The best biographies teach us about the world and inspire us to think about it. We gain a deeper appreciation for the world we live in when we read about historical figures who had a significant impact. We can better understand others, cultivate empathy, and chart our course by studying the lives of those who have gone through trials and tribulations that differ from our own. A more objective look at a person or era can be found in biography books rather than autobiographies and memoirs.
1. Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude (2020)
Citizens and leaders alike have turned to the writings of James Baldwin, one of America’s greatest writers on race, during these turbulent times. Eddie S. Glaude weaves Baldwin’s life and words from newly unearthed interviews with the current state of racial tension in the United States in his new biography of Baldwin.
Baldwin’s wisdom from the past is applied to the present, illuminating a path to a better future. In addition to being named one of Time, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune’s best books of the year, Begin Again won the Stowe Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.
2. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts (1982)
The 2008 film Milk starring Sean Penn may have piqued your interest, but this biography delves deeper into Harvey Milk’s life and career, and it uses Milk’s story as a metaphor for a lot of what was happening in the gay community in the United States at the time as well. Despite being one of the first openly gay public officials, Milk was a target and tragically died before we had a chance to appreciate all that he had to offer.
Randy Shilts, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote this account in 1982, and while some aspects of it are now outdated, it vividly captures San Francisco’s outlook and political complexity in the 1970s. You can also check out these other LGBTQ books that are inspiring, compelling, and entertaining while you’re on the hunt for new books to read.
3. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography by Miriam Pawel (2014)
An honoree for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the California Book Award, this is one of the greatest biographies ever written. The first comprehensive biography of Cesar Chavez, one of the most important Latinx figures in American history, is published in this book. Miriam Pawel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has written a poignant and nuanced account of Chavez’s remarkable life, mind, and journey from migrant worker to movement leader.
4. Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White (2004)
The Color Purple, the first book written by a black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, is one of Alice Walker’s best-known works. As Evelyn C.
White delves deep into Walker’s early life and the social ills that plagued the country at the time, she establishes connections that would later lead to Walker’s success as an author. Even if you haven’t had a chance to read any of Walker’s work, this is a must-read biography. More of the best books written by female authors are included in this list.
5. The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller (2001)
A slew of biographies and rumors have swirled around the three Bront sisters. Author Lucasta Miller shows how the changing views of the Bronte siblings reflect the times in which these biographies were written rather than the famous siblings themselves. Miller dispels myths and proposes new theories through her humorous and frank writing style, which draws readers in.
6. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)
This is still the standard for modern biographies. Poet, essayist, biographer, and lexicographer, Johnson is best known for his 1755 publication, A Dictionary of the English Language, which is widely regarded as one of the best dictionaries ever written.
Although little is known about Johnson’s early life, this biography focuses on the rise of Johnson’s tremendous career and details his ability to overcome adversity, including his struggles with anxiety, hearing loss, partial blindness, and behavioral tics, which were later diagnosed as Tourette’s syndrome. Pick up a few of the most popular poetry books of all time if you’re into poetry.
7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2001)
Awarded science writer Rebecca Skloot tells the tragic story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor Black tobacco farmer who died from an aggressive form of cervical cancer at the age of 31 in 1951.
Researchers removed her tumor cells before she passed away, even though neither she nor her family was informed of this. It wasn’t long before these cells—now numbering in the billions—became a critical tool in medical research. Scientific discovery is interspersed with a discussion of race and ethics by Skloot.
Even if you’ve already read a lot of biographies and are looking for new titles to add to your collection, we’ve got something for you. Our selection includes books that have been both critically acclaimed and highly praised by readers, all of which shed light on some of the most intriguing, obscure, or influential stories in history. You’re in for a real treat with these selections, which are among the best nonfiction books of all time. We encourage you to peruse TheActiveNews.com for additional content.