Really gripping biographies
November 16, 2019 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Having just read Romantic Outlaws and been blown away by it, can anyone recommend other biographies or autobiographies that are written in such a gripping, page-turning style, please? I'm looking for books about any subject or time period, but they should be well-written and the subject should be likeable.

Romantic Outlaws uses a lot of the devices in fiction to keep the reader engrossed including cliff-hangers and guesses about how the people involved may have been feeling and what their motivations may have been (if you haven't read it I highly recommend it - it's about the life of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley).
posted by hazyjane to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Janet Malcolm’s biography of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman, which is substantially about the drama the people around her churned up in her wake. It reads a bit like a mystery novel.
posted by sallybrown at 8:33 AM on November 16, 2019

Best answer: If you have any interest in twentieth-century philosophy, Ray Monk's Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius is a great biography.
posted by Beardman at 9:58 AM on November 16, 2019

Best answer: I really enjoyed this biography of Jane Goodall very much.
posted by supermedusa at 11:38 AM on November 16, 2019

Best answer: I'm not sure if the subjects are TOTALLY likable, exactly, and it's not strictly a biography (in that it's not about either of their lives in totality) but Furious Love, which is about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's love affair, is TREMENDOUSLY gripping and juicy and sweeping, and very well-written.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:39 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know he's controversial to say the least, but American Lion (about Andrew Jackson) is the most interesting presidential biography I ever read.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:25 PM on November 16, 2019

Best answer: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. An autobiography I read years ago and still recommend all over the place. Her story is incredible.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:29 AM on November 17, 2019

Best answer: A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell is the amazing story of Virginia Hall, an American who worked for British and American intelligence agencies during World War II. Behind enemy lines, mostly in Vichy France, spectacularly bravely and effectively. And largely overlooked and overridden for being a woman.
posted by Quietgal at 7:34 PM on November 17, 2019

Best answer: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It is certainly gripping and page-turning. I am not sure if you would find him likable, that was not really a quality he was aiming for, but I did find him more sympathetic than I expected.
posted by JonJacky at 8:26 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Currently reading The Mayor of Castro Street about Harvey Milk and it's great. Not exactly cliff-hanger-y, but a LOT of colorful anecdotes about Harvey Milk (a VERY charismatic and likable subject) and other gay leaders in the 60s and 70s. I'm racing through it, and I usually lose interest in biographies halfway through.

(It's written by Randy Shilts, who also wrote And the Band Played On about the early days of the AIDS crisis. It's not exactly a biography, but acts as a biography for many of the key players, and really IS a cliffhanger-filled page-turner.)
posted by lunasol at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a fairly unknown book that I love: The Great Farini: The High Wire Life of William Hunt. One of those wonderful times where I found something utterly unfamiliar on the one dollar bargain table at the local indy shop and devoured it in about 2 days. Great Story.
posted by hearthpig at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2019

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