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50 Eye-Catching Autobiography Titles (+ How to Write Your Own)

POSTED ON Oct 12, 2023

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

You’ve written your life story. 

You’ve laid your heart bare before the world

So, what’s the best title for your one-of-a-kind masterpiece?

“____________: An Autobiography”?

Seriously, unless you’re a household name, using “autobiography” as part of your title might not work in your favor, but not to worry. You don’t have to be famous to write an autobiography , but you do need a title that will grab a buyer's attention, so they know your book is worth a second look.

Book Title Generator

Don't like it?

The purpose of this article is to break down what makes a standout autobiography title and the process for creating your own. 

Need autobiography titles? Let's dive in!

The secret sauce for writing an amazing book title.

The process of creating an autobiography book title that gets noticed starts with a marketer's mindset.

Yes, it all boils down to strategic book positioning in the marketplace. Creativity is a big part of it, but that’s a small part of the bigger picture. After all, if your book doesn't get in front of the people who would be most likely to read it, you can't change lives with the content inside!

Unlike fiction books or other types of nonfiction books (e.g. business books or textbooks) where there’s a specific category or genre expectation, autobiographies play by their own set of rules—the more creative the better. 

How to think like a marketer when creating your title

If you are self-publishing your book, then you’re probably already aware that marketing is a key component of your book’s success, but what is marketing exactly? 

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. 

When marketing your book, knowing how to write a good book title matters, because, along with your cover, it’s the first thing a potential buyer sees (reads) before making a buying decision. A casual search for “autobiography” on Amazon pulled up over 700,000 results. This doesn’t mean that every book belongs in the category, but it’s still a lot of books.

You might be asking how you get your book to rise to the top of search results.

Start with a great title. 

Here are some best practices:

  • Make your title relevant – You can never go wrong with a title that reflects the theme of your book . This will clue buyers into what to expect. You can also go with a significant statement or quote drawn directly from your story. Clever titles also work, but try to stay away from the cheesy ones that confuse buyers.
  • Appeal to your ideal audience’s needs – Every book is not for everyone. Target a specific reader type when creating your title. For example, meteorologist and television personality Ginger Zee titled her book Natural Disasters. This title works well for her because her book’s content is about the unpredictable “storms” of life she has faced and she also covers storms in her reporting. 
  • Stay away from clickbait – Or anything that leads readers to believe your book is about one thing but it’s something else. This only frustrates readers and could potentially lead to bad reviews. 
  • Use a primary keyword in your title if it fits – First Gen by Alejandra Campoverdi and Cooked by Jeff Henderson include keyword(s) that are relevant to buyer searches. 
  • Invite the reader into your story – This can be done by asking a question like the autobiography title What Are You Doing Here? by Baroness Floella Benjamin. Or, create an image in their mind like The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson or The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish. 

Hint: Keep it short. According to Amazon, “Customers are more likely to skim past long titles (over 60 characters). There are exceptions to the rules. You’ll see some in the list that follows.

Don’t forget about writing a subtitle for your book . They are optional but a great way to add a splash of flavor. 

50 eye-catching autobiography titles that inspire

After an exhaustive search in the autobiography categories of the top online book retailers, I selected 50 incredible autobiography titles as a starting point for creating an amazing title for your autobiography. Note: Memoir titles listed under the autobiography category are included in the list.

Autobiography titles about celebrities

  • What Are You Doing Here? – Baronness Floella Benjamin
  • Tis Herself – Maureen O’Hara
  • F inding Me by Viola Davis
  • Not That Fancy: Simple Lessons on Living, Loving, Eating, and Dusting Off Your Boots By Reba McEntire
  • Live Wire: Long-Winded Short Stories by Kelly Ripa
  • Thicker than Water by Kerry Washington
  • We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu
  • Enough Already: Learning to Love the Way I Am Today by Valerie Bertinelli
  • Just as I am by Cicely Tyson
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • Making It So by Patrick Stewart
  • Inside Out by Demi Moore
  • In Pieces by Sally Field
  • The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
  • Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder by William Shatner
  • Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
  • Look Out for the Little Guy! By Scott Lang
  • I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart, Neil Strauss
  • No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality by Michael J. Fox
  • Scenes from My Life by Michael K. Williams
  • The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe
  • I Came as a Shadow – John Thompson

Autobiography titles about authors

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  by Maya Angelou
  • Lit by Mary Karr

Autobiography titles about family

  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Mott Street by Ava Chin
  • The Girl in the Middle by Anais Granofsky
  • All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
  • The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson

Autobiography titles about immigration, culture, and race

  • Good Morning, Hope: A True Story of Refugee Twin Sisters and Their Triumph over War, Poverty, and Heartbreak by Argita Zalli, and Detina Zalli 
  • Negroland by Margo Jefferson
  • First Gen by Alejandra Campoverdi
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
  • Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story – Mazie K. Hirono
  • The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clementine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil

Autobiography titles about beating the odds

  • Cooked by Jeff Henderson
  • The Pale-Faced Lie by David Crow
  • Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Mann, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust by Michael Hingson and Susy Flory
  • When the Tears Dry by Meredith Hawkins
  • Reaching for the Moon by Katherine Johnson
  • 80 Percent Luck, 20 Percent Skill: My Life as a WWII Navy Ferry Pilot by Ralph T. Alshouse

Autobiography titles about faith

  • Like a River: Finding the Faith and Strength to Move Forward After Loss and Heartache by Granger Smith
  • The Barn by David Hill
  • All My Knotted-Up Life by Beth Moore

Autobiography titles about journalists, reporters, and media

  • Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One by Ginger Zee
  • Going There by Katie Couric
  • Rough Draft by Kati Tur
  • The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

Use a free tool to generate your own autobiography title

You obviously can't use these published autobiography titles for your own book – but you can use our free book title generator to come up with suggestions that you could use.

It's really easy to use, and instantly gives you an unlimited amount of working titles – or even final titles – to use for your book!

1. Select nonfiction for the book’s genre in the drop-down menu

biography titles

2. Fill in the details

For the next question, if you have a book description, type “yes” and add your description in the text box.

If you don’t have a description yet, answer “no” and fill out the questions. Eventually, you will need to write a book description , but this is often something our authors do after they complete their manuscript .

Incredible Biography Titles - Book Title Generator Description Question Section

3. Click “generate”

That's it! Get ready for some unique autobiography book title suggestions. Remember, if you don't like the one that you see, you can continue to generate as many as you'd like.

Final thoughts

Your autobiography title can be the difference between someone scrolling past your book on Amazon or stopping to read a sample. Whatever title you choose, remember that it’s just as much about you as your reader. Make them want to read your story by giving them something unique that piques their interest. 

Are you ready to take the next steps with your autobiography? We have a professional publishing team ready to guide you through the book development process. 

Interested in self-publishing? Click below to find out more.

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Can i use chatgpt to write a book: 7 ways to use ai in your writing, how to write an ebook: a start to finish guide , how to write a book about your life and get it published – 10 streamlined steps.

The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

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Blog – Posted on Monday, Jan 21

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  😉

Which biography should you read next?

Discover the perfect biography for you. Takes 30 seconds!

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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39 spicy titles for my memoir or yours

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Constructing the memoir of your life can be a truly grueling process. The most crucial element to consider, of course, is the enticing title. The stakes are incredibly high  — with the wrong label, your entire life could be inaccurately represented. For widespread applicability, I have laid out options for some niche lifestyles.

For the foodie:

  • BuzzFeed, what kind of cheese am I?
  • What to expect when you’re expecting a food baby
  • DTF: Down to feast?
  • I’m eating fries in my parked car
  • I’m just here for the cake
  • I almost just ate something healthy
  • The art of consuming Domino’s pizza
  • And then they gave me an oatmeal raisin cookie…
  • Boba for the soul
  • Coffee and carbs: A delicacy like no other
  • How did I get food on my forehead, again?
  • I put too much Kraft parmesan on my spaghetti
  • Are you going to finish that?

For the risqué:

  • I asked for a water cup and filled it with Coke
  • “This is my face. I’m not mad”: The plight of RBF
  • Nobody cares
  • Is it better to roast or to toast?
  • Sugar, spice and everything nice or sarcasm, Pepsi and everything sexy?
  • Do I want bangs, or should we just talk about my feelings?
  • Sorry, Mom.
  • “I’m 29. I can finally play a high schooler on TV. Thank you, Jackson Stewart”: On starting my Disney career later in life
  • I did a thing, and I’m not sorry
  • Goal Digger
  • I turned off my autocorrect, and I only journal in pen: A baddie’s guide to writing
  • Trial and lots of error

For the hot mess:

  • I never really know what’s going on
  • I’m late, and I’m sweating
  • Still in bed
  • Call me again in 3-5 business days
  • Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over my internal monologue
  • “I think I just said the funniest thing ever”: The story of my delusional comedy career
  • I haven’t changed my sheets in like a year.
  • Floor-seat mentality with a nosebleed budget
  • I wasn’t gonna cry in Starbucks though, yk?
  • Do I look like an Android user?
  • Rock my Crocs off
  • “Sorry, my Uber is here”: A beginner’s guide to exiting swiftly from awkward situations
  • Crap, I really need to finish my memoir

Okay, maybe these titles don’t reflect your life story in their simplicity, but hopefully they made you smile a bit.

For more stream of consciousness musings, contact Alanna Flores at alanna13 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Alanna Flores '22 is a Managing Editor of The Grind. Contact her at alanna13 'at' stanford.edu.

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biography titles

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!

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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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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 best autobiographies and memoirs of 2021.

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Brian Cox is punchy, David Harewood candid and Miriam Margolyes raucously indiscreet

All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

In a bonanza year for memoirs, Ruth Coker Burks got us off to a strong start with All the Young Men (Trapeze), a clear-eyed and poignant account of her years spent looking after Aids patients in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1980s. While visiting a friend in hospital, Burks witnessed a group of nurses drawing straws over who should enter a room labelled “Biohazard”, the ward for men with “that gay disease”. And so she took it upon herself to sit with the dying and bury them when their families wouldn’t. Later, as the scale of fear and prejudice became apparent, she helped patients with food, transport, social security and housing, often at enormous personal cost. Her book, written with Kevin Carr O’Leary, finds light in the darkness as it reveals the love and camaraderie of a hidden community fighting for its life.

Sadness and joy also go hand-in-hand in What It Feels Like for a Girl (Penguin), an exuberant account of Paris Lees’s tearaway teenage years in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, where “the streets are paved wi’ dog shit”. Her gender nonconformity is just one aspect of an adolescence that also features bullying, violence, prostitution, robbery and a spell in a young offenders’ institute. Yet despite the many traumas, Lees finds joy and kinship in the underground club scene and a group of drag queens who cocoon her in love and laughter.

Miriam Margolyes’s This Much Is True (John Murray) traces her path from cherished child of an Oxford GP to Bafta-winning actor to chat-show sofa staple, in a raucously indiscreet memoir replete with fruity tales of sexual experimentation, tricky co-stars and Olympic-level farting. And Bob Mortimer’s winningly heartfelt And Away… (Gallery) reveals the brilliant highs and terrible lows of his childhood as the “irritating runt” of four brothers, his initial career as a solicitor and subsequent reinvention as a celebrated comic alongside his partner in crime, Vic Reeves.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Themes of identity and belonging underpin Beautiful Country (Viking), Qian Julie Wang’s elegantly affecting account of her move from China to New York where she lived undocumented and under threat of deportation, and Nadia Owusu’s powerful Aftershocks (Sceptre), in which the author recalls a peripatetic childhood as the daughter of a volatile Armenian-American mother and a Ghanaian father, a United Nations official who died when she was 13. Both books tell remarkable stories of displacement, heartache and resilience.

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows (Bodley Head) is another tale of extraordinary resilience, as the artist Ai Weiwei vividly reflects on his own life and that of his father, who was a poet. Both men fell foul of the Chinese authorities: Ai’s father, Ai Qing, was exiled to a place nicknamed “Little Siberia”, where he lived with his young son in a dug-out pit with a roof made from mud and branches, while Ai himself was imprisoned in 2011 for 11 weeks on spurious tax charges. Lea Ypi’s Free: Coming of Age at the End of History (Penguin) is a beautifully written account of life under a crumbling Stalinist system in Albania and the shock and chaos of what came next. In telling her story and examining the political systems in which she was raised, the author and LSE professor asks tough questions about the nature of freedom.

In Maybe I Don’t Belong Here (Bluebird), the actor David Harewood lays bare his struggles with racial injustice and mental illness, and shows how these things are connected. Harewood’s childhood was punctuated by racist abuse; later, as he tried to get his career off the ground, he was bullied by colleagues and critics. At 23, he had a psychotic breakdown during which it took six police officers to restrain him, and was dispatched to a psychiatric ward where, he learns from his hospital records, he was described as a “large black man” and administered drugs at four times the recommended dose. His recollections of his unravelling, treatment and recovery are acutely drawn.

Both/And: A Life in Many World Huma Abedin

Huma Abedin’s electrifying memoir Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds (Simon & Schuster) grapples with her multiple identities as a woman with Indian parents, who was born in Michigan and raised in Saudi Arabia. It is also a brave and unflinching account of her job as aide to Hillary Clinton and her years as the wife of Anthony Weiner , the congressman at the centre of a sexting scandal that landed him in prison, prompted an investigation by child services and ultimately derailed Clinton’s presidential campaign. Of the night Abedin learned her work emails had been discovered on her husband’s laptop, which would lead to the FBI reopening its investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information, she recalls: “I wrote one line in my notebook. ‘I do not know how I am going to survive this. Help me God.’”

The actor Brian Cox lost his father to pancreatic cancer when he was eight years old, his mother battled with mental illness and his childhood was one of almost Dickensian poverty. But you won’t find self-pity in his meandering but amusingly irreverent memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat (Quercus). Instead, we get a whistlestop tour of his working life, during which he takes entertaining pot-shots at Johnny Depp (“overrated”), Steven Seagal (“ludicrous”) and Edward Norton (“a pain in the arse”).

Frances Wilson Burning Man- The Ascent of DH Lawrence

Finally, two terrific biographies. Frances Wilson’s smart and scholarly Burning Man: The Ascent of DH Lawrence (Bloomsbury) paints a vivid picture of a brilliant writer who was “censored and worshipped” in his lifetime, and remained furious at the world and at those not sufficiently cognisant of his genius.

And Paula Byrne’s The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym (William Collins), about the British postwar novelist whom Philip Larkin compared to Jane Austen, is a touching and revealing portrait of a flawed romantic and a free spirit.

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Books Fall Preview: Biographies

5 New Biographies to Read This Season

The first major study of Oscar Wilde in decades, the conclusion of a “magisterial” series on Pablo Picasso, and more.

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Joumana Khatib

By Joumana Khatib

‘ Oscar Wilde: A Life ,’ by Matthew Sturgis

It’s been over 30 years since the last major biography of Wilde, and Sturgis draws on new material and research (including a full transcript of his catastrophic libel trial). “The established persona of Oscar Wilde — the unflappable, epigrammatic Aesthete — is so compelling that it is hard not to be seduced by it,” Sturgis writes, as he sets out to restore Wilde to his era and the facts of his life.

Knopf, Oct. 12

‘ Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane ,’ by Paul Auster

Crane, a journalist and writer best remembered for his novel “The Red Badge of Courage,” died in 1900 at 28 — before he could drive an automobile or listen to a radio. And yet, Auster says, “he can now be regarded as the first American modernist, the man most responsible for changing the way we see the world through the lens of the written word.” Auster, who is upfront about his admiration for his subject, sets out to recover Crane from scholars and introduce him to a broader swath of new readers.

Henry Holt, Oct. 26 | Read our review

Tell us: Whose biography are you most excited to read this fall?

‘ the young h.g. wells: changing the world, ’ by claire tomalin.

Tomalin, a noted literary biographer whose previous subjects have included Jane Austen , Mary Wollstonecraft and Charles Dickens , turns to the early years of Wells, who is perhaps best remembered for such works of science fiction as “The War of the Worlds” and “The Invisible Man.” She traces his early challenges — poverty, his efforts to get an education and poor health — and explores the sudden success he enjoyed in 1895 with his first novel, “ The Time Machine .”

Penguin Press, Nov. 2

‘ Scientist: E.O. Wilson: A Life in Nature ,’ by Richard Rhodes

Long considered Darwin’s successor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist Wilson started his career studying the social lives of ants before his groundbreaking study of human behavior, “Sociobiology.” Wilson, now 92, agreed to participate in this biography, and Rhodes was able to interview his colleagues, too. It’s an impressive account of one of the 20th century’s most prominent biologists, for whom the natural world is “a sanctuary and a realm of boundless adventure; the fewer the people in it, the better.”

Doubleday, Nov. 9

‘ A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years 1933-1943 ,’ by John Richardson

This book concludes Richardson’s four-volume biography of Picasso , and comes two years after Richardson’s death . He drew on his intimate knowledge of Picasso along with impressive amounts of research to illustrate the artist’s work and life — and the centrality of Picasso to his era. (Our critic praised one installment as “magisterial and definitive.”) This volume, set during the Spanish Civil War and the early years of World War II, follows Picasso as he completed some of his most enduring works: portraits of Marie Thérèse and Dora Maar, and his masterpiece “Guernica.”

Knopf, Nov. 16

Explore More in Books

Want to know about the best books to read and the latest news start here..

Memoirs by the rich have always been major publishing events. We looked back at 2023’s biggest contributions to the genre .

In an interview, the Nobel Prize-winning author Jon Fosse said that a brush with death during childhood influenced all his literary work : fiction, plays and poetry.

Nora Roberts, a titan of the romance world, discussed how she redefined a genre that was all too easy to dismiss .

Dhonielle Clayton is trying to make the book world more inclusive  by creating a pipeline for fiction that features protagonists with diverse backgrounds.

Do you want to be a better reader?   Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .

Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .

Jessica Wismar

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Top Biography Titles

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The Glass Castle

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A Child Called 'It'

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A Long Way Gone

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Into the Wild

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Stick Figure

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If I Die in a Combat Zone

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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I Am Malala

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Hole in My Life

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This Star Won't Go Out

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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Black Like Me

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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Angela's Ashes

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Girl, Interrupted

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The Why Not 100

Saturday, May 3, 2014

69 awesome and awful autobiography titles.

biography titles

8 comments:

biography titles

LOL: Hitch-22

Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me (R. Kelly) Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir (George Clinton)

larger than life [eddie large]

Thanks for this list. It gave me the idea to create the best Autobiography Quotes. Keep up with the good work!

this helped me a lot with homework

Wow.great post.

lolol very punny !

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This isn’t the first time one of the stars has publicly commented about the other.

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The 1972 crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 and the passengers’ subsequent fight for survival are the subject of a new Netflix movie.

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Jeffrey Epstein

Rafael Nadal

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ryan seacrest smiles at the camera, he wears a navy blue blazer with a multi color pocket square over a black polo shirt

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Notorious figures and acts.

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Where Is Gypsy Rose Blanchard Now?

New gypsy rose blanchard docuseries is coming soon.

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Prince Harry, Michelle Obama, and Matthew Perry are just some of the names topping the charts.

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Data from Baker & Taylor based on the most popular biographies & memoirs sold to U.S. public libraries in the six months prior to the week ending March 31, 2023.

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