The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

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The 30 best biographies of all time.

The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

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

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

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

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

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1. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

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

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

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

3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

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

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

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

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

5. Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert

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

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

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

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

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

7. Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario

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

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

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

9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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

10. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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

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

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

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

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

13. Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang

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

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

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

15. The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes

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

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

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

17. Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

20. Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24. Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

27. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 21 most captivating biographies of all time

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  • Biographies illuminate pivotal times and people in history. 
  • The biography books on this list are heavily researched and fascinating stories.
  • Want more books? Check out the best classics , historical fiction books , and new releases.

Insider Today

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

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

The 21 best biographies of all time:

The biography of a beloved supreme court justice.

best biography read

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

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

The startlingly true biography of a previously unknown woman

best biography read

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

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

The poignant biography of an atomic bomb survivor

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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

best biography read

"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.

best biography read

  • Main content

The 50 Best Biographies of All Time

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

best biographies

Every product was carefully curated by an Esquire editor. We may earn a commission from these links.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ralph Ellison: A Biography, by Arnold Rampersad

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

Oscar Wilde: A Life, by Matthew Sturgis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermione Lee

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

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

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

Pontius Pilate, by Ann Wroe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon & Schuster Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Biographies of All Time: Top 20 Most Interesting Reads

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

best biographies

Have you ever read a biography that was gripping enough to keep you turning pages long after you should’ve been asleep? If not, then maybe you’re not reading the right books.

We culled the best of the best from over a half dozen sources, and still can’t capture all the great biographies worth reading.

Here, in no particular order, are the best biographies that read as good as, if not better than, fiction.

Final Thoughts

1. unbroken: a world war ii story of survival, resilience and redemption by laura hillenbrand.

best biography read

At once devastating and uplifting, Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, from his incorrigible boyhood actions to the sport that turned him around and led him to the Olympics.

But then WWII came calling, changing Louis and testing his endurance and ingenuity. The story comes full circle when, decades later, Zamperini returns to Japan, not as a POW, but as an honored guest at the Olympics.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

best biography read

Henrietta herself didn’t lead a glamorous life, but her cells, taken without her knowledge, have led to such ground-breaking accomplishments as the polio vaccine.

These cells, known as HeLa, are one of the most important tools in medicine and have been bought and sold by the billions. They are still alive today, over sixty years after Henrietta’s death.

3. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

best biography read

Fiction couldn’t be as suspenseful and seductive as this real story about a death in one of Savannah’s grandest mansions in 1981. Was it murder or self-defense?

Peeling the curtain back on well-bred society ladies, gigolos, and a Southern belle who epitomizes "the soul of pampered self-absorption," this book has everything from drag queens to a voodoo priestess. You can’t make this stuff up.

4. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

best biography read

Imagine a young, well-to-do man who gave away all his money, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, then hitchhiked to Alaska and disappeared into the wilderness.

Four months later, hunters found his decomposed remains. This book tells the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless and his death in the wild.

5. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil by Rüdiger Safranski

best biography read

Heidegger, a great philosopher without whom there would be no Sartre or Foucault, also had many failures and flaws.

He made a pact with the devil, Adolf Hitler, and teetered between good and evil, brilliance and blindness. This book chronicles his ideas and his personal commitments and betrayals.

6. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

best biography read

Based on over forty interviews with Jobs and hundreds with family, friends, colleagues, competitors, and adversaries, Walter Isaacson’s biography reads like a roller coaster ride.

This is the unvarnished truth: Jobs cooperated, but had no control over what Isaacson wrote or even the right to read it before publication. Nothing was off-limits.

7. John Adams by David McCullough

best biography read

John Adams was not just one of the founding fathers; he was a brilliant, fiercely independent, and always honest patriot totally committed to the American Revolution. McCullough intertwines politics, war, and social issues with love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, and betrayal to create one book you can’t put down.

8. Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

best biography read

Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. She lived a flamboyant life in the Jazz Age alongside other literary heroes like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Milford goes underneath the dazzling performance Edna puts on for the crowds and uncovers a rich and deep family connection between the three Millay sisters and their mother. One reviewer described it as a little bit Little Women with a touch of Mommy Dearest .

9. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

best biography read

The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary was a thoroughly ambitious project that collected definitions from around the world.

There was one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, who contributed over 10,000, but the overseeing committee was stunned when they tracked him down to honor him. Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

10. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

best biography read

Another vivid story about a brilliant man teetering between genius and madness, this book reads like a suspense novel but is the true story of John Nash, a mathematical genius who slipped into madness.

Thanks to the support and loyalty of Nash’s admirers, he eventually won a Nobel Prize for triggering the game theory revolution.

11. Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt

best biography read

An interesting insight into how a young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the 1500s and becomes the greatest playwright of all time.

Showing Shakespeare as an acutely sensitive and talented boy, Greenblatt helps you see, hear, and feel how he became the world-renowned playwright against the rich backdrop of Elizabethan life.

12. Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

best biography read

Author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston tells the gripping and horrifying story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade.

This is the story of Cudjo Lewis, abducted from Africa and put on the last "Black Cargo" ship to arrive in the United States. Lewis was captured and put in bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

13. The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel

best biography read

In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G. H. Hardy, a pre-eminent English mathematician, with several ideas about numbers.

Hardy realized the boy’s genius and arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. From the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, the story of their journey together is inspiring and magical.

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

best biography read

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was a woman of extreme magnetism and originality thanks to her childhood experiences near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution.

From a devastating accident that left her crippled and unable to bear children to her tempestuous marriage and intermittent love affairs, this is an extraordinary story of a 20th century woman who has become a legend.

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

best biography read

During the Civil Rights Movement, no one knew the story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians and their role in the space program.

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, this group, called the "Human Computers," calculated the flight paths that would lead to historic achievements.

16. John Brown by W.E.B. Du Bois

best biography read

A groundbreaking political biography, John Brown moved Du Bois from his comfortable life as an academic to a lifelong career in social activism.

John Brown was the first Caucasian man willing to die for the rights of black people. The narrative Du Bois presents is compelling and one that is rarely presented in our history books.

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

best biography read

Award-winning journalist Nazario tells the vivid and engaging story of a Honduran boy’s unforgettable odyssey to reach his mother in the United States.

He has no money and only a slip of paper with his mother’s US telephone number. Enrique makes the hard and dangerous journey from Mexico the only way he knows how—clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains.

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

best biography read

In an interesting twist to the usual depiction of bloodthirsty pillagers, Weatherford shows how Genghis Khan introduced many progressive advancements to the societies he conquered.

Khan abolished torture, brought universal religious freedom, and destroyed feudal systems wherever he went. This is an engaging story of how he helped form the Mongol empire.

19. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

best biography read

Boyd was a world-class fighter pilot whose machinations changed warfare and strategy not only in the air but on the ground and at sea.

He is the founder of our modern concept of maneuver warfare, and his way of analyzing and solving problems is used today in corporate boardrooms.

20. Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook

best biography read

Most first ladies didn’t do much beyond party planning, but Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to get things done.

Cook brings Roosevelt to life and shines a light on her political and social acumen in turning a meaningless position into one of power to influence and make change.

We didn’t want to stop here; there are so many more you should read. Let’s get a comprehensive list going in the comments below. What other unforgettable biographies did we miss?

best biography read

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Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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The best biographies to read in 2023.

  • Nik Rawlinson

best biography read

Discover what inspired some of history’s most familiar names with these comprehensive biographies

The best biographies can be inspirational, can provide important life lessons – and can warn us off a dangerous path. They’re also a great way to learn more about important figures in history, politics, business and entertainment. That’s because the best biographies not only reveal what a person did with their life, but what effect it had and, perhaps most importantly, what inspired them to act as they did.

Where both a biography and an autobiography exist, you might be tempted to plump for the latter, assuming you’d get a more accurate and in-depth telling of the subject’s life story. While that may be true, it isn’t always the case. It’s human nature to be vain, and who could blame a celebrity or politician if they covered up their embarrassments and failures when committing their lives to paper? A biographer, so long as they have the proof to back up their claims, may have less incentive to spare their subject’s blushes, and thus produce a more honest account – warts and all.

That said, we’ve steered clear of the sensational in selecting the best biographies for you. Rather, we’ve focused on authoritative accounts of notable names, in each case written some time after their death, when a measured, sober assessment of their actions and impact can be given.

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Best biographies: At a glance

  • Best literary biography: Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley | £20
  • Best showbiz biography: Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood | £6.78
  • Best political biography: Hitler by Ian Kershaw | £14

How to choose the best biography for you

There are so many biographies to choose from that it can be difficult knowing which to choose. This is especially true when there are several competing titles focused on the same subject. Try asking yourself these questions.

Is the author qualified?

Wikipedia contains potted biographies of every notable figure you could ever want to read about. So, if you’re going to spend several hours with a novel-sized profile it must go beyond the basics – and you want to be sure that the author knows what they’re talking about.

That doesn’t mean they need to have been personally acquainted with the subject, as Jasper Rees was with Victoria Wood. Ian Kershaw never met Adolf Hitler (he was, after all, just two years old when Hitler killed himself), but he published his first works on the subject in the late 1980s, has advised on BBC documentaries about the Second World War, and is an acknowledged expert on the Nazi era. It’s no surprise, then, that his biography of the dictator is extensive, comprehensive and acclaimed.

Is there anything new to say?

What inspires someone to write a biography – particularly of someone whose life has already been documented? Sometimes it can be the discovery of new facts, perhaps through the uncovering of previously lost material or the release of papers that had been suppressed on the grounds of national security. But equally, it may be because times have changed so much that the context of previous biographies is no longer relevant. Attitudes, in particular, evolve with time, and what might have been considered appropriate behaviour in the 1950s would today seem discriminatory or shocking. So, an up-to-date biography that places the subject’s actions and motivations within a modern context can make it a worthwhile read, even if you’ve read an earlier work already.

Does it look beyond the subject?

The most comprehensive biographies place their subject in context – and show how that context affected their outlook and actions or is reflected in their work. Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Agatha Christie is a case in point, referencing Christie’s works to show how real life influenced her fiction. Mathew Parker’s Goldeneye does the same for Bond author Ian Fleming – and in doing so, both books enlarge considerably on the biography’s core subject.

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1. Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood by Jasper Rees: Best showbiz biography

Price: £6.78 | Buy now from Amazon

best biography read

It’s hardly surprising Victoria Wood never got around to writing her own autobiography. Originator of countless sketches, songs, comedy series, films, plays, documentaries and a sitcom, she kept pushing back the mammoth job of chronicling her life until it was too late. Wood’s death in 2016 came as a surprise to many, with the entertainer taking her final bow in private at the end of a battle with cancer she had fought away from the public eye.

In the wake of her death, her estate approached journalist Jasper Rees, who had interviewed her on many occasions, with the idea of writing the story that Wood had not got around to writing herself. With their backing, Rees’ own encounters with Wood, and the comic’s tape-recorded notes to go on, the result is a chunky, in-depth, authoritative account of her life. It seems unlikely that Wood could have written it more accurately – nor more fully – herself.

Looking back, it’s easy to forget that Wood wasn’t a constant feature on British TV screens, that whole years went by when her focus would be on writing or performing on stage, or even that her career had a surprisingly slow start after a lonely childhood in which television was a constant companion. This book reminds us of those facts – and that Wood wasn’t just a talented performer, but a hard worker, too, who put in the hours required to deliver the results.

Let’s Do It, which takes its title from a lyric in one of Wood’s best-known songs, The Ballad of Barry & Freda, is a timely reminder that there are two sides to every famous character: one public and one private. It introduces us to the person behind the personality, and shows how the character behind the characters for which she is best remembered came to be.

Key specs – Length: 592 pages; Publisher: Trapeze; ISBN: 978-1409184119

Image of Let's Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood

Let's Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood

2. the chief: the life of lord northcliffe, britain’s greatest press baron by andrew roberts: best business biography.

best biography read

Lord Northcliffe wasn’t afraid of taking risks – many of which paid off handsomely. He founded a small paper called Answers to Correspondents, branched out into comics, and bought a handful of newspapers. Then he founded the Daily Mail, and applied what he’d learned in running his smaller papers on a far grander scale. The world of publishing – in Britain and beyond – was never the same again. The Daily Mail was a huge success, which led to the founding of the Daily Mirror, primarily for women, and his acquisition of the Observer, Times and Sunday Times.

By then, Northcliffe controlled almost half of Britain’s daily newspaper circulation. Nobody before him had ever enjoyed such reach – or such influence over the British public – as he did through his titles. This gave him sufficient political clout to sway the direction of government in such fundamental areas as the establishment of the Irish Free State and conscription in the run-up to the First World War. He was appointed to head up Britain’s propaganda operation during the conflict, and in this position he became a target for assassination, with a German warship shelling his home in Broadstairs. Beyond publishing, he was ahead of many contemporaries in understanding the potential of aviation as a force for good, as a result of which he funded several highly valuable prizes for pioneers in the field.

He achieved much in his 57 years, as evidenced by this biography, but suffered both physical and mental ill health towards the end. The empire that he built may have fragmented since his passing, with the Daily Mirror, Observer, Times and Sunday Times having left the group that he founded, but his influence can still be felt. For anyone who wants to understand how and why titles like the Daily Mail became so successful, The Chief is an essential read.

Key specs – Length: 556 pages; Publisher: Simon & Schuster; ISBN: 978-1398508712

Image of The Chief: The Life of Lord Northcliffe Britain's Greatest Press Baron

The Chief: The Life of Lord Northcliffe Britain's Greatest Press Baron

3. goldeneye by matthew parker: best biography for cinema fans.

best biography read

The name Goldeneye is synonymous with James Bond. It was the title of both a film and a video game, a fictional super weapon, a real-life Second World War plan devised by author Ian Fleming, and the name of the Jamaican estate where he wrote one Bond book every year between 1952 and his death in 1964. The Bond film makers acknowledged this in 2021’s No Time To Die, making that estate the home to which James Bond retired, just as his creator had done at the end of the war, 75 years earlier.

Fleming had often talked of his plan to write the spy novel to end all spy novels once the conflict was over, and it’s at Goldeneye that he fulfilled that ambition. Unsurprisingly, many of his experiences there found their way into his prose and the subsequent films, making this biography as much a history of Bond itself as it is a focused retelling of Fleming’s life in Jamaica. It’s here, we learn, that Fleming first drinks a Vesper at a neighbour’s house. Vesper later became a character in Casino Royale and, in the story, Bond devises a drink to fit the name. Fleming frequently ate Ackee fish while in residence; the phonetically identical Aki was an important character in You Only Live Twice.

Parker finds more subtle references, too, observing that anyone who kills a bird or owl in any of the Bond stories suffers the spy’s wrath. This could easily be overlooked, but it’s notable, and logical: Fleming had a love of birds, and Bond himself was named after the ornithologist James Bond, whose book was on Fleming’s shelves at Goldeneye.

So this is as much the biography of a famous fictional character as it is of an author, and of the house that he occupied for several weeks every year. So much of Fleming’s life at Goldeneye influenced his work that this is an essential read for any Bond fan – even if you’ve already read widely on the subject and consider yourself an aficionado. Parker’s approach is unusual, but hugely successful, and the result is an authoritative, wide-ranging biography about one of this country’s best-known authors, his central character, an iconic location and a country in the run-up to – and immediately following – its independence from Britain.

Key specs – Length: 416 pages; Publisher: Windmill Books; ISBN: 978-0099591740

Image of Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica

Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica

4. hitler by ian kershaw: best political biography.

best biography read

The latter portion of Adolf Hitler’s life, from his coming to power in 1933 to his suicide in 1945, is minutely documented, and known to a greater or lesser degree by anyone who has passed through secondary education. But what of his earlier years? How did this overlooked art student become one of the most powerful and destructive humans ever to have existed? What were his influences? What was he like?

Kershaw has the answers. This door stopper, which runs to more than 1,000 pages, is an abridged compilation of two earlier works: Hitler 1889 – 1936: Hubris, and Hitler 1936 – 1946: Nemesis. Yet, abridged though it may be, it remains extraordinarily detailed, and the research shines through. Kershaw spends no time warming his engines: Hitler is born by page three, to a social-climbing father who had changed the family name to something less rustic than it had been. As Kershaw points out, “Adolf can be believed when he said that nothing his father had done pleased him so much as to drop the coarsely rustic name of Schicklgruber. ‘Heil Schicklgruber’ would have sounded an unlikely salutation to a national hero.”

There’s no skimping on context, either, with each chapter given space to explore the political, economic and social influences on Hitler’s development and eventual emergence as leader. Kershaw pinpoints 1924 as the year that “can be seen as the time when, like a phoenix arising from the ashes, Hitler could begin his emergence from the ruins of the broken and fragmented volkisch movement to become eventually the absolute leader with total mastery over a reformed, organisationally far stronger, and internally more cohesive Nazi Party”. For much of 1924, Hitler was in jail, working on Mein Kampf and, by the point of his release, the movement to which he had attached himself had been marginalised. Few could have believed that it – and he – would rise again and take over first Germany, then much of Europe. Here, you’ll find out how it happened.

If you’re looking for an authoritative, in-depth biography of one of the most significant figures in modern world history, this is it. Don’t be put off by its length: it’s highly readable, and also available as an audiobook which, although it runs to 44 hours, can be sped up to trim the overall running time.

Key specs – Length: 1,072 pages; Publisher: Penguin; ISBN: 978-0141035888

Image of Hitler

5. Stalin’s Architect: Power and Survival in Moscow by Deyan Sudjic: Best historical biography

best biography read

Boris Iofan died in 1976, but his influence can still be felt today – in particular, through the architectural influences evident in many mid-century buildings across Eastern Europe. Born in Odessa in 1891, he trained in architecture and, upon returning to Russia after time spent in Western Europe, gained notoriety for designing the House on the Embankment, a monumental block-wide building containing more than 500 flats, plus the shops and other facilities required to service them.

“Iofan’s early success was based on a sought-after combination of characteristics: he was a member of the Communist Party who was also an accomplished architect capable of winning international attention,” writes biographer Deyan Sudjic. “He occupied a unique position as a bridge between the pre-revolutionary academicians… and the constructivist radicals whom the party saw as bringing much-needed international attention and prestige but never entirely trusted. His biggest role was to give the party leadership a sense of what Soviet architecture could be – not in a theoretical sense or as a drawing, which they would be unlikely to understand, but as a range of built options that they could actually see.”

Having established himself, much of the rest of his life was spent working on his designs for the Palace of the Soviets, which became grander and less practical with every iteration. This wasn’t entirely Iofan’s fault. He had become a favourite of the party elite, and of Stalin himself, who added to the size and ambition of the intended building over the years. Eventually, the statue of Lenin that was destined to stand atop its central tower would have been over 300ft tall, and would have had an outstretched index finger 14ft long. There was a risk that this would freeze in the winter, and the icicles that dropped from it would have been a significant danger to those going into and out of the building below it.

Although construction work began, the Palace of the Soviets was never completed. Many of Iofan’s other buildings remain, though, and his pavilions for the World Expos in Paris and New York are well documented – in this book as well as elsewhere. Lavishly illustrated, it recounts Iofan’s life and examines his work in various stages, from rough outline, through technical drawing, to photographs of completed buildings – where they exist.

Key specs – Length: 320 pages; Publisher: Thames and Hudson; ISBN: 978-0500343555

Image of Stalin's Architect: Power and Survival in Moscow

Stalin's Architect: Power and Survival in Moscow

6. agatha christie: a very elusive woman by lucy worsley: best literary biography.

best biography read

Agatha Christie died in 1976 but, with more than 70 novels and 150 short stories to her name, she remains one of the best-selling authors of all time. A new biography from historian Lucy Worsley is therefore undoubtedly of interest. It’s comprehensive and highly readable – and opinionated – with short chapters that make it easy to dip into and out of on a break.

Worsley resists the temptation to skip straight to the books. Poirot doesn’t appear until chapter 11 with publication of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which Christie wrote while working in a Torquay hospital. Today, Poirot is so well known, not only from the books but from depictions in film and television, that it’s easy to overlook how groundbreaking the character was upon his arrival.

As Worsley explains, “by choosing to make Hercule Poirot a foreigner, and a refugee as well, Agatha created the perfect detective for an age when everyone was growing surfeited with soldiers and action heroes. He’s so physically unimpressive that no-one expects Poirot to steal the show. Rather like a stereotypical woman, Poirot cannot rely upon brawn to solve problems, for he has none. He has to use brains instead… There’s even a joke in his name. Hercules, of course, is a muscular classical hero, but Hercule Poirot has a name like himself: diminutive, fussy, camp, and Agatha would show Poirot working in a different way to [Sherlock] Holmes.” Indeed, where Holmes rolls around on the floor picking up cigar ash in his first published case, Poirot, explains Worsley, does not stoop to gather clues: he needs only his little grey cells. Worsley’s approach is thorough and opinionated, and has resulted not only in a biography of Christie herself, but also her greatest creations, which will appeal all the more to the author’s fans.

As with Matthew Parker’s Goldeneye, there’s great insight here into what influenced Christie’s work, and Worsley frequently draws parallels between real life events and episodes, characters or locations in her novels. As a result of her experiences as a medical volunteer during the First World War, for example, during which a rigid hierarchy persisted and the medics behaved shockingly, doctors became the most common culprit in her books; the names of real people found their way into her fiction; and on one occasion Christie assembled what today might be called a focus group to underpin a particular plot point.

Worsley is refreshingly opinionated and, where events in the author’s life take centre stage, doesn’t merely re-state the facts, but investigates Christie’s motivations to draw her own conclusions. This is particularly the case in the chapters examining Christie’s disappearance in 1926, which many previous biographers have portrayed as an attempt to frame her husband for murder. Worsley’s own investigation leads to alternative conclusions, which seem all the more plausible today, when society has a better understanding of – and is more sympathetic towards – the effects of psychological distress.

Key specs – Length: 432 pages; Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; ISBN: 978-1529303889

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The 30 best biographies to add to your reading list

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

Mark Stock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

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

Edison: A Biography by Matthew Josephson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

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

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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

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

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

Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time by Joseph Frank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

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

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

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

Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

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

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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

Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi

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

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

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

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

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

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang

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

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

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

Black Boy by Richard Wright

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

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

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

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

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

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

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

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

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

Robin by Davie Itzkoff

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

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Mark Stock

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Biographies

Discover the lives of remarkable individuals through the best biographies, chosen from a wide array of reputable literary sources and biography enthusiasts. these compelling reads offer intimate portraits and have earned accolades across numerous literary discussions..

Best Biographies

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The best autobiographies and memoirs of 2021.

Best biographies and memoirs of 2021

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

All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

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

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

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

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

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

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

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

Both/And: A Life in Many World Huma Abedin

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

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

Frances Wilson Burning Man- The Ascent of DH Lawrence

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

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

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Best Biographies » New Biography

The best biographies of 2023: the national book critics circle shortlist, recommended by elizabeth taylor.

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

Winner of the 2023 NBCC biography prize

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

Talented biographers examine the interplay between individual qualities and greater social forces, explains Elizabeth Taylor —chair of the judges for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award for biography. Here, she offers us an overview of their five-book shortlist, including a garlanded account of the life of J. Edgar Hoover and a group biography of post-war female philosophers.

Interview by Cal Flyn , Deputy Editor

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill & Rachael Wiseman

Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill & Rachael Wiseman

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs

Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

1 G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

2 the grimkés: the legacy of slavery in an american family by kerri k. greenidge, 3 mr. b: george balanchine’s twentieth century by jennifer homans, 4 metaphysical animals: how four women brought philosophy back to life by clare mac cumhaill & rachael wiseman, 5 up from the depths: herman melville, lewis mumford, and rediscovery in dark times by aaron sachs.

It’s a pleasure to have you back , Elizabeth—this time to discuss the National Book Critics Circle’s 2023 biography shortlist. You’ve been chair of the judging panel for a while, so you’re in a great position to tell us whether it has been a good year for biography.

I’m also optimistic about the future.  As the world opens and libraries, archives and places where history happened are becoming more accessible. Figures—or groups—once regarded marginal are now being discovered or reappraised with new evidence and interpretation. Biographies are ambitious in structure and form, and focus beyond the pale, stale, and male.

That comes through in the shortlist, I think. There’s a real range here. I think any reader is bound to find something to appeal to their tastes.

Shaping a shortlist seems quite like arranging a bouquet. A clutch of peony, begonia, or orchid stems…each may be lovely, an exemplar in its own way. We aspire to assemble a glorious arrangement—a quintet of blooms that reflect the wildly varied human experiences represented in the verdant garden of biography.

While our committee resisted the impulse to conform to a particular aesthetic or worldview, it did seem that many biographies were deeply rooted in American soil that required years of research to till. End notes are my guilty pleasure, this year’s finalists provided rich feasts, as one might anticipate from the longest—832 pages!—biography, Beverly Gage’s G-Man .

Let’s talk about G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century first, then, shall we? It is your 2023 winner of the NBCC’s prize for best biography; it also won a Pulitzer Prize . It’s also, and correct me if I’m wrong, the most traditional of the biographies that made the list.

G-Man is traditional in as much as Beverly Gage captures the full sweep of Hoover’s life, cradle to grave: 1895 to 1972. In that way, structurally G-Man sits aside the epics of David McCullough ( Truman , John Adams ) and Ron Chernow ( Grant , Alexander Hamilton ).

Unlike those valorized national leaders, Hoover answered to no voters. The quintessential ‘Government Man,’ a counselor and advisor to eight U.S. presidents , of both political parties, he was one of the most powerful, unelected government officials in history. He reigned over the Federal Bureau of Investigations from 1924 to 1972. Hoover began as a young reformer and—as he accrued power—was simultaneously loathed and admired. Through Hoover, Gage skilfully guides readers through the full arc of 20th-century America, and contends: “We cannot know our own story without understanding his.”

In G-Man , Yale University professor Gage untangles the contradictions in Hoover’s aspirations and cruelty, and locates the paradoxical American story of tensions and anxieties over security, masculinity, and race.

“This year, many biographies were deeply rooted in American soil that required years of research to till”

Hoover lived his entire life in Washington D.C., and Gage entwines his story in the city’s evolution into a global power center and delves deeply into the dark childhood that led him to remain there for college. Critical to understanding Hoover, Gage demonstrates, was his embrace of the Kappa Alpha fraternity; its worldview was informed by Robert E. Lee and the ‘Lost Cause’ of the South , in which racial equality was unacceptable. He shaped the F.B.I. in his image and recruited Kappa Alpha men to the Bureau.

For Hoover, Gage writes, Kappa Alpha was a way to measure character, political sympathies, and, of course, loyalty. One of those men was Clyde Tolson, and Gage documents their trips to nightclubs, the racetrack, vacations, and White House receptions. Hoover did not acknowledge that he and Tolson were a couple, but in the end their separate burial plots were a few yards from one another.

While Hoover feels very much alive on the page, Gage captures the full sweep of American history, chronicling events from the hyper-nationalism of the early part of the century, moving into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., making use of newly unclassified documents. When Hoover’s F.B.I. targeted Nazis and gangsters, there was clarity about good guys and bad guys. But by the mid-century, as the nation began to fracture, he regarded calls for peace and justice as threats to national security. Among the abuses of power committed by Hoover’s F.B.I., for instance, was the wiretapping and harassment of King.

Beyond Hoover’s malfeasance, Gage emphasizes that Hoover was no maverick. He tapped into a dark part of the national psyche and had public opinion on his side. Through Hoover, Americans could see themselves, and, as Gage argues, “what we valued and refused to see.”

A biography like this does make you realize how deeply world events might be impacted or even partially predicted by the family background or the personalities of a small number of key individuals.

You’ve hit on a fascinating question at the heart of biography: the quest to understand the interplay between individual and social forces. A late history professor of mine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, once told me that biography was ‘peopled history.’

We should step through the rest of the books on your 2023 biography shortlist. Let’s start with Kerri K. Greenidge’s The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family , which is the story not only of the Grimké Sisters Sarah and Angelina, two well-known abolitionists, but Black members of their family as well.

I was eager to read The Grimkés as I had admired Greenidge’s earlier biography, Black Radical , about Boston civil rights leader and abolitionist newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter. Greenidge, a professor at Tufts University, brings her unique, perceptive eye to African American civil rights in the North.

Now Greenidge’s The Grimkés sits on my bookshelf next to The Hemingses of Monticello , the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Annette Gordon-Reed who exposed the contradictions of one of the most venerated figures in American history, Thomas Jefferson. In the Grimke family, Greenidge has found a gnarled family tree, deeply rooted in generations of trauma.

Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke have been exalted as brave heroines who defied antebellum Southern piety and headed northward to embrace abolition. Greenridge makes the powerful case that, in clinging to this mythology, a more troubling story is obscured. In the North, as the Grimké sisters lived comfortably and agitated for change, they enjoyed the financial benefits of their slaveholding family in South Carolina.

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After the Civil War, they learned that their brute of a brother had fathered at least two sons with a woman whom he had enslaved. The sisters provided some financial assistance in the education of these two young men, one attended Harvard Law School and the other Princeton Divinity School—and did not let their nephews forget it.

Not only does Greenidge provide a revisionist history of the Grimke sisters, but she also takes account of the full Grimké family and extends their story beyond the 19th century. She delves into the dynamics of racial subordination and how free white men who conceive children — whether from rape or a relationship spanning decades with enslaved women—destroy families. Generations of children are haunted by this history.  Poignantly, Greenidge evokes the life and work of the sisters’ grandniece Angelina (‘Nana’) Weld Grimké , a talented—and troubled—queer playwright and poet, who carried the heavy weight of the generational trauma she inherited.

This sounds like a family saga of the kind you might be more likely to find in fiction.

Yes. While Sarah and Angelina Grimké have been the subject of fiction, their nephews Archibald and Francis and their families deserve a novel of their own!

Let’s turn to Mr B . : George Balanchine’s 20th Century by Jennifer Homans, the story of the noted choreographer. Why did this make your shortlist of the best biographies of 2023?

The perfect match of biographer and subject! A dancer who trained with Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York and is now dance critic for The New Yorker, Homans has written a biography of the man known as ‘the Shakespeare of Dance.’ In felicitous prose, Homans channels the dancer’s experience onto the page, from the body movements that can produce such beauty to the aching tendons and ligaments. Training is transformation, Homan writes, and working with Balanchine was a kind of metamorphosis tangled with pain. She evokes the dances so vividly that one can almost hear the music.

“At the heart of biography is the quest to understand the interplay between individual and social forces”

Homans captures Balanchine in a constant state of reinvention, tracing his life from Czarist Russia to Weimar Berlin , finally making his way to post-war New York where he revitalized the world of ballet by embracing modernish, founding New York City Ballet in 1948. Balanchine was genius whose personal history shape-shifted over the years. Homans grounds Mr. B in more than a hundred interviews, and draws from archives around the world.

Homans captures Balanchine’s charisma and cultural importance, but Mr. B. is no hagiography. Homans grasps the knot of sex and power over women used in his work. He married four times, always to dancers. They were all the same kind of swan-necked, long-waisted, long-limbed women, and although Homans does not write this, his company often sounds more like a cult than art.

And, of course, there is the matter of weight, which Homans dealt with directly, as did Balanchine. He posted a sign: ‘BEFORE YOU GET YOUR PAY—YOU MUST WEIGH.’

I don’t think I’ve ever considered reading a ballet biography before, but it sounds fascinating.

The next book on the NBCC’s 2023 biography shortlist brings us to Oxford, England. This is Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman.

At the outset of World War II , a quartet of young women, Oxford students—Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, and Mary Midgley—were “bored of listening to men talk about books by men about men,” as Mac Cumhaill, a Durham University professor, and Wiseman, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, write. In their marvelous group biography, MacCumhaill and Wiseman vivify how the friendships of these women congealed to bring “philosophy back to life.”

As their male counterparts departed for the front lines, this brilliant group of women came together in their dining halls and shared lodging quarters to challenge the thinking of their male colleagues. In the shadows of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, these friends rejected the logical positivists who favoured empirical scientific questions. They didn’t really create a distinct philosophical approach as much as they shared an interest in the metaphysics of morals.

While today we may recognize the prolific Iris Murdoch more for her fiction—like her Booker-winning novel The Sea, the Sea — others made an enduring mark. For example, I learned that after their Oxford years, Murdoch’s good friend Phillipa Foot was responsible for the classic conundrum of the ‘trolley problem,’ which posed the question of whether one would—or should—willingly kill one person to save five. And beyond philosophy, Mac Cumhaill and Wiseman’s deft sketches of these women sparkle with details of their world, from hot tea and cold shared flats to the lovers and ex-lovers who sometimes shared those flats.

Brilliant. A book that is ostensibly ‘improving’ but which turns out to be absolutely chock-full of gossip sounds perfect to me. Let’s move on to the fourth book on the NBCC’s 2023 biography shortlist, which is Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs.

A biography about writing biography ! Very meta, and very much in the interdisciplinary tradition of American Studies. In his gorgeous braid of cultural history, Cornell University professor Sachs   entwines the lives and work of poet and fiction writer Herman Melville (1819-1891) and the philosopher and literary critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), illuminating their coextending concerns about their worlds in crisis.

While Melville is now firmly ensconced in the American canon, most appreciation and respect for him was posthumous. The 20th-century Melville revival was largely sparked by a now overlooked Mumford, once so prominent that he appeared on a 1936 Time  magazine cover.

Sachs brilliantly provides the connective tissue between Melville and his biographer Mumford so that these writers seem to be in conversation with one another, both deeply affected by their dark times.

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As Mumford grappled with tragedies wrought by World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic and urban decay, Melville had dealt with the bloody Civil War , slavery , and industrialization. In a certain way, this book is about the art of biography itself, two writers wrestling with modernity in a bleak world. In delving into Melville’s angst, Mumford was thrust into great turmoil. Sachs evokes so clearly and painfully this bond that almost did Mumford in, and writes that “Melville, it turns out, was Mumford’s white whale.”

There’s a real sense of range in this shortlist. But do you get a sense of there being certain trends in biography as a genre in 2023?

In many ways, this is a golden era for biography. There are fewer dull but worthy books, more capacious and improvisational ones. More series of short biographies that pack a big punch. We see more group biographies and illustrated biographies. But just as figures and groups once considered marginal are being centered, records that document those lives are vanishing.

The crisis in local news and the homogenization of national and international news will soon be a crisis for biographers and historians. Where would historians be without the ‘slave narratives’ from the Federal Writers Project , or the Federal Theatre Project ? Reconstruction of public events—federal elections, national tragedies, and so on—may be possible, but we lose that wide spectrum of human experience. We need to preserve these artifacts and responses to events as they happen. Biographies are time-consuming labors of love and passion, and are often expensive to produce. We need to ensure that we are generating and saving the emails, the records, the to-do lists of ordinary life.

The affluent among us will always be able to commission histories of their companies or families, but are those the only ones that will endure?

June 30, 2023

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Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor is a co-author of American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley; His Battle for Chicago and the Nation with Adam Cohen, with whom she also cofounded The National Book Review. She has chaired four Pulitzer Prize juries, served as president of the National Book Critics Circle, and presided over the Harold Washington Literary Award selection committee three times. Former Time magazine correspondent in New York and Chicago and long-time literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, she is working on a biography of women in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras for Liveright/W.W. Norton.

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50 best autobiographies & biographies of all time

Enlightening and inspiring: these are the best autobiographies and biographies of 2024, and all time. .

best biography read

Reading an autobiography can offer a unique insight into a world and experience very different from your own – and these real-life stories are even more entertaining, and stranger, than fiction . Take a glimpse into the lives of some of the world's most inspiring and successful celebrities , politicians and sports people and more in our edit of the best autobiographies and biographies to read right now.

  • New autobiographies & biographies
  • Inspiring autobiographies & biographies
  • Sports autobiographies & biographies
  • Celebrity autobiographies & biographies
  • Political & historical autobiographies
  • Literary autobiographies & biographies

The best new autobiographies and biographies

Charles iii, by robert hardman.

Book cover for Charles III

Meet the man behind the monarch in this new biography of King Charles III by royal expert and journalist Robert Hardman. Charting Charles III’s extraordinary first year on the throne, a year plighted by sadness and family scandal, Hardman shares insider details on the true nature of the Windsor family feud, and Queen Camilla’s role within the Royal Family. Detailing the highs and lows of royal life in dazzling detail, this new biography of the man who waited his whole life to be King is one of 2024’s must-reads. 

Sociopath: A Memoir

By patric gagne.

Book cover for Sociopath: A Memoir

The most unputdownable memoir you’ll read this year, Sociopath is the story of Patric Gagne, and her extraordinary life lived on the edge. With seering honestly, Patric explains how, as a child she always knew she was different. Graduating from feelings of apathy to petty theft and stalking, she realised as an adult that she was a sociopath, uncaring of the impact of her actions on others. Sharing the conflict she feels between her impulses, and her desire to live a settled, loving life with her partner, Sociopath is a fascinating story of one woman’s journey to find a place for herself in the world. 

Lisa Marie Presley's memoir

By lisa marie presley.

Book cover for Lisa Marie Presley's memoir

Lisa Marie Presley was never truly understood . . . until now. Before her death in 2023, she’d been working on a raw, riveting, one-of-a-kind memoir for years, recording countless hours of breathtakingly vulnerable tape, which has finally been put on the page by her daughter, Riley Keough.

Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary

By nina stibbe.

Book cover for Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary

Ten years after the publication of the prize-winning  Love, Nina  comes the author’s diary of her return to London in her sixty-first year. After twenty years, Nina Stibbe, accompanied by her dog Peggy, stays with writer Debby Moggach in London for a year. With few obligations, Nina explores the city, reflecting on her past and embracing new experiences. From indulging in banana splits to navigating her son's dating life, this diary captures the essence of a sixty-year-old runaway finding her place as a "proper adult" once and for all.

Beyond the Story

Book cover for Beyond the Story

In honor of BTS's 10th anniversary, this remarkable book serves as the band's inaugural official release, offering a treasure trove of unseen photographs and exclusive content. With Myeongseok Kang's extensive interviews and years of coverage, the vibrant world of K-pop springs to life. As digital pioneers, BTS's online presence has bridged continents, and this volume grants readers instant access to trailers, music videos, and more, providing a comprehensive journey through BTS's defining moments. Complete with a milestone timeline, Beyond the Story stands as a comprehensive archive, encapsulating everything about BTS within its pages.

Hildasay to Home

By christian lewis.

Book cover for Hildasay to Home

The follow-up to his bestselling memoir Finding Hildasay , in Hildasay to Home Christian Lewis tells the next chapter of his extraordinary journey, step by step. From the unexpected way he found love, to his and Kate's journey on foot back down the coastline and into their new lives as parents to baby Marcus, Christian shares his highs and lows as he and his dog Jet leave Hildasay behind. Join the family as they adjust to life away from the island, and set off on a new journey together. 

by Carolyn Hays

Book cover for A Girlhood

This moving memoir is an ode to Hays' transgender daughter – a love letter to a child who has always known herself. After a caseworker from the Department of Children and Families knocked on the door to investigate an anonymous complaint about the upbringing of their transgender child, the Hays family moved away from their Republican state. In A Girlhood, Hays tells of the brutal truths of being trans, of the sacrificial nature of motherhood and of the lengths a family will go to shield their youngest from the cruel realities of the world. Hays asks us all to love better, for children everywhere enduring injustice and prejudice.

by Prince Harry

Book cover for Spare

The fastest-selling non-fiction book of all time and packed with revelations, Spare is Prince Harry's story. Twelve-year-old Harry was known as the carefree one; the happy-go-lucky Spare to the more serious Heir until the loss of his mother changed everything. Then, at twenty-one, he joined the British Army, resulting in post-traumatic stress. Amidst this, the Prince also couldn't find love. Then he met Meghan. But from the beginning, Harry and Meghan were preyed upon by the press, subjected to waves of abuse, racism, and lies. For the first time, Prince Harry tells his own story, chronicling his journey with raw, unflinching honesty. 

Is This Ok?

By harriet gibsone.

Book cover for Is This Ok?

Harriet spent much of her young life feeding neuroses and insecurities with obsessive internet searching and indulging in whirlwind ‘parasocial relationships'. But after a diagnosis of early menopause in her late twenties, her relationship with the internet took a darker turn, as her online addictions were thrown into sharp relief by the corporeal realities of illness and motherhood. An outrageously funny, raw and painfully honest account of trying to find connection in the age of the internet,  Is This Ok? is the stunning literary debut from music journalist, Harriet Gibsone. 

Book cover for Stay True

Winner of Pulitzer Prize in Memoir, Stay True  is a deeply moving and intimate memoir about growing up and moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging. When Hua Hsu first meets Ken in a Berkeley dorm room, he hates him. A frat boy with terrible taste in music, Ken seems exactly like everyone else. For Hua, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to – the mainstream. The only thing Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the US for generations, have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them. 

Life's Work

By david milch.

Book cover for Life's Work

Best known for creating smash-hit shows including NYPD Blue and Deadwood, you’d be forgiven for thinking that David Milch had lived a charmed life of luxury and stardom. In this, his new memoir, Milch dispels that myth, shedding light on his extraordinary life in the spotlight. Born in Buffalo New York to a father gripped by drug-addiction, Milch enrolled at Yale Law befire being expelled and finding his true passion for writing. Written following his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2015, in Life’s Work Milch records his joys, sadnesses and struggles with startling clarity and grace. 

Will You Care If I Die?

By nicolas lunabba.

Book cover for Will You Care If I Die?

In a world where children murder children, and where gun violence is the worst in Europe, Nicolas Lunabba's job as a social organizer with Malmö's underclass requires firm boundaries and emotional detachment. But all that changes when he meets Elijah – an unruly teenage boy of mixed heritage whose perilous future reminds Nicolas of his own troubled past amongst the marginalized people who live on the fringes of every society. Written as a letter to Elijah,  Will You Care If I Die?  is a disarmingly direct memoir about social class, race, friendship and unexpected love.

The best inspiring autobiographies and biographies

By yusra mardini.

Book cover for Butterfly

After fleeing her native Syria to the Turkish coast in 2015, Yusra Mardini boarded a small dinghy full of refugees headed for Greece. On the journey, the boat's engine cut out and it started to sink. Yusra, her sister, and two others took to the water to push the overcrowded boat for three and a half hours in open water, saving the lives of those on board. Butterfly is Yusra Mardini's journey from war-torn Damascus to Berlin and from there to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Game. A UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and one of People magazine's 25 Women Changing the World, discover Yusra and her incredible story of resilience and unstoppable spirit.

Finding Hildasay

Book cover for Finding Hildasay

After hitting rock bottom having suffered with depression for years, Christian Lewis made an impulsive decision to walk the entire coastline of the UK. Just a few days later he set off with a tent, walking boots and a tenner in his pocket. Finding Hildasay tells us some of this incredible story, including the brutal three months Christian Lewis spent on the uninhabited island of Hildasay in Scotland with no fresh water or food. It was there, where his route was most barren, that he discovered pride and respect for himself. This is not just a story of a remarkable journey, but one of depression, survival and the meaning of home. 

The Happiest Man on Earth

By eddie jaku.

Book cover for The Happiest Man on Earth

A lesson in how happiness can be found in the darkest of times, this is the story of Eddie Jaku, a German Jew who survived seven years at the hands of the Nazis. Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, and a Jew second. All of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp. But through his courage and tenacity he still came to live life as 'the happiest man on earth'. Published at the author turns one hundred, The Happiest Man on Earth is a heartbreaking but hopeful memoir full of inspiration. 

Don't Miss

3 lessons to learn from Eddie Jaku

I know why the caged bird sings, by maya angelou.

Book cover for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

A favourite book of former president Obama and countless others, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings , recounts Angelou’s childhood in the American south in the 1930s. A beautifully written classic, this is the first of Maya Angelou's seven bestselling autobiographies. 

I Am Malala

By malala yousafzai.

Book cover for I Am Malala

After speaking out about her right to education almost cost her her life, Malala Yousafzi refused to be silenced. Instead, her amazing story has taken her all over the world. This is the story of Malala and her inspirational family, and of how one person's voice can inspire change across the globe. 

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

By lindsey hilsum.

Book cover for In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

In her job as a foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin reported from some of the most dangerous places in the world. It was a job that would eventually cost her her life. In this posthumous biography of the award-winning news journalist, Lindsey Hilsum shares the story of one of the most daring and inspirational women of our times with warmth and wit, conveying Colvin's trademark glamour. 

The best memoirs

This is going to hurt, by adam kay.

Book cover for This is Going to Hurt

Offering a unique insight into life as an NHS junior doctor through his diary entries, Adam Kay's bestselling autobiography is equal parts heartwarming and humorous, and oftentimes horrifying too. With 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions and a tsunami of bodily fluids, Kay provides a no-holds-barred account of working on the NHS frontline. Now a major BBC comedy-drama, don't miss this special edition of This Is Going To Hurt including a bonus diary entries and an afterword from the author. 

The Colour of Madness

By samara linton.

Book cover for The Colour of Madness

The Colour of Madness  brings together memoirs, essays, poetry, short fiction and artworks by people of colour who have experienced difficulties with mental health. From experiencing micro-aggressions to bias, and stigma to religious and cultural issues, people of colour have to fight harder than others to be heard and helped. Statistics show that people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK experience poor mental health treatment in comparison to their white counterparts, and are more likely to be held under the Mental Health Act. 

Nothing But The Truth

By the secret barrister.

Book cover for Nothing But The Truth

How do you become a barrister? Why do only 1 per cent of those who study law succeed in joining this mysterious profession? And why might a practising barrister come to feel the need to reveal the lies, secrets, failures and crises at the heart of this world of wigs and gowns? Full of hilarious, shocking and surprising stories,  Nothing But The Truth  tracks the Secret Barrister’s transformation from hang ‘em and flog ‘em, austerity-supporting twenty-something to a campaigning, bestselling, reforming author whose writing in defence of the law is celebrated around the globe.

by Michelle Obama

Book cover for Becoming

This bestselling autobiography lifts the lid on the life of one of the most inspiring women of a generation, former first lady Michelle Obama. From her childhood as a gifted young woman in south Chicago to becoming the first black First Lady of the USA, Obama tells the story of her extraordinary life with humour, warmth and honesty. 

Kitchen Confidential

By anthony bourdain.

Book cover for Kitchen Confidential

Regarded as one of the greatest books about food ever written, Kitchen Confidential lays bare the wild tales of the culinary industry. From his lowly position as a dishwasher in Provincetown to cooking at some of the finest restaurants across the world, the much-loved Bourdain translates his sultry, sarcastic and quick-witted personality to paper in this uncensored 'sex, drugs, bad behaviour and haute cuisine' account of life as a professional chef. Bourdain's tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable, as shocking as they are funny.

Everything I Know About Love

By dolly alderton.

Book cover for Everything I Know About Love

Dolly Alderton, perhaps more than any other author, represents the rise of the messy millennial woman – in the very best way possible. Her internationally bestselling memoir gives an unflinching account of the bad dates and squalid flat-shares, the heartaches and humiliations, and most importantly, the unbreakable female friendships that defined her twenties. She weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age. This is a memoir that you'll discuss with loved ones long after the final page. 

The best sports autobiographies and biographies

By chris kamara.

Book cover for Kammy

Presenter, commentator, (sometimes masked) singer, footballer, manager and campaigner, Kammy's action-packed career has made him a bona fide British hero. Kammy had a tough upbringing, faced racism on the terraces during his playing career and has, in recent years, dealt with a rare brain condition – apraxia – that has affected his speech and seen him say goodbye to Sky Sports. With entertaining stories of his playing career from Pompey to Leeds and beyond; his management at Bradford City and Stoke; his crazy travels around the world; of  Soccer Saturday  banter; presenting  Ninja   Warrior ; and the incredible friendships he's made along the way,  Kammy  is an unforgettable ride from one of Britain's best-loved broadcasters.

Alone on the Wall

By alex honnold.

Book cover for Alone on the Wall

In the last forty years, only a handful of climbers have pushed themselves as far, ‘free soloing’ to the absolute limit of human capabilities. Half of them are dead. Although Alex Honnold’s exploits are probably a bit  too  extreme for most of us, the stories behind his incredible climbs are exciting, uplifting and truly awe-inspiring. Alone on the Wall  is a book about the essential truth of being free to pursue your passions and the ability to maintain a singular focus, even in the face of mortal danger. This updated edition contains the account of Alex's El Capitan climb, which is the subject of the Oscar and BAFTA winning documentary,  Free Solo .

On Days Like These

By martin o'neill.

Book cover for On Days Like These

Martin O’Neill has had one of the most incredible careers in football.   With a story spanning over fifty years, Martin tells of his exhilarating highs and painful lows; from the joys of winning trophies, promotion and fighting for World Cups to being harangued by fans, boardroom drama, relegation scraps and being fired. Written with his trademark honesty and humour,  On Days Like These  is one of the most insightful and captivating sports autobiographies and a must-read for any fans of the beautiful game.

Too Many Reasons to Live

By rob burrow.

Book cover for Too Many Reasons to Live

As a child, Rob Burrow was told he was too small to be a rugby player. Some 500 games for Leeds later, Rob had proved his doubters wrong: he won eight Super League Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups, three World Club Challenges and played for his country in two World Cups. In 2019 though, Rob was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given just two years to live. He went public with the news, determined to fight it all the way. Full of love, bravery and kindness, this is the story of a man who has awed his fans with his positive attitude to life.

With You Every Step, a celebration of friendship by Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield

At home with muhammad ali, by hana yasmeen ali.

Book cover for At Home with Muhammad Ali

Written by his daughter Ali using material from her father's audio journals, love letters and her treasured family memories, this sports biography offers an intimate portrait of one of boxing's most legendary figures, and one of the most iconic sports personalities of all time. 

They Don't Teach This

By eniola aluko.

Book cover for They Don't Teach This

In her autobiography, footballer Eni Aluko addresses themes of dual nationality, race and institutional prejudice, success, gender and faith through her own experiences growing up in Britain. Part memoir, part manifesto for change, They Don't Teach This is a must-read book for 2020. 

Touching The Void

By joe simpson.

Book cover for Touching The Void

A million-copy bestseller, Touching The Void recounts Joe Simpson and Simon Yate's near fatal dscent after climbing Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. A few days after reaching the summit of the mountain, Simon staggered into Base Camp, exhausted and frost-bitten, with news that that Joe was dead. What happened to Joe, and how the pair dealt with the psychological traumas that resulted when Simon was forced into the appalling decision to cut the rope, makes not only an epic of survival but a compelling testament of friendship. 

The best celebrity autobiographies and biographies

By adrian edmondson.

Book cover for Berserker!

From brutal schooldays to 80s anarchy, through The Young Ones and beyond, Berserker! is the one-of-a-kind, fascinating memoir from an icon of British comedy, Adrian Edmondson. His star-studded anecdotes and outrageous stories are set to a soundtrack of pop hits, transporting the reader through time and cranking up the nostalgia. But, as one would expect, these stories are also a guaranteed laugh as Ade traces his journey through life and comedy. 

Being Henry

By henry winkler.

Book cover for Being Henry

Brilliant, funny, and widely-regarded as the nicest man in Hollywood, Henry Winkler shares the disheartening truth of his childhood, the difficulties of a life with severe dyslexia and the pressures of a role that takes on a life of its own. Since the glorious era of  Happy Days  fame, Henry has endeared himself to a new generation with roles in such adored shows as  Arrested Development and  Barry , where he’s revealed himself as an actor with immense depth and pathos. But Being Henry  is about so much more than a life in Hollywood and the curse of stardom. It is a meaningful testament to the power of sharing truth and of finding fulfillment within yourself.

What Are You Doing Here?

By floella benjamin.

Book cover for What Are You Doing Here?

Actress, television presenter, member of the House of Lords – Baroness Floella Benjamin is an inspiration to many. But it hasn't always been easy: in What Are You Doing Here?   she describes her journey to London as part of the Windrush generation, and the daily racism that caused her so much pain as a child. She has gone on to remain true to her values, from breaking down barriers as a Play School presenter to calling for diversity at the BBC and BAFTA to resisting the pressures of typecasting. Sharing the lessons she has learned, imbued with her joy and positivity, this autobiography is the moving testimony of a remarkable woman.

Life Lessons

By jay blades.

Book cover for Life Lessons

‘Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.’ Let Jay’s words of wisdom – gleaned from his own triumphs over adversity – help you to find your best path through life. Filled with characteristic warmth and humour, Jay talks about the life lessons that have helped him to find positivity and growth, no matter what he’s found himself facing. Jay shares not only his adventures and escapades but also the way they have shaped his outlook and helped him to live life to the fullest. His insight and advice give you everything you need to be able to reframe your own circumstances and make the best of them.

A Funny Life

By michael mcintyre.

Book cover for A Funny Life

Comic Michael McIntyre specialises in pin-sharp observational routines that have made him the world's bestselling funny man. But when he turns his gaze to himself and his own family, things get even funnier. This bracingly honest memoir covers the highs, lows and pratfalls of a career in comedy, as Michael climbs the greasy pole of success and desperately attempts to stay up there.

by Elton John

Book cover for Me

Elton John is one of the most successful singer/songwriters of all time, but success didn't come easily to him. In his bestselling autobiography, he charts his extraordinary life, from the early rejection of his work to the heady heights of international stardom and the challenges that came along with it. With candour and humour, he tells the stories of celebrity friendships with John Lennon, George Michael and Freddie Mercury, and of how he turned his life around and found love with David Furnish. Me is the real story of the man behind the music. 

And Away...

By bob mortimer.

Book cover for And Away...

National treasure and beloved entertainer, Bob Mortimer, takes us from his childhood in Middlesborough to working as a solicitor in London in his highly acclaimed autobiography. Mortimer’s life was trundling along happily until suddenly in 2015 he was diagnosed with a heart condition that required immediate surgery and forced him to cancel an upcoming tour. The book covers his numerous misadventures along his path to fame but also reflects on more serious themes, making this both one of the most humorous and poignant celebrity memoirs of recent years. 

by Walter Isaacson

Book cover for Steve Jobs

Based on interviews conducted with Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is filled with lessons about innovation, leadership, and values and has inspired a movie starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen. Isaacson tells the story of the rollercoaster life and searingly intense personality of creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized the tech industry. Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written and put nothing off limits, making this an unflinchingly candid account of one of the key figures of modern history.

Maybe I Don't Belong Here

By david harewood.

Book cover for Maybe I Don't Belong Here

When David Harewood was twenty-three, his acting career began to take flight and he had what he now understands to be a psychotic breakdown. He was physically restrained by six police officers, sedated, then hospitalized and transferred to a locked ward. Only now, thirty years later, has he been able to process what he went through. In this powerful and provocative account of a life lived after psychosis, critically acclaimed actor, David Harewood, uncovers a devastating family history and investigates the very real impact of racism on Black mental health.

Scenes from My Life

By michael k. williams.

Book cover for Scenes from My Life

When Michael K. Williams died on 6 September 2021, he left behind a career as one of the most electrifying actors of his generation. At the time of his death, Williams had nearly finished his memoir, which traces his life in whole, from his childhood and his early years as a dancer to his battles with addiction. Alongside his achievements on screen he was a committed activist who dedicated his life to helping at-risk young people find their voice and carve out their future. Imbued with poignance and raw honesty,  Scenes from My Life  is the story of a performer who gave his all to everything he did – in his own voice, in his own words.

The best political and historical autobiographies

The fall of boris johnson, by sebastian payne.

Book cover for The Fall of Boris Johnson

Sebastian Payne, Whitehall Editor for the Financial Times, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the fall of former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. After being touted saviour of the Conservative Party, it took Johnson just three years to resign after a series of scandals. From the blocked suspension of Owen Patterson to Partygate and the Chris Pincher allegations, Payne gives us unparalleled access to those who were in the room when key decisions were made, ultimately culminating in Boris's downfall. This is a gripping and timely look at how power is gained, wielded and lost in Britain today.

by Sung-Yoon Lee

Book cover for The Sister

The Sister , written by Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar and specialist on North Korea, uncovers the truth about Kim Yo Jong and her close bond with Kim Jong Un. In 2022, Kim Yo Jong threatened to nuke South Korea, reminding the world of the dangers posed by her state. But how did the youngest daughter of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, his ‘sweet princess’, become the ruthless chief propagandist, internal administrator and foreign policymaker for her brother’s totalitarian regime? Readable and insightful, this book is an invaluable portrait of a woman who might yet hold the survival of her despotic dynasty in her hands.

Long Walk To Freedom

By nelson mandela.

Book cover for Long Walk To Freedom

Deemed 'essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history' by former US President, Barack Obama, this is the autobiography of one of the world's greatest moral and political leaders, Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for more than 25 years, president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, the Nobel Peace Prize winner's life was nothing short of extraordinary. Long Walk to Freedom vividly tells this story; one of hardship, resilience and ultimate triumph, written with the clarity and eloquence of a born leader. 

The Diary of a Young Girl

By anne frank.

Book cover for The Diary of a Young Girl

No list of inspiring autobiographies would be complete without Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl . Charting the thirteen-year-old's time hiding in a 'Secret Annex' with her family to escape Gestapo detection, this book (which was discovered after Anne Frank's death), is a must-read, and a testament to the courage shown by the millions persecuted during the Second World War. 

The best literary autobiographies

The immortal life of henrietta lacks, by rebecca skloot.

Book cover for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Born to a poor black tobacco farmer in rural Virginia in 1920, Henrietta Lacks died of cancer when she was just 31. However, her story does not end there, as her cancer cells, taken without permission during her treatment continued to live on being used for research all over the world and becoming a multi-million dollar industry, with her family only learning of her impact more than two decades after her death. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot tells the story of a woman who never knew of her lifesaving impact and asks: do we ever really own our bodies? 

A Fortunate Woman

By polly morland.

Book cover for A Fortunate Woman

Funny, emotional and imbued with great depth, A Fortunate Woman is an exploration of the life of a country doctor in a remote and wild wooded valley in the Forest of Dean. The story was sparked when writer and documentary maker Polly Morland found a photograph of the valley she lives in tucked inside a tattered copy of John Berger’s  A Fortunate Man . Itself an account of the life of a country doctor, the book inspired a woman doctor to follow her vocation in the same remote place. And it is the story of this woman that Polly Morland tells, in this compelling portrait of landscape and community.

Father and Son

By jonathan raban.

Book cover for Father and Son

On 11 June 2011, three days short of his sixty-ninth birthday, Jonathan Raban suffered a stroke which left him unable to use the right side of his body. Learning to use a wheelchair in a rehab facility outside Seattle and resisting the ministrations of the nurses overseeing his recovery, Raban began to reflect upon the measure of his own life in the face of his own mortality. Together with the chronicle of his recovery is the extraordinary story of his parents’ marriage, the early years of which were conducted by letter while his father fought in the Second World War.

Crying in H Mart

By michelle zauner.

Book cover for Crying in H Mart

This radiant read by singer, songwriter and guitarist Michelle Zauner delves into the experience of being the only Asian-American child at her school in Eugene, Oregon, combined with family struggles and blissful escapes to her grandmother's tiny Seoul apartment. The family bond is the shared love of Korean food, which helped Michelle reclaim her Asian identity in her twenties. A lively, honest, riveting read.

The Reluctant Carer

By the reluctant carer.

Book cover for The Reluctant Carer

The phone rings. Your elderly father has been taken to hospital, and your even older mother is home with nobody to look after her. What do you do? Drop everything and go and help of course. But it's not that straightforward, and your own life starts to fall apart as quickly as their health. Irresistibly funny, unflinching and deeply moving, this is a love letter to family and friends, to carers and to anyone who has ever packed a small bag intent on staying for just a few days. This is a true story of what it really means to be a carer, and of the ties that bind even tighter when you least expect it. 

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The 55 Best Biographies of All Time

POSTED ON Nov 6, 2023

Nicole Ahlering

Written by Nicole Ahlering

There’s something special about a good biography . It can give us insight into the life of someone we admire, entertain and inspire us, and help us learn from other people’s trials.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of books out there documenting people’s life stories, be it in the form of autobiography or biography .

If you’re looking for a new one to pick up, which offers a captivating third-person account of another person’s life, here’s a list of the 55 best biographies to read (in our humble opinion)!

1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 

Best Biographies - Steve Jobs

Isaacson explores how the innovative Steve Jobs grew up to co-found Apple, Inc. If you’re interested in the tech industry or entrepreneurship, this is a good read for you. You’ll learn about Jobs’ pioneering spirit and the impacts he made on modern technology. 

2. Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

Best Biographies - Einstein

You’ll see a few biographies by Isaacson on this list. He’s a lauded and prolific author (not to mention former editor of Time, among other impressive positions). He wrote this biography to explore the man behind the groundbreaking work in physics and more. Read to satiate your intellectual curiosity. 

3. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Best Biographies - The Wright Brothers

We all know these two dynamic brothers changed aviation history, but do you know how they got there? McCullough set out to find out. Read this biography if you want to be inspired by two men who followed their dreams—all the way up into the sky. 

4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Best Biographies - The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

An intriguing title for an equally captivating biography! Lacks’ cells were—unbeknownst to her—used for medical research. Skloot wrote this biography to explore the ethics behind that decision. Read if you’re interested in the intersection between privacy and making medical advances. 

5. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow 

Best Biographies - Alexander Hamilton

History enthusiasts will love Chernow’s profile of one of America’s founding fathers. Not only will you learn about Hamilton’s personal life, but you’ll witness the ways he shaped a nation. 

6. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell 

Best Biographies - The Life Of Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson did it all: he was a poet, an essayist, a literary critic, and many other things—including a biographer himself! Boswell wrote this biography to explore the mind behind Johnson’s prolific body of work. This one is a fun read if you’re interested in the 18th-Century England literary scene. 

7. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Best Biographies -Bonhoeffer

If the title of this biography alone doesn’t make you want to read it, we don’t know what to tell you! Bonhoeffer—a German pastor who resisted the Nazis—is an excellent inspiration for any reader looking to summon more courage in their life. 

8. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Best Biographies - Cleopatra

If you’re under the impression that Cleopatra was Egyptian, exceptionally beautiful, or died from a snake bite, read this biography. Because none of those things are true! Schiff offers a fresh perspective on the famed leader. It’s a great read for any ancient history buff. 

9. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis 

Best Biographies - The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks

Did you know Parks did a lot of activism work outside of her famous bus encounter? Get a more comprehensive look into the life of this civil rights icon in Theoharis’ biography. 

10. Pablo Picasso: A Biography by Patrick O’Brian 

Best Biographies - Picasso

Did you know Picasso wrote poems and plays and created ceramics? There’s more to this famous artist than his abstract portraits. O’Brian gives us an inside look at this creative genius. Don’t miss this one if you’re in the visual arts. 

11. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris 

Best Biographies - The Rise Of Theodore Roosevelt

Interested in American History? Grab this biography by Morris. It details Roosevelt’s political ascent and the indomitable spirit required of him to get there. 

12. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Best Biographies - Walt Disney

If you’ve ever loved a Disney movie, you’ll want to read Gabler’s biography. He takes readers on a journey through the magical world Disney created and gives us insight into one of the most imaginative brains of the 20th century. 

1 3. Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey 

Best Biographies - Queen Victoria

Did you know that Queen Victoria was the second longest-reigning monarch? Learn about her life in this biography by Strachey. It’s a great read for anyone intrigued by the Victorian era (which, yes, was named after the queen). 

14. Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon 

Best Biographies - Mozart

Can’t get enough of Symphony No. 40 in G Minor? This is the biography for you. Solomon takes a deep dive into Mozart’s creative talent and the world of classical music. 

15. The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles

best biography read

Interested in entrepreneurship ? There’s no better read for you than Stiles’ biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a ruthless businessman who dramatically influenced America’s economic landscape. 

16. Grant by Ron Chernow 

Best Biographies - Grant

Another presidential biography by Chernow, this one profiles Ulysses S. Grant’s journey as the Union general and president of the United States. Read this biography if you’re intrigued by the tumultuous time in American history over which Grant presided. 

17. The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

Best Biographies - The Woman Who Smashed Codes

We can all agree there aren’t enough biographies written about badass women. (Maybe you’ll be the next to write one ?) But we’re thankful for this epic profile by Fagone. It profiles Elizabeth Smith Friedman, a World War II codebreaker who contributed heavily to the field of cryptography. Read for a serious dose of girl power. 

18. CoCo Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie 

Best Biographies - Coco Chanel

Got a bottle of Chanel No. 5 sitting on your shelf? You should pick up this biography by Picardie. In it, we get a glimpse of the iconic fashion designer’s career journey, and also her personal life. 

19. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Best Biographies - Charles Dickens

Fans of A Tale of Two Cities will want to grab a copy of Tomalin’s excellent memoir . You’ll learn about the famous Victorian novelist, including about his lesser-known social activism. 

20. Kafka: The Early Years by Reiner Stach 

Best Biographies - Kafka: The Early Years

Calling all existentialists. You’ll want to get your hands on Stach’s biography of Kafka. Learn about this enigmatic writer’s relationships, struggles, and unique creative process. (P.S. Be sure to read the other books in this three-volume series on Kafka.)

21. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance 

Best Biographies - Elon Musk

Looking for something contemporary? Try Vance’s biography of Elon Musk. In it, you’ll get a glimpse of Musk’s efforts to transform various industries. It’s a great read for all the innovative thinkers out there!

22. Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank 

Best Biographies - Indira

Gandhi was India’s first female prime minister. In her fascinating biography, Frank explores the personal and political challenges Gandhi faced during her tenure. Read this one to be reminded you can overcome any challenge. 

23. Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith 

Best Biographies - Elizabeth The Queen

Explore the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II in this well-researched biography. Anyone into the monarchy should pick this book up–Elizabeth II is one of the most enduring (and iconic) queens. 

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

Best Biographies - Team Of Rivals

Learn how Lincoln won over his opposition and steered the country through civil war in this fascinating biography. It’s a great read if you want to learn more about the early leaders who shaped the United States, or if you're looking for inspiration on how to write a book about war .

25. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and The Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro 

Best Biographies - The Power Broker

Robert Moses, a power-hungry city planner, is the fascinating subject of this biography by Caro. Read it to understand how one man’s vision can transform an entire city. 

26. Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday 

Best Biographies - Mao: The Unknown Story

Learn the sordid history of the scheming Chairman Mao Zedong. The authors of this biography spent a decade researching and interviewing to put together a book that will upend everything you know about this infamous leader. 

27. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie 

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

28. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester and Paul Reid 

Best Biographies - The Last Lion

Learn about one of the United Kingdom’s most famous prime ministers and how he guided his country through World War II and beyond. This is a great biography for anyone looking to become a leader; Churchill’s invincible spirit will inspire you. 

29. Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser 

Best Biographies - Marie Antoinette

Did you know Antoinette didn’t actually say “Let them eat cake”? She also wasn’t as frivolous, dim-witted, or out-of-touch as she is often portrayed. To get the real picture of what Antoinette was like, read Fraser’s biography. We promise you’ll learn something new about this infamous queen. 

30. Charles Darwin: A Biography , Vol. 1 and 2 by Janet Browne

Best Biographies - Charles Darwin

Interested in science and biology? Don’t miss this two volume biography about Charles Darwin, who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection. You’ll learn that he was not only a scientist but deeply interested in literature and the arts. 

31. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones

Best Biographies - Jim Henson

Learn about the bearded dreamer behind the creation of the beloved Muppets. This is a great biography to pick up when you need an infusion of joy and inspiration.

32. Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart

Best Biographies - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RBG continues to inspire women everywhere, even after her passing. If you’re one of her admirers, you’ll like De Hart’s biography. It details Ginsberg’s journey to the Supreme Court, following her legal career, gender advocacy work, and more. 

33. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson 

Best Biographies - Che

Learn about the Argentine Revolutionary in this biography by Anderson. You’ll gain new insights about his ideology and the massive impact he had on Latin American politics. 

34. The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman 

Best Biographies - The Secret Life Of Houdini

Want to learn some of the secrets of the world’s most famous escape artist and magician? This is the biography for you. Get a glimpse into his world of illusion and escape reality for a little while. 

35. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noël Riley Fitch

Best Biographies - Appetite For Life

We all know and love the ebullient Julia Child. Now you can learn about how she rose to culinary stardom in this biography by Fitch. Read this when you want to feel inspired to get back into the kitchen. 

36. Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda 

Best Biographies - Catherine De Medici

Learn about the life of this powerful queen in Frieda’s biography. It’s a great read for anyone interested in the Renaissance, the French court, and the monarchy. 

37. Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw 

Best Biographies - Andrew Carnegie

Want to know more about one of America’s most famous industrialists? Track down a copy of Nasaw’s biography. It covers not only Carnegie’s business empire but his philanthropic legacy too. Carnegie made many enduring contributions to libraries, education, and more.

38. Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd 

Best Biographies - Shakespeare

Here’s one for the classic literature students. Learn all about the poet and playwright’s life and literary achievements. This biography would make a great gift for the Romeo and Juliet fan in your life. 

39. The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England by John Cooper

Best Biographies - The Queen'S Agent

Need a break from mystery novels but still want to read something spy-centric? Cooper’s biography is for you. In it, you’ll explore the life of Elizabeth I’s spymaster, who had a large hand in shaping modern espionage. 

40. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Best Biographies - The Emperor Of  All Maladies

Want to read a biography about something other than a person? Here’s an interesting—if morbid—alternative. Get a comprehensive overview of the history and science of cancer. Plus learn about the progress we’re making to fight the disease. 

41. Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie 

Best Biographies - Madame Curie

This very special biography of Madam Curie—the first woman to win a Nobel prize—was written by her own daughter. Get Eve’s personal perspective on her mother’s life, her groundbreaking work in the field of radioactivity, and more. This one is a can’t-miss. 

42. Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man Who Invented the 20th Century by Sean Patrick 

Best Biographies - Nikola Tesla

Interested in inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla? Here’s the biography for you. Get insights into the brilliant mind behind major innovations in electricity and technology. 

43. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel  

Best Biographies - The Man Who Knew Infinity

Torn between your love of math and reading? You don’t have to choose with this biography by Kanigel. It details the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a genius Indian mathematician who changed the game with his contributions to number theory. 

44. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford 

Best Biographies - The Man Who Invented Christmas

Ready to get in the holiday spirit? Read Standiford’s biography to learn about Dickens’s life and how his classic literary masterpiece changed the holidays forever. 

45. The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester

Best Biographies - The Man Who Loved China

Are you a Sinophile? You’ll love this biography by Winchester. It details the life of Joseph Needham, a British biochemist who did extensive work on the history of science in China. Read to learn about his contributions to cross-cultural understanding.

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

Best Biographies - The Black Count

Curious about the man who inspired the character in The Count of Monte Cristo ? Read this biography about Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a mixed-race soldier who had a notable influence on literature and history. 

47. The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers 

Best Biographies - The Monk Of Mokha

Did you know Yemen has a rich coffee heritage? Eggers profiles Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemen-American who revitalizes Yemen’s coffee industry amidst the country’s turmoil. 

48. The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose 

Best Biographies - The Lives Of The Muses

How about a biography of nine people instead of one? In this unique book, Prose shares a glimpse into the lives of the women behind some of our most famous artists’ influential works. 

49. The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan

Best Biographies - The Immortal Irishman

Interested in the intersection of Irish and American history? Read Egan’s biography to learn about Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish revolutionary who played a key role in both the Irish Rebellion and the American Civil War. 

50. Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir 

Best Biographies - Queen Isabella

Intrigued by the bold queen who helped to overthrow her husband? Pick up Weir’s biography. You’ll get to know the life and politics of one of the most infamous members of the monarchy. 

51. Hannibal: The Enemy of Rome by Leonard Cottrell 

Best Biographies - Hannibal: Enemy Of Rome

Love learning about epic battles and warfare? Learn about the Carthaginian general and his legendary campaigns against Rome in Cottrell’s biography. 

52. Galileo: A Life by James Reston Jr.

Best Biographies - Galileo

Want to learn more about the famed Italian scientist and astronomer? This biography delves deep into not only Galilieo’s contributions to the scientific revolution but also his turbulent relationship with the Catholic church. 

53. Mary S he lley by Miranda Seymour 

Best Biographies - Mary Shelley

Shelley was just 18 years old when she wrote Frankenstein , an achievement all the more remarkable when you consider the decade in which she wrote it. If you’d like to learn more about this genius author, Seymour’s book is for you. 

54. Casanova: The World of a Seductive Genius by Laurence Bergreen

Best Biographies - Casanova

In the mood for something sensual and informative? Look no further than Bergreen’s biography of Casanova. The Italian libertine made a lasting impact on European culture and now you can follow along with his escapades. 

55. Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison 

Best Biographies - Joan Of Arc

Want to be inspired by some serious girl power? Read this biography about the French Heroine who helped alter the course of the Hundred Years’ War. You’ll learn about her faith, her mission, and her incredible leadership prowess.  

Final thoughts 

Now that you know what biographies are a must-read, it’s time to hit the library. Or if you’d like to, you can start writing a biography . Or maybe now you feel inspired to write a memoir (in case you need one, here's a refresher on the difference between a memoir and biography ). If this sounds insurmountable, we’re here to help. After all, when you have a clear plan and someone holding your hand along the way, the process is much easier to complete. 

We’ve helped thousands of writers self-publish their own books, and we can help you too. To get started, just schedule a book consultation or download your Ebook below. We can’t wait to meet you! 

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The Best New Biographies of 2023

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CJ Connor is a cozy mystery and romance writer whose main goal in life is to make their dog proud. They are a Pitch Wars alumnus and an Author Mentor Match R9 mentor. Their debut mystery novel BOARD TO DEATH is forthcoming from Kensington Books. Twitter: @cjconnorwrites | cjconnorwrites.com

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Read on to discover nine of the best biographies published within the last year. Included are life stories of singular people, including celebrated artists and significant historical figures, as well as collective biographies.

The books included in this list have all been released as of writing, but biography lovers still have plenty to look forward to before the year is out. A few to keep your eye out for in the coming months:

  • The World According to Joan Didion by Evelyn McDonnell (HarperOne, September 26)
  • Einstein in Time and Space by Samuel Graydon (Scribner, November 14)
  • Overlooked: A Celebration of Remarkable, Underappreciated People Who Broke the Rules and Changed the World by Amisha Padnani (Penguin Random House, November 14).

Without further ado, here are the best biographies of 2023 so far!

Master Slave Husband Wife cover

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo

Ellen and William Craft were a Black married couple who freed themselves from slavery in 1848 by disguising themselves as a traveling white man and an enslaved person. Author Ilyon Woo recounts their thousand-mile journey to seek safety in the North and their escape from the United States in the months following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

The art thief cover

The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel

Written over a period of 11 years with exclusive journalistic access to the subject, author Michael Finkel explores the motivations, heists, and repercussions faced by the notorious and prolific art thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Of special focus is his relationship with his girlfriend and accomplice, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus.

King cover

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

While recently published, King: A Life is already considered to be the most well-researched biography of Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. published in decades. New York Times bestselling journalist Jonathan Eig explores the life and legacy of Dr. King through thousands of historical records, including recently declassified FBI documents.

Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters cover

Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters by Lynnée Denise

This biography is part of the Why Music Matters series from the University of Texas. It reflects on the legendary blues singer’s life through an essay collection in which the author (also an accomplished musician) seeks to recreate the feeling of browsing through a box of records.

Young Queens cover

Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power by Leah Redmond Chang

Historian Leah Redmond Chang’s latest book release focuses on three aristocratic women in Renaissance Europe: Catherine de’ Medici, Elizabeth de Valois, and Mary, Queen of Scots. As a specific focus, she examines the juxtaposition between the immense power they wielded and yet the ways they remained vulnerable to the patriarchal, misogynistic societies in which they existed.

Daughter of the Dragon cover

Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang

Anna May Wong was a 20th-century actress who found great acclaim while still facing discrimination and typecasting as a Chinese woman. University of California professor Yunte Huang explores her life and impact on the American film industry and challenges racist depictions of her in accounts of Hollywood history in this thought-provoking biography.

Twice as hard cover

Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians, from the Civil War to the 21st Century by Jasmine Brown

Written by Rhodes Scholar and University of Pennsylvania medical student Jasmine Brown, this collective biography shares the experiences and accomplishments of nine Black women physicians in U.S. history — including Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black American woman to earn a medical degree in the 1860s, and Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

Larry McMurtry cover

Larry McMurtry: A Life by Tracy Daugherty

Two years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s death, this biography presents a comprehensive history of Larry McMurtry’s life and legacy as one of the most acclaimed Western writers of all time.

The Kneeling Man cover

The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by Leta McCollough Seletzky

Journalist Leta McCollough Seletzky examines her father, Marrell “Mac” McCollough’s complicated legacy as a Black undercover cop and later a member of the CIA. In particular, she shares his account as a witness of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.

Are you a history buff looking for more recommendations? Try these.

  • Best History Books by Era
  • Books for a More Inclusive Look at American History
  • Fascinating Food History Books

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15 Best Biographies To Read

Need something great to read? Here are the best biographies available to buy and enjoy this year.

There are so many great biographies books on the market, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start reading.

Bestselling biography books usually tell a fascinating true story.

Whether it’s about a young US entrepreneur, a definitive biography on African American women from the twentieth century, or an inspiring life story, there are endless incredible stories to read.

Here are some picks on the best biographies available to read.

1. The Liars Club by Mary Karr

2. can’t hurt me by david goggins, 3. down and out in paris and london by george orwell, 4. the journals of john cheever, 5. the night of the gun by david carr, 6. einstein: his life and universe by walter isaacson, 7. steve jobs: the exclusive biography by walter isaacson, 8. what i talk about when i talk about running by haruki murakami, 9. speak, memory: an autobiography revisited by vladimir nabokov, 10. can’t we talk about something more pleasant a memoir by roz chast, 11. just kids by patti smith, 12. total recall by arnold schwarzenegger, 13. open by andre agassi, 14. endurance: a year in space by scott kelly, 15. endurance: shackleton’s incredible voyage by alfred lansing, best biographies: the final word.

The Liars Club

This memoir is a funny heartfelt story of Mary’ Karr’s early family life and upbringing in East Texas.

She offers details about her mother who was married seven times, and her father who told stories with his crew “The Liars Club”.

This true story of a family’s reality breaks down the early life of a young girl and now a woman, telling an incredible story.

Karr writes,

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr

The Liars' Club: A Memoir

  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Karr, Mary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 05/31/2005 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

Can’t Hurt Me

Goggins writes about the path to success through embracing pain and fear rather than avoiding them.

His story is bleak. He recounts his early life in poverty, racism and abuse.

Stick with it. Goggins then explores how to overcome any struggle. He explains how he became a champion ultrarunner and US Navy seal through mastering his mind.

“Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.” David Goggins

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

  • Goggins, David (Author)
  • 366 Pages - 12/04/2018 (Publication Date) - Lioncrest Publishing (Publisher)

Down and Out in Paris and London

This was written after Orwell’s return to London from Burma. He studied poverty and life by taking on the role of a tramp around London.

He has written about the daily reality and life stories of those at the lowest level of society. Orwell aims to show the difficulties and inform society about poverty’s origin and realities in the twentieth century.

Orwell says,

“If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, “I’m a free man in here” – he tapped his forehead – “and you’re all right.” George Orwell

Down And Out In Paris And London

  • Orwell, George (Author)
  • 196 Pages - 03/15/1972 (Publication Date) - Mariner Books Classics (Publisher)

The Journals Of John Cheever

The Journals offers a deep insight into John Cheever’s creation of his writings. It is a notebook of the inner world he experienced and his struggles with marriage, the craft of writing and alcoholism.

Through journal entries, Cheever examines his family, literary and emotional lives. He writes,

“I know some people who are afraid to write a business letter because they will encounter and reveal themselves.” John Cheever

The Journals of John Cheever (Vintage International)

  • Cheever, John (Author)
  • 418 Pages - 10/05/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

The Night of the Gun

In this book, New York Times journalist Carr talks about his fall into hell through drug addiction and alcoholism. He explains how he worked to get life with his two daughters back on track.

Sadly, a sober Carr passed away in 2015.

The book is a captivating and thoughtful writing on the reality of Carr’s life. He writes,

“We tell ourselves that we lie to protect others, but the self usually comes out looking damn good in the process.” David Carr

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.

  • Carr, David (Author)
  • 401 Pages - 08/05/2008 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein continues to fascinate the world. He was brilliant, funny and rebellious.

Isaacson shows the story of Einstein with his creativity, freedom, and his ability to question conventional thought. He found mystery and beauty in everyday things.

The book looks at Einstein’s respect for free minds, spirits and individuals as he helped bring in the modern age.

The book quotes Einstein who says:

“To dwell on the things that depress or anger us does not help in overcoming them. One must knock them down alone.” Albert Einstein

Einstein: His Life and Universe

  • Isaacson, Walter (Author)
  • 705 Pages - 04/10/2007 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography

Isaacson completed more than 40 interviews with Steve Jobs . He also interviewed Job’s family, friends, and competitors.

He focuses on Jobs’ drive and innovative edge to connect creativity with tech. People in the book speak honestly and are candid.

The book shows Jobs’s passion, perfectionism, obsessions and artistry in his approach to business.

Isaacson quotes Jobs,

“I want to put a ding in the universe.” Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

  • 656 Pages - 10/24/2011 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Murakami reflects on how the sport of running has affected his life and his writing. He writes about training, his travels and memories of running experiences.

He looks at his life and draws insights through his love of the sport. His writing is funny and serious at the same time. It is a great book for those who want to learn about the link between exercise and creativity .

Murakami writes,

“The most important thing we learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school” Haruki Murakami

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International)

  • Murakami, Haruki (Author)
  • 194 Pages - 07/29/2008 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

This autobiography was first published in 1951 under the title Conclusive Evidence. Nabokov revises it in 1966 and creates elegant and deep writing of his life and times in Russia before the rise of Communism.

He looks at his significant works and offers insights. Nabokov says about memory,

“One is always at home in one’s past.” Vladimir Nabokov

Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (Vintage International)

  • Nabokov, Vladimir (Author)
  • 282 Pages - 02/16/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

Chast’s narrative offers laughs and tears as it explains how the loss of elderly parents is life-altering.

Working through denial, avoidance, and trying to be distracted as children end up in the parental role. This memoir looks at two lives coming to their end and an only child trying her best.

Chast’s honesty is wonderful:

“I gave up on ever trying to get ‘my way.’ I barely knew it existed.” Roz Chast

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir

  • Chast, Roz (Author)
  • 240 Pages - 05/06/2014 (Publication Date) - Bloomsbury USA (Publisher)

Just Kids by Patti Smith

In this book, artist and singer Patti Smith writes about her life with artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Her biography is a love story with a salute to NYC in the 60s and 70s. It’s also a good insight into her creative process.

Smith writes,

“No one expected me. Everything awaited me.” Patti Smith

Just Kids: A National Book Award Winner

  • Smith, Patti (Author)
  • 320 Pages - 11/02/2010 (Publication Date) - Ecco (Publisher)

Total Recall

Schwarzenegger’s bio contains many interesting stories about his multiple careers. He recounts his life in bodybuilding, politics, movies and the drama-filled world of the Kennedys .

He understands himself and knows how to attain the things he wants, saying

“If you want to turn a vision into reality, you have to give 100% and never stop believing in your dream.” Arnold Schwarzenegger

Total Recall (Enhanced Edition): My Unbelievably True Life Story

  • Schwarzenegger, Arnold (Author)

Open

Tennis champ Andre Agassi offers a story about his remarkable life. He recounts his life as a tennis prodigy and how he became the best in the sport.

The autobiography tells of his unhappiness off the court and the building of his resentment of the sport. The book is a deep revelation of his life and career through all its ups and downs.

Agassi writes,

“It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence because every match is a life in miniature.” Andre Agassi

Open

  • Agassi, Andre (Author)
  • 547 Pages - 12/24/2009 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

Endurance: A Year in Space

In this book, Scott Kelly describes his journey to becoming an astronaut and spending a year in space. He tells the story of long-term spaceflight, its effects on the body, the intense isolation from those on Earth and the inability to support loved ones.

Humor, reality and honesty make this book a wonderful read .

Kelly says,

“If you were doing something safe, something you already knew could be done, you were wasting time” Scott Kelly

Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery

  • Kelly, Scott (Author)
  • 379 Pages - 10/17/2017 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

The biography of Earnest Shackleton’s journey about the Endurance to land in Antarctica is stellar. The tale recounts how his ship Endurance became icebound in 1914, and the ordeal that followed for Shakleton and his 27-man crew.

The author says,

“Of all their enemies — the cold, the ice, the sea — he feared none more than demoralization.” Alfred Lansing on Ernest Shackleton

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

  • Lansing, Alfred (Author)
  • 292 Pages - 04/29/2014 (Publication Date) - Basic Books (Publisher)

Some of the best biographies on the market will inspire, entice, and teach. Anyone will love this great range of personal, business, and athletic stories that tell life’s tales.

Want more? Check out our list of:

  • The Best Audiobooks
  • The Best Productivity and Time Management Books
  • The Best Self-help Books
  • The Best Writing Books
  • The Best Leadership Books

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Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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David Bordwell, Scholar Who Demystified the Art of Film, Dies at 76

His scholarship focused on how movies work. Roger Ebert called him “our best writer on the cinema.”

David Bordwell wearing a blue shirt, tan pants and a gray beard while sitting amid film reels while looking up at the camera and smiling.

By Michael S. Rosenwald

David Bordwell, a film studies scholar whose immersive, accessible writing transcended the corridors of academia and illuminated the mechanics of moviemaking to a generation of cinephiles and filmmakers, died on Feb. 29 at his home in Madison, Wis. He was 76.

The cause was interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, said his wife, Kristin Thompson, a prominent film scholar who frequently collaborated with him.

Dr. Bordwell taught at the University of Wisconsin for 30 years and wrote or co-wrote more than 20 books, including “Film Art: An Introduction” (1979), a textbook written with his wife that is widely used in film studies programs. After Dr. Bordwell retired in 2004, he and Dr. Thompson analyzed movies on his blog at davidbordwell.net and in videos for the Criterion Channel .

Hailed as “our best writer on the cinema” by Roger Ebert , Dr. Bordwell analyzed film in a way that avoided ivory-tower theories on the social and political undertones of movies in favor of clear, frame-by-frame examinations of scene structure, shot angles and other elements of filmmaking.

In a blog post about “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s 2010 film recounting the founding of Facebook, he analyzed the facial expressions of the Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield) during a scene when Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) blindsides him.

Dr. Bordwell used a single frame , which he cropped into several images.

In the first image, only Eduardo’s eyes are visible. “Certainly they give us information — about the direction the person is looking, about a certain state of alertness,” Dr. Bordwell wrote. “The lids aren’t lifted to suggest surprise or fear, but I think you’d agree that no specific emotion seems to emerge from the eyes alone.”

The next image adds Eduardo’s eyebrows. “Now there’s a degree of surprise,” he wrote. “The brows are lifted somewhat. But still the emotion seems fairly unspecific: not particularly sad or angry or distressed; probably not joyous either.”

The final image shows Eduardo’s entire face. “The sloping brows suggest the man is trying to figure out what’s happened; but the mouth is a slight gape,” Dr. Bordwell wrote. “You can almost imagine the lips murmuring: ‘Ohhh,’ or ‘Wow,’ and not in appreciation or pleasure. If you wanted to show someone being blindsided, this is a pretty precise way to do it.”

Dr. Bordwell watched thousands of movies — perhaps tens of thousands. He did not discriminate between summer blockbusters and art-house fare. One of his favorite films was “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), based on a Tom Clancy spy thriller. Another was “Sanshiro Sugata,” a 1943 Japanese martial arts film directed by Akira Kurosawa .

Colleagues knew him as a walking Wikipedia of movies. “Here is a man,” Mr. Ebert wrote , “who recalls every film he has ever seen, and where, and when, and why, and where he sat, and usually who he sat next to.”

Which was typically in the front row.

“I know that most people find this sheer madness,” Dr. Bordwell wrote , but he more or less lived for “scanning the frame in great saccadic sweeps and even sometimes turning my head to follow the action.”

David Jay Bordwell was born on July 23, 1947, in Penn Yan, a village in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where his parents, Jay and Marjorie (Jones) Bordwell, operated a small farm.

He loved movies, but there was only one theater in town, so most of his cinema consumption was limited to whatever played on television. He was a prodigious reader, especially about movies. One of his favorite books was Arthur Knight’s “The Liveliest Art” (1957), a history of filmmaking.

After graduating from the State University of New York at Albany with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969, Dr. Bordwell received his master’s and Ph.D. in speech and dramatic arts, with a concentration in film, from the University of Iowa.

While at Iowa, he met Dr. Thompson, who was also studying film in graduate school. After Dr. Bordwell was hired as a professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1973, Dr. Thompson took up her Ph.D. studies there. They married in 1979.

Film studies was a nascent academic field in the 1970s, but the university was an ideal place for a young and ambitious cinema scholar: The library had an archive of more than 5,000 films from the United Artists collection. There were also more than 20 film societies.

“There were a couple shows a night,” Dr. Thompson said in an interview. “You had this cornucopia of classic Hollywood films and Ingrid Bergman films and so on. Practically every night we’d go watch films.”

Dr. Bordwell’s books include “The Classical Hollywood Cinema” (1985), an examination of the technological and institutional factors that shaped Hollywood movies; “Narration in the Fiction Film” (1985), a treatise on how films tell stories; and “On the History of Film Style” (1997), an inquiry into how film scholars analyze movies.

In 2011, Dr. Bordwell and his wife published “Minding Movies,” a collection of their blog posts.

“We don’t have all the answers about this still-new art form, but we have a lot of questions,” they wrote in the introduction. “How is the medium of cinema used in different times and places? How do narrative and other formal principles get deployed in particular films?"

Readers, they argued, aren’t served well by most film writing.

“On one side are academics housed in departments of film studies, whose audiences are principally other faculty and students,” they wrote. “Surprisingly, a great many of these academics are not interested in film as an art form but instead treat it as a vehicle of social attitudes.”

And then there are what they referred to as the “journalist-critics.” “These writers usually think of film as an art, but they seldom probe it in the depth that we find in other areas of arts journalism,” they wrote.

Their goal was to “freeze-frame a mercurial art form long enough to offer fresh information and explore ideas at leisure. If the prospect of thinking seriously but not solemnly about movies intrigues you, read on.”

Dr. Bordwell’s first marriage, to Barbara Weinstein in 1970, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sisters, Diane Bordwell Verma and Darlene Bordwell.

His analysis of movies was so perceptive that at least one Hollywood screenwriter, after reading blog posts about his own films, thought Dr. Bordwell had taken up residence in his brain.

“He made an observation that I write a lot of things that naturally gravitate toward some sense of confinement,” David Koepp, the writer of “Jurassic Park” and “Mission: Impossible,” said in an interview. “Like whether the story takes place over 24 hours or all in a townhouse in New York City or over a weekend or just two characters.”

He added, “It actually helped me understand how I approach things, because I never thought of it that way before.”

Reader's Digest

Reader's Digest

34 Best Audiobooks in Every Category to Listen To

Posted: July 28, 2023 | Last updated: February 9, 2024

<p>Whether reading is your new favorite pastime or you've always loved books, you're in luck. Because <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/what-happens-when-you-read-every-day/" rel="noopener noreferrer">when you read every day</a>, chances are you're doing more than just enjoying a good story: Reading is a workout for your brain that could lead to an improved IQ and vocabulary, as well as reduce your risk of dementia. But what if you don't have the time to pick up an actual book? Choosing the best audiobooks is a great hands-free alternative you can enjoy just about anywhere.</p> <p>Start your search for the best audiobooks by signing up for Audible's free trial via your Amazon account. In addition to the best Audible books, there are plenty of other <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/download-and-listen-to-free-audiobooks/" rel="noopener noreferrer">ways to listen to free audiobooks</a> (legally) if you don't want to commit to a subscription service. Regardless of your interests, schedule, or budget, there's something for you, be it <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/classic-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">classic books</a>, gripping <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-nonfiction-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">nonfiction books</a>, book series, or even some of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/books-read-before-die/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best books of all time</a>. If you want to make listening to storytelling a family affair, you can also find the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/family-audiobooks/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best family audiobooks</a> and a ton of <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/free-audiobooks-for-kids/" rel="noopener noreferrer">free audiobooks for kids</a>.</p> <h2>How we chose the best audiobooks</h2> <p>The audiobooks in our curated collection come from a variety of best-of lists, critically acclaimed titles, and award winners, mixed with some of our personal favorites. These selections include brilliant debuts from new authors, anticipated novels from your favorite writers, highly rated books, nonfiction written by experts in their fields, and a few tried-and-true classics. Our picks also reflect not just the book's merit, but also the quality of the audio narration—you'll recognize some celebrity voices here! Keep reading to find the best audiobooks in every category to start listening to today.</p>

Best audiobooks of all time

Whether reading is your new favorite pastime or you've always loved books, you're in luck. Because when you read every day , chances are you're doing more than just enjoying a good story: Reading is a workout for your brain that could lead to an improved IQ and vocabulary, as well as reduce your risk of dementia. But what if you don't have the time to pick up an actual book? Choosing the best audiobooks is a great hands-free alternative you can enjoy just about anywhere.

Start your search for the best audiobooks by signing up for Audible's free trial via your Amazon account. In addition to the best Audible books, there are plenty of other ways to listen to free audiobooks (legally) if you don't want to commit to a subscription service. Regardless of your interests, schedule, or budget, there's something for you, be it classic books, gripping nonfiction books, book series, or even some of the best books of all time.

If you want to make listening to storytelling a family affair, you can also find the best family audiobooks and a ton of free audiobooks for kids .

Join the free Reader’s Digest Book Club for great reads, monthly discussions, author Q&As and a community of book lovers.

How we chose the best audiobooks

The audiobooks in our curated collection come from a variety of best-of lists, critically acclaimed titles, and award winners, mixed with some of our personal favorites. These selections include brilliant debuts from new authors, anticipated novels from your favorite writers, highly rated books, nonfiction written by experts in their fields, and a few tried-and-true classics. Our picks also reflect not just the book's merit, but also the quality of the audio narration—you'll recognize some celebrity voices here! Keep reading to find the best audiobooks in every category to start listening to today.

Looking for your next great book? Read four of today’s bestselling novels in the time it takes to read one with  Reader’s Digest Select Editions . And be sure to follow the Select Editions page on Facebook !

<h3 class=""><strong><em>Cloud Cuckoo Land</em> by Anthony Doerr</strong></h3> <p>In Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr's newest novel, five characters all have one thing in common, in spite of spanning almost 600 years: their love for a long-lost and, at times, nonsensical story written by the ancient Greek author Antonius Diogenes. For them, this story has a massive impact and is alternately entertaining, consoling, motivating, even life-saving. One of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-fiction-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">best fiction books</a> of the year, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Cloud-Cuckoo-Land-A-Novel/dp/B08TX66JJ7" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Cloud Cuckoo Land</em></a> immediately won over critics and readers alike. It was on the <em>New York Times</em> best-seller list for 11 weeks and earned a spot in <em>AudioFile Magazine</em>'s Best Audiobooks of 2021. It has also been named a <em>New York Times </em>Notable Book, a Barack Obama Favorite, a National Book Award Finalist, and more.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Cloud-Cuckoo-Land-A-Novel/dp/B08TX66JJ7">Shop Now</a></p>

Best fiction audiobook

Cloud cuckoo land by anthony doerr.

In Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr's newest novel, five characters all have one thing in common, in spite of spanning almost 600 years: their love for a long-lost and, at times, nonsensical story written by the ancient Greek author Antonius Diogenes. For them, this story has a massive impact and is alternately entertaining, consoling, motivating, even life-saving. One of the best fiction books of the year, Cloud Cuckoo Land immediately won over critics and readers alike. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for 11 weeks and earned a spot in AudioFile Magazine 's Best Audiobooks of 2021. It has also been named a New York Times Notable Book, a Barack Obama Favorite, a National Book Award Finalist, and more.

<h3><strong><em>Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law </em>by Mary Roach</strong></h3> <p>Can nature break the law? Popular science writer Mary Roach delves into the science behind human-animal conflict to answer just that in <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Fuzz-When-Nature-Breaks-Law/dp/B093TF9P25/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Fuzz</em></a>. She tagged along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller blasters in attempts to uncover the best ways to solve or prevent conflicts between humans and wildlife. While talking about getting mugged by monkeys and taste-testing rat bait, she mixes plenty of her trademark humor with a wealth of scientific facts in her own narration, making it one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/funniest-books-of-all-time/" rel="noopener noreferrer">funniest books</a> to listen to as well.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Fuzz-When-Nature-Breaks-Law/dp/B093TF9P25/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best nonfiction audiobook

Fuzz: when nature breaks the law by mary roach.

Can nature break the law? Popular science writer Mary Roach delves into the science behind human-animal conflict to answer just that in Fuzz . She tagged along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller blasters in attempts to uncover the best ways to solve or prevent conflicts between humans and wildlife. While talking about getting mugged by monkeys and taste-testing rat bait, she mixes plenty of her trademark humor with a wealth of scientific facts in her own narration, making it one of the funniest books to listen to as well.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>Win</em> by Harlan Coben</strong></h3> <p>Fans of the Myron Bolitar series who already love the morally gray sidekick Windsor Horne Lockwood III are ecstatic that master of <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-thriller-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">thriller books</a> Harlan Coben has finally given <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Win/dp/B08L9K245G/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Win</em></a> his own set of spin-off novels. In this series starter, Win's suitcase and a long-lost stolen painting belonging to his family are discovered in the penthouse apartment of a murder victim. Win has no idea how they ended up there, but his personal connection to the case leads him to take up his own investigation using his own fortune and unique ideas of justice. The audiobook is read by actor and frequent Coben narrator Steven Weber.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Win/dp/B08L9K245G/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best thriller audiobook

Win by harlan coben.

Fans of the Myron Bolitar series who already love the morally gray sidekick Windsor Horne Lockwood III are ecstatic that master of thriller books Harlan Coben has finally given Win his own set of spin-off novels. In this series starter, Win's suitcase and a long-lost stolen painting belonging to his family are discovered in the penthouse apartment of a murder victim. Win has no idea how they ended up there, but his personal connection to the case leads him to take up his own investigation using his own fortune and unique ideas of justice. The audiobook is read by actor and frequent Coben narrator Steven Weber.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>A Court of Thorns and Roses</em> by Sarah J. Maas</strong></h3> <p>Whether you're lover of <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/the-best-fantasy-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">fantasy books</a> or have never before mingled with any high fae, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/A-Court-of-Thorns-and-Roses-audiobook/dp/B00WXS68T4/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>A Court of Thorns and Roses</em></a> is a must-read. In this novel, loosely based on <em>Beauty and the Beast</em>, readers will meet Feyre, a 19-year-old huntress whose skills are the only things keeping her family alive. But trouble comes to her cabin after she kills a wolf during one of her hunts—which wasn't a wolf at all, but rather a shape-shifting faerie whose high lord comes and steals her away as retribution. She finds herself captive at the cursed Spring Court, ruled by the immortal and beautiful Tamlin. As Feyre adapts to his world, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion, and she'll do anything she can to break the curse—or risk losing him forever.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/A-Court-of-Thorns-and-Roses-audiobook/dp/B00WXS68T4/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best fantasy audiobook

A court of thorns and roses by sarah j. maas.

Whether you're lover of fantasy books or have never before mingled with any high fae, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a must-read. In this novel, loosely based on Beauty and the Beast , readers will meet Feyre, a 19-year-old huntress whose skills are the only things keeping her family alive. But trouble comes to her cabin after she kills a wolf during one of her hunts—which wasn't a wolf at all, but rather a shape-shifting faerie whose high lord comes and steals her away as retribution. She finds herself captive at the cursed Spring Court, ruled by the immortal and beautiful Tamlin. As Feyre adapts to his world, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion, and she'll do anything she can to break the curse—or risk losing him forever.

<h3><strong><em>Neverwhere </em>by Neil Gaiman</strong></h3> <p>This 1996 book, the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Neverwhere-Neil-Gaiman-audiobook/dp/B000XSAXXS/" rel="noopener noreferrer">debut novel</a> of now-science-fiction-superstar Neil Gaiman, is one of NPR's Top 100 fantasy and <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/science-fiction-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">science-fiction books</a> of all time. When a young man stops to help a girl on the streets of London, he inadvertently becomes invisible, losing his life as he knows it while getting pulled into the alternate, magical world of the London Below. This supernatural British tale is sure to captivate you while its read out loud by the author himself.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Neverwhere-Neil-Gaiman-audiobook/dp/B000XSAXXS/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best sci-fi audiobook

Neverwhere by neil gaiman.

This 1996 book, the debut novel of now-science-fiction-superstar Neil Gaiman, is one of NPR's Top 100 fantasy and science-fiction books of all time. When a young man stops to help a girl on the streets of London, he inadvertently becomes invisible, losing his life as he knows it while getting pulled into the alternate, magical world of the London Below. This supernatural British tale is sure to captivate you while its read out loud by the author himself.

<h3><strong><em>Outlander </em>by Diana Gabaldon</strong></h3> <p>They say that the books are always better, but if you're already a fan of the Starz series, listening to the original audiobook will make you realize that the show is done pretty darn well. Of course, it's nearly impossible to pack everything into a series of hour-long television episodes, so true <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Outlander-Diana-Gabaldon-audiobook/dp/B000GW8NVA/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Outlander</em></a> fans will love having the gaps filled in and relationships further explored (not to mention even more steamy scenes involving Claire and her smoldering Scot, Jamie Fraser) by the unabridged <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-romance-novels-of-all-time/" rel="noopener noreferrer">romance novels</a> in this series.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Outlander-Diana-Gabaldon-audiobook/dp/B000GW8NVA/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best romance audiobook

Outlander by diana gabaldon.

They say that the books are always better, but if you're already a fan of the Starz series, listening to the original audiobook will make you realize that the show is done pretty darn well. Of course, it's nearly impossible to pack everything into a series of hour-long television episodes, so true Outlander fans will love having the gaps filled in and relationships further explored (not to mention even more steamy scenes involving Claire and her smoldering Scot, Jamie Fraser) by the unabridged romance novels in this series.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>Robin</em> by Dave Itzkoff</strong></h3> <p>When Robin Williams died in 2014, many of us felt like we lost a member of our own family. Author Dave Itzkoff combed through more than 100 original interviews with Williams's family, friends, and colleagues, and relied on extensive archival research to write this comprehensive <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-biographies/" rel="noopener noreferrer">biography</a> that delves into the life of the beloved comedian. Covering everything from Williams's unparalleled talent to his struggles with addiction and depression, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Robin-Dave-Itzkoff-audiobook/dp/B07BB62KSZ" rel="noopener noreferrer">Robin</a></em> paints a stunning portrait of the legend that is Robin Williams.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Robin-Dave-Itzkoff-audiobook/dp/B07BB62KSZ">Shop Now</a></p>

Best biography audiobook

Robin by dave itzkoff.

When Robin Williams died in 2014, many of us felt like we lost a member of our own family. Author Dave Itzkoff combed through more than 100 original interviews with Williams's family, friends, and colleagues, and relied on extensive archival research to write this comprehensive biography that delves into the life of the beloved comedian. Covering everything from Williams's unparalleled talent to his struggles with addiction and depression, Robin paints a stunning portrait of the legend that is Robin Williams.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>In Order to Live</em> by Yeonmi Park</strong></h3> <p>Brainwashing. Starvation. Human trafficking. Rats feasting on the bodies that line the streets. To say that life in North Korea is grim is an understatement. In one of the most gripping <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-autobiographies/" rel="noopener noreferrer">autobiographies</a> you'll ever read, Yeonmi Park details her life in North Korea and the harrowing details of fleeing with her mother at just 13 years old. <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0143PGHEU" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>In Order to Live</em></a> candidly recounts what it was like to be sold by human traffickers, to make a second escape through a brutal desert, and to know that death is the best option should she be caught. This incredible story of one girl's bravery, resilience, and desire for a better life will leave you reeling.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0143PGHEU">Shop Now</a></p>

Best autobiography audiobook

In order to live by yeonmi park.

Brainwashing. Starvation. Human trafficking. Rats feasting on the bodies that line the streets. To say that life in North Korea is grim is an understatement. In one of the most gripping autobiographies you'll ever read, Yeonmi Park details her life in North Korea and the harrowing details of fleeing with her mother at just 13 years old. In Order to Live candidly recounts what it was like to be sold by human traffickers, to make a second escape through a brutal desert, and to know that death is the best option should she be caught. This incredible story of one girl's bravery, resilience, and desire for a better life will leave you reeling.

<h3><strong><em>Educated </em>by Tara Westover</strong></h3> <p>Tara Westover's memoir was named one of the best of 2018 by the<em> Washington Post</em>, the New York Public Library, <em>TIME</em> magazine, and countless others. If you haven't read <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Educated-Tara-Westover-audiobook/dp/B075F68BFV" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Educated</em></a> yet, now is a great time to listen to actress Julia Whelan recount one of the most moving <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/memoirs-everyone-should-read/" rel="noopener noreferrer">memoirs</a> of overcoming some of life's biggest obstacles, all in the name of getting an education.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Educated-Tara-Westover-audiobook/dp/B075F68BFV">Shop Now</a></p>

Best memoir audiobook

Educated by tara westover.

Tara Westover's memoir was named one of the best of 2018 by the Washington Post , the New York Public Library, TIME magazine, and countless others. If you haven't read Educated yet, now is a great time to listen to actress Julia Whelan recount one of the most moving memoirs of overcoming some of life's biggest obstacles, all in the name of getting an education.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>Finding Tamika</em> by Erika Alexander, Kevin Hart, Charlamagne Tha God, Ben Arnon, Rebkah Howard, David Person, and James T. Green</strong></h3> <p>In 2004, 25-year-old Tamika Huston disappeared. Her case, like so many others involving people of color, received little to no media attention. Actress and narrator Erika Alexander teamed up with Kevin Hart, Charlamagne Tha God, and a team of other talented people to produce this true crime <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Audible-Finding-Tamika/dp/B09R5FT6B7/" rel="noopener noreferrer">Audible original</a> in hopes of changing a system in which missing Black girls have been largely ignored. In this powerful and important audiobook, readers will hear chilling details about Huston's case along with eerie, beyond-the-grave commentary from Tamika herself. This is one of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-true-crime-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">true crime books</a> that's only in audiobook form.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Audible-Finding-Tamika/dp/B09R5FT6B7/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best true crime audiobook

Finding tamika by erika alexander, kevin hart, charlamagne tha god, ben arnon, rebkah howard, david person, and james t. green.

In 2004, 25-year-old Tamika Huston disappeared. Her case, like so many others involving people of color, received little to no media attention. Actress and narrator Erika Alexander teamed up with Kevin Hart, Charlamagne Tha God, and a team of other talented people to produce this true crime Audible original in hopes of changing a system in which missing Black girls have been largely ignored. In this powerful and important audiobook, readers will hear chilling details about Huston's case along with eerie, beyond-the-grave commentary from Tamika herself. This is one of the best true crime books that's only in audiobook form.

<h3><strong><em>Imaginary Friend </em>by Stephen Chbosky</strong></h3> <p>A screenwriter and director in addition to author, Chbosky is best known for his beloved novel <em>The Perks of Being a Wallflower</em>. In 2019, 20 years after that book's release and infinite success, Chbosky penned one of the creepiest <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/scariest-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">horror books</a> in recent memory, about a seven-year-old boy who is sent on a terrifying mission by a "nice man" only he can hear. His encounters with the hissing lady, fanged deer, and an entire town gone mad make <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Imaginary-Friend-Stephen-Chbosky-audiobook/dp/B07WRDVDP9/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Imaginary Friend</em></a> a book you definitely won't want to listen to when the lights go out.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Imaginary-Friend-Stephen-Chbosky-audiobook/dp/B07WRDVDP9/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best horror audiobook

Imaginary friend by stephen chbosky.

A screenwriter and director in addition to author, Chbosky is best known for his beloved novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower . In 2019, 20 years after that book's release and infinite success, Chbosky penned one of the creepiest horror books in recent memory, about a seven-year-old boy who is sent on a terrifying mission by a "nice man" only he can hear. His encounters with the hissing lady, fanged deer, and an entire town gone mad make Imaginary Friend a book you definitely won't want to listen to when the lights go out.

<h3><strong><em>Atlas Shrugged </em>by Ayn Rand</strong></h3> <p>If you've never read the classic dystopian novel <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Shrugged-Ayn-Rand-audiobook/dp/B001MXQ7AQ/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Atlas Shrugged</em></a> by controversial author Ayn Rand, now's the time. See (or, rather, hear) what happens when one man sets out to show what would happen to the world if all the heroes of innovation and industry went on strike. This book will challenge everything you think you know about economics, government, and morality, and ultimately leave you questioning your own world views. It's also one of the most notable <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/books-written-by-female-authors/" rel="noopener noreferrer">books written by female authors</a>.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Shrugged-Ayn-Rand-audiobook/dp/B001MXQ7AQ/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best classic audiobook

Atlas shrugged by ayn rand.

If you've never read the classic dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged by controversial author Ayn Rand, now's the time. See (or, rather, hear) what happens when one man sets out to show what would happen to the world if all the heroes of innovation and industry went on strike. This book will challenge everything you think you know about economics, government, and morality, and ultimately leave you questioning your own world views. It's also one of the most notable books written by a female author .

<h3><strong><em>The Goldfinch </em>by Donna Tartt</strong></h3> <p>This coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014—and if you haven't had time to read it, try listening to it, because it's also one of the best audiobooks in literary fiction. A haunting story that begins with a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a boy who survives along with the title painting, the acclaimed audiobook lets you take Donna Tartt's crystalline prose and intricate storytelling on the go. Winner of Audie Awards for Solo Narration-Male and Literary Fiction, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Goldfinch-Donna-Tartt-audiobook/dp/B00ELMSEJC/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Goldfinch</em></a> is narrated by actor David Pittu.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Goldfinch-Donna-Tartt-audiobook/dp/B00ELMSEJC/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best coming-of-age audiobook

The goldfinch by donna tartt.

This coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014—and if you haven't had time to read it, try listening to it, because it's also one of the best audiobooks in literary fiction. A haunting story that begins with a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a boy who survives along with the title painting, the acclaimed audiobook lets you take Donna Tartt's crystalline prose and intricate storytelling on the go. Winner of Audie Awards for Solo Narration-Male and Literary Fiction, The Goldfinch is narrated by actor David Pittu.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>Golden Girl</em> by Elin Hilderbrand</strong></h3> <p>Is summer even summer without an Elin Hilderbrand book? In her novel <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Girl/dp/B08YLK6W85/" rel="noopener noreferrer">Golden Girl</a>,</em> Nantucket author Vivian Howe is killed in a hit-and-run accident while out jogging. In the afterlife, Vivi is assigned to another woman, Martha, who allows her to watch over her loved ones for one last summer. She is also given three "nudges," which she can use to help guide her three children as they begin to navigate life without her. But it's hard for Vivi to find peace as she learns about the struggles her children have kept hidden from her and worries about one of her own hidden truths coming to light. Lying on a towel with your audiobooks playing is heavenly, so remember to line up your <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/beach-reads/" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach reads</a> in advance!</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Girl/dp/B08YLK6W85/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best beach read audiobook

Golden girl by elin hilderbrand.

Is summer even summer without an Elin Hilderbrand book? In her novel Golden Girl , Nantucket author Vivian Howe is killed in a hit-and-run accident while out jogging. In the afterlife, Vivi is assigned to another woman, Martha, who allows her to watch over her loved ones for one last summer. She is also given three "nudges," which she can use to help guide her three children as they begin to navigate life without her. But it's hard for Vivi to find peace as she learns about the struggles her children have kept hidden from her and worries about one of her own hidden truths coming to light.

<h3><strong><em>The Light of Days </em>by Judy Batalion</strong></h3> <p>Looking for stories about some of the bravest women to have ever lived? Look no further than this powerful and enlightening tale of the Jewish women who became resistance fighters during World War II. Their stories haven't been told often, but thanks to <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Light-Days-Resistance-Fighters-Hitlers/dp/B07ZPGV1CG" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Light of Days</a></em>, which was written by the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors and has already been optioned by Steven Spielberg for a major motion picture, their bravery will live on.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Light-Days-Resistance-Fighters-Hitlers/dp/B07ZPGV1CG">Shop Now</a></p>

Best audiobook for women

The light of days by judy batalion.

Looking for stories about some of the bravest women to have ever lived? Look no further than this powerful and enlightening tale of the Jewish women who became resistance fighters during World War II. Their stories haven't been told often, but thanks to The Light of Days , which was written by the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors and has already been optioned by Steven Spielberg for a major motion picture, their bravery will live on.

<h3><strong><em>How to Be a Woman </em>by Caitlin Moran</strong></h3> <p>Need some humorous empowerment during this weird time? Journalist, author, and narrator Caitlin Moran provides that in spades with one of the funniest <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/feminist-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">feminist books</a> in recent memory. <a href="https://www.amazon.com/How-to-Be-Woman-Caitlin-Moran-audiobook/dp/B009GBXLBO/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>How to Be a Woman</em></a> is an exploration of how far women have come, how much further there is to go, and the seemingly endless "rules" for being a woman—and how to break them.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/How-to-Be-Woman-Caitlin-Moran-audiobook/dp/B009GBXLBO/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best feminist audiobook

How to be a woman by caitlin moran.

Need some humorous empowerment during this weird time? Journalist, author, and narrator Caitlin Moran provides that in spades with one of the funniest feminist books in recent memory. How to Be a Woman is an exploration of how far women have come, how much further there is to go, and the seemingly endless "rules" for being a woman—and how to break them.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>The Hate U Give</em> by Angie Thomas</strong></h3> <p>Angie Thomas's important debut novel, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Hate-U-Give-Angie-Thomas-audiobook/dp/B01N6DZ5W9" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Hate U Give</em></a>, tackles racism, injustice, and activism and is now being taught in schools across the country. Starr Carter is a 16-year-old Black student from a poor neighborhood who attends a predominantly white prep school. Though she normally feels out of place in her neighborhood, Starr attends a party where she runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil Harris. The party is cut short when gunshots are fired during a gang fight, and Khalil offers to drive Starr home. On the drive home, Khalil is pulled over and searched by a white police officer. When Khalil opens the door to check on Starr, the officer opens fire. Khalil's death becomes a national headline, as protesters take to the streets to demand justice while others are determined to paint Khalil as a trouble-making thug.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Hate-U-Give-Angie-Thomas-audiobook/dp/B01N6DZ5W9">Shop Now</a></p>

Best audiobook about racism

The hate u give by angie thomas.

Angie Thomas's important debut novel, The Hate U Give , tackles racism, injustice, and activism and is now being taught in schools across the country. Starr Carter is a 16-year-old Black student from a poor neighborhood who attends a predominantly white prep school. Though she normally feels out of place in her neighborhood, Starr attends a party where she runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil Harris. The party is cut short when gunshots are fired during a gang fight, and Khalil offers to drive Starr home. On the drive home, Khalil is pulled over and searched by a white police officer. When Khalil opens the door to check on Starr, the officer opens fire. Khalil's death becomes a national headline, as protesters take to the streets to demand justice while others are determined to paint Khalil as a trouble-making thug.

<h3><strong><em>Becoming </em>by Michelle Obama</strong></h3> <p>The former First Lady sold out stadiums for her book tour when she rolled out this memoir at the end of 2018. If by chance you haven't read (or listened to) it yet, now should be the time, as it's one of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/books-by-black-authors/" rel="noopener noreferrer">books by Black authors</a>. Michelle Obama narrates her own story, from growing up in Chicago to her time at Harvard Law School to her eight years as First Lady. Not to mention, it's one of the best audiobooks you could listen to: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Michelle-Obama-audiobook/dp/B07B3JQZCL/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Becoming</em></a> won the 2020 Grammy for Best Spoken World Album. Is there anything she can't do?!</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Michelle-Obama-audiobook/dp/B07B3JQZCL/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best audiobook by a Black author

Becoming by michelle obama.

The former First Lady sold out stadiums for her book tour when she rolled out this memoir at the end of 2018. If by chance you haven't read (or listened to) it yet, now should be the time, as it's one of the best books by Black authors . Michelle Obama narrates her own story, from growing up in Chicago to her time at Harvard Law School to her eight years as First Lady. Not to mention, it's one of the best audiobooks you could listen to: Becoming won the 2020 Grammy for Best Spoken World Album. Is there anything she can't do?!

<h3><strong><em>A Carnival of Snackery</em> by David Sedaris</strong></h3> <p>Let's get snarled in every kind of traffic delay while we listen to these seriously funny diary entries written and read by the deliciously subversive <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Carnival-Snackery-Diaries-2003-2020/dp/B09BBS56KS/" rel="noopener noreferrer">David Sedaris</a>, author of some of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/lgbtq-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">LGBTQ+ books</a>. He shares his commentary on everything from people-watching to politics, with a generous helping of dirty and dirtier jokes. Funny woman Tracy Ullman joins Sedaris in narrating this intriguing and often hilarious collection of anecdotes and observations.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Carnival-Snackery-Diaries-2003-2020/dp/B09BBS56KS/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best LGBTQ+ audiobook

A carnival of snackery by david sedaris.

Let's get snarled in every kind of traffic delay while we listen to these seriously funny diary entries written and read by the deliciously subversive David Sedaris , author of some of the best LGBTQ+ books . He shares his commentary on everything from people-watching to politics, with a generous helping of dirty and dirtier jokes. Funny woman Tracy Ullman joins Sedaris in narrating this intriguing and often hilarious collection of anecdotes and observations.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>The Four Winds </em>by Kristin Hannah</strong></h3> <p>Author Kristin Hannah has written some of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/historical-fiction-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">historical fiction books</a> of all time, and now she has one of the best audiobooks as well. Her latest novel, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Four-Winds-A-Novel/dp/B0882VNQKS/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Four Winds</em></a>, takes you back to the Great Depression of the 1930s, in which Elsa Martinelli discovers the real meaning of love, family, and survival. There's a reason this novel, which was released in February 2021, has been named a number one best seller by the<em> Wall Street Journal, USA Today, </em>and the<em> New York Times</em>.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Four-Winds-A-Novel/dp/B0882VNQKS/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best historical fiction audiobook

The four winds by kristin hannah.

Author Kristin Hannah has written some of the best historical fiction books of all time, and now she has one of the best audiobooks as well. Her latest novel, The Four Winds , takes you back to the Great Depression of the 1930s, in which Elsa Martinelli discovers the real meaning of love, family, and survival. There's a reason this novel, which was released in February 2021, has been named a number one best seller by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the New York Times .

<h3 class=""><strong><em>The Shadow of the Wind</em> by Carlos Ruiz Zafon</strong></h3> <p>If you love <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/mystery-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">mystery books</a>, listen to this gripping historical entry set in 1945 Barcelona. When Daniel is 11 years old, his father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret library guarded by the city's guild of rare-book dealers as a place for books forgotten by the world. Daniel falls in love with a book titled <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Shadow-of-Wind-audiobook/dp/B0009MZ7F2" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Shadow of the Wind</em></a> by an author named Julian Carax. When Daniel sets out to read other works by the long-dead Carax, he discovers that someone has been destroying them. But who? And why? This beautifully written story is filled with mystery, love, and a reminder of how powerful books can truly be.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Shadow-of-Wind-audiobook/dp/B0009MZ7F2">Shop Now</a></p>

Best mystery audiobook

The shadow of the wind by carlos ruiz zafon.

If you love mystery books , listen to this gripping historical entry set in 1945 Barcelona. When Daniel is 11 years old, his father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret library guarded by the city's guild of rare-book dealers as a place for books forgotten by the world. Daniel falls in love with a book titled The Shadow of the Wind by an author named Julian Carax. When Daniel sets out to read other works by the long-dead Carax, he discovers that someone has been destroying them. But who? And why? This beautifully written story is filled with mystery, love, and a reminder of how powerful books can truly be.

<h3><strong><em>Afterlife</em> by Julia Alvarez</strong></h3> <p>It's been almost 15 years since readers have been treated to a new novel for adults by Julia Alvarez, who's written some of the most significant <a href="https://www.rd.com/article/books-by-latinx-authors/" rel="noopener noreferrer">books by Latinx authors</a>, but it was worth the wait. In <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Afterlife/dp/B085W9ZZGC/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Afterlife</em></a>, Antonia Vega's life is completely turned upside down when, after she retires from her job as an English professor, her husband dies, her sister disappears, and an undocumented, pregnant teen shows up at her doorstep. For once, Antonia is unable to find solace in the literature she loves. Rather than fall apart, she is determined to keep her husband's memory alive while navigating her relationship with her sisters and just trying to figure out what, exactly, we owe one another.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Afterlife/dp/B085W9ZZGC/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best audiobook by a Latinx author

Afterlife by julia alvarez.

It's been almost 15 years since readers have been treated to a new novel for adults by Julia Alvarez, who's written some of the most significant books by Latinx authors , but it was worth the wait. In Afterlife , Antonia Vega's life is completely turned upside down when, after she retires from her job as an English professor, her husband dies, her sister disappears, and an undocumented, pregnant teen shows up at her doorstep. For once, Antonia is unable to find solace in the literature she loves. Rather than fall apart, she is determined to keep her husband's memory alive while navigating her relationship with her sisters and just trying to figure out what, exactly, we owe one another.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>The Every</em> by Dave Eggers</strong></h3> <p>What would happen if the world's largest and most influential Internet company merged with the world's most dominant e-commerce site? Would it bring a sense of order to our chaotic world, or would it mean the final days of free will? Either way, life as we know it would be over. Welcome to <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Every-A-Novel/dp/B08WYHMCR3/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Every</em></a>. Tucked away on its own island, this massive company is rife with surveillance, outlandish outfits, and the overall devolution of our species. Delaney Wells is determined to take it down from the inside with the help of her friend, Wes Makazian. Audie Award winner Dion Graham narrates this dystopian novel, which raises questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. It could end up being one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/books-that-predicted-the-future/" rel="noopener noreferrer">books that predicted the future</a>.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Every-A-Novel/dp/B08WYHMCR3/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best dystopian audiobook

The every by dave eggers.

What would happen if the world's largest and most influential Internet company merged with the world's most dominant e-commerce site? Would it bring a sense of order to our chaotic world, or would it mean the final days of free will? Either way, life as we know it would be over. Welcome to The Every . Tucked away on its own island, this massive company is rife with surveillance, outlandish outfits, and the overall devolution of our species. Delaney Wells is determined to take it down from the inside with the help of her friend, Wes Makazian. Audie Award winner Dion Graham narrates this dystopian novel, which raises questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. It could end up being one of the books that predicted the future .

<h3><strong><em>Brave New World </em>by Aldous Huxley</strong></h3> <p>Sex, drugs, and a predetermined caste system rule in this disturbing yet relevant novel written in 1932. It's set in the year 2450, when humans are grown in bottles and then conditioned to belong to one of the World State's five castes. Mass media suppresses the possibility of any original thought. Art and religion no longer exist, and consumerism is king. If that sends chills up your spine, you're not alone. Not only is <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-World-Aldous-Huxley-audiobook/dp/B0012QED5Y/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Brave New World </em></a>one of the most famously <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/banned-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">banned books</a>, but it's also one of the best science-fiction novels ever written, read here by acclaimed British actor Michael York.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-World-Aldous-Huxley-audiobook/dp/B0012QED5Y/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best banned audiobook

Brave new world by aldous huxley.

Sex, drugs, and a predetermined caste system rule in this disturbing yet relevant novel written in 1932. It's set in the year 2450, when humans are grown in bottles and then conditioned to belong to one of the World State's five castes. Mass media suppresses the possibility of any original thought. Art and religion no longer exist, and consumerism is king. If that sends chills up your spine, you're not alone. Not only is Brave New World one of the most famously banned books , but it's also one of the best science-fiction novels ever written, read here by acclaimed British actor Michael York.

<h3><strong><em>Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone</em> by J.K. Rowling</strong></h3> <p>No list of book recommendations would be complete without <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Harry-Potter-Sorcerers-Stone-Book/dp/B017V4IMVQ/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harry Potter</em></a>, one of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/the-best-childrens-books-ever-written/" rel="noopener noreferrer">children's books</a> ever written. Kids and adults of all ages will relish the magical world of the title character, an orphaned wizard who lives in a cupboard under the stairs in his cruel (non-magic) aunt and uncle's house. That is, until mysterious letters begin to arrive from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In this timeless classic, Harry embarks on a fantastical adventure in which he learns the truth about his identity, what it means to belong, and the meaning of friendship. It's also one of the best audiobooks ever, read by Grammy and Audie Award winner Jim Dale.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Harry-Potter-Sorcerers-Stone-Book/dp/B017V4IMVQ/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best children's audiobook

Harry potter and the sorcerer's stone by j.k. rowling.

No list of book recommendations would be complete without Harry Potter , one of the best children's books ever written. Kids and adults of all ages will relish the magical world of the title character, an orphaned wizard who lives in a cupboard under the stairs in his cruel (non-magic) aunt and uncle's house. That is, until mysterious letters begin to arrive from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In this timeless classic, Harry embarks on a fantastical adventure in which he learns the truth about his identity, what it means to belong, and the meaning of friendship. It's also one of the best audiobooks ever, read by Grammy and Audie Award winner Jim Dale.

<h3><em>The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials </em>by Philip Pullman</h3> <p>If you picked up these considerably sized fantasy <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-books-for-teens/" rel="noopener noreferrer">young adult novels</a>—<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Compass-Dark-Materials-Book/dp/B0000W6SPE/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Golden Compass</em></a> and its two sequels—in high school, maybe it's time to do so again, or listen with your own teens. The author is the narrator, with every character played by a different actor, making the audiobook "like watching a movie in your head," says one user. And that's saying something, considering the books were also turned into an HBO series with James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Compass-Dark-Materials-Book/dp/B0000W6SPE/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best young adult audiobook

The golden compass: his dark materials by philip pullman.

If you picked up these considerably sized fantasy young adult novels — The Golden Compass and its two sequels—in high school, maybe it's time to do so again, or listen with your own teens. The author is the narrator, with every character played by a different actor, making the audiobook "like watching a movie in your head," says one user. And that's saying something, considering the books were also turned into an HBO series with James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>Broken (in the Best Possible Way) </em>by Jenny Lawson</strong></h3> <p>In <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Broken-Best-Possible-Way/dp/B089YW6VLC/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Broken (in the Best Possible Way)</em></a>, Jenny Lawson, aka The Blogess, narrates her experiences living with mental illness, and she does it in the most candid, humorous, and relatable way possible. Laugh out loud as Lawson shares ideas she'd like to pitch to <em>Shark Tank</em>, argues why she is more full-grown mammal than actual adult, and lets you know that it's totally okay to eat floor onion rings because, at the end of the day, being who you are, quirks and all, is the best way to be.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Broken-Best-Possible-Way/dp/B089YW6VLC/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best audiobook by a blogger

Broken (in the best possible way) by jenny lawson.

In Broken (in the Best Possible Way) , Jenny Lawson, aka The Blogess, narrates her experiences living with mental illness, and she does it in the most candid, humorous, and relatable way possible. Laugh out loud as Lawson shares ideas she'd like to pitch to Shark Tank , argues why she is more full-grown mammal than actual adult, and lets you know that it's totally okay to eat floor onion rings because, at the end of the day, being who you are, quirks and all, is the best way to be.

<h3 class=""><strong><em>As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of </em>The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes</strong></h3> <p>Although it's not specifically written for kids, fans of all ages will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at one of the most beloved <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/funny-family-movies/" rel="noopener noreferrer">funny family movies</a>—and what better way to get youngsters interested in nonfiction? Westley himself, Cary Elwes, narrates <a href="https://www.amazon.com/As-You-Wish-Cary-Elwes-Christopher-Guest/dp/B00NLKFVRS" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>As You Wish</em></a> (which he also wrote) chronicling the making of the classic. He also snagged interviews with castmates including Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, and Carol Kane, plus director Rob Reiner. Perfect for listening to during a family road trip!</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/As-You-Wish-Cary-Elwes-Christopher-Guest/dp/B00NLKFVRS">Shop Now</a></p>

Best nonfiction audiobook for kids

As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of the princess bride by cary elwes.

Although it's not specifically written for kids, fans of all ages will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at one of the most beloved funny family movies —and what better way to get youngsters interested in nonfiction? Westley himself, Cary Elwes, narrates As You Wish (which he also wrote) chronicling the making of the classic. He also snagged interviews with castmates including Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, and Carol Kane, plus director Rob Reiner. Perfect for listening to during a family road trip!

<h3><em>The Trial of Lizzie Borden </em>by Cara Robertson</h3> <p>If you think you know anything about <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Trial-of-Lizzie-Borden-audiobook/dp/B07H43L44T/" rel="noopener noreferrer">Lizzie Borden</a>, who went on trial for two grisly axe murders in 1892, think again. Author Cara Robertson dives into more than 20 years of research and newly unearthed evidence into the crime that enthralled the world. This story, hailed by <em>Publisher's Weekly</em>'s starred review as a "definitive account to date of one of America's most notorious and enduring murder mysteries," allows the listener to act as judge to the infamous Lizzie Borden.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Trial-of-Lizzie-Borden-audiobook/dp/B07H43L44T/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best historical true crime audiobook

The trial of lizzie borden by cara robertson.

If you think you know anything about Lizzie Borden , who went on trial for two grisly axe murders in 1892, think again. Author Cara Robertson dives into more than 20 years of research and newly unearthed evidence into the crime that enthralled the world. This story, hailed by Publisher's Weekly 's starred review as a "definitive account to date of one of America's most notorious and enduring murder mysteries," allows the listener to act as judge to the infamous Lizzie Borden.

<h3><strong><em>Redefining Anxiety: What It Is, What It's Not, and How to Get Your Life Back</em> by Dr. John Delony</strong></h3> <p>Scratch everything you thought you knew about <a href="https://www.thehealthy.com/mental-health/anxiety/manage-anxiety/" rel="noopener noreferrer">how to deal with anxiety</a>: This is one of the best <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/best-self-help-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">self-help books</a> to inspire and motivate you. Millions of people suffer from anxiety, and if you're one of them, author and narrator Dr. John Delony does a great job letting you know that you're not broken. In <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Redefining-Anxiety-What-Isnt-Your/dp/B08PL37912/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Redefining Anxiety</em></a>, he breaks down our culture's myths about anxiety, practical steps you can take to reclaim your life and calm what he refers to as your body's alarm system, and long-term strategies for moving forward.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Redefining-Anxiety-What-Isnt-Your/dp/B08PL37912">Shop Now</a></p>

Best self-help audiobook

Redefining anxiety: what it is, what it's not, and how to get your life back by dr. john delony.

Scratch everything you thought you knew about how to deal with anxiety : This is one of the best self-help books to inspire and motivate you. Millions of people suffer from anxiety, and if you're one of them, author and narrator Dr. John Delony does a great job letting you know that you're not broken. In Redefining Anxiety , he breaks down our culture's myths about anxiety, practical steps you can take to reclaim your life and calm what he refers to as your body's alarm system, and long-term strategies for moving forward.

<h3><strong><em>The Infinite Game </em>by Simon Sinek</strong></h3> <p>Want to make sure your business is in it for the long haul? Simon Sinek's <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Infinite-Game-Simon-Sinek-audiobook/dp/B07DKHFTB7" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Infinite Game</em></a> explains, in detail, the strategies that work to keep companies going strong for generations. A must-read for every business owner, executive, and leader.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Infinite-Game-Simon-Sinek-audiobook/dp/B07DKHFTB7">Shop Now</a></p>

Best business audiobook

The infinite game by simon sinek.

Want to make sure your business is in it for the long haul? Simon Sinek's The Infinite Game explains, in detail, the strategies that work to keep companies going strong for generations. A must-read for every business owner, executive, and leader.

<h3><strong><em>The Total Money Makeover</em> by Dave Ramsey</strong></h3> <p>Ready to stop living paycheck to paycheck? Finance guru Dave Ramsey's <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Total-Money-Makeover-audiobook/dp/B0845YKM1P/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Total Money Makeover</em></a> offers simple yet effective strategies, also known as the baby steps, that will allow you to take control of your finances and ultimately achieve financial freedom. Could it be one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/self-made-millionaires-favorite-books/" rel="noopener noreferrer">books that make you rich</a>? Maybe!</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Total-Money-Makeover-audiobook/dp/B0845YKM1P/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best finance audiobook

The total money makeover by dave ramsey.

Ready to stop living paycheck to paycheck? Finance guru Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover offers simple yet effective strategies, also known as the baby steps, that will allow you to take control of your finances and ultimately achieve financial freedom. Could it be one of the books that make you rich ? Maybe!

<h3><strong><em>Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief</em> by David Kessler</strong></h3> <p>You may already be familiar with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and depression. But did you know there's a sixth stage? Grief expert David Kessler narrates <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Meaning-David-Kessler-audiobook/dp/B07P88B6J6/" rel="noopener noreferrer">Finding Meaning</a></em>, which was inspired by the sudden death of his own son. He acknowledges that grief will never go away completely, but we can lessen the pain when we find meaning in our loss. Since no two losses are the same, this book is filled with a variety of stories, insights, and emotions that will help validate your own feelings and help you on your healing journey. It might be one of the <a href="https://www.rd.com/list/books-that-will-make-you-cry/" rel="noopener noreferrer">sad books</a> that make you cry—but that's part of getting through loss.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Meaning-David-Kessler-audiobook/dp/B07P88B6J6/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best audiobook about grief

Finding meaning: the sixth stage of grief by david kessler.

You may already be familiar with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and depression. But did you know there's a sixth stage? Grief expert David Kessler narrates Finding Meaning , which was inspired by the sudden death of his own son. He acknowledges that grief will never go away completely, but we can lessen the pain when we find meaning in our loss. Since no two losses are the same, this book is filled with a variety of stories, insights, and emotions that will help validate your own feelings and help you on your healing journey.

<h3><strong><em>Lincoln in the Bardo </em>by George Saunders</strong></h3> <p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Lincoln-in-Bardo-George-Saunders-audiobook/dp/B01N1NU4K2/" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Lincoln in the Bardo</em></a> is the first novel by acclaimed short story writer George Saunders. He narrates the audiobook with the help of 166 others, including big names such as Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, and Don Cheadle, in this 2018 winner of the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year. It's a groundbreaking work of historical fiction that explores a lesser-studied period of Honest Abe's life during the first year of the Civil War, when Lincoln was also dealing with a far more personal tragedy: the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie. This experimental novel, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize, takes place over the course of one evening in a space between life and death called the bardo, where ghosts contemplate their existence.</p> <p class="listicle-page__cta-button-shop"><a class="shop-btn" href="https://www.amazon.com/Lincoln-in-Bardo-George-Saunders-audiobook/dp/B01N1NU4K2/">Shop Now</a></p>

Best supernatural audiobook

Lincoln in the bardo by george saunders.

Lincoln in the Bardo is the first novel by acclaimed short story writer George Saunders. He narrates the audiobook with the help of 166 others, including big names such as Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, and Don Cheadle, in this 2018 winner of the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year. It's a groundbreaking work of historical fiction that explores a lesser-studied period of Honest Abe's life during the first year of the Civil War, when Lincoln was also dealing with a far more personal tragedy: the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie. This experimental novel, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize, takes place over the course of one evening in a space between life and death called the bardo, where ghosts contemplate their existence.

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8 Things You Might Not Know About Oscar Winner Da'Vine Joy Randolph

The 37-year-old actor, a 2024 Academy Award winner for her role in The Holdovers, has had a nontraditional path to stardom.

davine joy randolph holds a glass to the camera as she leans against a bar, an oscar trophy, flowers and a glittery bottle sit on the bar next to her, she wears a black beaded strapless dress

We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back.

The Holdovers actor Da’Vine Joy Randolph is now an Academy Award winner with an even brighter future.

Although The Holdovers has put Randolph in the public eye in a major way, the Pennsylvania native has steadily absorbed more of the spotlight during her decade-long-plus career. Here are a few things you might not know about Randolph—one of Biography ’s People You’ll Know in 2024 —following her biggest moment yet.

She is a trained opera singer

Randolph, who was born on May 21, 1986, in Philadelphia, had no dreams of acting growing up. “I knew that I wanted to be of service to people in some way, shape or form, and do something that made people feel good or better,” she told W magazine in March 2022.

She was, however, smitten with Motown, R&B, and—eventually—classical music. When she was around 16 years old, Randolph was inspired to pursue a musical career after watching an all-Black ensemble perform at a Christmas recital. “I went up to the woman who impressed me the most and said, ‘You gotta teach me how to do crazy riffs, sing really loud and really long,’” she said .

Randolph started taking voice lessons, where she listened to singers like Maria Callas and Leontyne Price, and found opera to be “the ultimate art form.” She decided to study classical vocal performance at Temple University.

Randolph began taking acting seriously in college

At Temple, Randolph was heavily involved in musical theater , participating in productions of Into the Woods , Ma Rainey ’s Black Bottom , Our Lady of 121st Street , and Aida , though her focus was still primarily on music. But one day while she was copying music, she heard screaming and went to check it out. “I peeked into this door and it was an acting class,” she said . “I stood and watched; it sounds so cliché, but it was this moment of recognizing something within myself.”

Randolph decided to pivot into an acting major her senior year, graduating with a degree in Theater, Film, and Media Arts. She then attended Yale University, earning her master’s degree in 2011, and was ready to embark on her career.

She was nominated for a Tony

da'vine joy randolph walks across a stage while lit in a spotlight, she wears a pink cheetah patterned skirt suit with ruffles, a beaded necklace and a microphone, she smiles as people sit in the foreground facing her

After departing Yale, Randolph hired an agent and traveled to Los Angeles to audition for a series of television pilots. But, her big break actually came back on the theater stage. Randolph earned the part of Oda Mae Brown for the 2012 Broadway run of Ghost the Musical , based on the 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze , Demi Moore , and Whoopi Goldberg .

“They were looking for someone 40 or 45 [years old], so everything on paper was no, no, and no,” she told Broadway Buzz . But the much younger Randolph fit into the role just fine and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Al Pacino gave her important career advice

al pacino looking to his left and smiling as he speaks to a panel reporter

One of the first major Hollywood stars to support Randolph in her acting journey was Oscar- and Tony Award–winner Al Pacino , whom she met in a Manhattan café during her Ghost run.

After losing her voice and struggling to fully regain it, Randolph said she felt lost and depressed when Pacino grabbed her attention and invited her to sit down at his table. After listening to a frustrated Randolph, he offered words of encouragement. “I see you, and you are exactly where you need to be. Keep climbing the ladder,” she recalled him saying in a 2019 Instagram post.

Randolph did just that, earning her first movie role in 2013’s Mother of George and soon appearing in TV shows like Selfie (2014), This Is Us (2016), and Empire (2017-18).

She was starstruck on the set of Dolemite Is My Name

Randolph’s breakthrough movie role came in 2019, when she portrayed Lady Reed in Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name . The movie, a biographical comedy about filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore, starred Eddie Murphy in the lead role—something Randolph wasn’t aware of at her audition.

“It was a blessing in disguise because if I would have known sooner, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she told Vanity Fair . Randolph allowed herself two hours to be starstruck by the actor and comedian, then decided, “I’m going to get to work.”

She was “overjoyed” at The Holdovers script

paul giamatti davine joy randolph and alexander payne all standing side by side

Before The Holdovers , Randolph had small parts in the animated movie Trolls World Tour (2021) and the 2022 comedy The Lost City . In Mary Lamb, she found the type of multifaceted character she’d been waiting for. “I’ve felt like I had to fight for fully realized characters with complexities or even start writing or producing myself,” she told Variety . “I was so overjoyed to read this character, someone who was really struggling, but also trying to persevere in spite of her situation.”

Randolph even compared the script for the film—about a teacher, student, and cafeteria manager stuck at a New England boarding school during Christmas break—to something written by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov .

Watch The Holdovers on Amazon Prime Video or Peacock

Randolph doesn’t like watching herself onscreen

Randolph has seen her performance in The Holdovers only once and not of her own accord. She told The New York Times she was required to watch the film in order to do press requests, but that she was “very uncomfortable” the entire time. “I was quiet the whole rest of the day, I felt so naked,” she said.

Randolph says she doesn’t watch her performances because she trusts her process as an actor. “If I start watching myself, I know myself enough to know I’m going to start judging myself. I love that I can actually work from a judgment-free zone. Most actors can’t, so I’m preserving it,” she explained.

She has two major upcoming movies

After showing off her full dramatic range in The Holdovers , Randolph has signed onto upcoming projects in distinct genres. In August 2022, Deadline reported Randolph was cast in the action-thriller Shadow Force , also starring Kerry Washington and Omar Sy. A year later, the outlet revealed she joined the Rebel Wilson –led comedy Bride Hard . Neither film has a release date yet, though Deadline reports Bride Hard has wrapped production.

Headshot of Tyler Piccotti

Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.

Academy Awards

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Cillian Murphy & Sterling K. Brown Oscars Grooming

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The 2024 Oscar Winners and Nominees

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Billie Eilish

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Christopher Nolan

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Cillian Murphy

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Ryan Gosling

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Robert Downey Jr.

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Bradley Cooper

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Jimmy Kimmel

This new book explores history of Si Siman, country music show 'Ozark Jubilee'

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Today, Si Siman is popularly recognized for helping establish "Ozark Jubilee," the first regularly-broadcast live country music show on network television, produced in Springfield. But Siman, an area native, had other plans growing up. He wanted to be a professional baseball player.

Throughout childhood, Siman played on numerous local baseball leagues, including as the star player for the Br'er Foxball baseball cub. At 11-years-old, he began working as a batboy for the Springfield Cardinals, handling bats and cleaning uniforms after games. And at 16, Siman became the driver for St. Louis Cardinals Scout Charley Barrett, a job he kept for three summers.

Ultimately, Siman left baseball altogether, after an unsuccessful stint with a team in Beloit, Kansas. After suffering an injury, he didn't feel strong or fast enough to play with the others.

Stories like these, of Siman's childhood and life before "Ozark Jubilee," make up the fabric of Kathryn "Kitty" Ledbetter's new book, "Broadcasting the Ozarks: Si Siman and Country Music at the Crossroads." Ledbetter co-authored the book with Siman's son, Scott Foster Siman.

Both a biography on Siman and an exploration of the "Ozark Jubilee," the 240-page book was published by The University of Arkansas Press and released on Friday.

Getting started

After retiring from Texas State University during the pandemic, Ledbetter wasn't ready to sit back and just quilt during retirement. She was ready for another project. A former English professor and published author, Ledbetter was interested in exploring a topic important to Springfield's history.

"I was sorry to find that, after I left Springfield in 1981 to follow radio and academic pursuits, many of the '(Ozark) Jubilee' performers and KWTO staff had passed," Ledbetter said. Though humble about her experiences, Ledbetter too left a significant mark on Springfield's radio history. She was Springfield's first female disc jockey.

"Although there were some excellent articles about Si Siman in Springfield Magazine and the News-Leader, it didn't seem enough for a guy who was at the center of the Jubilee production and also had a fascinating life story as an entertainment entrepreneur since the age of 10."

On a whim, Ledbetter sent a message to Siman's children, Scott Foster Siman and Jaynie Chowning, which she compared to a "job application," rather than a "query about archives." The siblings, according to Ledbetter, were both interested in the idea of a book about their father; Chowning had even been working on one herself over the years.

Without even signing a contract, the trio began working together. Scott Siman had a particular interest in researching and writing about his father's childhood baseball passion and music publishing career. Ledbetter took on the rest.

Ledbetter said it didn't take her long to fall in love with the Siman family, both through her dealings with Scott and Jaynie and research on Si.

"I'm an only child ... I was alone all the time, and my God, those Siman kids just grew up on a farm out on Rosie Acres on the end of Fremont. Tennessee Ernie Ford would be standing in the driveway when they got off the school bus. They got to be backstage at the ('Ozark) Jubilee' and they sang and were recorded ... they had these huge family dinners ... and I just fell in love with the family. I didn't get to meet Rosie or Si, but I love Jaynie and I love Scott. I admired the family from a distance."

In addition to help from the Siman family, Ledbetter worked closely with Brooks Blevins, the editor of the Ozarks Studies series at The University of Arkansas Press.

It was Blevins, Ledbetter said, who helped re-center her during the writing and editing process when she found herself too "caught up in the emotion" of Siman's life.

"At the end of a long editing process, he said I needed to rework a chapter one more time," Ledbetter said of Blevins. "I wrote to him and said, 'You must really want this book.' He said, 'Yes, I do, and you are the only one who can write it.' His comment is posted in my office next to a quote I found in some magazine: 'Give someone a book, they'll read for a day. Teach someone how to write a book, they'll spend a lifetime mired in paralyzing self-doubt.'"

Who was Si Siman and what was "Ozark Jubilee"?

Ely Earl "Si" Siman Jr. was born to Ely Siman Sr. and Lillian Siman in January 1921 in a two-bedroom house on Normal Street. After a childhood full of baseball and entrepreneurship — Siman was known around his neighborhood for hosting movie nights in his family's garage and selling popsicles and roasted peanuts from an orange cart on wheels — he joined the Navy in 1942, according to "Broadcasting the Ozarks." He worked as a weather forecaster for the Navy until 1946.

Upon returning home, Siman approached KWTO co-founder Ralph Foster about a job at the radio station. Siman had worked part-time at the station doing odd jobs when he was only 13 and post-Navy was looking for something more permanent. In addition to working at the station years before, Siman had experience working with musicians in the community.

Before Siman joined the Navy — before he even graduated from high school — he was promoting concerts at venues around Springfield, including the Half-a-Hill dance hall in Galloway and the Abou Ben Adhem Shrine downtown. He promoted concerts for musicians including Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

Foster didn't take any convincing. Siman was hired on at KWTO and excelled at promotion and advertisement. When he started, he was paid $70 a week.

After a successful first few years with KWTO, which was established in Springfield in 1933, Foster was interested in exploring television. Specifically, he was interested in barn dance programs, which showcased entertainment on live television.

Foster was inspired by previous television shows that offered barn dance programs like NBC's "Village Barn" in 1948, ABC's "Hayloft Hoedown" in 1948 and NBC's "Saturday Night Jamboree" in 1949, according to "Broadcasting the Ozarks." But none of these shows lasted long.

It took more than a year for Foster, Siman and their KWTO colleagues to prepare for the launch of "Ozark Jubilee." Siman took the reins on many of the connections, helping establish a publishing company, gather the necessary equipment for a live television show and establishing a relationship with network television partners.

The first episode of "Ozark Jubilee" aired on Dec. 26, 1953. The show was broadcast for one hour each week on local television station KYTV. The first episode featured performances by Speedy Haworth, Bob White, Zed Tennis and Willis Brothers.

Only two years after its local debut, "Ozark Jubilee" premiered on national television on ABC in January 1955. The show quickly became a success. Following the national premiere, viewers from 45 states sent in more than 25,000 cards and letters to KYTV expressing their interest in the show.

For the majority of its run, "Ozark Jubilee" was filmed at the Jewell Theatre, an at-the-time-unused theater half a block south of Route 66 on Jefferson Avenue. The theater allowed "Ozark Jubilee" to not only entertain audiences at home but a live audience in Springfield. Due to its popularity, tickets for the show often sold out quickly.

"Ozark Jubilee" put Springfield and the Ozarks at large on the map when it came to country music. Several musicians who started off performing on the show moved on to sign record label contracts in Nashville, many aided by Siman.

Until its conclusion in September 1961, "Ozark Jubilee" hosted musicians including Red Foley, Jean Shepard, Grady Martin, Gene Autry and Chet Atkins, to name a few.

After "Ozark Jubilee," Siman continued working in entertainment, managing radio and television stations and working with various country music artists.

He died in September 1994 after battling Non Hodgkin's lymphoma for nearly five years.

Where can you purchase 'Broadcasting the Ozarks'?

  • University of Arkansas Press : paperback for $19.46 or cloth for $29.96
  • Amazon : paperback for $25.95 or hardcover for $39.95
  • Magers & Quinn Booksellers : hardcover for $39.95

For those interested in learning more about the book's creation, the Springfield-Greene County Library Center is hosting Ledbetter and Scott Siman for a program, Hillbilly Music in the 1950s: Si Siman and "Ozark Jubilee," on Thursday, May 2 from 7-8 p.m. Held in the Library Center's auditorium, Ledbetter and Scott Siman will discuss both their work on the book and Si Siman's influences. Books will be available for purchasing and signing.

At the end of May, Ledbetter and Scott Siman will visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and International Country Music Conference at Belmont University in Nashville to discuss the book.

Greta Cross is the trending topics reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on X and Instagram @gretacrossphoto. Story idea? Email her at [email protected] .

🏀 MARCH MADNESS

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Andy Katz, NCAA.com Correspondent | March 18, 2024

March madness predictions: andy katz makes his 2024 di men's basketball bracket picks.

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Right after the 2024 Division I men's basketball bracket was unveiled on Sunday, NCAA.com's March Madness guru Andy Katz live-streamed his March Madness picks for Bleacher Report. 

He gets into each of his picks in the video , but for now, we'll dive into his most notable predictions from each round and each region, as well as his Elite Eight and Final Four selections.

BRACKET: Check out the 2024 bracket

East region 

  • Reasoning: "Tucker DeVries is an outstanding player, a big time scorer coached by his father Darian Reese, and they won the [Missouri] Valley tournament by beating Indiana State. I like Drake here."
  • Reasoning: "I just love the way the Illini are playing right now."
  • Reasoning:  "These games will be in Boston, so it's a de-facto home game for the Huskies. It will be an absolute war between these two teams, it's going to be incredibly intense, but In a late-possession game I like UConn to get to the Final Four for a chance at back-to-back championships."

West region 

  • Reasoning: "They [Nevada] have a team that's already won a tournament (Diamondhead Classic). They've got a lot of momentum and I love the way they're playing."
  • Reasoning: "There's great guard play for both schools here, but I just think the momentum is going to continue for the Lobos. Richard Pitino has done an outstanding job resetting the season after the disappointing home loss to Air Force.” 
  • Reasoning:  "We get Caleb Love vs. RJ Davis, ACC player of the year vs. Pac-12 player of the Year, teammates a year ago — what a great storyline in Los Angeles. I think Arizona wins it."

South region 

  • Reasoning: "Florida's sort of flew under the radar and had a really solid season — they played in the SEC title game — but here's where I pick an upset. I think Colorado beats Boise and Colorado beats Florida." 
  • Reasoning: "I think the Badgers have the ability to match Duke on the perimeter and be physical. Steven Crowl is playing very well right now and I think he can match up with [Kyle] Filipowski."
  • Reasoning: "Reed Sheppard gets there (to the Final Four) like his dad Jeff Sheppard did, as a three seed. Kentucky advances." 

PLAY TO WIN:  Play the 2024 Bracket Challenge Game

Midwest region

  • Reasoning: "Here's the upset: I don't like the mojo right now with Kansas. We don't know about Hunter Dickinson or Kevin McCullar Jr., and without them they are not the same basketball team I'm going with Samford." 
  • Reasoning: "Dante vs. Kalkbrenner: what a matchup inside. But Dante is a freak athlete, and I think Kalkbrenner is going to have some problems with him. I like Oregon dancing into the Sweet 16."
  • Reasoning: "As much as I think Dalton Knecht, Purdue has the National Player of the Year Zach Edey. I like the Boilermakers."

Final Four 

  • Reasoning: "I think the X-factor is going to be Cam Spencer, he's going to make shots. In what I think will be a great high-level game, I think UConn advances to the national championship." 
  • Reasoning: "Again, I think this is where Edey rises.”

National championship 

  • Reasoning: "This is the game that we've been wanting all season long between the two best, most consistent teams. And with the way UConn has played in the biggest moments, I think they win back-to-back championships."

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Di men's basketball news.

  • Quest for the Perfect Bracket LIVE | Monday, March 18 at 4 p.m. ET
  • "NCAA March Madness Confidential" returns to provide in-depth access to 6 teams
  • March Madness predictions: Andy Katz makes his 2024 DI men's basketball bracket picks
  • 2024 NCAA printable bracket, schedule for March Madness
  • 2024 NIT field and pairings announced
  • 1 thing to know about each team in the 2024 NCAA men's basketball tournament
  • The men’s basketball teams with the most NCAA tournament 1 seeds

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