***The Best Biographies of All Time***

Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 5 stars, with equal weight given to my subjective assessment of: (1) how entertaining the biography proves to be and (2) the biography’s historical value. Blue titles indicate Pulitzer Prize WINNERS.  Blue italicized titles indicate Pulitzer Prize finalists.
This list was updated March 23, 2023.  If I’m missing a great biography that you’ve read, please let me know!

Note: the very best presidential biographies are included below, but a more complete list can be found here.

Adams, Henry The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams by David S. Brown 2020 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Henry Adams and the Making of America by Garry Wills 2005
Adams, John John Adams: A Life by John Ferling 1992 REVIEW (4¾ stars)
John Adams by David McCullough 2001 REVIEW (4½ stars)
John Adams (1735-1826) (2 volumes) by Page Smith 1962 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Adams, John Quincy John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit by James Traub 2016 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul Nagel 1997 REVIEW (4 stars)
Adams, Louisa Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas 2016 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Adams, Sam Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll 2008
Samuel Adams: Father of the American Revolution by Mark Puls 2006
Antoinette, Marie Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser 2001 Third-party reviews
Armstrong, Louis Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout 2009
Arnold, Benedict Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor by Willard Sterne Randall 1990
Arthur, Chester Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas Reeves 1975 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Augustine Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown 1967
Augustus Augustus: First Emperor of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy 2014
Bach Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Gardiner 2013 Third-party reviews
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christoph Wolff 2000
Baker, James A. The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker 2020 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Beecher, Henry Ward The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate 2006 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Beethoven Beethoven: The Music and the Life by Lewis Lockwood 2002
Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford 2014
Bell, Alexander Graham Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention by Charlotte Gray 2006
Bolívar, Simón Bolívar: American Liberator by Marie Arana 2013 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Boone, Daniel Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer by John Faragher 1992
Brandeis, Louis Louis D. Brandeis: A Life by Melvin Urofsky 2009
Brown, John Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz 2011
Brunelleschi Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King 2000
Bryan, Wm Jennings A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan by Michael Kazin 2006
Buchanan, James President James Buchanan: A Biography by Philip Klein 1962 REVIEW (4 stars)
Buffett, Warren The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder 2008
Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein 1995
Burr, Aaron Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal 1973
Bush, George H.W. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham 2015 REVIEW (4 stars)
Bush, George W Bush by Jean Edward Smith 2016 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker 2013
Caesar, Julius Caesar: Life of a Collosus by Adrian Goldsworthy 2006
Calhoun, John John C. Calhoun: A Biography by Irving Bartlett 1994
John C. Calhoun: American Portrait by Margaret Coit 1950 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Carnegie, Andrew Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw 2006 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Andrew Carnegie by Joseph Frazier Wall 1970
Carter, Jimmy His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life by Jonathan Alter 2020 REVIEW (4½ stars)
The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Quest for Global Peace by Douglas Brinkley 1998 REVIEW (4 stars)
President Carter: The White House Years by Stuart Eizenstat 2018 REVIEW (4 stars)
Cartier family The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire by Francesca Cartier Brickell 2019 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Carver, George Washington George Washington Carver: A Life by Christina Vella 2015
Catherine the Great Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie 2011
Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin: His Life and Art by David Robinson 1985
Chase, Salmon Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival by Walter Stahr 2022 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Churchill, Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny by Andrew Roberts 2018 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Churchill by Roy Jenkins 2001
Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert 1991
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory 1874-1932 (Vol 1) by William Manchester 1983
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone 1932-1940 (Vol 2) by William Manchester 1988
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965 (Vol 3) by William Manchester and Paul Reid 2011
Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham 2003
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard 2016
Clay, Henry Henry Clay: The Essential American by David Heidler 2010
Henry Clay: A Statesman for the Union by Robert Remini 1991 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Cleveland, Grover Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character by Alyn Brodsky 2000 REVIEW (4 stars)
A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life of Grover Cleveland by Troy Senik 2022 REVIEW (4 stars)
Clinton, Bill First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss 1995 REVIEW (4½ stars)
The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John Harris 2005 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Cobb, Ty Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen 2015 Third-party reviews
Columbus, Christopher Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus by Samuel Eliot Morison 1942
Cook, James Captain James Cook: A Biography by Richard Hough 1994
The Life of Captain James Cook by J.C. Beaglehole 1992
Coolidge, Calvin Coolidge: An American Enigma by Robert Sobel 1998 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President by Donald McCoy 1967 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Copernicus The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus by Owen Gingerich 2004
Cortes, Hernan Hernan Cortes: Conqueror of Mexico by Salvador de Madariaga 1942
Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs by Buddy Levy 2008
Crazy Horse The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III 2004
Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life by Kinglsey Bray 2006
Crockett, David David Crockett: The Lion of the West by Michael Wallis 2011
Curie, Madame Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie 1936
Custer, George Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors by Stephen Ambrose 1975
Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles 2015 REVIEW (4½ stars)
da Gama, Vasco The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama by Nigel Cliff 2011
da Vinci, Leonardo Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King 2012
Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind by Charles Nicholl 2004
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson 2017 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Darwin, Charles Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond 1991
Charles Darwin: A Biography, Voyaging (Vol 1) by Janet Browne 1995
Charles Darwin: A Biography, The Power of Place (Vol 2) by Janet Browne 2002
Davis, Jefferson Jefferson Davis, American by William Cooper 2000
Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour by William Davis 1991
Jefferson Davis: American Patriot 1808-1861 (Vol 1) by Hudson Strode 1955
Jefferson Davis: Confederate President (Vol 2) by Hudson Strode 1959
Jefferson Davis: Tragic Hero (Vol 3) by Hudson Strode 1964
De Gaulle, Charles The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved by Jonathan Fenby 2012
de Soto, Hernando Hernando de Soto: A Savage Question in the Americas by David Duncan 1996
Dickens, Charles Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin 2011
Charles Dickens by Michael Slater 2007
Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson 1952
Disney, Walt The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by Michael Barrier 2007
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler 2006 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas 1976
Disraeli Disraeli by Robert Blake 1966
Douglass, Frederick Frederick Douglass by William McFeely 1990
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight 2018 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Drake, Francis Sir Francis Drake by John Sugden 1991
Dumas, Alex The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss 2012
Earp, Wyatt Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend by Casey Tefertiller 1997
Edison, Thomas Edison: A Biography by Matthew Josephson 1959
Einstein, Albert Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson 2007 Third-party reviews
Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower In War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith 2012 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Eisenhower: A Solider’s Life by Carlo D’Este 2002 REVIEW (4 stars)
Elizabeth I, Queen The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir 1996
Emerson, Ralph Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert Richardson 1995
Euler Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius in the Enlightenment by Ronald Calinger 2015
Faraday, Michael The Electric Life of Michael Faraday by Alan Hirshfeld 2006
Feynman, Richard Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick 1992
Fillmore, Millard Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert Rayback 1959 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Matthew Bruccoli 1981 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Ford, Gerald Gerald Ford: An Honorable Life by James Cannon 2013 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Ford, Henry The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts 2005 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Franklin, Benjamin Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson 2003 Third-party reviews
Benjamin Franklin by Carl Van Doren 1938
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by HW Brands 2000 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon Wood 2004
Galileo Galileo by John Heilbron 2010
Gandhi Gandhi Before India (Vol 1) by Ramachandra Guha 2013
Garfield, James Garfield: A Biography by Allan Peskin 1978 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard 2011 REVIEW (4 stars)
Gehrig, Lou Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eig 2005
Genet, Jean Genet: A Biography by Edmund White 1993
Geronimo Geronimo by Robert Utley 2012
Goebbels, Joseph Goebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich 2010
Goldwyn, Samuel Goldwyn: A Biography by A. Scott Berg 1989
Gould, Jay The Life and Legend of Jay Gould by Maury Klein 1986
Grant, Cary Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman 2020 REVIEW (4 stars)
Grant, Ulysses Grant by Jean Edward Smith 2001 REVIEW (4½ stars)
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant In War and Peace by H.W. Brands 2012 REVIEW (4 stars)
Grant: A Biography by William McFeely 1981 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Captain Sam Grant (Vol 1) by Lloyd Lewis 1950
Grant Moves South (Vol 2) by Bruce Catton 1960
Grant Takes Command (Vol 3) by Bruce Catton 1969
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald White 2016 REVIEW (4 stars)
Grant by Ron Chernow 2017 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Greenspan, Alan The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan by Sebastian Mallaby 2016
Guevara, Che Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson 1997
Halsey, William Bull Halsey by E.B. Potter 1985
Hamilton, Alexander Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow 2004 REVIEW (5 stars)
Alexander Hamilton: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall 2003
Harrison, Benjamin Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Warrior (Vol 1) by Harry J. Sievers 1952 REVIEW (4 stars)
Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Statesman (Vol 2) by Harry J. Sievers 1959 REVIEW (4 stars)
Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier President (Vol 3) by Harry J. Sievers 1968 REVIEW (3¼ stars)
Hawking, Stephen Stephen Hawking: A Biography by Kristine Larsen 2005
Hay, John All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay by John Taliaferro 2013 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Hayes, Rutherford Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President by Ari Hoogenboom 1995 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Hearst, William Randolph The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw 2000 REVIEW (4 stars)
Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway by Kenneth S. Lynn 1987
Henry VIII The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir 1992
The King and His Court by Alison Weir 2001
Henry, Patrick Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty by Jon Kukla 2017 REVIEW (4 stars)
Hershey, Milton Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D’Antonio 2006
Hitler, Adolf Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography by John Toland 1976
Hitler by Joachim Fest 1974
Hitler: A Biography (abridgement) by Ian Kershaw 2008 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris (Vol 1) by Ian Kershaw 1998
Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis (Vol 2) by Ian Kershaw 2000
Hitler: A Study in Tyranny by Alan Bullock 1962
Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 (Vol 1) by Volker Ullrich 2016
Hoover, Herbert Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times by Kenneth Whyte 2017 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency by Charles Rappleye 2016 REVIEW (4 stars)
Hoover, J Edgar J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets by Curt Gentry 1991
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage 2022 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Hopkins, Harry Harry Hopkins: A Biography by Henry Hitch Adams 1977
The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler by David Roll 2013 REVIEW (4½ stars)
House, Colonel Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson’s Silent Partner by Charles Neu 2014 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Houston, Sam The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston by Marquis James 1929
Sam Houston by James Haley 2002 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Howe, Louis FDR’s Shadow: Louis Howe, the Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by Julie Fenster 2009
Hughes, Howard Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown 1996
Isabella, Queen Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey 2014
Jackson, Andrew The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James 1934 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Andrew Jackson (3 volume series) by Robert Remini 1977-84 REVIEWS
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham 2008 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Jackson, Stonewall Stonewall Jackson by James Robertson 1997
Rebel Yell : The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne 2014
James, Jesse Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles 2002
Jay, John John Jay: Founding Father by Walter Stahr 2005
Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson and His Time (6 volume series) by Dumas Malone 1948-77  REVIEWS
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham 2012 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Jobs, Steve Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 2011 REVIEW (4 stars)
Johnson, Andrew Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David Stewart 2009 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Johnson, Jack Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey Ward 2004
Johnson, Lyndon The Years of Lyndon Johnson (5 volume series) by Robert Caro 1982- REVIEW (4½ stars)
Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960 (Vol 1) by Robert Dallek 1991 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973 (Vol 2) by Robert Dallek 1998 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Jordan, Michael Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby 2014
Keller, Helen Helen Keller: A Life by Dorothy Hermann 1998
Kennedy, Jacqueline America’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford 2000
Kennedy, John An Unfinished Life: JFK 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek 2003 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys by Doris Kearns Goodwin 1987 REVIEW (4½ stars)
A Thousand Days: JFK in the White House by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. 1965 REVIEW (3 stars)
Kennedy, Joseph P The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw 2012 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Kennedy, Robert Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 1978
Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas 2000
Robert Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye 2016
Kennedy, Ted Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour ( (Vol 1) and Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism (1976-2009) (Vol 2) by Neal Gabler 2020/2
Ted Kennedy: A Life by John A. Farrell 2022 REVIEW (4 stars)
Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy by Peter Canellos 2009
Khrushchev Khrushchev: The Man and His Era by William Taubman 2003
Kidd, Captain The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks 2002
King Jr., Martin Luther Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Stephen Oates 1982
America in the King Years (3 volume series) by Taylor Branch 1988-
King: A Biography by David Levering Lewis 1970
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow 1986
Kissinger, Henry Kissinger: A Biography by Walter Isaacson 1992
Kissinger: The Idealist, 1923-1968 (Volume One) by Niall Ferguson 2015
Lafayette The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio 2014
Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan 2021 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Lafayette by Harlow Unger 2002
Lee, Robert E The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War by Jonathan Horn 2015
Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E Lee by Michael Korda 2014
Lee (abridgement of Douglas Southall Freeman’s 4-volume series) by Richard Harwell 1997
Lewis, Meriwether Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose 1997
The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness by Clay Jenkinson 2011
Lincoln, Abraham Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin 2005 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald 1995 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White Jr. 2009 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 vols) by Michael Burlingame 2008 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: A Biography by Benjamin Thomas 1952 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Lincoln, Robert Todd Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln by Jason Emerson 2012
Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg 1998 REVIEW (4 stars)
Lippmann, Walter Walter Lippmann and the American Century by Ronald Steel 1980
Lodge, Henry Cabot Henry Cabot  Lodge: A Biography by John A. Garraty 1953
Long, Huey Huey Long by T. Harry Williams 1969
Longstreet, James General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier by Jeffry Wert 1993
Luther, Martin Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton 1950
MacArthur, Douglas American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 by William Manchester 1978
The Years of MacArthur (3-volume series) by D. Clayton James 1970-85
Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior by Arthur Herman 2016
Madison, James James Madison by Richard Brookhiser 2011 REVIEW (4 stars)
James Madison: America’s First Politician by Jay Cost 2021 REVIEW (4 stars)
James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham 1971 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Magellan, Ferdinand Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen 2004
Malcolm X Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable 2011
The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les & Tamara Payne 2020 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Mantle, Mickey The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy 2010
Marshall, George George Marshall: Defender of the Republic by David Roll 2019 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
George C. Marshall (4-volume series) by Forrest Pogue 1963-87
General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman by Ed Cray 1990
Marshall, John John Marshall: Definer of a Nation by Jean Edward Smith 1996
Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times by Joel Richard Paul 2018 Third-party reviews
Marshall, Thurgood Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams 1998
Maxwell, James The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell by Basil Mahon 2003
McCarthy, Joseph A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy by David Oshinsky 1983 REVIEW (4 stars)
McKinley, William William McKinley and His America by H. Wayne Morgan 1963 REVIEW (4 stars)
Mellon, Andrew Mellon: An American Life by David Cannadine 2006
Melville, Herman Melville: A Biography by Laurie Robertson-Lorant 1996
Michelangelo Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King 2003
Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles J. Unger 2014
Michelangelo: His Epic Life by Martin Gayford 2013
The Agony and the Ecstacy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone 1958
Mondavi, Robert The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Siler 2007
Monroe, James James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity by Harry Ammon 1971 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe by Harlow Unger 2009 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
James Monroe: A Life by Tim McGrath 2020 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Montgomery, Bernard Monty: The Making of a General 1887-1942 (Vol 1) by Nigel Hamilton 1991
Master of the Battlefield: Monty’s War Years 1942-1944 (Vol 2) by Nigel Hamilton 1984
Monty: The Field-Marshal 1944-1976 (Vol 3) by Nigel Hamilton 1986
Morgan, JP Morgan: American Financier by Jean Strouse 1999 REVIEW (3 stars)
The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow 1990
Morgenthau Family Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty by Andrew Meier 2022 REVIEW (4¾ stars)
Morris, Robert Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye 2010
Moses, Robert The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro 1974 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Mozart Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon 1995 REVIEW (2½ stars)
Napoleon Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts 2014
Napoleon by Vincent Cronin 1971
Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny (Vol 1) by Michael Broers 2014
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age (Vol 2) by Michael Broers 2018
Nash, John F. A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr. by Sylvia Nasar 1998
Newton, Isaac Isaac Newton by James Gleick 2003
Nicolay, John Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image by Joshua Zeitz 2013
Nicholas II Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert Massie 1967 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Nimitz, Chester Nimitz by E.B. Potter 1976
The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King – The Five Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea by Walter Borneman 2012
Nixon, Richard Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of An American Politician by Roger Morris 1990 REVIEW (4 stars)
Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962 (Vol 1) by Stephen Ambrose 1987 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972 (Vol 2) by Stephen Ambrose 1989 REVIEW (4 stars)
Nixon: Ruin & Recovery 1973-1990 (Vol 3) by Stephen Ambrose 1991 REVIEW (4 stars)
Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell 2017 REVIEW (4 stars)
President Nixon: Alone in the White House by Richard Reeves 2001 REVIEW (4 stars)
O’Connor, Sandra Day First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas 2019 REVIEW (4½ stars)
O’Neill, Tip Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century: A Biography by John Farrell 2001 REVIEW
(3¾ stars)
Obama, Barack Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss 2012 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Oppenheimer, Robert American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird 2005 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center by Ray Monk 2012
Paine, Thomas Tom Paine: A Political Life by John Keane 1995
Parks, Rosa The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis 2013
Patton Patton: A Genius for War by Carlo D’Este 1995 REVIEW (4 stars)
Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885-1945 by Martin Blumenson 1985
Perkins, Frances The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins by Kirstin Downey 2010
Pershing, John Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing (2 vols) by Frank Vandiver 1977
Guerilla Warrior: The Early Life of John J. Pershing (Vol 1) by Donald Smythe 1973
Pershing: General of the Armies (Vol 2) by Donald Smythe 1986
Peter the Great Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert Massie 1980
Pierce, Franklin Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son (Vol 1) by Peter Wallner 2004 REVIEW (4 stars)
Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union (Vol 2) by Peter Wallner 2007 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Polk, James Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter Borneman 2008 REVIEW (4 stars)
Pope John Paul II Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel 1999
Presley, Elvis Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (Vol 1) by Peter Guralnick 1994
Carleless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (Vol 2) by Peter Guralnick 1999
Putin, Vladimir The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers 2015
Queen Victoria Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird 2016 REVIEW (4 stars)
Raleigh, Sir Walter Sir Walter Raleigh: The Controversial Hero of the Elizabethian Age by Raleigh Trevelyan 2002
Reagan, Nancy The Triumph of Nancy Reagan by Karen Tumulty 2021 REVIEW (4 stars)
Reagan, Ronald Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands 2015 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Reagan: An American Journey by Bob Spitz 2018 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Reagan: American Icon by Iwan Morgan 2016 REVIEW (4 stars)
Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power (Vol 1) by Lou Cannon 2003 REVIEW (4 stars)
President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (Vol 2) by Lou Cannon 1991 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Robinson, Jackie Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad 1997
Rockefeller, John D. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow 1998 REVIEW (4¾ stars)
Rockefeller, Nelson On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller by Richard Norton Smith 2014
Rockwell, Norman American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon 2013 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Rogers, Will Will Rogers: A Biography by Ben Yagoda 1993
Rommel, Erwin Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel by Daniel Allen Butler 2015
Roosevelt, Alice Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy Cordery 2007
Roosevelt, Eleanor Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1: 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook 1992
Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 2: The Defining Years, 1933-1938 by Blanche Wiesen Cook 1999
Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 3: The War Years and After, 1939-1962 by Blanche Wiesen Cook 2016
Eleanor by David Michaelis 2020 REVIEW
(4 stars)
Roosevelt, Franklin FDR by Jean Edward Smith 2007 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of FDR by H. W. Brands 2008 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin 1994 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt 1882-1905 (Vol 1) by Geoffrey Ward 1985 REVIEW (4 stars)
A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt 1905-1928 (Vol 2) by Geoffrey Ward 1989 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Roosevelt, Theodore The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Vol I) by Edmund Morris 1980 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Theodore Rex (Vol II) by Edmund Morris 2001 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Colonel Roosevelt (Vol III) by Edmund Morris 2010 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin 2013 REVIEW (4 stars)
Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt by William Harbaugh 1961 REVIEW (4 stars)
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard 2005 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Rose, Pete Pete Rose: An American Dilemma by Kostya Kennedy 2014
Ruth, Babe The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville 2006
Salk, Jonas Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs 2015
Seward, William Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr 2012 REVIEW (3½ stars)
Shackleton, Ernest Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer by Michael Smith 2014 REVIEW (4 stars)
Shakespeare Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd 2005
Sherman, William Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert O’Connell 2014
William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James McDonough 2016
The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden Reid 2020 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order by John Marszalek 1992
Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American by B.H. Liddell Hart 1929
Sinatra, Frank Frank Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan 2015
Stalin, Josef Stalin: A Political Biography by Isaac Deutscher 1949
Young Stalin by Simon Montefiore 2007
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Montefiore 2004
Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 (Vol 1) by Stephen Kotkin 2014
Stanton, Edwin Stanton: Lincon’s War Secretary by Walter Stahr 2017
Steinbeck, John John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography by Jackson Benson 1990
Taft, William The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin 2013 REVIEW (4 stars)
The Life and Times of William Howard Taft (2 vols) by Henry Pringle 1939 REVIEW (3¼ stars)
Tecumseh Tecumseh: A Life by John Sugden 1997
Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation by Peter Cozzens 2020 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Thatcher, Margaret Margaret Thatcher, The Grocer’s Daughter (Vol 1) by John Campbell 2000
Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady (Vol 2) by John Campbell 2003
Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Faulklands: The Authorized Biography (Vol 1) by Charles Moore 2013
Margaret Thatcher: Everything She Wants: The Authorized Biography (Vol 2) by Charles Moore 2015
Thoreau Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind by Robert Richardson 1986
Thorpe, Jim Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss 2022 REVIEW (4 stars)
Tolstoy Tolstoy by Henri Troyat 1965
Truman, Harry Truman by David McCullough 1992
Twain, Mark Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain by Justin Kaplan 1966
Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers 2005 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Vanderbilt, Cornelius The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles 2009 REVIEW (4½ stars)
Warburg (family) The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family by Ron Chernow 1993
Warren, Earl Justice For All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton 2006
Washington, Booker T Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert Norrell 2009
Washington, George Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow 2010 REVIEW (5 stars)
George Washington: The Forge of Experience 1732-1775 (Vol 1) by James Flexner 1965 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
George Washington in the American Revolution 1775-1783 (Vol 2) by James Flexner 1967 REVIEW (4½ stars)
George Washington and the New Nation 1783-1793 (Vol 3) by James Flexner 1970 REVIEW (4½ stars)
George Washington: Anguish and Farewell 1793-1799 (Vol 4) by James Flexner 1972 REVIEW (4½ stars)
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis 2005 REVIEW (4 stars)
Washington [Harwell’s abridgment of 7-vol series] by Douglas Southall Freeman 1968 REVIEW (3 stars)
Wayne, John John Wayne: American by Randy Roberts 1995
John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman 2014
Webster, Daniel Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time by Robert Remini 1997
The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun by Merrill Peterson 1987
Wilde, Oscar Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann 1987
Williams, Ted Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero by Leigh Montville 2004
The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr. 2013
Wilson, Woodrow Wilson by A. Scott Berg 2013 REVIEW (4 stars)
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by August Heckscher 1991 REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper 2009 REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Woolf, Virginia Virginia Woolf: A Biography by Quentin Bell 1971
Wright (brothers) The Wright Brothers by David McCullough 2015 Third-party reviews
Wright, Frank Lloyd Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest 1992
Deng, Xioping Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra Vogel 2011
Zemin, Jiang The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin by Robert Lawrence Kuhn 2005

Every book I review has been purchased by me. TheBestBiographies.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

55 thoughts on “***The Best Biographies of All Time***”

  1. Steve – Another great site! Thank you.

    • Thanks; I have to give credit to my kids who were looking for a way to learn how to start/manage a website. I (try to) come up with the content and they put it into motion. Now, if only I could get them to each read a biography per week…..!

  2. Ryan Sem said:

    Excited to hear your thoughts on each of the Lafayette books – I’ve been wanting to read a solid book about him for quite some time. I think you’ll find that the Carnegie book by Nasaw is exceptional.

  3. Jeremy Anderberg said:

    Isaacson’s bio of Leonardo da Vinci isn’t to be missed.

    Dickens by Peter Ackroyd

    Henry David Thoreau by Laura Walls

    Ernest Hemingway by Dearborn

    I loved the presidents site, and was actually thinking of starting my own book review site journey though biographies. You’ve beat me to it good sir! Good on ya.

  4. I have read or in possession twenty-four non-president biographies listed above. Happy reading everyone!

  5. So enjoy your site…thanks for sharing it! I found it last year after deciding to read a biography of each U.S. president along with one of a related person (or event) from the same period.

    How about A Prophet with Honor – The Billy Graham Story, by William Martin? Lots of presidential connections there.

  6. benjaminharrison27 said:

    That’s a lot to be getting on with! If I could make a couple of suggestions I’d add A Certain Idea Of France, Julian Jackson’s recent biography of Charles de Gaulle. Also Jenny Hocking’s two volume biography of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read, I think. Anyway, thanks a lot for all you do!

    • Thanks for the suggestions and, particularly, for the geographic diversity they provide! de Gaulle is an extremely familiar name I can’t wait to get to (I’ll definitely check out Jackson’s bio) and Whitlam is a very unfamiliar name I’ll be looking into – – I’m always looking to add biographies that readers categorize as among “the best” they’ve ever read!

      • benjaminharrison27 said:

        No worries! I only wish I could recommend more Australian biographies, but we don’t really have the culture of writing biographies about our prime ministers as the United States has for its presidents (you can imagine how frustrating that is).

  7. Hi Steve, John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee is very good.

  8. Does anyone have a good bio for Queen Elizabeth II? I’m not really interested in the salacious / gossipy type. Just a nice write up, like Julia Baird did with Victoria.

  9. What about Prescott Bush? have you read any good bios of him?

  10. What about the Famous lawyer Clarence Darrow or William Jennings Bryan

    • I’m hoping to stumble across a particularly good biography of William Jennings Bryan…if you know of one please let me know! And, in general, if there is a specific and outstanding biography of *anyone* you know about, I’m all ears!

      • There are two great reads for WJB. Michael Kazin’s A Godly Hero (2008) is the best biography in my opinion. As for the Scopes Trial, Edward Larson’s Summer for the Gods is excellent – worthy of the Pulitzer it won.

  11. I have a couple of recommendation of prominent Americans about whom you might like to read. I would live to read your reviews on the books and the characters. First is Joseph Smith Junior. Before being assassinated while running for President of the United States, he built what was the largest city in Illinois. He managed to negotiate a city charter that provided Nauvoo with its own army. At the same time Smith was mayor of Nauvoo, Lt. General of the Nauvoo Legion and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
    The second leader of the same church, Brigham Young, led a huge migration to the Great Basin, colonized parts of 4 or 5 states and resisted the armed attempt of President Buchanan to destroy his people.
    Either one would be fascinating to learn about and to review biographies.

  12. Hi – been a follower for a long time and am currently on my own presidential biography voyage. Wanted to pass along a couple biographies that I have read recently that I truly enjoyed.

    Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
    Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good

  13. mckinleyscott said:

    One of the best-written biographies I’ve ever read was Samuel Johnson by John Wain (1975). Just so well-written. Some biographies from poets and novelists work better than others (I’m still not too pleased with the purple mountain majesty prose of Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln).

  14. I have over a 100 biographies from Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher. My library also includes biographies of 18 United States Presidents (cherry picking my favourites). What I find curious is the large number of these biographies which have been published since 2000. Ninety percent!! Many of these biographies are also the “definitive” biography or at least one of the best of that historic figure. Are we in an age of better writers, better research?
    Why such excellent and prolific writing over the last twenty years? Any thoughts?

    • Great questions and I will opine.

      The writing seems better because it is contemporary with us. The American Statesmen series from the late 19th century seems quaint now, but it was a great leap forward in scholarship then. Just like in 50 years, our scholarship will seem antiquated.

      Centralizing primary source materials has an impact. It is now easier to access the papers of presidents via both electronic means and scholarly publications. There are many “The Papers of …” in process. The completion of the Grant papers sparked a new energy to review his life and presidency.

      As for the definitive status, it is probably our lens. Why use version 1.0 when version 3.0 has enhanced, modern features? An author can correct the perceived – or real – failures, omissions or errors of prior authors. It’s the march of progress.

      That’s my 2 cents.

  15. How has your actual physical library grown from when you started this journey to now, years later? I always love watching my own library grow over the years.

    • Funny you should ask… my “shelf space” has doubled in the past few years but the number of books I need shelves for has quadrupled. In addition to something like 400 books/volumes of presidential biographies (which still pales in comparison to some) I have another 325 biographies of non-presidents. Still modest in comparison to some, I’ve simply run out of room. I have books stacked 4′ high in my basement, I have books collecting dust under furniture, I almost have books peering out of the crack between crown molding and the ceiling. But…I know exactly where everything is and I fully intend to read every book I own!

      • Do you use the space on the shelf behind the books?

        I’m impressed with the non-presidential material. Are they across-the-board or focused on certain subjects?

      • I once used that hidden space but then realized how many books I lost / forgot 🙂 I began “collecting” non-pres bio before I got hooked on the presidents, and once I was on the home-stretch of my presidential journey I started looking ahead and adding to my library of non-presidential books. They are more heavily weighted toward people “related” to the presidents (from Robert Morris and Eleanor Roosevelt to Adolf Hitler) but probably 1/4 of them cover folks like da Vinci, Mark Twain, Copernicus, Lou Gehrig,…

      • I’ve thinned down my non-Presidential holdings over the past few years to slightly over 100 (excluding a Churchill section). They too are mostly focused on people related to presidents or the presidency. With shelf space at a premium, I needed to weed out some of my ‘nonessential’ holdings.

  16. Steve, I would encourage you to reconsider listing Al Stump’s fictionalized hatchet job on Ty Cobb as one of your Best Biographies of all-time. That book, once considered the definitive biography of Cobb, has been discredited in recent times (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-knife-in-ty-cobbs-back-65618032/; https://sabr.org/journal/article/the-georgia-peach-stumped-by-the-storyteller/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Stump) as being largely falsified and painting Cobb in an inaccurately negative light. Because so many people (including me) hold you and your biography recommendations in such high esteem, I hate to see that particular book on your list. The recommendation of Lerhsen’s more recent bio of Cobb, however, is spot-on and is the only bio of Cobb that I would recommend (most of the others relied at least partly on Stump’s account as resource material).

    • Thanks for the perspective. I went so far as to purchase Stump’s book a few years ago and was prepared to find a spot for it on my “next 24 months” reading list when I ran across an article in an academic journal that made an observation similar to yours. Concerned but uncertain what to believe, I left it there and didn’t take any further action given a lack of time to investigate further, but I’ll go ahead and place that biography in my “purgatory” category (off the master list) to be finally adjudicated when I have a few moments to dig deeper 🙂

  17. If it’s something we could workshop it’d be great to include more foreign heads of government. At least some of the major ones of major countries like Bismarck, Adenauer, Kohl, and Merkel in Germany and Mitterand, Chirac, and Pompidou in France. I’ll do some searching around and reply to this comment in a few weeks with some suggestions if people here are interested.

    • I’m particularly interested to ensure I’m capturing as many people of influence globally as possible. I’m scheduled to read a biography of Charles de Gaulle later this year (though I’m still debating which one) and I’m looking ahead to 2022 which might include a series on Hitler, Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Just for starters…

      • Robert Blake’s Disraeli is a first-rate biography. Disraeli’s counterpart William Gladstone gets a nice treatment by Roy Jenkins.

        Despite its age, Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy (1994) has a wonderful bibliography which has sent me on many tangents. Although it is a sweeping history and not a biography, it provides great insight into the major influencers of the modern world.

      • Maurice Frediere said:

        If it’d be of any use I’m happy to help compose a short list. I’d begun one before I ran across your website, it has a decent list of non-American leaders if you’d like me to share it with you.

      • That would be fabulous! A good percentage of the non-presidential books I read are based on suggestions I receive. Any thoughts are welcomed in any form!

      • Maurice Frediere said:

        sorry for the late reply, i’m a high school teacher and life has been awfully crazy these last few months. I’ll clean up the list and send it to you in a month or two.

  18. I see you have John Sugden’s Tecumseh on your list. While I’ve not read that one I can highly recommend his two-volume biography on Admiral Horatio Nelson – ‘Nelson: A Dream of Glory’ & ‘Nelson: The Sword Of Albion’. It’s the best biography I’ve read since Chernow’s Washington (Though I’ve not read as many as yourself, so a smaller sample size)

    It’s now the definitive Nelson biography and Sugden’s life work. Each volume is 800 pages so if you want a shorter biography on Nelson, the best single-volume is the 500 page-ish ‘The Pursuit of Victory’ by Roger Knight.

    I actually wish I had Knight’s biography when reading Sugden’s. Knight’s is full of maps, ship diagrams and a ‘cast of characters’ list of people at the back with short biographies to jog the memory. It would have made a handy guide to reference while reading Sugden.

    Love the site, my Presidential shelf grows with the biographies you’ve recommended.

    • Thanks for the suggestions – I’ll have to investigate the Horatio Nelson biographies! And unfortunately for my shelf-space, this biography thing is an addiction. My presidential “shelf” has now overtaken the wall it once barely occupied. And together with the biographies of non-presidents, I’m beginning to think I need a larger house 🙂

  19. Travis Satterlee said:

    I love this blog and the list is a great reference. In your ranking president bios would you score them differently if the list was for historians? I am seeking to collect the most detailed bio of each president. Is it safe to say I should get the multi volume options when possible? I want the book to cover their whole life not just their presidency. Let me know if your “best” recommendations still stand considering what I am seeking. The way I am reading the bios is one decade at a time. I read the portion of each bio for 1850 etc to get a 3d picture of where each president was at that time. It’s fascinating to see the characters interplay from each perspective.

    • If I was creating a site for “historians” I would rank / score biographies differently. I would also read them with a different emphasis and would need to do far more work to pressure test the accuracy of the information they contain. Because I am NOT reading just for historians, I weight my ranking 50% for “readability” – how much I enjoy the writing style – and 50% for my layman’s view of the historical value of the biography. It is not rare for a reader of this site to note that I’ve missed an inaccuracy or failed to notice an author relying on outdated information.

      If you are seeking to collect the most detailed biographies of each president it is often the case you will want to take a hard look at the multi-volume series published for that president (if any exists). They do tend to contain the most “information” though in my experience they sometimes lack deep analysis…seeming to rely on the reader to synthesize and analyze on their own. In general I prefer fewer biographies with fewer extraneous facts and a thoughtful biographer willing to provide me with an interpretation of the facts which I can accept or reject.

      But to the extent you are looking for “comprehensive” rather than merely “detailed” my approach will tend to work reasonably well for you. I, too, am seeking biographies which present a person’s entire life rather than just undertaking an examination of that person’s presidency. I find it hard to really get into a person’s head and see the world from his/her perspective unless I have some senswe of that person’s entire life…

  20. Lynn Schlatter said:

    Have you taken a look at LeRoy Ashby’s Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church? Full disclosure: I didn’t finish it myself (another book beckoned and I can’t read more than one at a time), but what I read seemed to fit your “readable but thorough” criteria, with the added bonus of making me shout, “I’ve never heard of this guy! Why have I never heard of this guy?”

    • For what it’s worth, I don’t read more than one biography at the same time either (largely out of a latent fear I won’t be able to keep the two separate). As for the book you reference: I’ve never heard of Frank Church. How’d I overlook him given all the presidential biographies I read that covered his time in the Senate? I don’t *mind* that he’s unknown to me if it turns out he was consequential and the book is well-written. I can’t quite tell from the very few reviews I found online. But the fact you didn’t finish it leaves me wondering….!

  21. Steve,

    God bless you and your site. I am curious to see what you have in store for 2022. I noticed that you haven’t gotten around to some of the major non-US political figures – Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Napoleon, Bismarck, etc. Any of these on the horizon?



    • Funny you mention those names…I have Kershaw’s biography of Hitler, Taubman’s bio of Khrushchev and Andrew Roberts’s bio of Napoleon on the shelf in front of me. Just trying to figure out exactly when to sequence them in 🙂

  22. Hi Steve,

    Have you seen at all the new biography by Mike Duncan on Marquis de Lafayette? I noticed it wasn’t on your list yet and I was wondering if you could look into at some point? Have you heard anything if it would be worth the time to get into? I’ve been looking into it recently just haven’t had time to read it, so many other biographies to get to…

    Maybe as a more general question, are there certain clues you have picked up that you can gather before reading a biography to get a good idea whether it will be a worthwhile read or not? I don’t quite have the time to read everything so prefer to be as efficient as I can with what books I end up reading. I find your reviews very helpful and informative but sometimes there are books I’d like to read that you haven’t read and reviewed yet so I’m not sure if I should read them or not.

    • I haven’t read the Duncan bio of Lafayette (published last summer) but I’ve got a couple friends who are reading it now…and I’m anxious to see what they think. I’ve not yet committed to my entire 2022 reading schedule at this point and that’s one I’m considering getting to in the next several months.

      On a broader note, I’ve not come up with an extremely reliable algorithm for picking great biographies. The word you use – clues – is a better way to think about what I do when trying to select bios to read. In general, I’m looking for biographies of compelling people that are well-written (–> engrossing), get at the heart of who the person was, and treats the reader to a view of the world as that person observed it.

      More simply put, I look for biographies which put me in the shoes of a fascinating person and allow me to walk away understanding how that person saw the world and knowing how and why they reacted to the world around them in the way they did.

      Over many years I’ve learned to trust certain authors, I’ve learned to be suspicious of prizes and awards (Pulitzers do NOT correlate – for me – to great biographies), I’ve learned to avoid Amazon ratings and I’ve discovered the value of relying on the opinions of certain Goodreads “friends” whose opinions align well with what I value in a great biography. But it’s an art and not a science, and although this usually leads me to reading books I really like, there are times when I find myself reading a “dud” 🙂

  23. Richard Dasheiff said:

    Since you have chosen a task (Best Biographies) which can not be completed in one lifetime, I will not make further recommendations. However, I have an observation which I submit to you and your fans (myself included).

    The word ‘hero’ occurs 5 times throughout the book titles.

    What is the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition?
    1) A name given (as in Homer) to men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods; at a later time regarded as intermediate between gods and men, and immortal.
    2) A man [or women]* distinguished by extraordinary valour and martial achievements; one who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior.
    3) A [person] who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connexion with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a [person]* admired and venerated for their achievements and noble qualities.
    *OED only uses male or men as pronoun, I modified it in 2&3 to include both genders.

    Of course I’ve read all the biographies of POTUS, and would pick George Washington as a hero.
    I am unqualified in saying Frederick Douglas and Fred Rogers are also my heroes.

    Not saying a hero makes for the subject of a best biography, but two of the above are on your lists. And MOST interesting, President Trump issued Executive Order 13978 to create a National Garden of American Heroes for 244 of them. Congress did not fund it, Biden revoked the Order, and historians like Michael Beschloss wrote “No president of the United States or federal government has any business dictating us citizens who our historical heroes should be.”

    Nevertheless, the list is interesting. See
    U.S. Department of the Interior
    National Garden of American Heroes

  24. Richard Dasheiff said:

    When looking for reading material I peruse Best Biographies of All Time and found this 2004 book “The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus” (2004) by Owen Gingerich. However, it has not yet been reviewed. I am therefore offering a review – I recommend it.

    It is the travelogue and detective work of the author’s 30 year quest to find out about Copernicus and his world changing book “De revolutionibus” (Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs) which was published in 1543.

    Gingerich is professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

    The book falls in the sphere of others like:

    .The Brain in Search of Itself, Santiago Ramón y Cajal and the Story of the Neuron (2020) by Ehrlich, Benjamin
    .The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (1998) by Simon Winchester
    .The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (2003) by Simon Winchester
    .Humboldt; the life and times of Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859 (1955) by Helmut De Terra

    Who would enjoy this History of Science book? I have a double Bachelor’s in Astronomy and Physics, but most people don’t. Nevertheless, you do not need a scientific background – there is no math, and the astronomy is reduced to pictures of circles and lines. It is light reading which includes court battles, personal enemies (of the author and the ancient astronomers), libraries and book sellers, paper making, printing, watermarks, and the politics of science and the profession of publishing.

    It also has its fair share of FACT CHECKS, example
    There is a wonderful, very old, but no doubt apocryphal, story that Alfonso the
    Great, looking over the shoulders of his astronomers who were compiling the
    Alfonsine Tables, remarked that if he had been around at Creation, he could have
    given the Good Lord some hints. The obvious interpretation was that King
    Alfonso’s astronomers, in order to take care of the observed discrepancies
    between the Ptolemaic predictions and where the planets actually were, had been
    obliged to add more circles, small epicycles on epicycles. It’s rather reminiscent
    of the lines paraphrasing Jonathan Swift:

    Great fleas have little fleas
    upon their backs to bite ’em
    And little fleas have lesser fleas
    and so ad infinitum.

    The legend reached its apotheosis when the 1969 Encyclopaedia Britannica
    announced that, by the time of King Alfonso, each planet required 40 to 60
    epicycles! The article concluded, “After surviving more than a millennium, the
    Ptolemaic system failed; its geometrical clockwork had become unbelievably
    cumbersome and without satisfactory improvements in its effectiveness.”

    When I [Owen Gingerich] challenged them, the Britannica editors replied lamely
    that the author of the article was no longer living, and they hadn’t the faintest
    idea if or where any evidence for the epicycles on epicycles could be found.

    Finally, as far as grading this book – as ‘Only God can make a tree’ so it follows that ‘Only Steve Floyd can determine how many stars’ to assign to a book.

    • I’ve had that on my list for quite a long time but I’ve not gotten around to it yet. As a (former) scientist I always enjoy great books on the most creative scientific minds and I have long suspected this one would be worthwhile. I’m glad it’s got your endorsement! Since I know I own that book, I’m tempted to go digging through shelves and boxes to figure out where it is so I can add it to my “short-term” list rather than my “sometime” list 🙂

  25. I’ve been reading a bit of a good biography of Karl Marx. It’s called “A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx”, by Sven-Eric Liedman. He’s quite a fascinating person. Might be worth picking up.

  26. Donald Jennings said:

    Where is Boswell’s Johnson? Or did I miss it? Regarded by many as not only the first but also the best bio ever written. Johnson was a colossus.


    I would also recommend Marshall Smelser’s ‘The Life That Ruth Built’ which is the best sports bio I’ve ever read and by long odds.


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