The power of a biography possibly lies in its inherent ability to unravel entire lives in slow motion, laying them out in plain sight for a reader to ponder over- not as a distant spectator, but as someone privy to the another individual’s most private moments and thoughts, their triumphs, their losses, the crescendos and diminuendos in their lives’ symphonies. Biographies make us see as their subjects might have seen. We read and enjoy these narratives for many reasons- to understand or emulate individuals we admire, to live vicariously through stories from richly lived lives, or, and this is our favourite reason- for the simple love of reading. Here is a list of our favourite biographies. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.
The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank’s diary is one of the most personal and moving narratives of the holocaust. In the book’s first edition, published in 1947, Anne’s father Otto, omitted several parts of the diary the young girl maintained, while living in hiding with her family and friends in a warehouse in Amsterdam. An unexpurgated version was published in 1945. Both versions of the book are equally poignant and deserve multiple readings. Anne Frank, forever etched in our minds as a thirteen year old girl, is naive, scared, angry, rebellious, and absolutely enchanting, as only a teenager could be, and her diary is a testament to hope, faith, and the resilience of the human spirit in the direst circumstances.
Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, three months before her sixteenth birthday.
Long Walk to Freedom
In 1975, Nelson Mandela, began writing his biography on Robben island, where he was imprisoned by South Africa’s apartheid regime. This book was, for the most part, written in secret during his 27 year imprisonment. The story begins in Transkei and then moves to Johannesburg where Mandela became politically active as one of the few black lawyers in South Africa- as an African National Congress leader, he helped launch a struggle against the Apartheid government. He dedicated much of his life to this cause. However, the book reveals an ambivalence towards the very work the world knows him for, an ambivalence towards a dedication and perseverance that cost him two marriages and separation from his family for 21 long years. To quote Mandela, "In South Africa, a man who tried to fulfill his duty to his people was inevitably ripped from his family and his home."
The Last Lecture
What wisdom would you impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance to do so, what would you have to say? When Randy Pausch was asked to deliver his last lecture as a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, there was nothing metaphorical about it. Randy Pausch had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But he didn’t speak about dying. Instead he spoke about Really achieving your childhood dreams, he spoke about seizing the moment, overcoming fears and making dreams come true. In short, he spoke about living. This book is nothing short of inspirational.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time
In 1993, Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the second highest mountain peak in the world. He failed. Dangerously ill, Mortenson found refuge in the small Pakistani village of Korphe, where he was nursed back to health. In his gratitude, Mortenson, vowed to build the village its first school- the promise led to institution of the Central Asia Institue which, to date, has built over 50 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. In his autobiography, co-authored by award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin, Mortenson creates a mesmerizing portrait of his journey, changing the world- one school at a time.
Through the eyes of Frank McCourt as a child in Ireland, we see a poignant tale of heart-wrenching poverty unfold. McCourt’s tale paints a brutal picture of his early years growing up with a drunk father who spent what little he earned on alcohol, woke his children up in the middle of the night to sing for Ireland, and a proud mother reduced to begging. His story of an almost inhuman resilience in the face of poverty and shame, rendered mild by the innocent perspective of a child, narrated with the candid irreverence of a little boy, will have you laughing, while tugging, oh so compellingly, at your heartstrings.
Persepolis (Graphic Novel)
In this memoir-in-comic-strips- Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi recounts the fascinating experience of growing up in Tehran during the Islamic revolution, living alone as a confused adolescent in Vienna, coming back to a society whose contradictions she did not understand, and yet was irrevocably a part of in ways she couldn’t deny. Witty, observant, and honest, Satrapi recounts stories of a people struggling to retain the normalcy of their lives and of her childhood embroiled in the writing of a country’s history, while still experiencing the simple, human hopes and confusions of a child, a teenager, and then a grown woman.
Surely You’re Joking Mr.Fenyman
In this hilarious memoir, Nobel prize winning physicist Richard P.Fenyman narrates anecdotes from his life, in a witty, eccentricstyle that is all his own. From swapping ideas on atomic physics with Einstein to accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums, Fenyman remains fiercely independent, often irreverent, and unfailingly hilarious. And yes, Richard P.Fenyman is not very tolerant of stupidity, veiled and disguised, or otherwise.