Best Biography Books of All Time

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Team of Rivals
Winner of the Lincoln Prize

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln's political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history.
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World's Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

To find out more about this book, go to http://www.DevilInTheWhiteCity.com.


From the Hardcover edition.
Endurance
In August 1914, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton boarded the Endurance and set sail for Antarctica, where he planned to cross the last uncharted continent on foot. In January 1915, after battling its way through a thousand miles of pack ice and only a day's sail short of its destination, the Endurance became locked in an island of ice. Thus began the legendary ordeal of Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven men.
 
For ten months the ice-moored Endurance drifted northwest before it was finally crushed between two ice floes. With no options left, Shackleton and a skeleton crew attempted a near-impossible journey over 850 miles of the South Atlantic's heaviest seas to the closest outpost of civilization. Their survival, and the survival of the men they left behind, depended on their small lifeboat successfully finding the island of South Georgia—a tiny dot of land in a vast and hostile ocean.
 
In Endurance, the definitive account of Ernest Shackleton's fateful trip, Alfred Lansing brilliantly narrates the harrowing and miraculous voyage that has defined heroism for the modern age.
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Dino
From dealing blackjack in the small-time gangster  town of Steubenville, Ohio, to carousing with the  famous "Rat Pack" in a Hollywood he  called home, Dean Martin lived in a grandstand,  guttering life of booze, broads, and big money. He  rubbed shoulders with the mob, the Kennedys, and  Hollywood's biggest stars. He was one of America's  favorite entertainers. But no one really knew him.  Now Nick Tosches reveals the man behind the  image--the dark side of the American dream. It's a  wild, illuminating, sometimes shocking tale of sex,  ambition, heartaches--and a life lived hard, fast,  and without  apologies.
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Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine—now with all-new, never-before-published material.

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Dreams from My Father
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother's family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father's life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.


Pictured in lefthand photograph on cover: Habiba Akumu Hussein and Barack Obama, Sr. (President Obama's paternal grandmother and his father as a young boy). Pictured in righthand photograph on cover: Stanley Dunham and Ann Dunham (President Obama's maternal grandfather and his mother as a young girl).
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Washington
Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

Celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation and the first president of the United States. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one volume biography of George Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his adventurous early years, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow shatters forever the stereotype of George Washington as a stolid, unemotional figure and brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods.

“Truly magnificent… [a] well-researched, well-written and absolutely definitive biography” –Andrew Roberts, The Wall Street Journal

“Superb… the best, most comprehensive, and most balanced single-volume biography of Washington ever written.”
–Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books

“A truly gripping biography of George Washington... I can't recommend it highly enough—as history, as epic, and, not least, as entertainment. It's as luxuriantly pleasurable as one of those great big sprawling, sweeping Victorian novels.” 
–Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker




release date: Jan 01, 2001
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Truman
The Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Harry S. Truman, whose presidency included momentous events from the atomic bombing of Japan to the outbreak of the Cold War and the Korean War, told by America's beloved and distinguished historian.

The life of Harry S. Truman is one of the greatest of American stories, filled with vivid characters—Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Wallace Truman, George Marshall, Joe McCarthy, and Dean Acheson—and dramatic events. In this riveting biography, acclaimed historian David McCullough not only captures the man—a more complex, informed, and determined man than ever before imagined—but also the turbulent times in which he rose, boldly, to meet unprecedented challenges. The last president to serve as a living link between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Truman's story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur. Drawing on newly discovered archival material and extensive interviews with Truman's own family, friends, and Washington colleagues, McCullough tells the deeply moving story of the seemingly ordinary “man from Missouri” who was perhaps the most courageous president in our history.
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Catherine the Great
“[A] tale of power, perseverance and passion . . . a great story in the hands of a master storyteller.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine's family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
 
“[A] compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman.”—Newsweek
 
“An absorbing, satisfying biography.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“Juicy and suspenseful.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“A great life, indeed, and irresistibly told.”—Salon
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • The Washington Post • USA Today • The Boston Globe • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • Salon • VogueSt. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Providence Journal • Washington Examiner • South Florida Sun-Sentinel • BookPage • Bookreporter • Publishers Weekly
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David Copperfield
'The most perfect of all the Dickens novels' Virginia Woolf

David Copperfield is the story of a young man's adventures on his journey from an unhappy and impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr Murdstone; his brilliant, but ultimately unworthy school-friend James Steerforth; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble, yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora Spenlow; and the magnificently impecunious Wilkins Micawber, one of literature's great comic creations. In David Copperfield - the novel he described as his 'favourite child' - Dickens drew revealingly on his own experiences to create one of the most exuberant and enduringly popular works, filled with tragedy and comedy in equal measure. This edition uses the text of the first volume publication of 1850, and includes updated suggestions for further reading, original illustrations by 'Phiz', a revised chronology and expanded notes. In his new introduction, Jeremy Tambling discusses the novel's autobiographical elements, and its central themes of memory and identity. 

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
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Malcolm X
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for History

Hailed as "a masterpiece" (San Francisco Chronicle), the late Manning Marable's acclaimed biography of Malcolm X finally does justice to one of the most influential and controversial figures of twentieth-century American history. Filled with startling new information and shocking revelations, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America. Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism as followers of Marcus Garvey through his own work with the Nation of Islam and rise in the world of black nationalism, and culminates in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X is a stunning achievement, the definitive work on one of our greatest advocates for social change.

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No One Here Gets Out Alive
Here is Jim Morrison in all his complexity-singer, philosopher, poet, delinquent-the brilliant, charismatic, and obsessed seeker who rejected authority in any form, the explorer who probed "the bounds of reality to see what would happen..." Seven years in the writing, this definitive biography is the work of two men whose empathy and experience with Jim Morrison uniquely prepared them to recount this modern tragedy: Jerry Hopkins, whose famous Presley biography, Elvis, was inspired by Morrison's suggestion, and Danny Sugerman, confidant of and aide to the Doors. With an afterword by Michael McClure.
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When Character Was King
No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan. In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories—from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends—to reveal the true nature of a man even his opponents now view as a maker of big history. Marked by incisive wit and elegant prose, When Character Was King will both enlighten and move readers. It may well be the last word on Ronald Reagan, not only as a leader but as a man.
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Eleanor of Aquitaine
Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. At a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons. In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of this truly exceptional woman, and provides new insights into her intimate world. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many contrasts, of splendor and desolation, power and peril, and in this stunning narrative, Weir captures the woman— and the queen—in all her glory. With astonishing historic detail, mesmerizing pageantry, and irresistible accounts of royal scandal and intrigue, she recreates not only a remarkable personality but a magnificent past era.
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Zelda
Acclaimedbiographer Nancy Milford brings to life the tormented, elusive personality ofZelda Sayre and clarifies as never before her relationship with F. ScottFitzgerald, tracing the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing womanundone by the clash between her husband's career and her own talent. Zelda was an instant touchstone forcreatively inspired readers after its initial publication in 1983; Patti Smithhails it in her autobiography, Just Kids,recalling how “reading the story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford, Iidentified with her mutinous spirit.” Now, the penetrating biography of one oftwentieth century literature's most misunderstood figures—a book the New York Times calls “profound,overwhelmingly moving . . . [and] a richly complex love story” is availableagain in a handsome paperback edition from Harper Perennial.
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American Lion
Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson's election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson's presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama–the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers–that shaped Jackson's private world through years of storm and victory.

One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it. His story is one of violence, sex, courage, and tragedy. With his powerful persona, his evident bravery, and his mystical connection to the people, Jackson moved the White House from the periphery of government to the center of national action, articulating a vision of change that challenged entrenched interests to heed the popular will–or face his formidable wrath. The greatest of the presidents who have followed Jackson in the White House–from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to FDR to Truman–have found inspiration in his example, and virtue in his vision.

Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.

Jon Meacham in American Lion has delivered the definitive human portrait of a pivotal president who forever changed the American presidency–and America itself.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Man Who Knew Infinity
In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician's opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realizing the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, where the devout Hindu Ramanujan, 'the Prince of Intuition,' tested his brilliant theories alongside the sophisticated and eccentric Hardy, 'the Apostle of Proof.' In time, Ramanujan's creative intensity took its toll: he died at the age of thirty-two and left behind a magical and inspired legacy that is still being plumbed for its secrets today.
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Last Train to Memphis
From the moment that he first shook up the world in the mid 1950s, Elvis Presley has been one of the most vivid and enduring myths of American culture.

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley is the first biography to go past that myth and present an Elvis beyond the legend. Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, it traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed, creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis and his world.

This volume tracks the first twenty-four years of Elvis' life, covering his childhood, the stunning first recordings at Sun Records ("That's All Right," "Mystery Train"), and the early RCA hits ("Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel"). These were the years of his improbable self-invention and unprecedented triumphs, when it seemed that everything that Elvis tried succeeded wildly. There was scarcely a cloud in sight through this period until, in 1958, he was drafted into the army and his mother died shortly thereafter. The book closes on that somber and poignant note.

Last Train to Memphis takes us deep inside Elvis' life, exploring his lifelong passion for music of every sort (from blues and gospel to Bing Crosby and Mario Lanza), his compelling affection for his family, and his intimate relationships with girlfriends, mentors, band members, professional associates, and friends. It shows us the loneliness, the trustfulness, the voracious appetite for experience, and above all the unshakable, almost mystical faith that Elvis had in himself and his music. Drawing frequently on Elvis' own words and on the recollections of those closest to him, the book offers an emotional, complex portrait of young Elvis Presley with a depth and dimension that for the first time allow his extraordinary accomplishments to ring true.

Peter Guralnick has given us a previously unseen world, a rich panoply of people and events that illuminate an achievement, a place, and a time as never revealed before. Written with grace, humor, and affection, Last Train to Memphis has been hailed as the definitive biography of Elvis Presley. It is the first to set aside the myths and focus on Elvis' humanity in a way that has yet to be duplicated.
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