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sarahsugs's avatar

Can anyone recommend an enjoyable biography/autobiography/memoir?

Asked by sarahsugs (2893points) August 9th, 2008

I really enjoy memoirs and was thinking of branching out to biographies. But I found the biography section in the library to be too huge and overwhelming for me to make a good choice. I’d be interested in reading about any person/subject, as long as the book is written in an engaging way, so that it reads more like a story and less like research.

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40 Answers

MrMeltedCrayon's avatar

I really, really, really, really enjoyed The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen. If biographies are your thing, it’s a great read.

Allie's avatar

Jack London‘s biography was good. The Perfect Storm was good, also – I read it before the movie came out. Try Into Thin Air about a Mt. Everest trek. Lastly, Into The Wild which I also read before the movie came out (this is by the same guy who writes Into Thin Air).

kristianbrodie's avatar

If you enjoy music, you won’t find a better autobiography than Margrave of the Marshes by legendary British DJ John Peel – wonderfully written, and a veritable encyclopedia of popular music. Amazing.

augustlan's avatar

@Allie…I’ve read them all but the Jack London…and I second your recommendations. I enjoy reading David Sedaris’ books, which are more like “slice of (hilarious) life” type stories, too.

mee_ouch's avatar

I used to enjoy books of this ilk. Lately, however, it seems that the mass market has garnered control over the genre and has traded life stories for whiny diatribes. This certainly does not implicate all works in this category…..as of yet. But I have not read a good/great published memoir since Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air”.

tinyfaery's avatar

The Diaries of Anais Nin are always captivating. (some day I’ll figure out how to insert other characters on this stupid PC.)

mee_ouch's avatar

tinyfaery…...I adore Anais Nin and Henry Miller. Fascinating couple.
BTW – I empathize with your PC plight.

joeysefika's avatar

Well if you want something a little less orthodox try Slash’s (the guitarist from Guns ‘N Roses and Velvet Revolver) Biography, its a good read if your into that sort of stuff.

lindabrowne1's avatar

One of my favorite biographies is about the artist Georgia O’Keefe—a very independent woman. Check out the book on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Georgia-OKeeffe-Life-Roxana-Robinson/dp/0874519063

MacBean's avatar

A few I’ve read and enjoyed semi-recently:

- Superstud by Paul Feig
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Cash by Johnny Cash

blakemasnor's avatar

A Boy Named Shel, Shel Silverstein.
Einstein by Jacobs.
Into The Wild.
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

generalspecific's avatar

Night by Ellie Wiesel
i guess that counts. it’s good at least

MissAnthrope's avatar

Julia Child: My Life in France and The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin (I had lunch at his house, so I may be a bit biased, but I thought the book was fascinating).

augustlan's avatar

Alena: I used to love watching Jacques Pepin on tv…that lovely accent!

MissAnthrope's avatar

He’s pretty amazing.. I mean, the experiences he’s had in his life, how passionate he is and how far he’s come! It’s kind of crazy.

He made me eat a raw clam, though.. not cool. Ugh.

ljs22's avatar

My Life in France by Julia Child. Even if you’re not into cooking, you’ll like her.

occ's avatar

Two great ones: The Big Sea (Langston Hughes’ autobiography – amazing stories of his travels to Africa and Paris before he was a famous poet. Compelling stories, beautiful language, and good for fulfilling some wanderlust)...or for something more political try Walking with the Wind by John Lewis (Lewis was a student leader in the civil rights movement – he gave the speech right before MLK’s ” I have a dream” speech…the book gives you an up-close view of the civil rights movement – very inspiring).

Lightlyseared's avatar

Boy by Roald Dahl

lifeflame's avatar

Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber

Beautiful, tough and radiant.

BarbieM's avatar

I loved the memoir Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. My book club read it, and it was well reviewed by all except one person who openly hates nonfiction of any kind.

Larssenabdo's avatar

Into Thin Air, indeed, excellent, if harrowing.
Peter O’Toole’s autobiographies, Loitering With Intent. He is an excellent storyteller.
Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie
If you can get ahold of the old books Ball Four by Jim Bouton, and the sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, they are a scream, even if you don’t care about baseball.

lapilofu's avatar

Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” is a really nice account of dealing with her husband’s death.

sarahsugs's avatar

thanks, all! i can’t wait to get started!

augustlan's avatar

Eat, Pray, Love…I don’t think it’s a life-changing book like so many seem to, but it was interesting, informative and funny.

Carla's avatar

” The Power Broker” Robert Caro’s biography on Robert Moses.It intertwines the rise and fall of not just the man but also a city.

Indy318's avatar

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah is a memoir that i am currently reading for a class. It deals with a music loving boy, living in war-striken Sierra Leone, who witnesses the end of his childhood as he is forced to be a boy soldier. I am particurily intrigued by the way the memoir is written -through the eyes a teenager who barely understands the reasons for the conflict but describes in details noticed only by a child.

blakemasnor's avatar

oh, and Persepolis

MacBean's avatar

I just watched the film version of Persepolis a couple of weeks ago. It was AMAZING. As soon as it was over, I got online and added the book to my Amazon wish list. I’m not allowed to buy books until September, but as soon as I can, I’m reading that.

blakemasnor's avatar

its a very good book, it obviously has a different plot structure than most novels because it is a portion of someone’s life.

Knotmyday's avatar

Einstein, Walter Isaacson,
Life of Alexander and the surviving Parallel Lives, Plutarch,
Life of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell,
Le Morte de Arthur, Thomas Malory,
Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington,
Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin.

More if you want ‘em.

BarbieM's avatar

Another non-fiction book the I LOVE is The Devil in the White City.

MissAnthrope's avatar

^^^^^ Ooooooooo, yeah. That book was gruesomely fascinating.

Carla's avatar

I’ve heard it was a very good book.

breedmitch's avatar

Is Devil in the White City non-fiction or historical fiction?

My pick for memoir is A Year in Provance by Peter Mayle_.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Non-fiction. It’s a dual account, one of the Chicago World’s Fair and one of a doctor who is arguably the U.S.‘s first serial killer. It’s gruesome, the things he did, but it’s rather amazing that he lived in the perfect time to get away with it all, and how he did for so long.

dalepetrie's avatar

Someone already pointed out “Cash” by Johnny Cash, which was one of the first that came to mind. I like music biographies and autobiographies as it’s interesting to read the stories of how they became successful and what drove them to be who they became. In a wholly different genre of music, Boy George’s “Take It Like A Man” is a real thrill ride through the seedy side of life in the early 80s in Britain. Switching gears again, Marilyn Manson’s “The Long Hard Road out of Hell” actually makes you realize what a regular guy he is behind the facade. And in the biography (not autobiography) category for music bios, Christopher Anderson’s “Michael Jackson Unauthorized” biography sheds a lot of light on the child molestation allegations.

Crime and criminology are great topics for bios, and two of my favorites belong to a couple of very interesting men. First, John Douglas has written many books, his most memoir-like was probably “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit.” Douglas was an FBI profiler who has helped bring down many serial killers. He was “profiled” himself, having had a character in Silence of the Lambs (Clarice’s FBI supervisor) modeled after him. The next book along this vein is “Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist” by William R. Maples and Michael Browning. It’s the autobiography of Maples, a man who has made his living reconstructing crime stories by looking at the smallest pieces of evidence (bones and the like).

The next would be literary biography, and I have two favorites here. One would be Augusten Burroughs, who has written 3 memoirs about his rather messed up upbringing, “Running With Scissors” (which is now a movie as well), “Dry”, and “A Wolf at the Table…A Memoir of my Father.” The other literary memoirs of which there are 3 are by far my favorites of the bunch as they are very humorous and very dark and full of fascinating stories. The author is Jim Knipfel, a former columnist for the New York Press, who wrote 3 memoirs…the first was called “Slackjaw” and was a very entertaining look at his rise to “fame” and the strange characters he met along the way. Next came “Quitting the Nairobi Trio”, which was specifically about the 6 weeks he spent in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt. The final memoir was called “Ruining it for Everybody”, a memoir about going blind (he has been going blind from a rare disease called retinitis pigmentosa and is now almost completely blind). He also writes fiction now, but these were absolutely fascinating looks at the kinds of people you might otherwise cross the street to avoid.

Cat4thCB's avatar

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

quite unlike the movie: more about African colonial life in the last decades of British rule, “her” tribespeople, her coffee plantation, and Africa.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

Model: a memoir by Cheryl Diamond. You’d think a book written by a model would be stupid and fluffy but it was actually hilariously good.

pranali's avatar

1. My Autobiography – Charlie Chaplin
2. Walt Disney, An American Original – (I forget the author)

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