Book Club Mom’s recommended biographies and memoirs

Here are twelve fascinating biographies and memoirs of important historical and influential figures, and some regular people too. I like reading all kinds of life stories and recommend these:

Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb – an excellent collection of mini biographies of twelve famous personalities, explaining their known or likely battles with mental illness.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – a remarkable and amusing record of Franklin’s life in America during the mid- to late 1700s.

Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover – Westover’s account of breaking out of an isolated and abusive childhood, with a violent sibling, a controlling and paranoid father and a mother who deferred to her husband.

Helen Keller – The Story of My Life – the story of an American girl from Alabama who lost her sight and hearing as a baby and determinedly overcame these obstacles to become a writer, a social activist and an advocate for the blind and deaf.

Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske – the story of a dashing billionaire inventor, pilot, and a filmmaker who used money to and control his business and personal life.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – I avoided Lab Girl at first because I am not a science person. But this memoir is for all readers. Jahren writes beautifully about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – a great story about being different and making it anyway. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Using notes stored away for nearly thirty years, Hemingway began working on a memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation.” He died leaving the book unfinished, but his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, edited the manuscript and the first edition was published in 1964.

Night by Elie Wiesel – Elie Wiesel’s memoir about being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. The New York Times calls it “a slim volume of terrifying power” and I couldn’t agree more.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore – an in-depth look at the lives of two young men with the same name, who grew up on the same streets in Baltimore, Maryland and took two divergent paths.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman – a young woman from West Virginia dreams of becoming a concert violinist and gets a job playing in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. Listeners instead hear music that sounds suspiciously like the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – a young doctor at the crest of a brilliant career as a neurosurgeon and scientist, Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. During the short time he had left, he was determined to live a life with personal meaning, so he continued working, fathered a baby girl and wrote this book.

What biographies and memoirs have you read? What do you recommend?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

50 thoughts on “Book Club Mom’s recommended biographies and memoirs

  1. Hi Barbara, I read When Breath Becomes Air last year. I also read The Choice by Dr Edith Eva Eger, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, and Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox. All of them are thought-provoking memoirs.

    1. Oh I haven’t read The Choice or Lucky Man. I’ve always liked Michael J. Fox. I read Angela’s Ashes a long time ago – I’d forgotten about that. I also thought it was excellent. Thanks for stopping by, Natalie and thanks for the recommendations!

  2. Hi, Barb – I love reading a full range of non-fiction, biographies and memoirs. Surprisingly, from your list I’ve only read one (Educated). I also recommend Becoming (Michelle Obama), A House in the Sky (Amanda Lindhout), Infidel (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) and Rocket Girl (George D. Morgan).

    1. Hi Donna – thanks for these recommendations. I have been wanting to read Becoming and I’m glad to see some others on your list. I think I’m going to do a post on all the recommended books from these comments! Hope you are doing well 🙂

  3. I haven’t heard of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This sounds so inspirational. I need to check it out. I loved the Howard Hughes book. I’ve read several about his life…fascinating.

    1. Hi Jill – I really liked When Breath Becomes Air even though it was very sad. The author was brilliant. And yes, Howard Hughes led a fascinating life – he had such distinct sides to him. Thanks for the visit 🙂

    1. Hi Robbie – I liked A Moveable Feast. I’ve always been interested in the Lost Generation of writers and artists and their times in Paris. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  4. Thank you for this list, Barbara. I’ve always meant to read A Moveable Feast, and have also had When Breath Becomes Air on my to-read list for a while. The others sound great as well.

    1. Hi Mary – I’m a Hemingway fan, although I haven’t read all of his books. A Moveable Feast was very good. When Breath Becomes Air is a quick read, but very inspirational. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

      1. When “When Breath Becomes Air” first came out, I thought it would be too sad for me. but now I realize I really want to read it. Thank you, Barbara.!

  5. From the books pictured here, I’ve read When Breath Becomes Air, which was very affecting in the context of the author viewing life at its end. Also, I could relate to bits of Tara Westover’s Educated and even used a quote from her book in the epilogue of Mennonite Daughter.

    Oh, and I believe I also have read “A Moveable Feast.” Thanks for the prompt, Barbara.

    1. Hi Marian. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I agree, When Breath Becomes Air was very moving. It’s interesting that you could relate to bits from Educated. Westover had a very difficult childhood and such a strict father.

  6. Great choices, Barbara. I’d also add the genre-bending memoirs “The Glass Castle” and “The Liar’s Club” along with the more recent “The Electric Woman” . . .

  7. Interesting, from your list I’ve only read the Helen Keller book, many years ago. When I saw Elie Wiesel’s book on your list, I immediately thought of Imre Kertész’s “Fateless,” the memoir of his experience in the camps as a teenager – an amazing narrative. I read the earlier translation, not the later “Fatelessness,” which may also be good, but I can’t imagine any better than its predecessor.

      1. If your expectations are low, I’m sure you’d still enjoy it. Good stuff in there about what it’s like to suffer from depression and anxiety. She has that interspersed among the silly stories.

      2. And her blog is also like that. I don’t read it every day. She has so many commenters, and I don’t think she has time to reply to them. It’s a different kind of blog for that reason. But interesting.

  8. I do enjoy autobiographies, biographies and memoirs, Barbara, so I was interested to see what you might have listed. I listened to The Other Wes Moore, on your recommendation, I think, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I probably read Helen Keller as a child. Educated by Tara Westover sounded familiar but I didn’t recognise it by the synopsis so perhaps I had just listed it. Lots more to put on the list now. Thanks.

    1. HI Norah – I’m glad you enjoyed The Other Wes Moore. The author spoke at my son’s college graduation. I hadn’t looked up who the speaker was until that day and when I realized he was the author of The Other Wes Moore, I was very excited. He gave a great speech. I think you would like reading Educated. It has been super popular here in the U.S. Like you, I have lots of books on my many lists! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

      1. Thanks, Barbara. It would have been great to listen to Wes Moore in person. But, if I remember correctly, he narrated his book. So that was pretty special too.

  9. Terrific list! I just read Educated this year, and loved it, and I see a few others here that are on my to-read list. Next up in non-fiction for me will probably be Lab Girl.

    1. Hi Lisa – oh I hope you like Lab Girl. I was so impressed by it, yet I have no background or real interest in science. She writes beautifully. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  10. I read ‘Educated’ – terrifying. As was ‘The Choice’ .. I had to put each down every now and then and take a breather. Also read ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ – excellent. I’m very keen to read Eli Wiesel’s ‘Night’ ..Thanks Barbara, lovely list.

  11. Great list! I love reading biographies and memoirs of interesting people. I just finished Becoming, which was truly inspirational. Educated is one of those, I’ve been wanting to read for a while, but somehow never got to.

Tell me what you're thinking!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s