Biographies of interesting lives
November 20, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to read about the interesting, fascinating, and crazy lives people have lived. Any recommendations for biographies of people that have led fascinating lives?
posted by markbao to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder: "The Ghost in the Little House". She never stops moving for a second, until she dies in her sleep in her 80s.
posted by Melismata at 12:04 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to try The Glass Castle by Walls, it was interesting and very colorful but my favorite biography ever is probably Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is also very good.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!", Richard Feynman's autobiography.

While he may have won a Nobel Prize for Physics, there is very little actual physics in the book. It isn't particularly deep book, but it is a fun read about an interesting person. He had a natural curiousity about things that made him a rather interesting person. The movie "Infinity" starring Matthew Broderick was pased on some parts of the book. It is a fun and rather quick read.

There is also "What Do You Care What Other People Think?", which wasn't as consistent, since it is mostly compiled after his death.
posted by Badgermann at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2014

"The Story of My Life," by Helen Keller. You probably learned in grade school that she was a nice inspirational lady because she learned to communicate despite her handicaps. That's true, but she was a lot more interesting than that -- somehow you never learn in school that she was also an ardent socialist and an equal rights activist.

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" The life of the physicist Richard Feynman, who was not only a brilliant physicist but did a whole lot of interesting and weird stuff besides.
posted by holborne at 12:11 PM on November 20, 2014

Oh, and this might be a little more lowbrow than what you're looking for but "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain is also a good one. (You'll never eat swordfish again, though.)
posted by holborne at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Interesting, fascinating and crazy" describes Lord Byron to a T. Leslie Marchand wrote the definitive biographies.
posted by Bardolph at 12:25 PM on November 20, 2014

The Bishop's Boys, by Tom D. Crouch. About the lives of the Wright Brothers and their family. FASCINATING people, much more so than I would have expected. Gives tons of context as well for the goings-on in those early days of aviation.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:25 PM on November 20, 2014

Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters Of Eleanor Roosevelt And Lorena Hickok is a collection of letters between the First Lady and her lover Hick. Eleanor Roosevelt's life was a whirlwind; Lorena Hickok travelled the nation reporting from the front lines of the New Deal. Historically and socially fascinating correspondence.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2014

Marion Barbara 'Joe' Carstairs was an absolute one-off - really and truly amazingly eccentric. You can read all about her in her biography The Queen of Whale Cay.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Gerald Durrell led a fascinating life, chronicled in a series of books. He was raised by a family of lunatics which feature prominently in the earlier books then went on to a job collecting animals for zoos then became a tv personality doing nature documentaries and major conservationist who founded a zoo that breeds rare species. Seriously fascinating guy. Great writer.
posted by fshgrl at 12:45 PM on November 20, 2014

I think anyone William Manchester has written about qualifies. I am particularly fond of his Last Lion series on Churchill.
posted by bearwife at 12:48 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recommend this book about the Mitford sisters.
posted by JanetLand at 1:01 PM on November 20, 2014

Thirding the Feynman book.
posted by Flexagon at 1:18 PM on November 20, 2014

Out of the Night. Jan Valtin. Can't make the links work.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2014

I'm With The Band by Pamela Des Barres.
posted by Rash at 2:25 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recently finished reading Tom Reiss' The Black Count, a biography of General Alex Dumas, the mixed race aristocratic son of a Haitian slave who skyrocketed up the ranks of the French Army during the Revolution, was imprisoned and came home to find that his country had been taken over by a dude who had a personal grudge against him and had also overturned all the legal provisions for racial equality brought about in the last couple of decades. His much more famous namesake son wrote The Count of Monte Cristo inspired in part by his life.
posted by bettafish at 2:26 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

West With The Night is a memoir rather than a biography, but it's both fascinating and an absolutely gorgeous piece of prose. Beryl Markham was a racehorse trainer, bush pilot, and international record-setter in a time when women Didn't Do That.

Portrait Of Myself by Margaret Bourke-White is fascinating as well, if significantly less lyrical. It's an autobiography by one of the most famous photojournalists of all time -- she developed industrial photography, traveled across the world in WWII as a war photographer, met and photographed most of the world leaders of her day, and had more close calls than you can shake a stick at.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:32 PM on November 20, 2014

"Chuck Amuck" by Chuck Jones. It's more memoir than autobiography, but it spends a lot of time talking about his time as a director at Warner Brothers. (It's better than the later "Chuck Redux".)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:37 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I <3 Biography.

Mitterand: A Study in Ambiguity

Woody Guthrie: A Life

Lawrence of Arabia

And there are some fantastic autobiographies as well:

My Life in E flat by Chan Parker, Bird Parker's widdow

posted by colin_l at 3:19 PM on November 20, 2014

'Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters: An Eccentric Englishwoman and Her Lost Kingdom' Philip Eade's biography of Sylvia Lady Brooke, the Ranee of Sarawak, Borneo.
I liked it so much that I also tracked down and read her autobiography, 'Queen of the Headhunters'.
posted by mdrew at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

A Partisan's Memoir. this woman was a total badass.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:33 PM on November 20, 2014

My favourites include The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway and An Accidental Autobiography by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. Harrison's book about growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, Visions of Glory, is also worth a read.

David Attenborough's Life on Air is several cuts above the typical TV star memoir. And, while it's a collection of shorter pieces rather than a straightforward autobiography, I highly recommend Louis Armstrong in His Own Words.

I've only read the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography, and it took a few months, but it was worth it. I read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography in an afternoon, and it was also worth it.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:34 PM on November 20, 2014

Elaine Dundy's Life Itself
posted by Ideefixe at 4:13 PM on November 20, 2014

T.j. Binyon on Alexander Pushkin, who basically invented poetry in Russian and died in a duel.

Mary Kenny's Germany Calling, on the Anglo-Irish nazi propagandist Lord Haw Haw

And speaking of people executed for treason, not sure of the best biography of him, but civil-servant-turn world's first human rights campaigner turned guerrilla Roger Casement has always fascinated me.

Gertrude Bell's another good subject. Decca Mitford and her sisters are also fascinating, but I think she's better in letters. Also Stacy Schiff can make anyone fascinating.
posted by Diablevert at 5:44 PM on November 20, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' autobiography Living to Tell the Tale was simply wonderful. It's only part one!
posted by jrobin276 at 7:06 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I quite enjoyed Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay
posted by msali at 9:41 PM on November 20, 2014

Mark Twain: A Life, by Ron Powers.

The Theodore Roosevelt trilogy by Edmund Morris: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, and Colonel Roosevelt.

Page turners, all of 'em. And seconding Chocolate Pickle's suggestion of Chuck Amuck.
posted by bryon at 11:10 PM on November 20, 2014

Kinda popular, but I've had tremendous fun reading Steve Jobs' biography. Also, if you're into Kraftwerk (music): "I was a robot" by Wolfgang Flur. And "Last Man On The Moon" by Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan.
posted by hz37 at 12:54 AM on November 21, 2014

No Shortcuts to the Top is the biography of Ed Viesturs, the only American to have climbed all 14 eight-thousander mountains. I wouldn't say it's beautifully written, but it is very interesting.
posted by neushoorn at 2:30 AM on November 21, 2014

There were some good suggestions in my old question.
posted by pracowity at 2:32 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A Scandalous Life: the Biography of Lady Jane Digby is fascinating. She started her life as an English society beauty and ended it married to a Bedouin prince 20 years her junior.
posted by Lycaste at 10:22 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bad as I Wanna Be by Dennis Rodman - really!
posted by SisterHavana at 10:09 AM on November 22, 2014

Eleanor Marx
posted by chill at 11:06 AM on December 13, 2014

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