more like a coolly researched biography than one written by a passionate fan." What's more, Will Hermes tries to repackage the "violently aggressive, drug-huffing", gender-bending, "sexually unhinged" rock star to make him acceptable to the modern world: Reed and his circle were "nonbinary", Hermes informs us; he suggests that Reed was a troubled person who tried to become "someone good" (as he wrote in one of his best-loved songs, Perfect Day), not the sociopath that his behaviour suggested. The result is an "awkward love letter to the 20th century", but "the perfect biography of Lou Reed for 2023": a defensive depiction of a man whose stock in trade was "all that was difficult and dark and destructive in what it is to be human".

It's "the only Lou Reed bio you need to read", said Stephen Metcalf in The Washington Post . It's really two biographies: one of Lewis Allan Reed, the sensitive, middle-class, midcentury music fan; and one of the louche, sardonic, drug-addled persona he invented and inhabited. From Reed's early days with Andy Warhol to his  breakthrough as a solo star, with a little help from David Bowie, it's all there, written up with a judicious blend of "love and scepticism". Hermes doesn't conceal the evidence that Reed became a pampered celeb who could be as obnoxious to waiters as he was to journalists. But he's good on Reed's "musically confrontational" yet "unabashedly romantic" songwriting. The book gets the balance between the person and the poseur "exactly right".

Viking 560pp £25; (£19.99)

The radical publisher Joseph Johnson was a "key figure" in late 18th century London, said the FT . Many of the great minds of the age – Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, William Blake – attended his weekly salons. A biography of Johnson has long been overdue – and this one is "meticulous". It’s altogether a "delightful book", said The Times – one that gives its readers the "feeling of being at a rather elevated party".

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This "devastatingly good" memoir recounts how its author "swapped a love of Jesus for a love of Class-A drugs", said The Daily Telegraph . Following his strict evangelical upbringing in Swansea, Hill won a scholarship to Harrow and then went to Oxford – where he became addicted to heroin. The themes of this book are not exactly original, said The Guardian . But it proves "propulsive" and "brilliant" – thanks to Hill's black humour and his "lacerating candour".

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The 30 best biographies to add to your reading list

Some stories involve incredible, larger-than-life characters. these are the best biographies ever written..

Mark Stock

Writing a great biography is no easy task. The author is charged with capturing some of the most iconic and influential people on the planet, folks that often have larger than life personas. To capture that in words is a genuine challenge that the best biographers relish.

The very best biographies don't just hold a mirror up to these remarkable characters. Instead, they show us a different side of them, or just how a certain approach of philosophy fueled their game-changing ways. Biographies inform, for certain, but they entertain and inspire to no end as well.

Below, we gathered a comprehensive list of the best biographies ever written. Some of these biographies were selected because of the subject matter and others were chosen because of the biographer. It’s often said that reading biographies is the best way to gain new knowledge, so we suggest you start with these great selections. If you love history, you’ll certainly want to include these best history books to your home library.

Robert Caro's "The Power Broker Robert Moses and the Fall of New York" on white background.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro

The former parks commissioner of New York, Robert Moses was a man who got power, loved power, and was transformed by power. This 1,000-plus page biography could be the definitive study of power and legacy. It’s a great learning tool of mostly what not to be and who not to become.

Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

Totto-Chan is a special figure in modern Japanese culture and is on the same celebrity status level as Oprah is to us here in the United States. The book describes the childhood in pre-World War II Japan of a misunderstood girl who suffered from attention disorders and excessive energy and who later was mentored by a very special school principal who truly understood her. The book has sold more than 5 million copies in Japan.

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Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

The man who was responsible for winning World War II, twice prevented the use of nuclear weapons, and attempted to keep our soldiers out of Vietnam, all while making it look easy, is none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower. This biography is a history lesson as well as an opportunity to get inside the mind of a brilliant man.

Edison: A Biography by Matthew Josephson

This particular biography dates back more than 50 years, which means it was written without the worry of being politically correct or controversial, but instead focused on providing a conclusive picture of the man. Modern enough to be historically accurate, this biography details a lot of the little-known facts about Mr. Edison in addition to his accomplishments, as well as his failures.

Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office by Zach O’Malley Greenburg

Empire State of Mind is both an unofficial biography of the rap mogul Jay-Z as well as a business book. It shows how the rapper hustled his way to the top of the music industry to become one of the most powerful and influential people in music.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

The story of the professional football player who gave up a $3 million NFL contract to join the Army Rangers after 9/11, only to die under suspicious circumstances in the hills of Afghanistan, is a book about everything that is right and wrong with the U.S. military. Pat Tillman wasn’t perfect, but he was a man we could all learn something from. His incredible story is one of bravery and selflessness -- and will forever be tied to the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Titan: The Life of John. D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow has written some of the best biographies of our time. In this 832-page biography of John. D. Rockefeller, he shares the main lessons you would take away from someone like Rockefeller, a strangely stoic, incredibly resilient, and -- despite his reputation as a robber baron -- humble and compassionate man. Most successful people get worse as they age, but Rockefeller instead became more open-minded and more generous. The biography also details his wrongdoings and permits you the opportunity to make your own judgment on Rockefeller’s character.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Another example of Chernow’s brilliance in biographical writing is given in his biography of George Washington. Today, we study Washington not only for his against-the-odds military victory over a superior British Army but also for his strategic vision, which is partially responsible for many of the most enduring American institutions and practices. It’s another long read of the type Chernow is famous for, but it's also a page-turner. Although it’s intimidating to look at, the reading time goes by quickly.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson has written some of the greatest biographies in contemporary literature. Our modern-day genius, Steve Jobs, will forever be remembered as the mastermind who brought us Apple. This biography shows Jobs at his best, which includes illustrations of his determination and creativity but also details the worst of him, including his tyrannical and vicious ways of running a business (and his family). From this book, you will learn to appreciate the man for the genius that he was, but it will most likely not inspire you to follow in his path.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Most depictions show the Mongols as bloodthirsty pillagers, but in this biography, we are also shown how they introduced many progressive advances to their conquered nations. You will learn how Genghis Khan abolished torture, permitted universal religious freedom, and destroyed existing feudal systems.

Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time by Joseph Frank

his five-volume retelling of the life and times of Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky is considered the best biography available on the subject. The mammoth exploration sheds light on Dostoevsky's works, ideology, and historical context. For those who are not specifically interested in the famous author, the also book paints a picture of 19th-century Russia.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvelous Works of Nature and Man by Martin Kemp

Kemp’s account of da Vinci’s life and work is considered the go-to biography of the famous Renaissance figure. This incredible book sheds light on one of the most creative figures who ever lived, guiding readers through a fully integrated account of his scientific, artistic, and technological works, as well as the life events that helped form the man that made them.

Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Leslie-Ann Jones

After the massive success of the movie recently released about rock legend Freddie Mercury and his band, Queen, you might be interested in learning more about the frontman. This biography draws from hundreds of interviews with key figures in his life to create a revealing glimpse into Mercury’s life.

Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes by Donald Barlett

This is an epic biography of an epic man. It shows the heights of his incredible success as well as the depths of his inner struggles. Readers learn about the tough but eccentric figure in a story that details his incredible success as an aviator, film producer, and more.

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

The brilliant mathematician, cytologist, and computer pioneer Alan Turing is beautifully depicted in this biography. It covers his heroic code-breaking efforts during World War II , his computer designs and contributions to mathematical biology in the years following, and the vicious persecution that befell him in the 1950s when homosexual acts were still a crime and punishable by law.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Of course, we couldn’t highlight Ron Chernow’s best works without including his biography on Alexander Hamilton , which is not only the inspiration for a hit Broadway musical but also a work of creative genius itself. Another more than 800-page book (an ongoing theme for Chernow biographies), this book details every knowable moment of the youngest Founding Father’s life, from his role in the Revolutionary War and early American government to his sordid affair with Maria Reynolds. If you’ve seen the musical, this book will help answer a lot of those burning questions that you may have.

Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

The focal point of this biography is not the suffering that was endured by Frida Kahlo, but instead, her artistic brilliance and her immense resolve to leave her mark on the world. Herrera’s 1983 biography of one of the most recognizable names in modern art has since become the definitive account of her life.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Recommended reading for any adventurer or explorer -- the story of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, who hitchhiked to Alaska and disappeared into the Denali wilderness in April 1992 only to have his remains discovered in his shelter five months later -- Into the Wild retraces his steps along the trek, attempting to discover what the young man was looking for on his journey. Krakauer delivers one of the best biography books in recent memory.

Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi

Compiled after the superstar’s untimely death in 2016, this intimate snapshot into the life of Prince is largely visual. The author served as the musician’s private photographer from the early 2000s until his passing. You already know the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and in this case, they are worth a lot more.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

The “Kennedy Curse” didn’t bring forth an assassination or a mysterious plane crash for Rosemary Kennedy, although her fate might have been the worst of them all. As if her botched lobotomy that left her almost completely incapacitated weren’t enough, her parents then hid her away from society, almost never to be seen again. Penned by Kennedy scholar Kate Larson, the full truth of her post-lobotomy life is finally revealed.

Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is likely the most divisive U.S. president of modern times. The comprehensive biography of Trump is reported by a team of award-winning Washington Post journalists and co-authored by investigative political reporter Michael Kranish and senior editor Marc Fisher. The book gives the reader an insight into Trump, from his upbringing in Queens to his turbulent careers in real estate and entertainment to his astonishing rise as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang

Most are familiar with the revolutionary Mao Zedong. This carefully curated biography by Jung Chang digs deeper into the life of the "Red Emperor." You won't find these interviews and stories about the world leader in history books alone. This extensive account of the man known simply as Mao begins with a horrific statistic: He was responsible for the deaths of more than 70 million people during his regime.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell 

Biographies often give us the stories of people we know and love, but they can also reveal new stories about people that may have been lost to history. In her bestseller, Sonia Purnell tells the story of Virginia Hall, a prolific and heroic spy from World War II who took down the Axis Powers on one leg. 

Black Boy by Richard Wright

A standard biography is usually given by a historian after years and years of research and writing, but sometimes it’s better to go straight to the source. In his memoir, Richard Wright details his life as he recalls it as a black American in the 20th century. Black Boy is a harsh, painful, beautiful, and revealing read about race in the United States -- and about a towering figure of literature. 

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson represents the gold standard for contemporary biographers, and his tome on Leonardo da Vinci was a bestseller for a reason. Isaacson is able to show a detailed, intimate portrait of the most famous painter of all time from centuries away.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Want to know how the biggest sports company of all time came to be? Hear it from the man himself. Phil Knight’s book takes you through how his little sneaker company in Oregon became the worldwide leader in sportswear. 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

One of the most famous biographies ever, The Autobiography of Malcolm X remains a classic and an important read. Malcolm X’s politics, though controversial at the time and today, is a valuable and provocative perspective that will make you reconsider how you think about America and the American Dream. 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Long before becoming Jon Stewart’s successor on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah lived many, many lifetimes. Born to apartheid South Africa, Noah’s story is one of perseverance and triumph, and one that he manages to make funny by some sort of magic trick. 

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Of course, today, you know Issa Rae as the writer, actor, and star of HBO’s Insecure, but before her hit show came her webseries and book of the same name, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Rae’s memoir wrestles with the idea of being an introvert in a world that considers Black people inherently cool.

Robin by Davie Itzkoff

One of the most beloved comedians and actors of all time, Robin Williams' passing in 2014 shook fans across generations. In his book, New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff covers the life, work, and emotions of one of the most complicated and misunderstood comedians ever. Oh captain, my captain...

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Mark Stock

We're living in crazy times, especially since this whole pandemic mess started a few long years ago. With so much instability out there, it's easy to feel, well, a little uneasy. That's why it's not a bad idea to consider a few self-defense weapons to have at your disposal, just in case. You never know really know what lies ahead but you can be prepared if things do go very, very wrong.

There are many options out there, but the best of the bunch are packable, discreet, effective, and non-lethal (because you don't necessarily have to put somebody six feet under to "take them out"). Now, it's one thing to have one of these on your person and quite another to use it safely and properly. So make sure you know what you're dealing with beforehand and maybe even set up some training time with your new tool. Whether you're planing to get (intentionally) lost in the backcountry or just milling about in the city, it's not a bad idea to consider getting one of these. Here are the best self-defense weapons for protecting yourself in 2023.

We live among walking legends, from LeBron James and Steven Spielberg to Paul McCartney and Meryl Streep. In the category of writing, Stephen King is among the very best. The 76-year-old from Maine has written countless classics, with a signature ability to both instill fear and keep readers helplessly attached to the plot.

Dubbed the "king of horror," King is a living icon, still turning out quality material. Some of the scariest concepts that continue to creep you out — the clowns, the twins in the hallway, the buried pets — are the handy work of King. It's no wonder many consider him to be one of the greatest writers of all time.

Anytime you're wondering what's on TV, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new shows and movies at your disposal. Every weekend brings new debuts across a wide array of streaming services, and it can be hard to keep track of what's worth checking out and what you can skip. Thankfully, we've got you covered with recommendations for movies and TV shows across a wide array of different streaming services. This is what to watch this weekend.

Best new shows to watch What to watch on Netflix

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The Best Biographies of All Time

October 1, 2018 By

Books in general are a vastly undervalued asset, as far as cost-to-utility are concerned. With a good book you can learn new skills, be entertained for hours, or even shift your perspective of the world. The best biographies seem to be the greatest value of all, as they condense the learnings of an entire human life into readable form.

Biographies and autobiographies are also often written about some of the greatest figures from throughout history. You can spend your spare time surrounded by some of the greatest thinkers, explorers, artists or revolutionaries that have helped shape the world into the way it is today. By reading about the lives of those great figures who came before us, we gain an insight into their worldview, the events that shaped them and their methods for taking action.

Buying a good book is one of the best ways you can spend ten dollars or so, and if you buy a biography, you know you’ll find yourself in good company. Below are some of the best biographies of all time, covering famous celebrities, presidents, artists, academics, authors,  more. Browse below and you’ll be sure to find some of the best biographies to read.

best biography person

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer – Sarah Bakewell

Blakewell condenses a life of beneath a singular question: How do you live?

The author traces Montaigne’s life while answering the question in regards to how to get along with others, deal with violence, adjusting to losing a loved one, and many more questions we face in our everyday lives. We find answers to some of these fundamental questions while learning all about the fascinating life of a true renaissance man.

best biography person

The Power Broker – Robert Caro

How does one individual amass so much power?

The answer, told in extreme detail over the course of 1,165 pages, boils down to extreme competence for getting things done combined with a vice-like control over public opinion.

Over time, these two turned into a self-reinforcing cycle that made Moses’s power almost dictatorial. Read my full synopsis of The Power Broker here .

best biography person

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford

While many popular depictions show the Mongols as bloodthirsty pillagers, Weatherford shows us how they also introduced many progressive advancements to their conquered nations. Learn how Khan abolished torture, gave universal religious freedom and destroyed existing feudal systems. Find out how he rose from tribal culture to the formation of the Mongol empire.

best biography person

The Man Who Knew Infinity – Robert Kanigel

Kanigel recounts the incredible story of Srinivasa Ramanujan. An unschooled Indian clerk from the then British colony, Ramanujan has an incredible gift for mathematics that catches the attention of Cambridge University. Apparently inspired by mystical revelation, the story of this genius thinker is astounding as it shows his struggles away from his family, his eventual acceptance into the hard-nosed academic circles of the university, and his untimely death thusands of miles from his homeland.

best biography person

Socrates: A Man For Our Times – Paul Johnson

Socrates is depicted in newfound depth as Johnson shows his powerful rationality as well as the more subtle aspects of his personality. A great read for anyone interested in Western history or philosophy, this book also gives an accurate portrayal of Athens and all it’s characters in the fifth century BCE.

best biography person

Edison: A Biography – Matthew Josephson

This is one of the classic biographies on one of America’s most celebrated public figures. Inventor, scientist and entrepreneur, Edison has come to embody the ideals of the self-made visionary creator. This shows the true rag-to-riches story of the deaf, poor, uneducated young Edison and his rise to fame and passionate invention.

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Catherine the Great – Robert K. Massie

Massie tells the incredible story of Russia’s Catherine the Great. Destined for a minor marriage and a forgettable, this retelling traces her ascent to power and marriage to future Emperor Peter II. From there, we learn about her fascinating character – ruthless at times – but always an inspiring and profoundly memorable character from history.

best biography person

Seven Pillars of Wisdom – T.E. Lawrence

Instantly hailed as a classic upon it’s first publishing in 1922, this is the story of the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918 as told by T.E Lawrence himself from the front lines. Churchill called it “one of the greatest books written in the English language”, and upon reading it you’ll find the adventure and true adventure that has amazed readers for almost a century.

best biography person

Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves

Classic author known best for his works ‘The Greek Myths’, ‘The White Goddess’ and ‘I, Claudius’, here recounts his time spent as a patriotic captain on the front lines in the First World War. This bleak retrospective reveals the horror, drama and absurdity that he witnessed during his time serving, and shows his disillusionment throughout. A thought provoking and masterfully written autobiography that shows the senseless calamity of war and all it claims.

best biography person

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War – Robert Coram

John Boyd was the greatest military strategist of the 20th century. For those who have studied his theories, Boyd is tossed around in the same sentences as Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz. This biography chronicles his fascinating life as he earned his reputation as the greatest fighter pilot of all time, and how he went on to develop a theory of military strategy that resulted in victories in the gulf.

I also wrote an in-depth article about Boyd and his decision making system, the OODA Loop, here. 

best biography person

William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism – Robert D. Richardson Jr.

This is the definitive biography of philosopher William James, author of the classic ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience”. This book shows the full complexity of his character, drawing from letters, journals and family records to retell his fascinating life and the life events that led to the development of his ideas.

best biography person

This biography of Nikola Tesla reveals the elusive character behind such inventions as the radio, wireless energy, primitive robotics, and much more. If you’re interested in one of the most eccentric pioneering figures of the electronic age, along with his long time feud with intellectual rival Thomas Edison, this is a great biography to read.

best biography person

Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein – Abraham Pais

Among the many biographies of Einstein, Subtle is the Lord is among one of the best due to author Abraham Pais’ complete access to the voluminous Einstein archives, along with assistance from Einstein’s own former private secretary, Helen Dukas. This is an inspiring biogrpahy for anyone interested in learning more about one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.

best biography person

Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time – Joseph Frank

This is a massive five-volume retelling of the life and times of Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky, and is considered the best biography available on the subject. Joseph Frank himself is considered one of the greatest biographers alive, and this mammoth exploration sheds light on Dostoevsky’s works, ideology and historical context. He paints a picture of 19th century Russia, so this is an incredible work not only for that small group of people interested in the famous author himself.

best biography person

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway gives a fascinating recount of his time spent as a struggling author living in Paris in the twenties. He shares his time spent amongst other literary greats such as Joyce, Fitzgerald and others. This classic autobiography captures the romantic atmosphere of early-twentieth century Paris, and the inspired artists who called it home at the time.

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Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II – Kenneth Kitchen

A deeply detailed account of one of Egypt’s best known Pharaohs, written by one of the most knowledgable academics on the subject. This biography transports you back into ancient history, where you’ll learn about the fascinating culture of the ancient Egyptians, as well as the story of the young King’s reign including royal dramas, political tension and thought provoking ancient cultural practices.

best biography person

Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man – Martin Kemp

Kemp’s account of da Vinci’s life and works is considered the go-to biography of the famous renaissance figure. Readers are guided through a fully integrated account of his scientific, artistic and technological works, as well as the life events that helped form the man that made them. This amazing biography shed light on one of the most creative figures that ever lived, and shows the factors in medieval Florence that helped form such a character.

best biography person

The Travels of Marco Polo – Marco Polo

This classic account of Polo’s diplomatic missions into the far East shows his astonishment at the cultural and historical differences he found from his Western perspective. He gives vivid retellings of the religions, customs and ways of living that he saw on his travels, and recounts stories and legends he learns along the way. A very good autobiography that is considered a true classic.

best biography person

Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent – Alexander von Humboldt

Humboldt is known as one of the greatest explorers of the nineteenth century, and this autobiographical work retells his ventures into the tropics of the American continents between 1799-1804. He was among the first Europeans to speculate on Aztex art, and to observe reverse magnetic polarity. His writing deeply impacted the course of Victorian culture, and influenced thinkers down the line such as Charles Darwin.

best biography person

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Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall – Frank Brady

This compelling biography of chess-prodigy Bobby Fischer shows the life of the genius who was incomprehensible to the public. This recount of his tumultuous life shows his fierce dedication to his sport, and his struggles with life in the public eye with his rise and fall as an American celebrity.

best biography person

Plutarch’s Lives Volumes One  &  Two  – Plutarch

Plutarch’s histories can’t be left out of any comprehensive list of the best biographies. Sketches of the lives of Alexander the Great, Cicero, Caesar and more are all chronicled in Plutarch’s Lives, and gives readers and academics an indispensable view into the lives of many of those names still famous to us today. Not only are Plutarch’s volumes comprehensive , they are interesting to read and full of fascinating anecdotes that transport the reader to the ancient world in a way few other texts of those periods manage.

Best Celebrity Biographies

best biography person

Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury – Leslie-Ann Jones

best biography person

Empire: The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes – Donald L. Barlett

Barlett’s classic look at Howard Hughes shows the heights of his incredible outward success, and the depths of his inner struggles. Readers learn about Hughes unique starting circumstances in life, and follows a tough but eccentric figure on to his incredible success as an aviator, film producer, defence contractor and more. This is an epic biography of an epic man, and Barlett shows us all his sides.

best biography person

Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis

Scar Tissue tells the often emotionally moving story of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s rise to fame through the 80’s onwards. Following the lead singer, Anthony Kiedis, this fasinating biography tells of the band’s incredible performances, their love stories, heartbreaks, their fame and excess. For anyone interested in rock music, Scar Tissue is the best biography out there showing what the life of a rockstar is really like.

best biography person

Just Kids – Patti Smith

American artist Patti Smith recounts her moving relationship with photographer in 1960’s New York City. This is a touching biography about youth, friendship and love that is superbly written by an artist who’s work extends from music to visual art to poetry. This brilliant autobiography marks her first foray into prose, and is now considered a classic representation of that time in New York’s recent history.

best biography person

Total Recall – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnie tells in his own words the “greatest immigrant success story of our time”. Follow this incredibly motivating celebrity from his Mr. Olympia days, through his string of highly successful Hollywood features, on to the eventual Governorship of California. One of the best autiobiographies of one of the most fascinating and inspiring figures to rise through Hollywood.

Best Presidential Biographies

best biography person

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Kearns Goodwin

Famous historian D.K Goodwin shows us the extent of Lincoln’s politcal savvy from his rise from obscurity in the prairie-lands to his victory over three gifted rivals to secure presidency. This multiple biogrpahy shows how Lincoln mastered those around him and struggled with his cabinet, generals and other obstacles. A fascinating biography of one of the most interesting figures of American history.

best biography person

Washington: A Life – Ron Chernow

Celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation and the first president of the United States. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one volume biography of George Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his adventurous early years, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America’s first president. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow shatters forever the stereotype of George Washington as a stolid, unemotional figure and brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods.

best biography person

John Adams: A Life – John Ferling

Renowned early-American historian John Ferling gives readers the canonical book on John Adams. Thoroughly researched and well written, Ferling brings to life the tumultuous times of the revolution era and shows us Adam’s importance as a politcal and intellectual figure.

best biography person

Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela

This monumental biography retells Nelson Mandela’s lifetime struggle against racial oppression in South Africa, and his rise to presidency of his country. Suffering a quarter century of imprisonment, countless political dramas and constant discrimination, this recount shows how he rose above all challenges to become an iconic voice in the fight for global human rights and racial equality.

best biography person

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – John Meacham

Pulitzer-prize winner Meacham brings to life Thomas Jefferson in one of the best biographies of an early American president ever written. Meacham’s portrait of Jefferson engages readers throughout, displaying the President’s reputation as both philosopher and an effective politician of a remarkable period.

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Last Updated on January 24, 2020 by Taylor

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12 Inspiring Biographies That’ll Change Your Perspective

Updated 09/26/2023

Published 06/17/2020

Kate Wight, BA in English

Kate Wight, BA in English

Contributing writer

Discover the best inspiring biographies, including selections for adults, teens, children, and others.

Cake values integrity and transparency. We follow a strict editorial process to provide you with the best content possible. We also may earn commission from purchases made through affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more in our affiliate disclosure .

Biographies and autobiographies are some of the most life-changing books that exist. They allow us to learn more about individuals, both famous and relatively unknown.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Best inspiring biographies, most inspiring autobiographies, inspiring autobiographies for children and young adults.

We may find we form a deep connection to a stranger when we read about them based on shared life experiences. Or we may just learn more about someone who has a totally different background. Most of all, we can find ourselves inspired by witnessing the way a person has lived their life. 

Here, we’ll explore some of the best memoirs and biographies published in recent years that will make you see the world in a new light. 

People often want to be moved by the world around them. We look to other people to inspire us so that we can learn and grow. The right sources of inspiration can help us believe in ourselves.

They can even transform the way we live our lives. These biographies are sure to inspire you and challenge you. 

1. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

Over the past several years, infectious diseases have dominated the national consciousness.

Global pandemics, the anti-vaccination movement, and preventative HIV medication are all part of this conversation. This biography focuses on the work of Dr. Paul Farmer. Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, fought tuberculosis in Haiti, Peru, and Russia. His story gives us hope that dedicated individuals are fighting to protect our health.  

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2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

In 1936, distance runner Louis Zamperini competed in the Berlin Olympics as a teenager, an astonishing feat. But while that would be a notable enough accomplishment to warrant a biography, it’s only the beginning of his story. 

In 1941 he was commissioned into the United States Air Force, where he served as a bombardier. When he was just 26 years old, his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean on a search and rescue mission. Miraculously, he lived through the crash and went on to survive 47 days adrift at sea. Unfortunately, he was then captured in the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands. He was taken to a prison camp and tortured as a POW for two and a half years until the end of World War II. 

Despite all of the ups and downs he encountered in his life, he discovered faith and the power of forgiveness. His story is proof that even after unimaginable hardship, the human spirit perseveres.  

3. Young Mandela by David James Smith

Many people know the name and the legacy of Nelson Mandela. He was a political leader, activist, and philanthropist who spent 27 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. His crime? Fighting to dismantle the oppressive South African apartheid regime. 

Upon his release, he became the first black president of South Africa and the first elected in a truly democratic election. Many people remember the benevolent, gray-haired Mandela from the latter part of his life.

This book focuses on his drive and leadership and his willingness to put himself on the line to invoke change. He is proof that one person can have enough of an impact to change the course of an entire nation.

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4. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser

Some people think celebrities and sports figures should keep their mouths shut about their personal beliefs and just do what they’re paid to do. One recent example of this is Colin Kaepernick. But sports figures have a lengthy history of fighting for their beliefs. Famed fighter Muhammad Ali was one of the earliest and most vocal. 

Like Kaepernick, his morals cost him years of his career. When he refused to be drafted to the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, he was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his titles. But he appealed his decision all the way up to the Supreme Court, proving he was a tireless fighter in more ways than one.     

Biographies often focus on famous people, political figures, or other high-profile individuals. While celebrities also write memoirs, some of the most moving autobiographies come from people who are less well-known. Here are our picks for especially inspiring autobiographies.

5. Sully: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley B. Sullenberger with Jeffrey Zaslow

On January 15, 2009, Americans were riveted by news reports of a near tragedy. A US Airways flight was forced into making an emergency landing after both of its engines were taken out by a flock of Canada geese.

Miraculously, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his co-pilot were able to land the plane on the Hudson River without a single life lost. This story shows that on an average workday, a regular person can become a hero.      

6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird is ostensibly a guide to help aspiring writers hone their craft. But it is so much more than that.

Lamott meditates on her awkward childhood, her history of addiction, and her journey toward faith. She also delves into deeply painful topics like the death of her beloved father.

This book shows how you can mine all your life’s experiences in aid of helping you tell compelling stories. It also demonstrates that you can overcome an incredible array of challenges and become a teacher and leader.  

7. Educated by Tara Westover

We trust our parents to prepare us for the world around us. Tara Westover’s parents raised her as a survivalist in the mountains of Idaho. She stewed herbs and canned fruits to sustain her family through the winter. What her parents didn’t do was allow her to seek an education or medical care.

At the age of 17, Westover stepped foot in a classroom for the first time in her life. She taught herself math and grammar and made it into college, and has traveled the world in pursuit of knowledge. Her story shows we can overcome the most hardscrabble and deprived upbringing.  

8. When I Fell From the Sky by Juliane Koepcke

When she was just 17, Koepcke miraculously survived a plane crash. Lightning struck her plane midflight and tore it apart. She plummeted two miles to the earth, still strapped to her seat.

She was flung far enough away from the wreckage that she had to spend 11 days navigating her way through the wilderness, even with grievous wounds. This tale of perseverance is unparalleled. 

Kids and young people often gravitate towards fictional stories. But autobiographies can be a great way to get them more interested in nonfiction books.

All children need people to look up to. These autobiographies can inspire the next generation to follow their dreams.  

9. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

For a lot of kids, school is tedious and boring. For Malala Yousafzai, the chance to go to school was worth risking her life. Malala grew up in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, which was seized by the Taliban. This extremist group is opposed to girls receiving any form of education. Malala refused to be intimidated and continued seeking an education. 

She nearly paid the ultimate price. When she was just fifteen years old, she was shot point-blank in the head on her bus ride home from school. Miraculously she survived and inspired the world with her courage and perseverance.   

10. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The atrocities perpetrated against Jewish people during World War II can feel far removed from modern times. This memoir brings the harsh reality of living in Nazi-occupied Holland to life.

Anne Frank and her family spent two years living in hiding in cramped quarters. But the war is really just the backdrop. This memoir provides a human face to the sweeping historical injustices of the 1940s. It’s impossible to read the inner thoughts of a thirteen-year-old girl and not feel personally connected to her struggles.    

11. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson is a Newbery Honor award-winning author who is known for her poetic and evocative writing style. In her memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming , Woodson talks about what it was like growing up as a young African-American girl in the 1960s.

In particular, she talks about the juxtaposition of living in New York vs. the segregated town of Greenville, South Carolina. This book will be especially inspiring for young African-American girls who don’t always get to see characters that look like them. 

12. Firebird by Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland is a ballet dancer for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). The ABT is one of just a few leading classical ballet companies in the United States. In 2015, Copeland became the first African-American principal dancer in the company’s 75 years of existence.

This children’s book depicts a young ballerina who, much like Copeland herself, gets to dance the lead role in Firebird . It’s a great inspiration for children to show that they can achieve their dreams through hard work and dedication. 

Read These Inspirational Biographies for a Brand-New Perspective

There are so many books to read before you die . In truth, there’s no way to read all of the books you want to. But if you’re looking for inspiration, there’s nothing like a good memoir or biography to really move you.

Every one of us, young and old, can find something in someone else’s story to challenge us to become better. Someone’s life story told well can change your own life. 

If you're looking for more recommendations, read our guides on the best inspiring fiction and non-fiction books .


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41 Celebrity Memoirs That Are Actually Worth Reading

Patti Smith reading book of poetry on stage

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Anyone who has glanced at a bestseller list lately can tell you that we are in the midst of (yet another?) celebrity memoir boom. From Britney Spears to Prince Harry, it seems like just about everyone is spilling their secrets via book deal —meaning ’tis the season for pages upon pages of Hollywood gossip, rock-and-roll road drama, and the darker sides of show business.

At their best, celebrity memoirs provide unusually candid portraits of the “real person” behind the public persona—and they don’t skimp on the dirty details. At worst, they can be ghostwritten fluff.

 Ahead, Vogue rounds up the best of the genre for your reading pleasure.

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

best biography person

Britney Spears

“Emerging from the shadows of a past marked by paparazzi harassment and betrayal by the people she trusted, Britney Spears finally speaks her truth in this highly anticipated—and then much celebrated—memoir. With a blend of deep sincerity and good humor, Spears fearlessly asserts her autonomy, leaving no doubt about who is truly in control of her life.” —Gia Yetikyel

Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

best biography person

Spare by Prince Harry

“Even for those who don’t keep up with the Royal Family, the central themes of grief, love, and creating a home apart from everything you’ve known in Prince Harry ’s shockingly intimate Spare make it a story very much worth reading.” —G.Y.

Paris: The Memoir by Paris Hilton

best biography person

“ Paris Hilton’s 336-page book takes an in-depth look at the many labels she’s adorned and shed over the decades. Unpacking her childhood, episodes of teenage rebellions, and experience with verbal and physical abuse, she creates a place for readers to understand the origins of her pink paradise—and the strength it took to withstand years of extraordinary public pressure.” —G.Y.

One Life by Megan Rapinoe

Image may contain: Human, Person, Face, Text, Advertisement, and Poster

“Olympic medalist and two-time Women's World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe shows a whole new side of herself in this memoir, in which she recounts coming out as gay in 2011—well before ‘inclusivity in sports’ was widely discussed, let alone prioritized—as well as her experience of taking a knee alongside former NFL player Colin Kaepernick to protest racial injustice and police brutality. For those who prefer their celebrity memoirs with a side of romance, Rapinoe also dishes on her courtship with now-wife, WNBA champion Sue Bird.” —Emma Specter

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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“For months after reading this, I had to stop myself from thinking of Michelle as my friend. After spending a week (or, let’s be honest, an entire weekend under a blanket) reading a celebrity’s memoir, you feel as though you’ve spent time with them. It makes them more accessible and reminds you that at the end of the day, everyone is still human. I’m coming to grips with the fact that Michelle Obama is not actually my friend Michelle, but Becoming is still one of the best books I’ve read.” —Grace Atwood, founder of

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy  

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I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

“This bestselling memoir is hardly lighthearted fare, revolving as it does around child star McCurdy’s years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her fame-obsessed mother, but the rush to purchase it was no empty fanfare; it really is that good.” —E.S.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

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“Whether you’re a fan of food, legacy media gossip, or writer Ruth Reichl herself, you'll find plenty to dine out on in this account of Reichl’s time serving as the editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. Reichl freely admits that the glamorous world of New York publishing was a new one to her at the start of her Gourmet tenure, but I think it’s safe to say we could use a little more of her independence, irreverence and commitment to genuine creativity in the industry. (Bonus: her descriptions of meals are effortlessly mouth-watering, so make sure to eat with a delicious snack at the ready.)” —E.S.

The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown

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“Perhaps more of a memoir of brushes with celebrity than actual celebrity memoir, Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries is nonetheless a phenomenal read, for the journalism nerd or anyone else who is interested in the inner workings of glossy magazine-making in its heyday. The book recounts the British editor's years as the editor in chief of the storied magazine, the feathers she unapologetically ruffled in pursuit of a more lively publication (the rates she paid Martin Amis for a single story would make a 2020s editor swoon!), the glamor of the gig, the grind of being a working mother. Brown kept meticulous notes when she occupied this role, and it shows; this is a book in which the delicious dirt is in the details.” —Chloe Schama

My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand

best biography person

My Name Is Barbra

“Ruminative and dishy, funny and smart, Barbra Streisand’s nearly 1,000-page memoir deftly captures the voice that first bewitched American audiences in the early 1960s—plus her weird dynamic with Marlon Brando, the nightmare of making Yentl with Mandy Patinkin, her lifelong fondness for baked potatoes, and other delicious bits.” —Marley Marius

Love, Pamela: A Memoir of Prose, Poetry, and Truth by Pamela Anderson

best biography person

“With Pamela Anderson’s memoir, readers meet the woman behind the va-va-voom persona—she is, in fact, just a shy girl from Vancouver Island—through childhood memories and reflections on pursuing her dreams. Blending prose and poetry, it’s a refreshing and empowering read.” —G.Y.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

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“If you haven’t read Fey’s 2011 memoir yet, you’re sleeping at the wheel. It follows her journey to stardom and is filled with amazing behind-the-scenes stories from her time on Saturday Night Live . Candid, self-deprecating, funny (duh): the perfect before-bed read.” —Christian Allaire

Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell

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“The second female Letterman writer and creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch , Scovell brings all the humor of Bossypants but with the added bite of coming up in the mighty sexist man’s world of TV. Scovell names names and calls it like she sees it.” —Michelle Ruiz, contributing editor

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

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“This memoir by the celebrity chef behind New York’s Baohaus inspired the ABC show of the same name—but the book version is far less fuzzy. Huang gives an unapologetically real look at his upbringing in a hardworking and often strict Chinese-American family. And his sumptuous descriptions of food make you really, really hungry.” —M.R.

Finding Me by Viola Davis

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“A Rhode Island childhood marked by trauma and abuse gives way to an adulthood in the spotlight as one of the most recognizable actresses in Hollywood, and Davis relays the topsy-turviness of her life’s circumstances with a compelling mix of emotional honesty and grace.” —E.S.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

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“Mindy Kaling holds a rarefied position in Hollywood these days, but the writer, actress and director's bestselling 2011 memoir proves that her ascent to the top wasn’t always an easy one. In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? , Kaling recounts her growth from the shy, bookish child of immigrants to off-Broadway sensation to the youngest writer on the staff of the hit NBC sitcom The Office ; what’s most notable about the memoir, though, is the way Kaling's singular voice shines through, lending even the wildest of L.A. tales a crucial degree of relatability.” —E.S.

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

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“I went into Open Book expecting a light, fun read from one of my favorite reality stars (remember Newlyweds ?) of all time—instead, I was blown away by an honest, funny, and touching memoir, which is so rarely the case with celebrity ‘tell-alls.’ Simpson candidly discusses her recovery journey after years of struggling with drugs and alcohol abuse; she also examines the darker side of her early-fame days as a singer, when she was constantly—and at times, brutally—compared to her counterparts like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. It was my favorite book of 2020, and I recommend it to any pop culture fan, Simpson fans or not.” —C.A.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

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“A pitch-perfect example of the genre, Philipps serves up a funny and unflinching look at being a woman in Hollywood. She dives into her days as a Barbie spokes-kid and, bravely, her abortion as a teen, before moving on to her best friendship with Michelle Williams, details of James Franco’s douchey-ness on Freaks and Geeks , and struggles in her marriage. The best celebrity memoirs are as unsparingly honest as Philipps’ is.” —M.R.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir by Matthew Perry

best biography person

“In his book, the late actor delves into his early life and rise to fame amidst an intense struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is written in such a way that you can imagine Perry speaking it to you—his voice is comforting, heartbreaking, and oh-so-familiar to the many of us who grew up watching him in the 1990s and early 2000s.” —G.Y.

Life by Keith Richards

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“You might not think of Keith Richards as an elegant truth-teller, but his Life is a bracing tonic—straightforward but exciting, glamorous but heartfelt. I’m not a regular rock memoir reader, but this is a book that transcends whatever you might think the genre entails. Just go along with the music and don’t think too hard about it.” —Chloe Schama

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips

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“Not sure she’s a straight-up A-list celeb, but Phillips made the A-list celebs. The Hollywood producer’s story is so full of wild pleasures and OMG moments that it’s easy to overlook the sheer brilliance that’s on offer.” —Lauren Mechling, Vogue contributor and author of How Could She

Horror Stories by Liz Phair

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“The first of a planned two-part set (the second of which will be titled Fairy Tales ), Horror Stories is less of a traditional memoir and more of a series of vignettes that tackle some of the ‘small indignities that we all suffer daily, the silent insults to our system, the callous gestures that we make toward one another.’ Most of us won’t suffer the indignities of an anesthesiologist asking for our autograph during labor (we’re not all Gen X rock stars, after all), but we can wince at the, yes, horror, and relate to the rest of Phair’s not-so-tall tales .” —Danny Feekes, former managing editor at Goodreads

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

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“Not to stereotype straight white men over 30, but all the ones I know happen to love Dave Grohl, making this memoir—which focuses on the Nirvana and Foo Fighter musician’s years on the road—an absolutely smashing birthday or holiday gift when another coffee mug just won’t do.” —E.S.

Open by Andre Agassi

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Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

“We’ve all read (or carefully avoided) the triumphal sports-star memoir: The thousands of solitary hours spent in pursuit of excellence while stoically avoiding everything else, leading up to that magical breakthrough when everything was deemed to be Worth It. This isn’t that memoir: Agassi, arguably the best player of his generation and certainly the flashiest and most-visible, is remarkably frank here about how much he seemed to loathe the entire experience, which was foisted on him by a kind of ur-Tennis Dad. Thankfully, we also get the other side of that: A late- career resurgence, followed by a blissful second marriage and a philanthropic turn that’s both heartfelt and, for the underprivileged children it focuses on, life-changing. For the king of neon and acid-washed jeans who became even more famous for saying ‘image is everything,’ this book is a tragic opera with a happy ending.” —Corey Seymour

Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise Parker

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"Parker’s 2015 memoir has really stayed with me. Written as a series of letters to men she’s encountered, imagined, or loved, it’s a formal experiment, a wonderful portrait of an established artist claiming new territory. She’s not really in the tell-all business, but what she’s written reveals plenty.” —Julia Felsenthal, Vogue contributor

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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“When Noah was born under apartheid in South Africa, his parents’ interracial union was, literally, a crime, punishable by five years in prison. That’s just the beginning of The Daily Show host’s remarkable story. At turns harrowing and hilarious, it’s perhaps best consumed via audiobook , read by the author.” —M.R.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

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“Based on decades’ worth of his own diary entries (which also included poems, photographs, prescriptions, and many, many bumper stickers), Matthew McConaughey’s memoir discusses his personal philosophy for handling life’s challenges, and what it means to keep catching the green lights through hardships.” —G.Y.

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

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“The world rightfully knows Obama as a brilliant orator. But even before he was president (or even state senator), he wrote the hell out of this 1995 memoir (later re-released to great fanfare) about his upbringing in Hawaii and Kansas; his solitary, scholarly Columbia years; and his distant relationship with his dad. Now I spend my days waiting for his presidential memoir-in-the-works.” —M.R.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut by Jill Kargman

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“As a fellow native New Yorker and NYC mom, Kargman’s dishing on ‘the city’ has always been hilarious and spot-on, even before her show Odd Mom Out came out. The essays in this book are so Jill : Honest, irreverent, slightly dark. full of curse words—yet imminently likable and, in fact, addictive.” —Zibby Owens, host of the Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books podcast

The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

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The Office BFFs: Tales of ‘The Office’ from Two Best Friends Who Were There by Jenna Fischer and and Angela Kinsey

“ The Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey may have been rivals on the show, but in real life, their sweet and silly bestie-dom is contagious, making this recollection of working on one of history’s most popular sitcoms a genuine pleasure to read.” —E.S.

The Dirt by Motley Crue

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The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee

“I never thought that one of my favorite books of all time would have a cover featuring a lady in a G-string whose disembodied form we see dancing inside a whiskey bottle. But at least you’ve been warned: What you see is what you get in this group memoir from the glam metal band. The sheer magnitude of debauchery at their peak in the 1980s is too compelling to look away.” —Maris Kreizman, host of The Maris Review podcast

In Pieces by Sally Field

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“Sally Field took her sweet time with In Pieces , her first memoir, written over seven years without the assistance of a ghostwriter. To call Field’s writing vulnerable doesn’t give enough credit to the way she recounts with crippling honesty the highs and lows of her personal and professional lives. She’s always been beloved as a performer, but In Pieces shows there’s so much more to admire about Field than the trophies on her mantle.” —Keaton Bell

I.M. by Isaac Mizrahi

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“Mizrahi is well-known as a man of many talents, so adding ‘writer’ to the list isn’t a stretch. Still, the quality of his memoir, I.M. , is notable. He talks schmattas and sex with typical sass, but what makes this book memorable is that Mizrahi’s coming-of-age and coming-to-terms tale is bigger than fashion. —Laird Borelli-Persson, Vogue archive editor

Making a Scene by Constance Wu

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“Often told that ‘good girls don’t make scenes,’ the TV and film star writes about finding an outlet for her feelings through community theater and how it eventually led to her pursuing an acting career. Authentic and very moving.” —G.Y.

Touched by the Sun: My Friendship With Jackie by Carly Simon

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“Simon’s first book, Boys in the Trees , is what all celebrity memoirs should aspire to be, toggling between childhood struggles, musical stardom, and a highly publicized marriage to James Taylor with plenty of wit and revelations sprinkled throughout. Touched by the Sun is more scaled back, focusing on the iconic singer-songwriter’s unlikely but enduring friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Detailing the lunches, movie dates, and nights out on the town that the two women shared before Onassis’s death in 1994, Simon highlights the woman beneath the public persona.” —K.B.

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

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“If you’re a completist, start with Drew’s first memoir, the propulsive Little Girl Lost (out of print but easy to find secondhand), which she wrote when she was 14. It recounts a young Barrymore’s stratospheric rise and quick drug-fueled descent, while Wildflower finds an older, more assured Barrymore looking back at a larger-than-life existence, one in which she emancipated from her parents, forged out on her own, and paved her distinctive path. As Drew writes, “I wanted to rescue myself. And I did.” —D.F.

Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton

best biography person

“Before picking up Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics , take a peek at Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business from the 1990s. Get to know the rhinestone-studded, smooth-talking country singer as she discusses her personal philosophies, marriage, and her transformation from a music-loving teenager into one of the world’s most iconic women.” —G.Y.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

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“Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir is a portrait of a place and time—New York, Summer of Love—and a love letter to a bygone era that produced two iconoclasts: poet and musician Smith, and late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The story follows the duo’s trials and tribulations as they traverse Brooklyn, Coney Island, and Times Square, before settling at the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Smith has said that she didn’t write the book to be cathartic, but to fulfill a vow she made to Mapplethorpe on his deathbed. Ultimately, it’s the reader who reaps the rewards of that request.” —D.F.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

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“It’s over 10 years later, and I’m still crushed by Sam Seaborne’s departure from The West Wing , so I couldn’t resist Lowe’s memoir. It’s packed with plenty of sordid stories from his wild days as part of the Brat Pack, but also has so many great behind-the-scenes memories from some of my favorite TV shows and movies. While it probably won’t win a Pulitzer, any fan of ’80s rom-coms will still find this delightful!” —Becca Freeman, co-host of the Bad on Paper podcast

Me by Elton John

best biography person

“Honest, charming, and all too real, Me follows the extraordinary life of Elton John from his origins in a London suburb to his rise to fame, legendary friendships, struggles with drug addiction, and philanthropy work.” —G.Y.

My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

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“I’ve been reading this in fits and starts for about a decade, and I’ve still yet to encounter another life story so dutifully (and beautifully) re-examined. It’s easy to take Fonda’s cool self-assuredness—even in handcuffs!—for granted these days, but before Firebrand Jane there was “plain Jane,” woefully uncomfortable in her skin and desperate for outside validation. To chart her path from then until now (and to think of all that’s still to come) is something I wouldn’t mind doing for another 10 years.” —M.M.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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“All three of Fisher’s memoirs reflect her trademark cool demeanor and self-deprecating nature, but her final release is my favorite. The beating heart of the book is the story of teenage Fisher’s secret three-month-long affair with Harrison Ford, then 33 and married with two kids. Fisher was hopelessly, naively in love with him, and Ford took advantage of the situation. You won’t find much behind-the-scenes Star Wars intel, but you will find an honest, painful account of Fisher’s experience as a young woman in love and at the mercy of so many patriarchal forces.” —Cristina Arreola, senior publicity and marketing manager, Sourcebooks

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Professor Cabrita wins 2024 HSS prize for best biography

best biography person

Professor Joel Cabrita's most recent book, Written Out: The Silencing of Regina Gelana Twala , was awarded the prize for best biography by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. Congratulations Professor Cabrita!


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How to Deal With a Narcissist

In her best-selling self-help book, Ramani Durvasula offers tips for surviving a person who only has eyes for mirrors.

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In this picture, Ramani Durvasula is wearing a pink shirt and skirt. Her hair is long, dark and loose around her shoulders and she has a serene expression on her face.

By Elisabeth Egan

Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

“Narcissist” is a word many of us throw around casually, using it to describe anyone from an energy vampire to a friend who posts too many selfies on Instagram. But as Ramani Durvasula makes clear in her best-selling book, “It’s Not You,” the people who actually fit the bill are more complicated, wily and attention-seeking than we might imagine. She focuses on the ones who fall in the middle of the spectrum — those toxic charmers who, she writes, give you “enough bad days to take a toll and enough good days to keep you hooked.”

Durvasula is a clinical psychologist who has long been as fixated on narcissists as they are on themselves. In a phone interview, she said she wanted to take this personality type out of the “diagnostic weeds.” Durvasula explained, “When we hear ‘diagnosis,’ we think ‘treatment,’ which requires some level of motivation. Depressed people go to therapy because they’re uncomfortable with their depression; anxious people go to therapy because they’re uncomfortable with their anxiety. Narcissistic people lack self-awareness. They don’t walk into therapy saying, ‘I hurt the people around me. I want to stop that.’ That’s not the conversation.”

So how does a narcissist-adjacent friend or family member navigate a relationship with someone who won’t change? Durvasula lamented the lack of scholarly literature on the subject; she said it’s as if “there’s this acceptable collateral damage.” Her book provides detailed directions for people who find themselves in a narcissist’s passenger seat, and she shared a few tips for getting started.

First, Durvasula said, if you’re in a cycle where you keep having the same conflicts that never resolve, “take a pointed look at the other person’s behavior, instead of always trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong.” Then look for patterns: “How often are they listening to you compared to how often you listen to them? Are your needs and wants received warmly even if they can’t be met?” And finally — although this isn’t really the destination, just the part where you warm up the car — pay close attention to how these habits and norms affect you. It might sound like common sense, but the goal is to shift the focus away from the narcissist and onto your own well-being.

“Once you do that and you’re aware of what you’re dealing with,” Durvasula said, “then it’s time to shift attention to issues like radical acceptance and the grief that comes from loving someone who has this kind of personality. Because from this point forward, you will always navigate this relationship differently.”

Elisabeth Egan is a writer and editor at the Times Book Review. She has worked in the world of publishing for 30 years. More about Elisabeth Egan

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Microsoft 365 Life Hacks > Writing > What’s the difference between a biography and an autobiography?

What’s the difference between a biography and an autobiography?

If you’ve ever set foot in a bookstore, you’ve likely come across both autobiographies and biographies that tell about the lives of notable individuals. Let’s take a look at the most important differences between these non-fiction books.

A picture of Steve Jobs and his autobiography

What is a biography?

Typically written in the third person, a biography is a detailed story about a living or deceased person’s life. A third party writes this non-fiction account of someone’s life. Let’s say Person A is a famous singer who recently passed away. Person B researches and writes a fact-based story on the famous singer’s life from start to finish. Person B’s factual story of Person A’s life is a biography.

Types of biographies

Biographies don’t always take the same approach or follow the same structure. Some are more official, while others get more creative. Writers can choose from a few common biography types, including:

  • Authorized biographies, which received the subject’s input and/or permission.
  • Unauthorized biographies, which were written without the subject’s approval or input.
  • Biographical novels, which were inspired by a real person’s life, but feature embellishments that may make the story more interesting.
  • Group biographies, which focus on groups of people rather than a single person.

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Examples of biographies

Each biography is a window into someone’s life, offering unique insights and perspectives. From the struggles of historical figures to the triumphs of artistic icons, biographies are not just informative but can also be deeply inspiring. Here are a few examples:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a biography that describes the life of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were extremely important for medical research.
  • Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie is a biography that describes Catherine the Great’s origins and rise to power as a Russian empress.
  • Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera details the painter’s life and famous works.

What is an autobiography?

Usually written in the first person, an autobiography is when the author writes about their own life. This subjective account is unique because it allows the author to share details of their life that another writer might not have been able to uncover.

Types of autobiographies

There are two main types of autobiographies: complete autobiographies and memoirs. In a complete autobiography, the author begins their story with their roots or birth and ends the autobiography at their current age. In a memoir, the author writes about a specific period of their life. For example, a famous actor may begin a memoir by sharing their first role in a movie, rather than sharing details about the beginning of their life or their childhood.

Examples of autobiographies

Autobiographies offer a unique lens into the lives of their authors, providing firsthand accounts of their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. Here are a few examples of notable autobiographies:

  • In Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, Yogananda provides a first-hand account of his life and spiritual growth.
  • In The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, Keller shares her life from birth until she was 22. She shares how she learned to communicate despite being blind and deaf.
  • In The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, he shares his life from childhood through adulthood and how he impacted the civil rights movement.

In summary, a biography is a story of someone’s life, written by a different person, versus an autobiography where an author writes about their own life.

Why should you read biographies (or autobiographies)?

Biographies and autobiographies are a great way to get an in-depth look at the lives of politicians, musicians, historical figures, innovators, and more. If there’s a famous person that you admire, there’s likely a biography written about them or an autobiography that they wrote themselves that can teach you more about their accomplishments.

If you’re interested in writing a biography or autobiography, see how you can write, research, and organize a book using OneNote . Whether you’re just putting together your first draft or you’re still outlining your story , you can elevate your writing in real time with Microsoft Editor .

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Brittany and Patrick Mahomes Get Glammed Up for Friends' Wedding: ‘The Best Time Celebrating’

The couple was a vision in red and black as they stepped out to the nuptials

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Brittany Mahomes/Instagram

Couples who get dressed up together, stay together!

Brittany and Patrick Mahomes got all glammed up to celebrate their friends’ wedding, and Brittany showed off their ceremony — and post-ceremony — looks in a sweet Instagram post on Saturday.

The mom of two , 28, kicked off the post with a photo of just her and the Super Bowl champ , 28, posing in their formalwear, standing side-by-side in one photo and getting cuddly in the other.

Patrick cleaned up nicely, swapping his on-field gear for a chic black suit and bowtie, which he paired with sleek black dress shoes and sunglasses.

Popping against his crisp suit, Brittany wore a red satin gown, and accessorized with gold stiletto sandals and matching jewelry. She let the dress take center stage by keeping her glam simple and her signature blonde tresses curled in loose waves.

In the same outfits, the couple posed with what appeared to be the wedding party, as well as some other guests at the nuptials, before doing an outfit change for the reception.

For the post-ceremony festivities, the NFL star and his wife rocked a more casual couple look, with Brittany donning a pastel-yellow dress and Patrick swapping his suave suit for a black polo shirt and jeans.

In their new outfits, the couple posed together, and Brittany also snapped a pic with the bride.

“Was the best time celebrating the McDaniel’s 🤍,” the influencer and Kansas City Current co-owner captioned the post.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Earlier this month, Brittany and Patrick celebrated another couple’s vows: their own!

On March 12, the high school sweethearts celebrated their second wedding anniversary , which they each marked with sweet Instagram posts.

Patrick shared a photo of Brittany, himself and their two children, daughter Sterling Skye and son Patrick "Bronze" Lavon Mahomes III , which he captioned, "Year 2! Happy anniversary!”

Also on Instagram, Brittany shared an anniversary post of her own, a collection of photos from the couple's March 2022 wedding in Hawaii.

"Happy Anniversary to my forever♾️🤍," she captioned the pics.

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'Oppenheimer': Oscar best picture winner plays in Hiroshima to praise and unease

HIROSHIMA − Oscars best picture winner "Oppenheimer" finally premiered in Japan on Friday, eight months after a controversial grassroots marketing push and concerns about how its nuclear theme would be received in the only country to suffer atomic bombing.

The biggest winner at this month's Academy Awards , the film directed by Christopher Nolan about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the race to develop the atomic bomb, has grossed nearly $1 billion globally.

But Japan had been left out of worldwide screenings until now, despite being a major market for Hollywood. American atomic bombs devastated the western city of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the south at the close of World War Two, killing more than 200,000 people.

More: Why Robert Downey Jr.'s 'Oppenheimer' first Oscar win is so sweet (and a long time coming)

'I found it difficult to watch'

"Of course this is an amazing film which deserves to win the Academy Awards," said Hiroshima resident Kawai, 37, who gave only his family name.

"But the film also depicts the atomic bomb in a way that seems to praise it, and, as a person with roots in Hiroshima, I found it difficult to watch."

A big fan of Nolan's films, Kawai, a public servant, went to see "Oppenheimer" on opening day at a theatre that is just a kilometre from the city's Atomic Bomb Dome.

"I'm not sure this is a movie that Japanese people should make a special effort to watch," he added.

More: Pierce Brosnan says 'Oppenheimer' star Cillian Murphy would be 'magnificent' James Bond

Awards in Hollywood, trigger warnings in Japan

Images on social media showed signs posted at the entrances to some Tokyo theatres, warning that the movie featured images of nuclear tests that could evoke the damage caused by the bombs.

Another Hiroshima resident, Agemi Kanegae, had mixed feelings upon finally watching the movie.

"The film was very worth watching," said the retired 65-year-old. "But I felt very uncomfortable with a few scenes, such as the trial of Oppenheimer in the United States at the end."

More: Oscars 2024: 'Oppenheimer' takes best picture, naked John Cena wears just an envelope

Atom bomb survivor's empathy for the real Oppenheimer

The film quickly became a global hit after opening in the United States last July. But many Japanese were offended by fan-created "Barbenheimer" online memes that linked it to "Barbie," a frothy blockbuster that opened around the same time.

Universal Pictures initially left Japan off its global release schedule for "Oppenheimer." Eventually picked up by Bitters End, a Japanese distributor of independent films, it was given a release date for after the Oscar awards ceremony.

Speaking to Reuters before the movie opened, atomic bomb survivor Teruko Yahata said she was eager to see it, in hopes that it would re-invigorate the debate over nuclear weapons.

Yahata, now 86, said she felt some empathy for the physicist behind the bomb. That sentiment was echoed by Rishu Kanemoto, a 19-year-old student, who saw the film on Friday.

"Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the atomic bombs were dropped, are certainly the victims," Kanemoto said.

"But I think even though the inventor is one of the perpetrators, he's also the victim caught up in the war," he added, referring to the ill-starred physicist.

"Oppenheimer"'" won seven Oscars, including best picture, best actor, best supporting actor, and best director.


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  1. The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

    12. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. Another mysterious explorer takes center stage in this gripping 2009 biography. Grann tells the story of Percy Fawcett, the archaeologist who vanished in the Amazon along with his son in 1925, supposedly in search of an ancient lost city.

  2. 50 Best Biographies of All Time

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    The best biographies give us a satisfying glimpse into a great person's life, while also teaching us about the context in which that person lived. Through biography, we can also learn history, psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy, and more. Reading a great biography is both fun and educational.

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  13. The 55 Best Biographies of All Time

    27. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie. Experience the life of Russian empress, Catherine the Great in vivid detail, courtesy of this biography by Massie. As one of the most remarkable female rulers, Catherine has an interesting story—and a tumultuous personal life—to share. 28.

  14. Best Biographies (1486 books)

    Comments Showing 1-50 of 65 (65 new) « previous 1 2 next ». back to top. post a comment ». 1,486 books based on 2914 votes: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbran...

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  22. Professor Cabrita wins 2024 HSS prize for best biography

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    My 50 personal favorite biography movies of all time. Honourable Mentions: Elvis (2022) Mank (2020) Dolemite Is My Name (2019) First Man (2018) The Disaster Artist (2017) The Danish Girl (2015) Trumbo (2015) 127 Hours (2010) Hachi (2009) Hunger (2008) The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (2007) The Basketball Diaries (1995) Quiz Show (1994) Glory (1989) My Left Foot (1989) Escape From Alcatraz ...

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  27. Back to Black (2024)

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    Let's say Person A is a famous singer who recently passed away. Person B researches and writes a fact-based story on the famous singer's life from start to finish. Person B's factual story of Person A's life is a biography. Types of biographies. Biographies don't always take the same approach or follow the same structure.

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