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Biography or Memoir

Read a biography or memoir

June 1, 2021

Our biography/memoir challenge spans all walks of life, from presidents to foodie celebrities—so we’ve split the list up into categories.

Included in this list:

  • Actors and celebrities
  • Artists, poets, and authors
  • Chefs and food celebrities
  • Family and parenting
  • Historical figures
  • Mental health
  • Musicians
  • Presidents and political figures
  • Scientists
  • Social justice and discrimination
  • Sports
  • True crime

This list is part of the 2021 Adult Summer Reading program.

 

Actors and Celebrities

The answer is...

The Answer Is…
Reflections on My Life

Alex Trebek

Longtime Jeopardy! host and television icon Alex Trebek reflects on his life and career.

Bossypants

Bossypants

Tina Fey

From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon, comedian Tina Fey reveals all, and proves that you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

Chasing the Light

Chasing the Light

Oliver Stone

An intimate memoir by the controversial and outspoken, Oscar-winning director and screenwriter includes coverage of his complicated New York childhood, service in Vietnam, cocaine addiction and creative struggles and triumphs in 1970s and 1980s Hollywood.

The Chiffon Trenches

The Chiffon Trenches

Andre Leon Talley

A deeply revealing memoir by a noted style icon captures the fashion world from the inside out, in its most glamorous and most cutthroat moments.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
An Oral History

Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman

The popular comedic couple trace the story of their relationship, sharing anecdotes, family photos, and secrets that reveal how they overcame considerable social differences through their shared values and mutual love of music and laughter.

Greenlights

Greenlights

Matthew McConaughey

From the Academy Award-winning actor comes an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction.

More Than Love

More Than Love
An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood

Natasha Gregson Wagner

The heartbreaking, never-before-told story of Hollywood icon Natalie Wood’s glamorous life, sudden death, and lasting legacy, written by her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner.

Naturally Tan

Naturally Tan

Tan France

The Queer Eye star and designer recounts his complicated early life as a closeted gay youth from a traditional South Asian family in Yorkshire, sharing insights into his coming of age, emergence as an artist and happy marriage.

Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris
Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris

The Emmy Award-winning star of How I Met Your Mother shares his experiences as a child star, Broadway performer and father in an over-the-top, humorous account creatively designed in the style of the popular interactive adventure series.

The New One

The New One
Painfully True Stories From a Reluctant Dad

Mike Birbiglia

With humorous parenting observations, a New York Times best-selling author and award-winning comedian delivers a book for anyone who has ever raised a child, been a child, or refuses to stop acting like one.

No Time Like the Future

No Time Like the Future
An Optimist Considers Mortality

Michael J. Fox

The award-winning actor shares personal stories and observations about illness and health, aging, the strength of family and friends, and how our perceptions about time affect the way we approach mortality.

Over the Top

Over the Top
A Raw Journey to Self-Love

Jonathan Van Ness

Who gave Jonathan Van Ness permission to be the radiant human he is today? No one, honey. The truth is, it hasn’t always been gorgeous for this beacon of positivity and joy. Before he stole our hearts as the grooming and self-care expert on Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye, Jonathan was growing up in a small Midwestern town that didn’t understand why he was so… over the top.

The Rural Diaries

The Rural Diaries

Hilarie Burton Morgan

From the beloved actress Hilarie Burton Morgan comes her inspiring story of leaving Hollywood to buy a farm and candy shop in upstate New York with her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan, celebrating community, family, and the value of hard work in small town America.

 

Artists, Poets, and Authors

Cross of Snow

Cross of Snow
A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Nicholas A. Basbanes

Draws on exclusive access in a major literary portrait of the beloved 19th-century poet that reassesses Longfellow’s remarkable stature and celebrity as well as his close friendships with such fellow artists as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oscar Wilde.

Frida in America

Frida in America

Celia Stahr

Describes the years the Mexican artist spent in America beginning in 1930 with her new, older, and already world-famous husband, Diego Rivera, and the impact living in diverse cities of San Francisco, Detroit and New York had on her painting.

Mad At the World

Mad at the World
A Life of John Steinbeck

William Souder

The Pulitzer Prize-finalist author of Under a Wild Sky explores how John Steinbeck’s complicated persona and firsthand struggles through the depths of the Great Depression gave him deeply empathic perspectives that shaped his politics and his evocative characters and themes.

 

Chefs and Food Celebrities

Eat a Peach

Eat a Peach

David Chang

The chef behind Momofuku and star of Netflix’s Ugly Delicious gets uncomfortably real in his debut memoir.

Frontier Follies

Frontier Follies
Adventures in Marriage and Motherhood in the Middle of Nowhere

Ree Drummond

The Food Network star and author of the best-selling Pioneer Woman Cooks series shares heartwarming, laugh-out-loud stories and reflections about her life in the country with her four children and rancher husband.

The Man Who Ate Too Much

The Man Who Ate Too Much
The Life of James Beard

John Birdsall

A full-length biography inspired by the viral essay, “America, Your Food Is So Gay,” recasts the iconic food personality as a closeted gay man who found acceptance and passion through a culturally rich career spent informing America’s increasingly sophisticated palate.

Rebel Chef

Rebel Chef
In Search of What Matters

Dominique Crenn

The first female chef in the United States to receive three Michelin Stars, who never even went to culinary school or trained in French kitchens, describes how she charted her own unconventional course and opened her influential San Francisco restaurant.

 

Family and Parenting

Filthy Beasts

Filthy Beasts

Kirkland Hamill

A writer for Salon and The Advocate reflects on how his newly divorced mother moved her family to her native Bermuda, leaving him and his young brothers home to fend for themselves while she chased nightlife and suitors.

Hold On, But Don't Hold Still

Hold On, but Don’t Hold Still
Hope and Humor From My Seriously Flawed Life

Kristina Kuzmic

The popular family lifestyle guru traces her journey from an immigrant high-school student and single mother to a social-media influencer and grateful recipient of support by Oprah Winfrey, sharing heartfelt advice for today’s overworked moms on how to achieve self-acceptance.

House Lessons

House Lessons
Renovating a Life

Erica Bauermeister

In this memoir-in-essays, New York Times bestselling author Erica Bauermeister renovates a trash-filled house in the eccentric town of Port Townsend, WA, and in the process takes readers on a journey into the ways our spaces subliminally affect us, ultimately showing us how to make our houses (and lives) better.

The Hungover Games

The Hungover Games

Sophie Heawood

An award-winning Yorkshire journalist describes her unconventional experiences with single motherhood, describing how the abandonment of her unplanned child’s father compelled her adjustment to a stable and laughably real two-person family.

I'll Be Seeing You

I’ll Be Seeing You

Elizabeth Berg

The New York Times bestselling author, in this moving memoir, shares her experiences caring for her parents in their final years, charting the passage from the anguish of loss to the understanding that even in the most fractious of times, love can heal.

The Madwoman and the Roomba 

The Madwoman and the Roomba

Sandra Tsing Loh

A comic exploration of the realities of middle age for today’s women traces a year in the radio commentator’s life that is marked by chronic disorganization, financial challenges, health setbacks, college applications, a long-term relationship and online webinars.

 

Historical Figures

Code Name Madeleine

Code Name Madeleine
A Sufi Spy in Nazi-Occupied Paris

Arthur J. Magida

Documents the story of artist Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of an Indian Sufi mystic who joined the British SOE during World War II and became an only wireless operator in Paris during the crucial months leading up to D-Day.

Love in the Blitz

Love in the Blitz
The Long-Lost Letters of a Brilliant Young Woman to Her Beloved on the Front

Eileen Alexander

This extraordinary glimpse of life in London during World War II is told through recently discovered letters written by a young woman to her university beau as she tries to carve a place for herself in a time of uncertainty, providing a vivid and personal account of this historic era.

The Man in the Red Coat

The Man in the Red Coat

Julian Barnes

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending comes a witty, revelatory tour of Belle Époque Paris, via the remarkable life story of the pioneering surgeon, Samuel Pozzi.

Olive the Lionheart

Olive the Lionheart
Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman’s Journey Into the Heart of Africa

Brad Ricca

Draws on personal writings in an account of Olive MacLeod’s search for her missing fiancé, naturalist Boyd Alexander, in 1910 Africa, a quest shaped by dangerous natural elements, a murderous leopard cult and two adorable lion cubs.

 

Mental Health

The Beauty in Breaking

The Beauty in Breaking

Michele Harper

A female, African American ER physician describes how her own life and encounters with her patients led her to realize that every human is broken and recognizing that and moving towards a place of healing can bring peace and happiness.

Empty

Empty

Susan Burton

An award-winning This American Life documentary producer shares the story of her battles with anorexia and a binge-eating disorder, describing the painful compulsions that shaped her education, career and relationships.

Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls

Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls
A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love

Nina Renata Aron

A woman vividly recounts her love affair with an ex-addict who began using again and tries to make sense of drug abuse, codependency and obsession in this intense memoir of love and addiction.

Inferno

Inferno
A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness

Catherine Cho

The riveting story of a mother who is separated from her newborn son and husband when committed to an involuntary psychiatric ward in New Jersey after a harrowing bout of postpartum psychosis.

Perfectly Wounded

Perfectly Wounded
A Memoir About What Happens After a Miracle

Mike Day

A retired U.S. Navy SEAL discusses his work as a Special Operation Command Wounded Warrior Advocate and the founder of Warrior Tribe, the non-profit organization he founded to provide help for veterans and trauma survivors.

The Upside of Being Down

The Upside of Being Down

Jen Gotch

The founder of the multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand ban.do discusses her history of mental illness and how once it was properly diagnosed, helped to lead her towards a new life of self-awareness, success and joy.

 

Musicians

Jay-Z

Jay-Z
Made in America

Michael Eric Dyson

Examines the biggest themes of JAY-Z’s career, including hustling, and it recognizes the way that he’s always weaved politics into his music, making statements about race, criminal justice and black wealth.

The Last Days of John Lennon

The Last Days of John Lennon

James Patterson

Published to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s assassination and based on insider interviews, a chronicle of the iconic music artist’s final days includes coverage of his last album and the life of Mark David Chapman.

Let Love Rule

Let Love Rule

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz looks back at his life with candor, self-scrutiny and humor.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey

The Meaning of Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey

Global icon, award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actress, mother, daughter, sister, storyteller, and artist Mariah Carey finally tells the unfiltered story of her life.

She Come By It Natural

She Come by It Natural
Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs

Sarah Smarsh

The National Book Award-finalist author of Heartland explores how the music of Dolly Parton and other prominent women country artists has both reflected and validated the harsh realities of rural working-class American women.

Wild Thing

Wild Thing
The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix

Philip Norman

Published to mark the 50th anniversary of Hendrix’s death, a commemorative portrait by the best-selling author of Shout! draws on interviews with friends, lovers, bandmates and family members to include coverage of Hendrix’s segregated early performances and historic appearances.

 

Presidents and Political Figures

Abe

Abe
Abraham Lincoln in His Times

David S. Reynolds

The award-winning author of Walt Whitman’s America presents an immersive portrait of the 16th President, from his younger life in the decades before the Civil War through his emergence as a progressive political leader and advocate for human justice.

AOC

AOC
The Fearless Rise and Powerful Resonance of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Lynda Lopez

Tracing the remarkable political career of the New York congresswoman and her role in a growing Puerto Rican activist movement, a diverse collection features essays by such contributors as Carmen Rita Wong and Maria Cristina González Noguera.

Dare to Fly

Dare to Fly
Simple Lessons in Never Giving Up

Martha McSally

The first American woman combat jet pilot and Arizona Senator presents a motivational life guide that explains how she overcame formidable boundaries by following a set of key principles based on making courage a choice.

Eleanor

Eleanor

 David Michaelis

The award-winning author of Schulz and Peanuts presents a breakthrough portrait of America’s longest-serving First Lady that includes coverage of her major contributions throughout critical historical events and her essential role in advancing international human rights.

Everything Beautiful in Its Time

Everything Beautiful in Its Time
Seasons of Love and Loss

Jenna Bush Hager

The Today co-host and former first daughter and granddaughter shares heartwarming, whimsical stories about beloved grandparents George and Barbara Bush while offering insights into how their wisdom has shaped her life.

His Truth Is Marching On

His Truth is Marching On

Jon Meacham

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hope of Glory presents a timely portrait of veteran congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis that details the life experiences that informed his faith and shaped his practices of non-violent protest.

His Very Best

His Very Best
Jimmy Carter, a Life

Jonathan Alter

An intimate portrait of the 39th President draws on fresh archival material to trace Jimmy Carter’s improbable rise from a humble peanut farmer and complex man of faith to an American President and Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian.

The Inevitability of Tragedy

The Inevitability of Tragedy
Henry Kissinger and His World

Barry Gewen

A revisionist portrait of the diplomatic advisor under the Nixon and Ford administrations illuminates the controversies and fundamental ideas behind his policies, discussing how Kissinger’s views were partly shaped by his experiences as a Jewish-German refugee

JFK

Jfk
Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956

Fredrik Logevall

A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian takes us as close as we have ever been to the real John F. Kennedy in a biography of the elusive 35th president.

The Man Who Ran Washington

The Man Who Ran Washington
The Life and Times of James A. Baker Iii

Peter Baker

A portrait of the influential White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of State includes coverage of the family tragedy that spurred his political career, his brokering of the reunification of Germany and his indelible role in the Gulf War.

Melania and Me

Melania and Me
The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

A revealing and explosive portrayal of Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s fifteen-year friendship with Melania Trump and observations of the most chaotic White House in history.

Pelosi

Pelosi

Molly Ball

The award-winning TIME Magazine national political correspondent presents an intimate portrait of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that illuminates her leadership, less-recognized career accomplishments and her decisions throughout Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Too Much and Never Enough

Too Much and Never Enough
How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man

Mary L. Trump

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Washington's End

Washington’s End
The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle

Jonathan Horn

The former White House speechwriter and author of The Man Who Would Not Be Washington traces the lesser-known story of the first President’s final years to reveal the schemes, rivalries and private torments that shaped his post-presidency.

 

Scientists

Galileo and the Science Deniers

Galileo and the Science Deniers

Mario Livio

A biography of the great astronomer and scientist, and an examination of the faith vs. science question, then and now, written by a noted astrophysicist and author.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

Sara Seager

An MIT astrophysicist must reinvent herself in the wake of tragedy and discovers the power of connection on this planet, even as she searches our galaxy for another Earth.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking
A Memoir of Friendship and Physics

Leonard Mlodinow

The award-winning theoretical physicist and best-selling co-author of A Briefer History of Time presents an intimate account of his personal and professional relationship with the late Stephen Hawking throughout nearly two decades of collaborative work.

 

Social Justice and Discrimination

The Book of Rosy

The Book of Rosy
A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border

Rosayra Pablo Cruz

A searing critique of the Trump administration-induced immigration crisis, written by a mother who was separated from her children and the American who helped reunite the family, shares timely insights into the injustices of today’s migrant experience.

Bright Precious Thing 

Bright Precious Thing

Gail Caldwell

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe literary critic and best-selling author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home chronicles the women’s movement from the 1960s through the #MeToo era to evaluate its impact on her feminist pursuits.

The Buddhist on Death Row

The Buddhist on Death Row
How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place

David Sheff

Explores the spiritual transformation of death-row inmate Jarvis Jay Masters, describing the brutal suffering that led him to the discipline of meditation and his embrace of the philosophies of Buddhism.

The Dead Are Arising

The Dead Are Arising
The Life of Malcolm X

Les Payne, Tamara Payne

A revisionary portrait of the iconic civil rights leader draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with surviving family members, intelligence officers and political leaders to offer new insights into Malcolm X’s Depression-era youth, religious conversion and 1965 assassination.

The Growing Season

The Growing Season
How I Built a New Life—And Saved an American Farm

Sarah Frey

The “Pumpkin Queen of America” proprietor of Frey Farms, Illinois’ largest H-2A visa employer, describes her tenacious journey to escape poverty and create a billion-dollar farming business without abandoning the rural land of her childhood.

The Indomitable Florence Finch

The Indomitable Florence Finch
The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs

Robert J. Mrazek

Documents the forgotten life of the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Filipina native who saved countless American lives during the Pacific War against Japan in the face of bigotry for her mixed-race heritage.

Life of a Klansman

Life of a Klansman
A Family History in White Supremacy

Edward Ball

The author of Slaves in the Family presents a trenchant exploration of a family’s legacy of white supremacy, detailing how Louisiana carpenter Constant Lecorgne joined the KKK to promote fanatical racism in post-Civil War America.

Notes on a Silencing

Notes on a Silencing

Lacy Crawford

The author of Early Decision traces her healing journey after a traumatizing sexual assault at infamous St. Paul’s boarding school, describing how she helped police uncover proof of the school’s institutionalized mandate of silence.

Unfollow

Unfollow
A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church

Megan Phelps-Roper

At the age of five, Phelps-Roper began protesting homosexuality and other alleged vices alongside fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Founded by her grandfather and consisting almost entirely of her extended family, the tiny group would gain worldwide notoriety for its pickets at military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy. She became the church’s Twitter spokeswoman, but dialogue on Twitter caused her to begin doubting the church’s leaders and message. Here she relates her moral awakening, her departure from the church, and how she exchanged the absolutes she grew up with for new forms of warmth and community.

What We Carry

What We Carry

Maya Lang

The author of The Sixteenth of June offers a memoir about immigrants and their native-born children, the complicated love between mothers and daughters, and the surprising discovery of strength.

When Truth is All You Have

When Truth is All You Have

Jim McCloskey

The founder of the Centurion Ministries, the first American organization dedicated to freeing the wrongly imprisoned, describes his life-changing advocacy of an innocent convict and his establishment of a movement that has freed dozens of victims.

 

Sports

24

24
Life Stories and Lessons From the Say Hey Kid

Willie Mays

A man widely regarded as one the greatest all-around players in baseball history reflects on his lifetime of experience meeting challenges with positivity, integrity and triumph.

The Divine Miss Marble

The Divine Miss Marble
A Life of Tennis, Fame, and Mystery

Robert Weintraub

The story of 1930s tennis icon Alice Marble, and her life of sports, celebrity, and incredible mystery.

The Lost Memoir

The Lost Memoir

Lou Gehrig

Published for the first time as a book, this lost memoir from the baseball legend, written at the age of 24, tells the extraordinary story of his life and career—and how he became one of the most revered baseball players of all time.

One Tough Out

One Tough Out
Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs

Rod Carew, Jaime Aron

Carew reflects on the highlights, anecdotes, and friendships from his outstanding career, describing the abuse, poverty, and racism he overcame to even reach the majors.

You Ought to Do a Story About Me

You Ought to Do a Story About Me
Addiction, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption

Ted Jackson

Documents the photojournalist author’s 30-year friendship with former NFL star Jackie Wallace, describing the losses and addiction that led the three-time Super Bowl star to homelessness on the streets of New Orleans.

 

True Crime

Dancing With the Octopus

Dancing With the Octopus
A Memoir of a Crime

Debora Harding

Traces the author’s remarkable counterintuitive healing journey in the aftermath of trauma, relating how she survived a violent abduction only to endure her family’s denial, an abandonment that compelled her to learn her imprisoned attacker’s story.

Memorial Drive

Memorial Drive
A Daughter’s Memoir

Natasha Trethewey

The former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Native Guard shares a chillingly personal memoir about the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather.