Best Biographies: Top 7 Nonfiction Reads Most Recommended By Experts

A biography is a long-form account of a person’s life as written by an author. These literary works can dive into the nitty-gritty details of some of the world’s most legendary people. Our list of the top seven best biographies showcases their writers’ dedication to presenting personal stories about notable historical figures.

Biographies are a form of historical writing. Stories of great people: kings, pharaohs, Caesars, and tsars are as old as storytelling itself. This began to change in 1791 with “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell. This is one of the earliest examples of a documented biographical writing process that included interviews and research. The aspect that transformed the genre from a history to a biography can be seen in Boswell’s construction of an interesting narrative to frame his writing and to provide it with structure.

Modern biographies are also tell-all books where readers become “insiders,” learning the intimate and often emotional personal details of their favorite celebrities’ lives. Critical biographies consider the subject’s relationship to the works they produced or the great deeds they performed. There are also so-called “unauthorized” biographies that have been condemned as an invasion of privacy. However, if the details contained in the text are factually true, then even the most scandalous and embarrassing exposés are not considered libelous.

Ready to dive into the lives of incredible men and women in history? Our sources helped us rank the seven best biographies that are also best sellers. Each one allows readers to travel back in time as witnesses to important moments in history. Let us know your favorite biographies in the comments below!

assorted-title book lot
Stack of books (Photo by freestocks on Unsplash)

The List: Best Biographies, According to Experts

 

1. “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (2011)

Walter Isaacson’s first biography on our list is about the former CEO of Apple. Steve Jobs led Apple during its historic transformation from a computer company to the smart device and tech juggernaut it is today. Pan Macmillan compliments, “Isaacson tells the story of the rollercoaster life and searingly intense personality of [the] creative entrepreneur … Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written and put nothing off limits, making this an unflinchingly candid account of one of the key figures of modern history.”

"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

“It divulges the details of Jobs’ little-known childhood and tracks his fateful path from garage engineer to leader of one of the largest tech companies in the world — not to mention his formative role in other legendary companies like Pixar, and indeed within the Silicon Valley ecosystem as a whole,” assures discovery.

“It’s unusual for modern biographies to be this good. It’s especially unusual for the subject of the biography to approach the biographer in the way that Steve Jobs did (thinking that he was the intellectual heir of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein). But despite those two things, this bio is and will likely forever be a classic. It shows Jobs at his best–determined, creative, prophetic–and at his worst–petty, selfish, tyrannical and vicious,” articulates Medium.

2. “A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar (1998)

“A Beautiful Mind” is the story of mathematician John Nash. This book is an emotional look at brilliance and mental illness. Pro Writing Aid exclaims, “Another vivid story about a brilliant man teetering between genius and madness, this book reads like a suspense novel but is the true story of John Nash, a mathematical genius who slipped into [schizophrenia].”

“A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar (1998)
“A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar (1998)

“This biography of esteemed mathematician John Nash was both a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize and the basis for the award-winning film of the same name. Nasar thoroughly explores Nash’s prestigious career, from his beginnings at MIT to his work at the RAND Corporation — as well [as] the internal battle he waged against schizophrenia, a disorder that nearly derailed his life,” raves discovery.

Read This Twice praises, “Discover the fascinating life of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who spiraled into schizophrenia in the 1950s. His work in game theory was underpinning a large part of economics by the 1980s, but his name was dismissed for a Nobel Prize due to his mental illness. In this biography, economist and journalist Sylvia Nasar gives an intelligent exposition of his ideas, a picture of schizophrenia that is evocative but unromantic, and a glimpse behind the machinations of the Nobel committees.”

3. “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera (1983)

Frida Kahlo has been the subject of numerous biographies. She was a great painter, and her story is intriguing. The Manual says, “The focal point of this biography is not the suffering that was endured by Frida Kahlo, but instead, her artistic brilliance and her immense resolve to leave her mark on the world. Herrera’s 1983 biography of one of the most recognizable names in modern art has since become the definitive account of her life.”

“Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera (1983)
“Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera (1983)

Esquire describes, “It’s all here in gorgeously written detail: Kahlo’s accident, her paintings, her marriage, her affairs, and her impact on both Mexican history and art. It’s also extremely valuable for correcting the historical record that Kahlo herself sometimes misrepresented for effect—like when she changed her own birth year to match the beginning of Mexico’s revolution.”

Insider elaborates, “Filled with a wealth of her life experiences, this biography of Frida Kahlo conveys her intelligence, strength, and artistry in a cohesive timeline. The book spans her childhood during the Mexican Revolution, the terrible accident that changed her life, and her passionate relationships, all while intertwining her paintings and their histories through her story.”

4. “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro (1974)

Robert Moses is not a household name but perhaps he should be. This riveting bio details the life of a New York City urban planner. Esquire offers, “[Caro’s] crowning achievement might still be this biography of Robert Moses, the urban planner who reshaped New York City in the mid-twentieth century. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1975, and you can instantly see why from page one: Caro can set a scene and establish characters as well as Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola.”

“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro (1974)
“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro (1974)

Read This Twice explains, “Robert Moses, the single most powerful man of his time in New York, led urban renewal efforts with a political machine that was virtually the fourth branch of government. By mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, and even the press and the Church, Moses created an empire, living like an emperor and completing public works costing $27 billion.”

Medium states, “Could the biography of the former parks commissioner of New York be the definitive study of power and legacy? Apparently, because this book is it. It’s 1,000+ pages and you’ll read and learn from every single one.”

5. “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (2004)

Thanks to the smash hit hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton is now one of the most famous founding fathers. Chernow’s 2004 biography presents the fascinating details of Hamilton’s life. Vetted claims, “Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography … deeply describes Hamilton’s days as a soldier under Washington’s command and the complexities involved in financing a young nation’s growth and creating a central bank amidst the monumental political and financial challenges of the day.”

“Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (2004)
“Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (2004)

Reader’s Digest relates, “The book—jokingly referred to as ‘Hamiltome’ because of its hefty size—chronicles the life of this Founding Father… It also showcases Hamilton’s meteoric rise to become the first Treasury Secretary of the United States before ending with his death, which came at the hands of a duel with Aaron Burr.”

Insider reviews, “This comprehensive biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton aims to tell the story of his decisions, sacrifice, and patriotism that led to many political and economic effects we still see today. In this history, readers encounter Hamilton’s childhood friends, his highly public affair, and his dreams of American prosperity.”

6. “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson (2017)

One of the greatest masters of the humanities, Leonardo da Vinci changed the world. Mathematics, invention, and art were all the purview of this great man, as detailed in this book. “Leonardo was constantly promoting his artistic abilities to wealthy benefactors and had the creativity to come up with flying machines and giant crossbows while studying anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. Few geniuses like this have ever walked the earth,” according to Vetted.

“Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson (2017)
“Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson (2017)

Read This Twice asserts, “With the help of thousands of pages from Leonardo’s notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Isaacson shows how we can learn from Leonardo’s passionate curiosity, careful observation, and imaginative mind.”

The Manual evaluates, “Isaacson represents the gold standard for contemporary biographers, and his tome on Leonardo da Vinci was a bestseller for a reason. Isaacson is able to show a detailed, intimate portrait of the most famous painter of all time from centuries away.”

7. “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2017)

Ruth Bader Ginsberg served as a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States for 27 years. Towards the end of her life, she also became a pop culture icon appearing in “Saturday Night Live” skits played by Kate McKinnon as well as a cameo on “Rick and Morty.”  Read This Twice comments, “Experience the life and work of a feminist pioneer who has inspired millions. ‘Notorious RBG’ gives an intimate, irreverent look into the story behind the myth of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

“Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2017)
“Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2017)

Reader’s Digest adds, “This is not your typical biography… author Knizhnik created the wildly popular Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr. Co-author Carmon interviewed Justice Ginsburg for MSNBC (and sat down with her to fact-check this book), so you can be sure you’re getting well-researched facts as well as entertainment in this bestseller.”

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Supreme Court Justice and feminist icon who spent her life fighting for gender equality and civil rights in the legal system. This is an inspirational biography that follows her triumphs and struggles, dissents, and quotes, packaged with chapters titled after Notorious B.I.G. tracks — a nod to the many memes memorializing Ginsburg as an iconic dissident,” details Insider.

You might also be interested in:

Sources:

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *