The Best Biography Books of All Time: My 10 Personal Favorites

I love great biography books. Whether it's about a hero, celebrity, business mogul, or dastardly villain, biographies give an amazing insight into the mindset of success and hard work.

And while biographies aren't necessarily white-knuckle page-turners or complex Lit-RPG, they're sure to provide an interesting read.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The importance of a biography – both as a writer and a reader
  • Our top picks for the best biographies of all time

Mind you, this is a highly subjective article. If you don't see your favorite biography on this list, let us know in the comments below what you believe deserves to be on this list and why. And with that, let's jump right into some good lessons and even better titles.

Our Best Biography Books

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Titan: The Life of John D Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder
  • Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury by Leslie-Ann Jones
  • The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr.
  • The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller
  • Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • The Stan Lee Story by Roy Thomas

Why Are Biographies Important?

Often glossed over, a biography holds much more than just the story of someone's life. While the stories can be entertaining, there is another value to reading and writing biography books.

Biographies for Readers

When looking at what can be gained by readers through biographies, three main points come to mind.

  • Biographies provide real-life lessons.

There's an old piece of advice that I'm sure everybody has heard before, “Learn from others' mistakes.” And while we might not necessarily follow that as we should, it's sound advice. By reading biographies, you can see where other people made their mistakes and learn from them in the process. Biography subjects can be mentors if you'll let them.

  • Biographies are inspiring.

Most of the time, biographies focus on great people accomplishing great deeds. Reading about them will surely light a fire underneath you and provide the inspiration you need to conquer whatever obstacles stand in your way.

  • Biographies allow you to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

Sometimes it's necessary to see things from a different perspective. Doing so can be truly enlightening. Biographies shine a light into why someone acted the way they did, giving you fresh insight.

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Biographies for Writers

Readers of biographies aren't the only people to benefit from them. Those who write biographies go through the learning process themselves. Here are a few benefits authors of biographies might glean.

  • They come with their own subject matter.

While careful research must be done to write a good biography, it can be helpful to have a life's worth of adventures to work with. If you're struggling to come up with a new story for a book, consider telling someone else's story.

  • They will humble and humanize you.

A biography humbles its author. You may be one of the most successful writers ever; but when writing a biography, you're writing about somebody else's success and their life. It kind of puts things into perspective. You get an outside look at how life operates and how people react to ups and downs. You'll see that you're a part of something much bigger than yourself. This will allow you to learn from your subject's trials and tribulations.

I recommend sharing what you personally learned from your research in the preface part of your book. Let readers know how writing the biography has made you a better person and more aware. That will make readers excited to potentially experience a similar transformation.

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Our Top Picks for the Best Biography Books of All Time

Here are our picks for the best biographies of all time. These are listed in no particular order, as it was already hard enough to narrow them down this much.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


About the Biography: This biography focuses on the life of Henrietta Lacks. A simple tobacco farmer, Henrietta unwittingly became one of the largest contributors to modern medical science. Back in 1951, Henrietta visited The Johns Hopkins Hospital where a large cancerous tumor was found on her cervix. Samples of these cancer cells ended up being collected and, unbeknownst to her, sent to a nearby tissue lab for experimentation. Her cells (now called HeLa cells) were very special compared to everyone else's. Instead of dying under stressful conditions, hers would double in number! Further experimentation led to many scientific breakthroughs, including the polio vaccine. It was only 20 years later–and after Henrietta's passing–that her family actually found out what happened.

About the Author: Rebecca Skloot has a very interesting writing background. She's been a professor for both creative writing and science journalism at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Memphis, and New York University. And she's got a rather prolific writing portfolio. She's published over 200 short stories and essays, but nothing quite took off like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Why We Chose This Biography: When this book came out in 2010, it was one for the record books. It was not only selected as a notable book by the New York Times — 60 different major publications named it as the best book of the year! This biography has garnered so much attention over the past decade, with Oprah Winfrey even producing an HBO film on it.

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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin


About the Biography: When Lincoln won the presidency, his rivals were shocked and dismayed. Lincoln became the victor due to his high capacity to relate to the common folk and his overwhelming sense of poise and decency. That ability allowed him to develop one of the most unusual presidential cabinets in history. One made up of his politically experienced and headstrong rivals.

About the Author: Doris Kearns Goodwin is an American political biographer. She has written biographies for several other American presidents including Lyndon B Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. In 2005, she won the Lincoln Award (Best Book about The Civil War) for Team of Rivals and parts of it were used for the basis of the 2012 Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln.

Why We Chose This Biography: Many people would say that Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest United States Presidents to hold the office. Though his life was shortened by assassination, he made a huge impact on the American Union and history itself. One of the ways he was able to do so was by bringing the people together–friends and enemies alike. And the masterful writing from Goodwin only accentuates how much impact Lincoln actually had.

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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow


About the Biography: Titan explores the life of the world's first billionaire — oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. This biography talks about Rockefeller's humble beginnings and how he rose through the corporate ladder to become one of the most powerful men in history. The biography has cameos from major players such as Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and many more. This has been touted as one of America's great biographies by Time Magazine.

About the Author: Beginning his career in freelance journalism, Ron Chernow quickly evolved into one of the foremost biographical writers in the United States. Although he pursues writing full time now, he still contributes articles to publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Why We Chose This Biography: Even long after his death, Rockefeller is one of the greatest business inspirations for any budding entrepreneur. He truly defined and set the term “industry titan,” and there's still so much that we can learn from his practices.

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Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson


About the Biography: This 2008 Audie Award winner tells the story of how an awkward, impatient patent clerk became one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. The book covers the entirety of Einstein's life, from the common misconception that he wasn't good at math to his involvement in World War I and II. Isaacson also covers Einstein's Physics achievements and his formulation of the General Theory of Relativity. This is one of the best biography books for anyone interested in politics, physics, or personal achievement.

About the Author: Walter Isaacson has quite the resume. He's been the managing editor at Time, CEO of CNN, and CEO of the Aspen Institute. He's made a household name for himself through his biographies of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Henry Kissinger.

Why We Chose This Biography: Albert Einstein has become synonymous with the word ‘genius.' If you were to create a top 10 list of the most influential minds in history, there's a good chance he'd be on it. And when you have his life presented to you by the legendary biographical author Walter Isaacson…You're in for one heck of a read.

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The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder


About the Biography: Warren Buffett is one of the richest men in America and one of the most respected. Known for showing great humility, he has been shrouded in enigma as he lives a very private life (until this biography anyway). Entrusting his life story to Alice Schroeder, Alice writes the book that Buffett claims he never could.

About the Author: Alice is an American former insurance analyst and writer. She caught the attention of Warren Buffett through her writing skills and was entrusted to tell his story. After her success with The Snowball, you'll catch more of her writing in columns for The Bloomberg News.

Why We Chose This Biography: Warren Buffett is a wildly successful businessman who's made some of the best decisions when it comes to investing in the stock market. And at the same time, he does it with the utmost degree of modesty. He's a huge role model for just about anybody trying to make it in life. So when he finally decided to sit down with someone to tell his story…I'm gonna listen. Or read it.

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Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones


About the Biography: Bohemian Rhapsody is the Freddie Mercury biography that you never knew you needed. This book primarily focuses on the period in the 1980s where Queen began to fragment–namely before Live Aid. It's been described as an emotional roller coaster, taking the reader through Freddie's childhood in India and Zanzibar to his wilder years in the '70s and '80s.

About the Author: Lesley-Ann Jones is an English author and journalist. Most of her works revolve around rock and roll and pop superstars. She's a top-notch writer and captured Freddie at his most real in this biography.

Why We Chose This Biography: Many would agree that Freddie Mercury had one of the most electrifying voices in the history of rock and roll. However, it wasn't just Freddie's four-plus octave range that made him so controversial. His battles with societal norms, his sexuality, and AIDS keep him in the public light to this day. If you're a fan of Queen or of music in general, this is an amazing look into the life of an even more amazing artist (and one of the best biography books).

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The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr


About the Biography: Ted Williams is a Boston Red Sox legend. And one of the greatest (if not the GOAT) hitters to ever play the game. He put up numbers so awe-inspiring that players today are still struggling to reach them. Not only that, he served as a US Marine pilot in the Korean War for five years. Ted had a rather volatile domestic life. This biography explores the peaks and valleys of this baseball legend both on and off the field.

About the Author: As the son of the famous Watergate reporter, Ben Bradlee Sr., Bradlee Jr. has made an enormous name for himself through his own writing. Spending most of his career as an editor at The Boston Globe, Bradlee helped see the paper to a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. His biography on Ted Williams became a New York Times Bestseller. Slated to become a TV miniseries, this is a story you'll definitely want to read.

Why We Chose This Biography: For those of you who don't know, I'm an avid Red Sox fan. Seriously, there's nothing like being at Fenway staring down the Green Monster. I chose this biography because you get to see this idolized baseball legend for everything he was. Most people never think about what their sports heroes are like off the field. This one had me reading late into the night as I couldn't put it down.


My Ted Williams signed baseball. You can see it on the white shelves behind me in my videos.

I respect a lot of things about Ted Williams. He was a jet pilot in WWII and Korea. Even when he was at his prime, he still willingly went to war. And really fought…not just signed autographs and paraded around for War Bonds. Even when shot down behind enemy lines in Korea, Ted Williams made his way back to safety and ultimately back to baseball.

This book humanizes Ted and shows every facet of his life–the rough and the polished.

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The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller


About the Biography: This biography tells the story of prolific Sci-Fi writer Ray Bradbury, from his beginnings in a small town in Illinois to his feuds on the silver screen with various film and television personalities. After hundreds of hours spent with Ray, the author and he became close friends. This adulation can be detected throughout the book in Weller's writing style.

About the Author: Sam Weller has made his career as an accomplished journalist through reporting on the life of Ray Bradbury. He is an LA Times Bestseller and is the recipient of the 2005 Society of Midland Authors Award for Best Biography for The Bradbury Chronicles.

Why We Chose This Biography: As a Sci-Fi enthusiast, I understand the impact that Ray Bradbury made on the genre–even on short stories in general. Influenced by his environment, this biography provides a unique angle into Bradbury's work.

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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore


About the Biography: The best Biography books aren't always about the heroes in life. This biography is about one of the most fierce villains of all time: Joseph Stalin. This book primarily focuses on after his rise to absolute power. It goes into excruciating detail about the actions of the madman and his court. Due to the emotionally disturbing scenes littered throughout this book, I recommend this for mature readers only.

About the Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore has a very accomplished and varied resume. Writing fiction and non-fiction books for both children and adults, his career as a British historian spreads across a vast audience. His biography on Stalin, though, received the Best History Book of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards.

Why We Chose This Biography: There's an old adage that says, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” And while this does sound very cliché… clichés exist for a reason. This book is a tough read — not necessarily because of the language, but because of the subject matter. It's somewhat difficult to imagine one man was capable of so many monstrosities. It's important to understand so we as a society can stop similar events from happening again.

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The Stan Lee Story by Roy Thomas


About the Biography: The story of Stanley Leiber–or Stan Lee–is a must-read for every comic lover. This full-feature biography goes through the steps of how Stan Lee and Jack Kirby became the Kings of Comics and beloved worldwide. Co-creator of some of Marvel's (and Earth's) mightiest heroes, Stan Lee helped build the legends of Wolverine, Ultron, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Carol Danvers–aka Captain Marvel–and so many more! This physically over-sized book portrays just how gigantic Lee was. It comes complete with full-sized illustrations and even a note from Stan the Man himself. Excelsior!

About the Author: Roy Thomas is a comic book writer and editor. Among his other achievements, he is also the first successor to Marvel Comics after Stan Lee himself. He is one of the writers responsible for ushering in the Golden Age of Comics.

Why We Chose This Biography: If you're a comic book nut like me, this has got to be on your reading bucket list. Without a doubt, Lee sculpted the modern comic book industry. From blockbuster movies, games, and new weekly comic issues, fans feel Stan Lee's influence in each universe–Marvel, DC, or independent.

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What Do You Think Of Our Best Biography Books List?

Out of all the available stories out there, these are the top ten best biography books I've chosen. However, this list is completely subjective. And I'd love to hear from you. What are your favorites?

Let me know which ones I've missed on social media. I'm always looking for new books to add to my reading list!

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76 thoughts on “The Best Biography Books of All Time: My 10 Personal Favorites

  1. Thomas D. Zweifel

    Great idea and great list Dave. I LOVE biographies, they are a wonderful and personal access to history through the life of a leader.My shortlist:1. William Manchester, “The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill,” in 3 volumes, so that counts as 3 ;-)4. Michael Lewis, “The Undoing Project,” about the partnership between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who single-handedly disrupted economic wisdom and invented the field of behavioral economics.5. Barbara Tuchman, “Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945,” about General Stillwell who was at least as brilliant as Patton or Marshall.6. Blanche Wiesen Cook, “Eleanor Roosevelt”, a 2-volume series about FDR`s first lady who created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That again counts for 2 books ;-)8. Shlomo Avneri, “Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State,” about the visionary who dreamed up and laid the foundation for modern Israel.9. Taylor Branch, “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63,” a compelling biography of the civil rights leader.10. Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs” (I also loved Isaacson`s Einstein: His Life and Universe, but since you list that already, I recommend his Jobs biography, which shows the path-breaking entrepreneur, warts ‘n’ all).Enjoy.Thomas D. Zweifel
    Author of 8 books, including the award-winning “Strategy-In-Action” and “The Rabbi and the CEO”that became bestsellers thanks to Dave Chesson`s insight

  2. John Oliphant

    Hi Dave,Great list of biographies and good insights into the value of reading bios.May I suggest a biography in the occult genre, Brother XII: The Strange Odyssey of a 20th-century Prophet, the story of Edward Arthur Wilson, mystic, visionary, prophet and prototypical cult leader.The details of this fascinating story are at my website, which you might like to check out, as it gives a good illustrated synopsis of this strange saga.Josh Gates did an episode on Brother XII recently, œSecrets of Brother XII,  though the book itself has far more detail, and is based on interviews with former disciples and Brother XII ‘s private papers.Thanks for all the great work you do for authors.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Thanks and looks great!

  3. Linda Deir

    Dave… Great list of Biographies! When you said, “Those who write biographies go through the learning process themselves” you were right on. However, there is a special learning process that authors who write their own autobiographies go through. The power of the story depends a lot on if you are writing about happy memories or ones permeated in pain, suffering and abuse. Five years ago as an unknown, first-time, self-published author, I decided to write my true-life story. As you start writing, you remember (and relive) what really happened and not the way you would have liked things to happen. One is factual and the other enters the realm of fiction.If your story is harrowing, as mine is, it is not only difficult to write, edit, and rewrite, but narrating your own audiobook can be an unimaginably disturbing experience. There were many times I broke down and could not continue for days just having to relive what I was subjected to for the first 16 years of my life.However, writing your autobiography is a tremendously healing process and allows you to see that what happened did not happen “to you” but happened “for you” in the end. Insight into Life is the reward for any author who is bold enough to write their pain and for any reader who is brave enough to experience it with them. – Linda Deir, author of “GUIDED” – Winner of the Int’l Body-Mind-Spirit Book Award.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Oh, That is some really good points. have not written an autobiography…not quite there yet but I’ll keep this in mind!

  4. Eric J Drysdale

    Hi Dave, thank you for an excellent idea, and some Interesting titles. I actually have four in my Audible library or wish list. And I will be keen to get the Ray Bradbury one. My list of 10 are below. Clearly subjective, but by its very nature that is always the case. ERIC`s 10 FAVOURITE BIOGRAPHIES / AUTOBIOGRAPHIESSurname / First Name / Title / Subject
    Albom Mitch TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE Morrie Schwartz
    Esterhaus Joe HOLLYWOOD ANIMAL Joe Esterhaus
    Eyman Scott JOHN WAYNE, The Life and Legend John Wayne
    Granger Stewart SPARKS FLY UPWARDS Stewart Granger
    Hotchner A E PAPPA HEMINGWAY Ernest Hemingway
    Jenkins Roy WINSTON CHURCHILL Winston Churchill
    McCourt Frank ANGELA`s ASHES Frank Mc Court
    McCullough Colleen RODEN CUTLER, VC Roden Cutler
    Parini Jay JOHN STEINBECK, A Biography John Steinbeck
    Sandburg Carl LINCOLN Abraham Lincoln 6 Volumes
    Footnotes: Pulitzer Prize for ANGELA`s ASHES and LINCOLN.
    Roy Jenkins CHURCHILL is arguably the best single volume bio of WSC
    Great title by Stewart Granger, taken from Job – 5:7 “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards.”

    1. Dave Chesson

      Nice – yeah the Churchill one is on my list right now!

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