The Greatest "History, 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 313 '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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History

The category of "History" in books refers to the study and interpretation of past events, societies, and cultures. It encompasses a wide range of topics, including political, social, economic, and cultural developments, as well as the lives of individuals and groups who have shaped the course of history. History books can be written from various perspectives and may focus on specific time periods, regions, or themes. They aim to provide readers with a deeper understanding of the past and its impact on the present.

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 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.

    The 427th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. 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.

    The 541st Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. 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.

    The 578th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. 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.

    The 610th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. 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.

    The 642nd Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

    This book is a poignant autobiography that depicts the life of a young woman born into slavery in the southern United States in the early 19th century. The narrative provides a harrowing account of her childhood and adolescence, marked by abuse and exploitation. In her desperate quest for freedom, she spends seven years in a tiny attic, hiding from her oppressive master. The narrative serves as a powerful critique of the brutalities of slavery, and a testament to the author's indomitable spirit and pursuit of freedom.

    The 730th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. 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.

    The 752nd Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt

    This book is a thought-provoking exploration of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a major organizer of the Holocaust. The author argues that Eichmann was not a fanatical ideologue, but rather an ordinary individual who simply followed orders and bureaucratic procedures, highlighting the terrifying potential for evil in any system that values obedience over personal responsibility. The concept of the "banality of evil" is introduced, suggesting that horrific acts can be committed by ordinary people under certain conditions.

    The 799th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari

    "Lives of the Artists" is a comprehensive collection of biographies of the most significant Italian artists from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The book provides a detailed overview of the artists' lives, their works, and their contributions to the art world. It includes the biographies of renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, among others. The author's personal acquaintance with some of these artists lends a unique perspective, making the book a valuable historical document.

    The 877th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. 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.

    The 904th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius

    "Lives of the Caesars" is a historical narrative that provides a detailed account of the personal and public lives of the first twelve Roman emperors, from Julius Caesar to Domitian. The author presents a vivid depiction of their character, behavior, appearance, and private lives, as well as their political actions, military exploits, and administrative policies. The book is a valuable source of information about the Roman Empire's early days, offering a unique perspective on the power, corruption, and extravagance of the Roman elite.

    The 1184th Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. A Time Of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

    The book is a vivid memoir that chronicles the adventures of a young man as he embarks on a remarkable journey on foot across Europe in the 1930s. Starting from the Hook of Holland, he traverses through landscapes and cities, encountering a diverse tapestry of cultures, languages, and historical remnants. Along the way, he is welcomed by a variety of individuals, from aristocrats to peasants, who enrich his experience with their stories and hospitality. His travels provide not only a physical journey through the continent but also a journey through time, as he reflects on the complexities of Europe's past and the ominous shadows cast by the approaching Second World War.

    The 1290th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

    "The Warmth of Other Suns" is a powerful and deeply moving narrative that chronicles the Great Migration, a significant event in American history that saw millions of African Americans leave the South in search of better opportunities and freedom from racial oppression. Through the compelling stories of three individuals, the book explores the challenges, triumphs, and sacrifices made by these courageous migrants as they embarked on a journey to find a new life in the North and West, ultimately reshaping the social and cultural landscape of America.

    The 1314th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. The World Of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

    The book is a poignant memoir reflecting on the transformative events and cultural atmosphere of Europe before World War I, through the interwar years and into the rise of the Nazis. It captures the author's experiences of growing up in a vibrant pre-war Vienna, the intellectual richness and artistic achievements of the time, as well as the profound sense of loss as the world he knew disintegrated into chaos and totalitarianism. With a mix of nostalgia and despair, the narrative serves as a lament for the lost world of European culture and as a warning about the fragility of peace and the human cost of war.

    The 1381st Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. 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.

    The 1443rd Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel

    This book is a compelling oral history of the Great Depression, featuring a collection of interviews from a diverse range of individuals who lived through the era. The interviewees include both the ordinary people and famous figures of the time, from businessmen and politicians to artists and criminals. The book provides a vivid, first-hand account of the economic hardship, social changes, and emotional struggles experienced by people during the 1930s, offering a unique perspective on this significant period in American history.

    The 1489th Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. Witness by Whittaker Chambers

    "Witness" is a gripping autobiography that chronicles the author's life as a Communist party member, his espionage activities for the Soviet Union, and his eventual renunciation of communism. The book also details his role as the key witness in the 1948 Alger Hiss trial, a high-profile case that had a major impact on American politics during the Cold War. The narrative explores themes of ideology, betrayal, and redemption, and provides a unique perspective on the ideological battles of the 20th century.

    The 1528th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. The Life Written By Himself by the Archpriest Avvakum

    "The Life Written By Himself" is an autobiographical account by the Archpriest Avvakum, detailing his life as a religious figure in 17th-century Russia. The book chronicles his struggles, including his conflicts with the Russian Orthodox Church, his imprisonment, and his eventual execution. Avvakum's narrative provides a unique perspective on the religious and political climate of the time, showcasing his unwavering devotion to his faith and his unwavering determination to uphold his beliefs, even in the face of persecution.

    The 1533rd Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. 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.

    The 1564th Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. Journals by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark

    This book is a compilation of the detailed journals kept by two explorers during their expedition across the American West, from 1804 to 1806. The journals provide a first-hand account of their encounters with Native American tribes, their observations of new plant and animal species, and the challenges they faced while traversing uncharted territories. The explorers' writings not only offer insights into their historic journey but also serve as a valuable resource for understanding early 19th-century American history and the country's westward expansion.

    The 1668th Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

    This book provides an immersive exploration of the infamous motorcycle gang, the Hell's Angels, as seen through the eyes of a journalist who spent a year living and riding with them. The narrative delves into the lifestyle, mindset, and public perception of these notorious figures, offering a raw and unfiltered look into their world. It also examines the wider cultural context of the 1960s, including societal anxieties and the counterculture movement, and how these factors intersect with the Hell's Angels' existence.

    The 1711th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. Disraeli by Robert Blake

    This biography provides a comprehensive look at the life and political career of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the most influential figures in 19th-century British politics. The book explores his rise from a debt-ridden novelist to the prime minister of the United Kingdom, highlighting his charismatic personality, sharp intellect, and political acumen. It also delves into his unique approach to politics, his relationships with Queen Victoria and other influential figures, and his enduring impact on British conservatism.

    The 1718th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. 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.

    The 1770th Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. My Past And Thoughts by Aleksandr Herzen

    The book is a rich and vivid memoir by a prominent Russian intellectual and revolutionary who lived through a period of profound social and political upheaval. It combines personal narrative with philosophical reflections, offering a penetrating look at the author's life experiences, from his aristocratic upbringing to his involvement in radical politics. The work delves into the author's ideological development, his relationships with key figures of his time, and his observations on the social issues and political movements that shaped the 19th century. It is a testament to the author's profound engagement with the ideas of freedom, justice, and human agency in the face of an oppressive regime and a changing world.

    The 1838th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

    This book explores the political acumen of Abraham Lincoln, focusing on how he assembled his cabinet from political adversaries, many of whom initially dismissed him for his perceived lack of experience and ungainly appearance. The narrative delves into how Lincoln used his rivals' talents to navigate the tumultuous times of the Civil War, maintaining unity and leading the nation towards the abolition of slavery. It underscores Lincoln's extraordinary ability to turn rivals into allies, demonstrating his leadership and his profound impact on American history.

    The 1970th Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!

Download

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