• Awards Season
  • Big Stories
  • Pop Culture
  • Video Games
  • Celebrities

Patricia Puentes

The 26 Most Anticipated Books of 2022

books with biography

We’ve already told you what’s new and exciting when it comes to movies , TV shows and video games in 2022. And since there’s a lot of 2022 ahead of us, let’s take an updated look at our selection of some of the year’s most anticipated books so that you keep adding titles to your “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads. 

Since thrillers, mysteries, romance, YA offerings and science-fiction tend to be readers pleasers, we’ve included a bunch of those, as well as some historical fiction, memoirs and poetry.

Fiction Books That Have Already Debuted in 2022

books with biography

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho (January 4, 2022). The Taiwan-born and Southern California-raised Jean Chen Ho writes her debut novel with this tale of two young Taiwanese-American women and friends who grow up in Los Angeles and float in and out of each other’s lives when Fiona moves to New York. 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan (January 11, 2022). Another debut novel on this list is from the Malaysia-born Sue Lynn Tan, who studied in London and France and lives in Hong Kong. The YA fantasy novel, which is the first part of a duology, tells the story of Xingyin. Her mother has been hiding her after she stole the elixir of immortality and was exiled. But when her magic manifests and is discovered, Xingyin needs to leave her mother and embark on a dangerous quest to save her. 

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (January 11, 2022). After the heartbreaking A Little Life , Hawaiian author Hanya Yanagihara returns with this novel that spans three centuries and is set in an alternate version of America in 1893, 1993 and 2093. The book offers “three different versions of the American experiment, about lovers, family, loss and the elusive promise of utopia,” according to Penguin Random House’s synopsis.

Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover (January 18, 2022). Bestselling romance author Colleen Hoover returns with this story about Kenna, a woman who’s been in prison for five years and goes back home trying to reunite with her 4-year-old daughter. The task proves difficult, and her only link to her daughter is Ledger, a local bar owner. As the connection between the two of them grows stronger, Kenna must find a path to atone for her past.

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (February 1, 2022). This historical fiction debut novel by Charmaine Wilkerson follows two siblings as their mother dies in present-day California, leaving them an unusual inheritance: a traditional Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe and a voice recording in which she talks about the past. The siblings could find their way back to each other, and to their mom, with this family history.

House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2) by Sarah J. Maas (February 15, 2022). You can always count on the prolific Sarah J. Maas to keep delivering 700-plus-page volumes every year. While she’s still at work with her A Court of Thorns and Roses long series, Maas returns now to Crescent City for a second installment in which Bryce and Hunt are trying to get back to normal after saving the city. But, of course, war is always looming.

Gwendy’s Final Task by Stephen King (February 15, 2022). And while we’re talking about prolific authors, let’s mention one of the most illustrious ones. Master of horror — and of posting cute photos of his doggie on Twitter — Stephen King proves once again in 2022 how much of a non-procrastinator he is. In his new novel, Gwendy is a novelist and rising political star confronted by her past. At 12, a stranger gave her a mysterious box. It offered treats but also destruction: None of its seven-colored buttons should be pushed. 

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley (February 22, 2022). After the success of The Guest List — it received the Goodreads Choice Award in Mystery & Thriller last year — Lucy Foley returns with a new puzzle. Broke and alone, Jess asks her half-brother Ben if she could crash at his place for a bit. But when she gets to his Paris apartment, not only is Ben not there, but the place seems way nicer than what he could have afforded. With her brother missing, Jess starts questioning what may have happened and tries to find answers among the building’s neighbors. 

Gallant by V.E. Schwab (March 1, 2022). After the bestselling success of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue , V.E./Victoria Schwab returns with another fantasy proposal good for adults and YA audiences alike. In Gallant , Olivia only has her mother’s journal as a memento of her past. When she’s invited to Gallant, she feels at home there, even if no one was expecting her and half-formed ghouls are haunting the place. She wants to uncover what secrets the place holds.

The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich (March 22, 2022). After the success of the Stephanie Plum and Wicked series, bestselling author Janet Evanovich launches a promising new series. Gabriela Rose is a recovery agent hired by people and companies who want to recover all kinds of valuable things. But when she’s forced to work for her own family, Gabriela ends up in the jungles of Peru looking for the Ring of Solomon and the lost treasure of Cortez. The main problem is that her ex-husband, Rafer, is the one who has the map that could take her to the treasure. 

Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong (April 5, 2022). After his heart-wrenching epistolary novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous , the Vietnamese-American Ocean Vuong goes back to his origins with this poetry collection in which he searches for life after his mother’s death. “Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America,” reads the book’s synopsis.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (April 5, 2022). If you, too, read Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic and hopeful tale Station Eleven during the early months of the pandemic, you may want to know more about the Canadian author’s upcoming science-fiction work. In Sea of Tranquility , a detective in the black-skied Night City is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness. He’ll discover a series of lives upended there. 

2022’s Most Anticipated Fiction Books

books with biography

Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins (April 14, 2022). After Paula Hawkins’ latest novel made it to Ask Media Group’s mystery-themed book club last year , we couldn’t leave her new work behind. Best friends Edie, Jake and Ryan see their world torn apart when Jake is brutally murdered and Ryan accused of it. Edie is devastated and alone, living in the remote house she shared with Jake. The problem is that somebody is watching…

Book Lovers by Emily Henry (May 3, 2022). Master of contemporary romance novels Emily Henry — she’s the author of the aptly titled Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation — returns with this story about Nora, a literary agent whose life is books. When Nora decides to go away on vacation with her sister Libby, she keeps bumping into Charlie, a bookish editor she’s known for years who has never piqued her interest.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (May 3, 2022). After One Last Stop and Red, White & Royal Blue, LGBTQ+ romance royal Casey McQuiston returns with this YA novel. In I Kissed Shara Wheeler , Chloe is vying for the valedictorian title at high school when her main rival, prom queen Shara Wheeler, kisses her and then proceeds to vanish. Chloe is not the only person Shara’s kissed. The three kissed-ones try to untangle the clues Shara’s left behind and find her.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-García (July 19, 2022). After Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night , the Mexican-Canadian author Silvia Moreno-García returns to Gothic horror ingredients with this reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set in 19th-century Mexico. 

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds (November 29, 2022). Here’s yet another YA offering with crossover appeal for any age with this debut novel by Jas Hammonds. Avery is a 17 year old forced to leave her life in D.C. and live at her terminally ill grandmother’s home in a small Southern town. She copes with her mother and grandmother’s constant arguments by finding friendship in Simone, her next-door neighbor, and Jade, the daughter of the town’s prominent family. The novel explores the racist history of the town and how it’s marked its residents while dedicating time to the coming of age of Avery and the romance that blossoms with Simone.

Memoirs and Nonfiction Books That Have Already Debuted in 2022

books with biography

Putting the Rabbit in the Hat by Brian Cox (January 18, 2022). Craving some more behind-the-scenes Succession drama after the controversial New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong ? Maybe try this Brian Cox memoir. The actor who plays the patriarch and media mogul Logan Roy in the HBO hit recounts here his working-class childhood in Scotland all the way to his days on the Emmy-winning TV show about a very dysfunctional family.

The Lonely Hunter: Why the Search for Love Is Broken by Aimée Lutkin (February 8, 2022). The 30-something single writer Aimée Lutkin found herself surrounded by couples at a party. After being asked about her love life and arguing being alone could be the endgame, the author went on a search to try to answer some fundamental questions: Why is there so much pressure to be in a relationship? Why is everyone so uncomfortable around single people? Why does it seem like your real life can’t start until you meet The One? And is it possible to be single without being lonely? 

We Should All Be Feminists: A Guided Journal by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (March 1, 2022). After her 2014 essay “We Should All Be Feminists” , adapted from her TEDx Talk, Nigerian author and feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie revisits her work with this Guided Journal . The journal is meant to encourage readers to define feminism in their own voices and tell their stories, as well as featuring prompts, quotes and important events in the history of feminism.

Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces 2004–2021 by Margaret Atwood (March 1, 2022). Why do people tell stories? What do zombies have to do with authoritarianism? How can we live on our planet? How much of yourself can you give away without evaporating? The Handmaid’s Tale author and feminist icon Margaret Atwood penned this series of essays trying to find the answers to these and other burning questions.

All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep: Hope–And Hard Pills to Swallow–About Fighting for Black Lives by André Henry (March 22, 2022). “In this personal and thought-provoking book, Henry explores how the historical divides between Black people and non-Black people are expressed through our most mundane interactions, and why this struggle won’t be resolved through civil discourse, diversity hires, interracial relationships, or education,” reads Penguin Random House’s synopsis of this work by musician and writer André Henry.

2022’s Most Anticipated Memoirs and Nonfiction Books

books with biography

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis (April 26, 2022). Actress and producer Viola Davis gets personal with this memoir that covers her childhood days coming of age in Rhode Island and spans to her present day. The Academy Award-winning Black actress has not only dominated TV but has also managed to transition into an incredibly prestigious film career.

Paradise Falls: The True Story of an Environmental Catastrophe by Keith O’Brien (April 12, 2022). Journalist Keith O’Brien’s work of narrative reportage tells the story of Lois Gibbs and Luella Kenny, two mothers who, in the 1970s, exposed a toxic waste dumping site that was causing a public health crisis and polluting their neighborhood in Niagara Falls. It was uncovered that the city’s largest employer, Hooker Chemical, had been disposing of thousands of tons of toxic waste in the town’s canal.

Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality by Julia Shaw (June 28, 2022): Psychologist Julia Shaw takes a scientific approach to sexuality with this exploration of bisexuality. Shaw, who is bisexual herself, explores the complexities of the human sexual experience both from a personal and scientific perspective and writes about the invisibility of bisexuals in our society.

Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa (June 14, 2022). Linda Villarosa’s 2018 New York Times article “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis” exposed the flagrant racial disparities in the U.S. healthcare system when it comes to childbirth. With her new work, the author exposes the reasons why Black people in America “live sicker and die quicker” compared to white people.


books with biography

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date. For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

  Javascript is not enabled in your browser. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site.    Learn how to enable JavaScript on your browser

Biography Books

Featured in books, customer favorites.

New Releases

Coming soon.

Special Values

Special Collections

Bookseller Favorites

Standard Order

I'm Glad My Mom Died

Our Monthly Nonfiction Picks

This month's pick: written in bone.

We were big fans of Sue Black’s 2020 All That Remains . Her latest book, Written in Bone, continues the True Crime read without just being prurient. It's a treat for fans of Mary Roach , CSI shows, murder mysteries, and crime thrillers.

Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind

Just Announced From Barbra Streisand

by Barbra Streisand

My Name Is Barbra

Happy days are here again! EGOT, icon, and THE funny girl herself shares her story—from Brooklyn to Broadway to Brolin and everything in between. My Name Is Barbra is available November 7th. Order your copy today!



Buy One, Get One 50% Off

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Featured Categories

Business Biography

Escape Into Fascinating Life Stories

Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker


A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

RD.COM Arts & Entertainment Books

30 Best Biography Books You Should Have Read by Now

Jennifer Brozak

From your favorite figures to hidden stories you've never heard, this list of biographies will keep you glued to the page.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

Bibliography Collage

An in-depth look into some fascinating figures

The best biographies help us learn about and contemplate the world. By reading about pivotal figures in history, we better understand the cultural context that we live in today. In learning the life stories of people who have faced different challenges and circumstances than we have, we can gain a deeper understanding of others, develop more empathy, and help forge our own paths. And while autobiographies and memoirs can lend an air of intimacy, biography books give you a more unbiased view of a person and an era.

Whether you’re an avid reader of biographies looking for lesser-known titles or are new to the genre and want an introduction to the best of the best, we’ve got something for you. We took a cross section of critically acclaimed and reader-recommended books that shine a light on some of the most fascinating, hidden, or influential stories you’ll want to learn about. These picks rank not just among the best nonfiction books but also the best books of all time, and you’re definitely in for a treat.

1. Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude (2020)

1. Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude (2020)

In these tumultuous times, average citizens and leaders alike have been turning to the words of James Baldwin, one of the greatest writers on race in America . In this recent biography of Baldwin, author Eddie S. Glaude weaves Baldwin’s life and words from newly surfaced interviews with the state of racial tension in America today. In doing so, he shines Baldwin’s insight from the past onto current events and lights a path toward a better future. Begin Again was named one of the best books of the year by Time , the Washington Post , and the Chicago Tribune , and it won the prestigious Stowe Prize.

2. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts (1982)

2. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts (1982)

You may have seen the 2008 film Milk starring Sean Penn, but this biography goes deeper into Harvey Milk’s personal life and career, and wider in applying Milk’s story as a parallel for so much of what was happening to the gay community across the United States at the time. As one of the first openly gay public officials, Milk was a target, and his life was tragically taken before we could see the full potential of his charismatic leadership. Written in 1982 by San Francisco reporter Randy Shilts, there are aspects of this account that are now dated, but it vividly captures the outlook and political complexity of San Francisco in the 1970s. While you’re looking for new reading material, check out these other LGBTQ books that are inspiring, compelling, and entertaining.

3. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography by Miriam Pawel (2014)

3. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography by Miriam Pawel (2014)

A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the California Book Award, this can easily be considered one of the best biographies of all time. It’s the first ​​comprehensive biography of Cesar Chavez, one of the most influential Latinx figures in American history. Chavez’s remarkable life, mind, and journey from migrant worker to movement leader is written poignantly and with nuance by Miriam Pawel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

4. Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White (2004)

4. Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White (2004)

Alice Walker has given us some of the most celebrated and beloved books, including The Color Purple , which made her the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize. In this comprehensive biography, Evelyn C. White conducts extensive research and numerous interviews and draws connections between Walker’s early life events, societal ills, and the brilliant writer that Walker would become. Whether you’ve read Walker’s work already or not, this is a biography you won’t want to miss. Here are more of the best books by female authors .

5. In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs by Stephen M. Ward (2016)

5. In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs by Stephen M. Ward (2016)

In this dual biography, Stephen M. Ward (professor of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan) skillfully crafts the rarely told story of James and Grace Lee Boggs. A true power couple, these intellectual and revolutionary minds were instrumental in the struggle for Black freedom. Hailing from different backgrounds, they moved along parallel paths until they converged in Detroit. Ward’s deep knowledge of the city shines through as well, making this a fascinating read for anyone interested in U.S. history, activism, labor movements, or love stories. Don’t miss these other books by Black authors across all genres.

6. The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller (2001)

6. The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller (2001)

The three Brontë sisters have been the subject of many biographies and much gossip. In this examination, author Lucasta Miller illustrates how the evolving views of the Brontës say more about the times in which these biographies were written than they do about the famous siblings themselves. Through research, Miller dispels myths and poses new theories, drawing readers in with her funny and frank style.

7. Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero by David Maraniss (2006)

7. Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss (2006)

Yes, this is a book for sports fans, but it’s also for anyone who admires trailblazers and humanitarians. With narrative pacing that will sweep away any reader, Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss shows us why Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente meant so much to so many. Born in Puerto Rico, he broke barriers in baseball and felt a responsibility to help wherever he could. He died while trying to bring aid to Nicaragua, ending a bright light of a life far too soon. While this could work well for young baseball fans, depending on their age, you’ll also want to peruse this list of nonfiction books for kids .

8. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap (2007)

8. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap (2007)

Another biography for sports fans and world-history lovers, this in-depth account of Jesse Owens’ inspiring victories is an illuminating page-turner. Sports journalist and ESPN contributor Jeremy Schaap brings us to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with vivid prose. We see what Owens was up against both at home and abroad, and how his wins reverberated across the world. Owens’ gold medals were both a personal triumph and a triumph against Nazi ideology. This is a fascinating read, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with Jesse Owens.

9. Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama by Diane Carol Fujino (2005)

9. Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama by Diane Carol Fujino (2005)

The public first became widely aware of Yuri Kochiyama when Malcolm X was assassinated. She was the woman who was by his side and cradled his head as he left this world. Activist, professor, and author Diane Carol Fujino weaves archival research and interviews to show who Kochiyama was before and after this moment, and how her early experiences led to a life dedicated to activism and solidarity-building between Black and Asian American communities . From the internment of Japanese Americans to the Black movement in Harlem and beyond, this first biography of Kochiyama uncovers important and rarely discussed moments in U.S. history.

10. Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914–1948 by Ramachandra Guha (2018)

10. Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914–1948 by Ramachandra Guha (2018)

Though everyone has heard of Gandhi and may even have some of his quotes framed, few know the story of his life. This biography takes us from his departure from South Africa to his assassination, the years of his remarkable life that changed the world the most dramatically. Author Ramachandra Guha is an acclaimed historian, and this serves not only as the story of a revolutionary but also as a lesson in India’s complex social structures.

11. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell (2015)

11. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell (2015)

If you’ve seen Hamilton , you probably remember the Marquis de Lafayette as the fun-loving young pal of Alexander Hamilton. In this original biography, best-selling author Sarah Vowell makes General Lafayette’s story just as entertaining as his portrayal in the musical. The Frenchman’s fast-paced, international life and his time in Washington’s army take center stage, which enables us to meet a cast of famous characters through his eyes, including Thomas Jefferson, Marie Antoinette, and Benjamin Franklin. If you don’t mind a little creative license, try these historical fiction books you won’t be able to put down.

12. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (2012)

12. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (2012)

Hands down one of the best biographies, The Black Count won the Pulitzer in 2013. Famed novelist Alexandre Dumas (known for The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers ) drew inspiration from the life of his father, Alex Dumas. What wasn’t included in his stories was that his father was the son of a slave—a Black man in a White world. Born in 1762 in Saint-Domingue, the young Alex moved to France, where he rose in the ranks to become a highly regarded general. His story is arguably more fascinating than his son’s fiction.

13. Wong Kar-Wai: Auteur of Time by Stephen Teo (2005)

13. Wong Kar-Wai: Auteur of Time by Stephen Teo (2005)

With the popularity of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings , audiences took notice of star Tony Leung. Those in the know recognize Leung from his early work, most notably films like Days of Being Wild , Chungking Express , In the Mood for Love , and 2046 , all directed by the iconic Wong Kar-Wai. In this first book-length biography of the legendary director, readers get a behind-the-scenes look at Hong Kong cinema, as well as insight into Kar-Wai’s influences and how he redefined the film industry.

14. Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith (2012)

14. Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith (2012)

If you can’t get enough of The Crown on Netflix, this biography will be your cup of tea. This is author Sally Bedell Smith’s third biography of a member of the royal family, and her expertise in making connections and presenting research shines. Smith takes us into the meeting rooms, social activities, and international tours that fill Queen Elizabeth II’s life . We see the effects of being constantly in the public eye and get to know a seemingly untouchable person on a human level, reminding us that she was once just a young girl who took on a monumental responsibility.

15. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming (2017)

15. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming (2017)

Some biographies interest us because we are fans of their famous subjects. Other biographies grip us because they show us untold stories we could only otherwise imagine. This biography of Doaa Al Zamel, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee, makes vivid a crisis that often feels too overwhelming to comprehend. Her story is one of too many like it, and her humanity makes it impossible to look away. If you haven’t read this book yet, start a book club and spread the word. This is a story that needs to be heard.

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter (2018)

16. Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter (2018)

Another biography written about a little-known but immensely impactful person, this book is written with an insider’s view and nuanced objectivity. You may not have heard of Eunice Hunton Carter, but after reading this biography written by her grandson, you won’t be able to forget her. The granddaughter of slaves and one of the first women to graduate Smith College with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in just four years, Carter was the only prosecutor sharp enough to bring down Lucky Luciano, a dangerous Mafia boss.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2015)

17. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2015)

This is not your typical biography. It’s peppered with quotes, illustrations, anecdotes, and pop culture references. In fact, it might remind you of something you’d scroll through on the Internet. That’s because co-author Knizhnik created the wildly popular Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr. Co-author Carmon interviewed Justice Ginsburg for MSNBC (and sat down with her to fact-check this book), so you can be sure you’re getting well-researched facts as well as entertainment in this bestseller. A perfect read for anyone who misses RBG, may she rest in peace and power. You’ll also love these Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes on women, equality, and justice. And soon, you’ll be able to catch RBG on a new 2023 stamp .

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd (2003)

18. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd (2003)

Writer Zora Neale Hurston’s colorful life and personality make for excellent reading. Hurston was a prolific author who created boundary-pushing work in just about every genre, and her biography also touches upon important figures and events. With friendships that included Langston Hughes, rivals that included Richard Wright, and a life span that included the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, World War II, and the beginning of the civil rights movement, Hurston’s life was as full and complex as her novels.

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)

19. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)

This book remains the gold standard for modern biographies. Johnson, a poet, essayist, biographer, and lexicographer, is best known for publishing A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755—widely considered one of the best dictionaries ever published. Although not much is known about Johnson’s early life, this biography showcases the rise of Johnson’s tremendous career and details his ability to overcome adversity, including his struggles with anxiety, hearing loss, partial blindness, and behavioral tics, which were diagnosed posthumously as Tourette’s syndrome. If poems pique your interest, pick up a few of the best poetry books of all time, too.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)

20. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)

This biography by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin profiles the life of America’s 16th president, as well as four members of his cabinet who served with him from 1861 to 1865. Critics consider this book, which won the 2006 Lincoln Prize, to be one of the most insightful and readable portraits of Lincoln because it focuses on personalities, not politics—namely, how Lincoln managed to build relationships with some of his former rivals.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2001)

21. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2001)

Written by award-winning science writer Rebecca Skloot, this book tells the tragic story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor Black tobacco farmer and mother of five who died from an aggressive form of cervical cancer in 1951, at age 31. Before she died, researchers took her tumor cells without her knowledge or her family’s permission. Those cells—which now number in the billions and are known as HeLa cells—became one of the most crucial tools in the field of medicine. Skloot expertly weaves a discussion of race and ethics into this tale of scientific discovery.

John Adams by David McCullough (2002)

22. John Adams by David McCullough (2002)

It’s easy to see why critics love this Pulitzer Prize-winning portrait of our second president. Written by American historian and esteemed author David McCullough, John Adams is a soaring, powerful read. It takes the reader on an in-depth journey of Adams’ early life and through his presidency and marriage to Abigail. While it focuses on politics, it’s also a love story and a study of human nature and loyalty. It was so well received that it spawned the critically acclaimed HBO series of the same name. Here are more book-to-movie adaptations that are worth a watch.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)

23. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)

Reading this article on a smartphone? You likely have Steve Jobs to thank for that. Written by notable biographer Walter Isaacson, this book provides readers with a never-before-seen, unrestricted, and unfiltered glimpse into the Apple founder’s life. Isaacson based the book on more than 40 interviews that he held with Jobs over a period of several years while Jobs was terminally ill, as well as hundreds of interviews he conducted with Jobs’ family members, friends, and colleagues. Jobs was and still is widely considered one of the world’s greatest innovators, and this book presents a concise yet intricate look at the man behind the myth.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (2001)

24. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (2001)

Not so much a singular biography as a collection of biographies, this book profiles the hardships that three sharecropper families faced during the Great Depression. Along with photographer Walker Evans’ stark images, the book details the suffering endured by the three poverty-stricken families as they struggle to survive the Dust Bowl’s harsh conditions. Although it was a commercial flop at the time, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is now widely considered to be a pillar of exemplary journalism.

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman (2010)

25. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman (2010)

Another collection of biographies, this book is the follow-up to Gender Outlaw , Kate Bornstein’s groundbreaking and genre-breaking memoir about her transformation from man to woman. In this sequel, Bornstein and co-author S. Bear Bergman turn our attention to the next generation of artists, creatives, and professionals across the trans spectrum. Through essays, conversations, and art, we get to see some of the beautiful diversity in the trans community. To learn more about gender identity, find out exactly what non-binary means —and why it’s important to understand.

Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original "Girl" Reporter, Nelly Bly by Deborah Noyes (2017)

26. Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nelly Bly by Deborah Noyes (2017)

In 1887, Pittsburgh-based reporter Nelly Bly feigned insanity at a boarding house so that she would be involuntarily committed to a 10-day stay at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island and could report on the horrific conditions present at the clinic. Bly’s exposé, aptly titled Ten Days in a Mad-House , was the obvious catalyst for this book by Deborah Noyes, which also delves into Bly’s entire reporting career, up to the time of her death. While the book is marketed as middle school nonfiction and it’s one of the best books for teens and tweens, its focus on sexism in the workplace, mental health, and gender norms make it a must-read for adults, too.

Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert (1991)

27. Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert (1991)

This biography details the life and career of one of the world’s greatest leaders: Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, who served as the British Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and then again between 1951 and 1955. This book highlights aspects of Churchill’s life that are seldom discussed: his childhood and upbringing as a wealthy aristocrat; his early career in the army and government; his advocacy of the Labor Party; and, of course, his leadership during World War II, where he led his country to victory against Nazi Germany.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (2007)

28. Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (2007)

Yes, Albert Einstein was a genius, and plenty has already been written about the physicist’s Nobel Prize-winning scientific discoveries. Where this book differs, however, is in its examination of the aspects of Einstein’s life that made him human and relatable. Because of Einstein’s “sassy attitude,” for example, he was unable to find a job after graduating from Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, where he studied physics. One of the best biographies on Einstein, the book discusses how Einstein’s insolent personality served as the impetus for his groundbreaking discoveries and also explores his often rocky relationships with his wives, other women, his children, and his colleagues.

Eleanor Roosevelt: The Early Years by Blanche Wieson Cook (1992)

29. Eleanor Roosevelt: The Early Years by Blanche Wieson Cook (1992)

The first of a three-volume set by noted history professor Blanche Wieson Cook, this biography looks at the woman who was often referred to as the greatest First Lady the United States has ever had. In this volume, Cook explores the early parts of Roosevelt’s life, including her birth into a wealthy family that was torn apart by alcoholism; an unhappy childhood that stemmed from the early death of her parents; her education at a private finishing school; and her marriage to FDR.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2020)

30. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2020)

Are you a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton ? If so, this biography by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow is a must-read. The book—jokingly referred to as “Hamiltome” because of its hefty size—chronicles the life of this Founding Father. It starts with Hamilton’s humble beginnings as an orphan, then winds its way through his service as a staunch patriot in George Washington’s army. It also showcases Hamilton’s meteoric rise to become the first Treasury Secretary of the United States before ending with his death, which came at the hands of a duel with Aaron Burr. Next, switch gears and check out some of the best fiction books to read this year.

Tria Wen

We are no longer supporting IE (Internet Explorer) as we strive to provide site experiences for browsers that support new web standards and security practices.

We recommend our users to update the browser.

Goodreads Celebrates Women's History Month

New Releases Tagged "Biography"

A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe

Quotes Tagged “Biography”

Betty Mahmoody

Videos Tagged “Biography”

I am Steve Austin: This is My Story

Groups Tagged "Biography"

World History

Welcome back. Just a moment while we sign you in to your Goodreads account.

books with biography

The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

Join Discovery, the new community for book lovers

Trust book recommendations from real people, not robots 🤓

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 !

Continue reading

More posts from across the blog.

12 Best Kurt Vonnegut Books, Ranked By Reading Order

Our guide to the essential Kurt Vonnegut books that cement his reputation as one of literature’s funniest and most profound writers.

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...

60+ Best Poetry Books of All Time

Poetry is an art form that predates written text. It fuses meaning, sound, and rhythm<...

Heard about Reedsy Discovery?

Trust real people, not robots, to give you book recommendations.

Or sign up with an

Or sign up with your social account

books with biography

Best Sellers in Biographies



books with biography

The Art of Living

Best Biographies: The 70 BEST Biography Books of All Time

Blog > Book Recommendations

Arthur Worsley

Looking for the best biographies of all time?

You're in the right place!

Here's what you'll find on this page...

What Is a Biography?

I’ve scoured the internet for lists of top biographies , I’ve taken your suggestions on the best memoirs and best autobiographies you’ve ever read and I’ve collected them here in the definitive list of best biography books ever written.

What is a biography? As far as this list is concerned, a biography is any story that follows the life of a person. Some books explore events, objects or places. Many of those may use people’s stories to colour their narratives. But the difference between those books and the best historical biographies is that good biographies keep both eyes on their heroes.

The 70 Best Biographies Ever Written

Why these best biographies and not others? To stay objective, I rank all my book recommendations by what’s most loved (Goodreads rating), what’s most popular (Goodreads review count) and what’s proven timelessly relevant (first publication date).

This isn’t a whimsical list . It’s a data-driven, crowdsourced collection of the best biographies ever published as decided by book lovers just like you. ( Note : To maximise diversity, I only include the top ranking book from any series in a list.)

And if you think something's missing?  I LOVE book recommendations so if there are any other best biographies that you think deserve mentioning, email me and I’ll be sure to include them in the next round of updates.

Until then, enjoy this ultimate list of the 70 best biographies of all time...

Books 1-10: The Top 10 Best Biographies of All Time

The top 10 best biographies of all time are...

Best Biographies: Man's Search for Meaning

Books 11-70: The Best Biographies to Read Next

Here are the next best biographies from my database...

Best Biographies FAQs

Why you should read biographies.

The best biographies combine the life-wisdom and lessons you'd expect from nonfiction with the readability and storytelling you'd expect from a novel. They're often easy to read and they're a wonderful way to experience the world through the eyes of someone who may see and have experienced things very differently. Click here to check out my ranked list of the 70 best biographies of all time .

What is the best selling autobiography of all time?

The best selling autobiography of all time is almost certainly  The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank. While there's no accurate data on best selling biographies, Anne's diary ranks highest on this list of the best selling books of all time , which makes it a likely contender. Other best selling autobiographies include Night (The Night Trilogy, #1)  by Elie Wiesel and The Glass Castle  by Jeannette Walls.

What's the best autobiography to read?

The top two books on this list - Night (The Night Trilogy, #1)  and The Autobiography of Malcolm X  - are both fantastic autobiographies. Other top-ranked options include famous autobiographies like The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  by Maya Angelou. Want more ideas? Click here to read the full list of best biographies and best autobiographies ever written.

What are some good biographies to read?

The top-ranked biographies on my list (and a good place to start) are Night (The Night Trilogy, #1) , The Autobiography of Malcolm X  and The Complete Maus  (graphic novel). For more ideas on some good biographies to read, check out the full list of the top 70 biography books of all time .

More Book Recommendations

Enjoyed this list of the best biographies of all time?

You'll also like TAoL 's other book recommendations...

More Best Books of All Time (by Type)

These are some lists of overall best books to read...

More Best Nonfiction Books (by Topic)

These are some lists of best nonfiction books to read...

More Best Fiction Books (by Genre)

These are some lists of best fiction books to read...

Or, you can read all my book recommendations .

Wish There Was a Faster/Easier Way?

Whenever you’re ready, here are four ways I can help you be more productive, find more balance and live life more on purpose…

Want A FREE 10-Step Speed Reading Cheatsheet?

Get a FREE 10-step cheatsheet to help you read faster and remember more of what you read based on the classic guide,  How to Read a Book .

The Art of Living will never share your email.  Unsubscribe easily anytime.

Want A FREE Character Traits Cheatsheet?

Send Yourself A FREE Printable Cheatsheet Of 800 Positive, Neutral & Negative Character Traits...

Want A FREE Printable Weekly Planner Template?

Send yourself a FREE  printable weekly planner template you can use to set every week up for success...

Want 6 FREE Interactive Memory Templates?

Get 6 FREE templates  & master the same tools used by Dominic O'Brien to become the 8-time World Memory Champion .

Want 5 FREE Printable Productivity Templates?

Includes : Wheel of Life, Habit & Value Trackers, Goal Setting Worksheet, Daily Planner and Guided Reflection...

Want A FREE Language Learning Toolkit?

Save thousands of dollars and hours with this  FREE 8,000-word language learning guide and toolkit ...

The 21 most captivating biographies of all time

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

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.

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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

books with biography

"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.

Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals. You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here . Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected] .

best biographies

50 Must-Read Biographies

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 .

You Might Also Like

The Bestselling Fantasy Books of All Time

Biography & Autobiography

How are you shopping today, same day delivery, get top deals, latest trends, and more..

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The 30 Best Biographies Ever Written

David Duran

A biography’s job is simple: It is to bring a person to life through evocative prose. Biographies (including autobiographies and memoirs) paint a portrait, weaving a complicated tapestry about the stories of certain lives throughout history. Further, reading these life stories allow us to get to know some of the greatest thinkers, artists, explorers, and revolutionaries at a deeper level.

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

Totto-chan: the little girl at the window by tetsuko kuroyanagi, eisenhower in war and peace by jean edward smith, edison: a biography by matthew josephson, empire state of mind: how jay-z went from street corner to corner office by zach o’malley greenburg, where men win glory: the odyssey of pat tillman by jon krakauer, titan: the life of john. d. rockefeller sr. by ron chernow, washington: a life by ron chernow, steve jobs by walter isaacson, genghis khan and the making of the modern world by jack weatherford, dostoevsky: a writer in his time by joseph frank, leonardo da vinci: the marvelous works of nature and man by martin kemp, mercury: an intimate biography of freddie mercury by leslie-ann jones, empire: the life, legend, and madness of howard hughes by donald barlett, alan turing: the enigma by andrew hodges, alexander hamilton by ron chernow, frida: the biography of frida kahlo by hayden herrera, into the wild by jon krakauer, prince: a private view by afshin shahidi, rosemary: the hidden kennedy daughter by kate clifford larson, trump revealed: the definitive biography of the 45th president by michael kranish and marc fisher, mao: the unknown story by jung chang.

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Leonardo da vinci by walter isaacson, shoe dog by phil knight, the autobiography of malcolm x as told to alex haley, born a crime by trevor noah, the misadventures of awkward black girl by issa rae, robin by dave itzkoff.

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.

Related Guides

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 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.

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.

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  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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Read more: Best Books By Female Authors

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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…

books with biography

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock

Long live records. Just when we think we've come up with a superior means of playing music, the vinyl album comes back, reminding us of just how timeless tangible high-fi audio (and high-res audio) really is.

The immense popularity of vinyl records means that this kind of media is no longer the talking point of disk jockeys and psych-rock fanatics. It's become the go-to way to stylishly play music. It's also a great conversation starter when people come over, and giving folks the chance to choose the next record is fun. But more importantly, with the right turntable or record player, it's often the best way to treat your ears to your favorite bands. A great vinyl record just sounds warmer than listening through other mediums.

Matthew Denis

Whose story are we going to listen to when a star dies?

Artist Mac Miller was an undeniably talented musician and performer --seriously, try to watch Miller’s NPR Tiny Desk appearance and come away unimpressed. Miller, tragically, was also unable to conquer the demons that hounded him, dying from an accidental overdose of cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol at 26-years-old in 2018.

Nick Hilden

Some say that reading any book is better than reading no books at all, and while that might be true, why settle for subpar storytelling when you can enjoy something truly great? To that end, we’re taking a look at the best books of 2022.

There’s been some fantastic literature released this year from both renowned authors and debut novelists. So without further ado, let’s get to the books. The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen


  1. Albert Einstein : The Genius Who Failed School

    books with biography

  2. books biography bestsellers 147 Things

    books with biography

  3. Best Biography Books of All Time You Must Read

    books with biography

  4. Biography Royalty Books

    books with biography

  5. 12 Best Biography Books You Must Read

    books with biography

  6. Pin on Book book book

    books with biography


  1. Autobiography in 5 Chapters

  2. ተአምረኛው አእምሮ ምዕራፍ 19 You Are the Placebo 19

  3. history books

  4. 8. Books

  5. Tony Maniaty Shooting Balibo Trailer

  6. ተአምረኛው አእምሮ ምዕራፍ 18 You Are the Placebo 18


  1. 19 of the Best Books of 2021

    A bookworm is happiest when they’re surrounded by books — both old and new. Undoubtedly, 2021 was a great year for both fiction and nonfiction, with bestsellers like Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and Second Place by Rachel Cusk.

  2. What Was the First Book Ever Made?

    As far as historians know, and depending on what one means by “made,” the first book was either the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first bound copies of the Bible, or the Gutenberg Bible. Each marks a point in the development of books.

  3. The 26 Most Anticipated Books of 2022

    We’ve already told you what’s new and exciting when it comes to movies, TV shows and video games in 2022. Since thrillers, mysteries, romance, YA offerings and science-fiction tend to be readers pleasers, we’ve included a bunch of those, as...

  4. Biography Books

    Read compelling biography books about your favorite (or least favorite) icons, including politicians, actors, and historical figures at BN.com.

  5. 30 Best Biographies to Read Now 2022

    30 Best Biography Books You Should Have Read by Now · 1. Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. · 2.

  6. Biography Books

    Memoir A biography (from the Greek words bios meaning "life", and graphos

  7. The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

    1. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar · 2. Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game - Updated Edition by Andrew

  8. 100 Biographies & Memoirs to Read in a Lifetime

    100 Biographies & Memoirs to Read in a Lifetime ; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius ; A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier ; A Moveable Feast: The

  9. Best Sellers

    Biographies & Memoirs ; Spare. 60,510 ; I'm Glad My Mom Died. 43,500 ; Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature. 2,290 ; Finding Me: A Memoir. 14,958.

  10. Best Biographies: The 70 BEST Biography Books of All Time

    Books 1-10: The Top 10 Best Biographies of All Time · 1. Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. · 2. Night (The Night Trilogy, #1) - Elie Wiesel (FREE Summary) · 3.

  11. The 21 most captivating biographies of all time

    The 21 most captivating biographies of all time · The biography of a beloved Supreme Court Justice · The startlingly true biography of a

  12. 50 Must-Read Best Biographies

    50 Must-Read Biographies ; Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space

  13. Biography & Autobiography Books

    Shop Target for Biography & Autobiography you will love at great low prices. Choose from Same Day Delivery, Drive Up or Order Pickup.

  14. The 30 Best Biographies Ever Written

    The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro · Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi