The Greatest "Biography" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details 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 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.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. 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.

  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. 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.

  8. 8. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

    This autobiographical book provides a first-hand account of the life of a former slave, chronicling his experiences from his early years in bondage, his struggle to teach himself to read and write, his daring escape to freedom, and his subsequent rise as a prominent abolitionist. The narrative is a powerful exploration of the physical and psychological effects of slavery, making it a significant work in American history.

  9. 9. 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.

  10. 10. 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.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. 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.

  13. 13. 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.

  14. 14. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

    This memoir explores the life of a first-generation Chinese-American woman, navigating the complexities of her dual heritage. Through five interconnected stories, the book delves into the author's childhood experiences, her mother's tales of old China, and the struggles of reconciling these two worlds. The memoir is a blend of reality and mythology, illustrating the author's struggle with her identity, the expectations of her traditional Chinese family, and the challenges of growing up in a predominantly white American society.

  15. 15. Parallel Lives by Plutarch

    "Parallel Lives" is a collection of biographies of famous Greek and Roman figures, written in pairs to draw comparisons between their lives. The work explores the influence of character on the lives and destinies of these historical figures. The biographies are not only a record of the lives of these individuals, but also provide insight into the times in which they lived, offering a unique perspective on the history and culture of the ancient world.

  16. 16. 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.

  17. 17. 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.

  18. 18. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

    This book is an autobiography of one of America's founding fathers, detailing his life from childhood to adulthood. The author shares his journey from humble beginnings as a printer's apprentice to becoming a successful inventor, writer, businessman, and statesman. The book provides an insight into his thoughts and philosophies on various subjects such as education, self-improvement, and public service, offering a unique look at the early American history through his eyes.

  19. 19. History of My Life by Giacomo Casanova

    "History of My Life" is an autobiography of an Italian adventurer and author, who is best remembered for his often complicated and elaborate affairs with women. The book offers a fascinating insight into his life, travels, and encounters. It provides an intimate look at the social customs and life of the 18th century, as well as the author's personal philosophies on a variety of subjects, including love, luck, and the importance of maintaining a sense of humor.

  20. 20. My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

    In this humorous and heartwarming memoir, a young boy named Gerald Durrell recounts his unconventional upbringing on the idyllic Greek island of Corfu. Surrounded by a colorful cast of eccentric family members and a menagerie of unique animals, Gerald's adventures and misadventures bring joy and laughter to readers as he navigates the wonders of nature and the challenges of growing up. With vivid descriptions and witty anecdotes, this book is a delightful tribute to the beauty of the natural world and the bonds of family.

  21. 21. 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.

  22. 22. 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.

  23. 23. The Power Broker by Robert Caro

    This book is a biography of Robert Moses, a powerful figure in New York City and state politics, who wielded immense influence over the urban development of the area in the mid-20th century. Despite never holding elected office, Moses was responsible for the creation of numerous parks, highways, bridges, and public works throughout the city and state. The book delves into the methods Moses used to achieve and maintain his power, his impact on the city, and the controversial legacy he left behind.

  24. 24. Henry James by Leon Edel

    This book is an in-depth biography of one of the most influential writers of the 19th century. The author meticulously details the life and work of the subject, from his early years in New York and his extensive travels in Europe, to his eventual settling in England and his career as a writer. The book delves into his relationships with family, friends, and fellow writers, as well as his own struggles with identity and sexuality. It also provides a comprehensive analysis of his novels, novellas, and short stories, highlighting his unique narrative style and his exploration of complex themes such as consciousness, morality, and social class.

  25. 25. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

    "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" is an autobiographical account of the experiences of a British soldier serving in the Middle East during World War I. The narrative offers an insider's perspective of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, detailing the author's role in the guerrilla warfare, his interactions with various tribal leaders, and his deep understanding and appreciation of the Arabic culture. The book is also known for its philosophical reflections on war, politics, and the author's personal struggles.

Reading Statistics

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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.

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