The Greatest "Biography" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 215 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page.

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Biography

Biography is a genre of literature that focuses on the life story of a person, typically a historical figure or a celebrity. It provides a detailed account of the subject's life, including their upbringing, achievements, struggles, and personal relationships. Biographies can be written in various formats, including memoirs, autobiographies, and third-person narratives. This category of books offers readers an opportunity to gain insight into the lives of notable individuals and their impact on society.

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  1. 1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

    This book is an autobiography narrating the life of a renowned African-American activist. It delves into his transformation from a young man involved in criminal activities to becoming one of the most influential voices in the fight against racial inequality in America. The book provides a deep insight into his philosophies, his time in prison, conversion to Islam, his role in the Nation of Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his eventual split from the Nation. It also addresses his assassination, making it a powerful account of resilience, redemption, and personal growth.

  2. 2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

    This memoir recounts the early years of an African-American girl's life, focusing on her experiences with racism and trauma in the South during the 1930s. Despite the hardships she faces, including sexual abuse, she learns to rise above her circumstances through strength of character and a love of literature. Her journey from victim to survivor and her transformation into a young woman who respects herself is a testament to the human capacity to overcome adversity.

  3. 3. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

    This book is a raw and honest exploration of grief and mourning, written by a woman who lost her husband of 40 years to a heart attack while their only child lay comatose in the hospital. The narrative delves into the year following her husband's death, a year marked by grief, confusion, and a desperate hope for things to return to normal. The author's poignant reflections on death, love, and loss serve as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

  4. 4. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

    "The Life of Samuel Johnson" is a comprehensive biography that chronicles the life of one of the most prominent English literary figures of the 18th century. The book provides an in-depth account of Samuel Johnson's life, his literary works, and his significant contribution to English literature. It also offers a detailed portrait of his personality, his relationships, his struggles with depression and illness, and his views on a variety of subjects. The book is as much a biography of Johnson as it is a portrayal of 18th-century England.

  5. 5. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    This graphic novel is a memoir that provides a personal account of the author's childhood and young adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The story portrays the impact of war, political upheaval, and religious extremism on ordinary people, while also exploring themes of identity, resilience, and the power of storytelling. Despite the harsh realities the protagonist faces, the narrative also includes moments of humor and warmth, providing a nuanced view of life in Iran during this tumultuous period.

  6. 6. Testament Of Youth by Vera Brittain

    Testament of Youth is a poignant memoir detailing the author's experiences during World War I. The narrative follows her journey from her early life, her time as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse serving in London, Malta, and France, and her later years as a writer and pacifist. The author's personal loss, including the death of her fiancé and her brother, and the impact of the war on her generation, is a central theme, offering a unique female perspective on the devastating effects of war.

  7. 7. Night by Elie Wiesel

    This book is a memoir of the author's experiences during the Holocaust, specifically in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. The narrative focuses on the relationship between a father and son under the most extreme circumstances, the loss of faith in God, humanity, and in each other, and the horrifying reality of the systematic genocide of six million Jews during World War II. The book is a poignant and stark examination of the depths of human evil and the enduring power of hope and survival.

  8. 8. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

    This book is a biographical account of three generations of women in China, spanning the years 1909 to 1991. The narrative follows the lives of the author's grandmother, a warlord's concubine; her mother, a high-ranking official in the Communist Party; and the author herself, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution before moving to the West. The book presents a vivid portrayal of the political and social changes in China during the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of these three women.

  9. 9. Facundo by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

    "Facundo" is a socio-political critique and historical account of Argentina during the first half of the 19th century. The book examines the life of the gaucho, Facundo Quiroga, who becomes a powerful and ruthless warlord, illustrating the destructive effects of caudillismo (military dictatorship) on society. The author uses Quiroga's life to delve into broader themes such as the struggle between civilization and barbarism, the need for education, and the dangers of unchecked political power.

  10. 10. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

    This book is an innovative and unconventional autobiography, penned from the perspective of the author's life partner, providing an intimate view into the lives of the Parisian avant-garde in the early 20th century. It offers a personal account of their life together, filled with anecdotes of their interactions with famous figures such as Picasso, Matisse, and Hemingway. The narrative also delves into the author's own thoughts and experiences, creating a unique blend of biography, autobiography, and personal memoir.

  11. 11. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

    "The Education of Henry Adams" is an autobiographical account that explores the changes in society and politics during the 19th and 20th century from the perspective of an individual who is both a product and critic of that era. The narrative is structured around the author's self-perceived failure to understand or adapt to these changes, despite his privileged education and social status. The book is a reflection on the author's life, his attempts to make sense of the world around him, and his struggle to reconcile his traditional upbringing with the rapid advancements of the modern world.

  12. 12. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

    This memoir is a profound and heart-wrenching account of the author's impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 1940s. The story is filled with tales of survival in the face of extreme poverty, an alcoholic father, a struggling mother, and the deaths of three siblings. Despite the harsh circumstances, the narrative is infused with a sense of humor and hope, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

  13. 13. Black Boy by Richard Wright

    "Black Boy" is an autobiographical account of a young African-American boy growing up in the South during the early 20th century. The book explores his experiences with extreme poverty, racism, and his struggle to find his place in a society that marginalizes and devalues him. The protagonist's desire for self-expression and understanding leads him to a love of literature and writing, providing him with a means to challenge and critique the oppressive social structures around him.

  14. 14. Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela

    "Long Walk to Freedom" is a powerful autobiography that chronicles the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela. From his humble beginnings in a rural village to becoming the first black president of South Africa, Mandela's journey is one of resilience, determination, and unwavering commitment to justice and equality. Through his personal experiences, he provides a vivid account of the struggle against apartheid, his 27 years of imprisonment, and the eventual triumph of democracy. This book serves as an inspiring testament to Mandela's unwavering spirit and his lifelong fight for freedom and human rights.

  15. 15. All the President's Men by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein

    "All the President's Men" is a non-fiction book that details the investigative journalism conducted by two reporters who uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation. The book provides a detailed account of the reporters' struggles to uncover the truth, the obstacles they faced, their persistence, and the ultimate revelation of a political scandal that shook the United States.

  16. 16. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois

    This seminal work is a collection of essays that explores the history and condition of African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. It delves into the issues of race, class, and the socio-economic realities faced by black people post-emancipation. The author employs a combination of history, sociology, and personal narrative to present a powerful critique of American society, highlighting the struggle for civil rights, the importance of black spirituals, and the concept of "double consciousness" - the idea of viewing oneself through the lens of a society that sees you as inferior.

  17. 17. Memoirs From Beyond the Grave by François René De Chateaubriand

    "Memoirs From Beyond the Grave" is an autobiographical work that chronicles the author's life and experiences in the late 18th and early 19th century. It provides a detailed account of his personal life, his political career, his travels, and his encounters with significant historical figures of the time. The book is also a reflection of the author's thoughts on religion, philosophy, and literature, offering a profound insight into the social and political changes that occurred during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

  18. 18. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

    The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. The book explores the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

  19. 19. Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves

    This memoir provides a candid and unflinching look at the horrors of World War I, as experienced by a young British officer. The narrative explores the brutality and futility of war, the author's struggle with shell shock, his disillusionment with the military and British society, and his decision to leave England for a new life abroad. It also offers insights into the author's personal life, including his troubled marriage and his relationships with other prominent figures of the time.

  20. 20. Experience by Martin Amis

    "Experience" is a memoir which delves into the author's life, exploring his relationships with his family, friends, and his own self. The narrative is a candid reflection on his father's influence, his friendships with other writers, his marriages, and his children. The author also discusses his experiences with fame, age, and loss, providing an intimate look into his personal and professional journey. The memoir is a blend of the author's unique humor, sharp observations, and poignant moments, offering a compelling and deeply personal narrative.

  21. 21. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

    This book is a semi-autobiographical account of the author's experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. It provides a detailed and humorous depiction of life and society along the river, including the author's own journey from an eager young apprentice to a seasoned riverboat pilot. The book also includes a travelogue of a journey down the Mississippi River much later in life, offering a look at the dramatic changes brought about by industrialization and the Civil War.

  22. 22. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

    This memoir recounts the harrowing experiences of a young boy forcibly recruited into the Sierra Leonean army during the country's brutal civil war. The narrative follows his journey from an innocent child fascinated with rap music to a hardened child soldier, who is eventually rescued by UNICEF and rehabilitated. The book provides a stark, firsthand account of the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit.

  23. 23. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

    This book is a moving memoir that tells the story of a biracial man raised in a housing project in Brooklyn by his white, Jewish mother. The narrative alternates between the author's perspective and his mother's, providing a nuanced view of issues related to race, religion, and identity. The author's mother, a Polish immigrant, married a black man in the 1940s and raised twelve children in the midst of poverty and racial tension. Despite the hardships, she instilled in her children the importance of education and self-reliance. The book is a tribute to the strength, resilience, and love of this remarkable woman.

  24. 24. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey

    "Eminent Victorians" is a biographical work that profiles four influential figures from the Victorian era. The book provides an in-depth look into the lives of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold, and General Gordon, exploring their respective contributions to British society during the 19th century. Through these portraits, the book offers a critical and often satirical analysis of Victorian values, institutions, and moral attitudes, challenging the idealized narrative of the era.

  25. 25. Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary

    "Promise at Dawn" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the life of a young man growing up in Eastern Europe, and later in France, under the shadow of his ambitious and eccentric mother. The protagonist's journey takes him through various phases of his life from his childhood, through his experiences as a pilot in World War II, to his adult life as a diplomat and a writer. The story is a tribute to the protagonist's mother, who instilled in him the values of courage, resilience, and the pursuit of grandeur, even in the face of adversity.

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download