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.
If you’re looking for a new one to pick up, here’s a list of the 55 best biographies to read (in our humble opinion)!
1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
13. Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
25. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and The Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 your own 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.
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