Interesting Biographies
December 17, 2008 6:37 AM   Subscribe

I will have time for more reading in the coming months. What are the compelling biographies and autobiographies from recent years?

I am in the U.S., but would also enjoy reading about interesting international bios (English language). Thanks in advance for your assistance.
posted by netbros to Education (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
recently recommended to me, or looked good & got put on my list:
Mark Twain by Ron Powers
Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

A bit more fun:
No Limits by Michael Phelps
posted by knile at 6:50 AM on December 17, 2008

Samuel Delany's various memoirs are all well-written and compelling, and recommended if you have an interest in either science fiction, 60s bohemianism, NYC, or growing up gay. The three relevant books are The Motion of Light in Water, Heavenly Breakfast, and Atlantis: Three Tales (the last is three semi-fictional biographical novellas about Delany's father and other relatives, including the famous "Delany sisters" who are his great-aunts and known for their own memoir). Relatedly, his book 1984 is a collection of his letters to various people written in that year (a difficult one for him).
posted by aught at 7:21 AM on December 17, 2008

I'm about 1/2 through the John Adams biography and it's absolutely fascinating.
posted by COD at 7:22 AM on December 17, 2008

I recently enjoyed:

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family and The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters
The first is a biography of "the six notorious and passionately opinionated daughters of the second Baron Redesdale," who knew many key figures of the 20th century, from Hitler and Churchill to Evelyn Waugh and Lucian Freud, and the second is a collection of their letters. Both utterly fascinating.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius
Perkins was the quintessential book editor of the 20th Century. He worked with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe, and an inordinate number of the books he published at Scribner have become classics. His great influence on 20th Century American literature is not to be underestimated.

Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir
Of all Diana Athill's memoirs, it is this one I enjoyed most. In it, she writes about what it is like to be old, with optimism and pluck. Reading it, I thought, "that's what I want to be like when I'm old."
posted by ocherdraco at 7:32 AM on December 17, 2008

Three music related ones that are great, and may be easier reads if you're looking for that at all:
-- Motley Crue's The Dirt
-- Slash
-- Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume 1
posted by inigo2 at 7:36 AM on December 17, 2008

Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character - compiles the two volumes of Nobel physicist Richard Feynman's (worked on the Manhattan Project) autobiography-cum-memoir-cum-playful-romp into one book, with an audio CD of the "Los Alamos from Below" lecture.

Much of the book is devoted to his childhood, early youth, and beginnings in academia, and it is super funny and inspiring, laden with anecdotes about the pranks and stunts he pulled - the point being to demonstrate, throughout, how curiosity drove him into science.

This is the book that I most often get people as a gift.
posted by softsantear at 7:44 AM on December 17, 2008

Not at all current, but I jump at any chance I get to recommend Straight Life, Art Pepper's autobiography. This is probably the most raw, honest, brutal, matter-of-fact bio or autobio that I've ever read. Even if you don't know Pepper's music all that well, this is a great read.

I'm also a big fan of Shawn Levy's King of Comedy, on Jerry Lewis. One of the great bios, in my opinion.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:01 AM on December 17, 2008

If you're interested in SFF at all, I quite liked James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.
posted by sugarfish at 8:23 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. I read it a couple of years ago, but it's apparently from 1999. Not *exactly* from recent years, but it was very good.
posted by originalname37 at 8:25 AM on December 17, 2008

It's about 10 years old now, but Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is still, for my money, the best book of any kind in the last 30 years or so.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:36 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just finished Franco, by Paul Preston. He does a superb job of explaining how such a mediocre, self-serving little man could become the longest surviving fascist dictator in the world.
posted by Iosephus at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2008

Here's the Pulitzer's for a/bio. You may find something that catches your interest.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 10:03 AM on December 17, 2008

Yes to James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. I bought it for my mother for Christmas, knowing that although she cares not about Science Fiction, the story of this amazing life would interest her.

Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks' autobiography, was much praised when it came out.

Warren Zevon was also a very interesting cat. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon is his story. To be honest, I really couldn't finish it due to how intense the man's life was.
posted by thebrokedown at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2008

last one I read was Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
posted by imaswinger at 11:34 AM on December 17, 2008

I really loved The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso. It's an intense but beautiful medical memoir that is certainly not for everyone, but the writing is so lovely and the story so compelling that the difficult details are more than worth it.
posted by Failure31 at 12:50 PM on December 17, 2008

Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory was a great read. There's some nice ink illustrations of his in it too.
posted by robotot at 1:55 PM on December 17, 2008

I also read Mr Gatling's Terrible Marvel, by Julia Keller. It's the story of the inventor of the gatling gun, as well as a broad overview of the end of the nineteenth century in the US.
posted by sugarfish at 6:50 PM on December 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses folks.
posted by netbros at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2008

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