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Best Biographies: 70 Best Biography Books of All Time (2020)

Best Biographies Memoirs Autobigraphies
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Best Biographies Memoirs Autobigraphies Books

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Looking for the best biographies of all time? Well, you’re in the right place!

I’ve scoured the internet for lists of top biographies, I’ve taken your suggestions on the best memoirs and best autobiographies you’ve ever read and I’ve collected them here in the definitive list of best biography books ever written.

What is a biography? As far as this list is concerned, a biography is any story that follows the life of a person. Some books explore events, objects or places. Many of those may use people’s stories to colour their narratives. But the difference between those books and the best historical biographies is that good biographies keep both eyes on their heroes.

Why are some famous biographies ranked higher than others? To stay as objective as possible, I rank all my book recommendations by a combination of what’s most loved (Goodreads rating), what’s most popular (Goodreads review count) and what’s delivered timelessly relevant advice (first publication date).

This isn’t just a whimsical list of my favourite people or their memoirs. It’s a crowdsourced collection of the best biographies ever published as decided by readers and biography lovers like you.

And if there’s a top biography you think I’ve missed off this list? I LOVE book recommendations so if there are great biographies, autobiographies or memoirs that you think deserve mentioning, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to include them in the next round of updates!

Until then, enjoy this list of best biographies…

THE 70 BEST BIOGRAPHIES OF ALL TIME

Here are the 70 best biographies of time, ranked and curated from my master list of hundreds of memoirs and books.

  1. Night (The Night Trilogy #1) (1958), Elie Wiesel
    115 pages. Rated 4.3 over 951,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), Malcolm X
    466 pages. Rated 4.3 over 194,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. The Complete Maus (1986), Art Spiegelman
    296 pages. Rated 4.6 over 131,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. Endurance (1959), Alfred Lansing
    Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
    282 pages. Rated 4.4 over 80,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), Maya Angelou
    289 pages. Rated 4.2 over 396,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. The Diary of a Young Girl (1947), Anne Frank
    283 pages. Rated 4.2 over 2,671,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. The Choice (1959), Edith Eger
    Embrace the Possible
    289 pages. Rated 4.6 over 24,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” (1985), Richard P. Feynman
    Adventures of a Curious Character
    391 pages. Rated 4.3 over 151,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. If This Is a Man • The Truce (1947), Primo Levi
    419 pages. Rated 4.6 over 14,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. Autobiography of a Yogi (1946), Paramahansa Yogananda
    520 pages. Rated 4.2 over 45,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Frederick Douglass
    432 pages. Rated 4.4 over 10,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. The Story of My Life (1902), Helen Keller
    240 pages. Rated 4.1 over 128,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. On Writing (2000), Stephen King
    A Memoir of the Craft
    320 pages. Rated 4.3 over 215,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Nelson Mandela
    656 pages. Rated 4.3 over 64,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. Wild Swans (1991), Jung Chang
    Three Daughters of China
    562 pages. Rated 4.3 over 88,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. The Power Broker (1974), Robert A. Caro
    Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
    1,344 pages. Rated 4.5 over 12,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. The Path to Power (1982), Robert A. Caro
    882 pages. Rated 4.4 over 16,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (1970), Rebecca Skloot
    370 pages. Rated 4.1 over 572,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. Totto-chan (1981), Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
    The Little Girl at the Window
    232 pages. Rated 4.3 over 22,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. Man’s Search for Meaning (2006), Viktor E. Frankl (FREE Summary)
    A gruelling and yet deeply liberating insight into they why behind each of our whats and hows – by holocaust survivor, psychologist and founder of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl.
    165 pages. Rated 4.4 over 376,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  21. The Glass Castle (2005), Jeannette Walls
    288 pages. Rated 4.3 over 882,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  22. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979), Edmund Morris
    780 pages. Rated 4.2 over 41,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  23. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Harriet Ann Jacobs
    176 pages. Rated 4.1 over 41,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  24. Desert Solitaire (1968), Edward Abbey
    337 pages. Rated 4.2 over 38,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  25. West with the Night (1942), Beryl Markham
    294 pages. Rated 4.2 over 29,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  26. Into Thin Air (1997), Jon Krakauer
    A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
    368 pages. Rated 4.2 over 385,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  27. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Frederick Douglass
    158 pages. Rated 4.0 over 90,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  28. Unbroken (2010), Laura Hillenbrand
    A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
    473 pages. Rated 4.4 over 747,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  29. The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath
    294 pages. Rated 4.0 over 577,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  30. The Last Lion (1983), William Manchester
    Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory 1874-1932
    992 pages. Rated 4.4 over 11,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  31. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1986), Martin Luther King Jr.
    400 pages. Rated 4.4 over 15,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  32. Persepolis (2000), Marjane Satrapi
    The Story of a Childhood
    153 pages. Rated 4.3 over 154,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  33. Black Like Me (1960), John Howard Griffin
    208 pages. Rated 4.1 over 58,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  34. Gandhi (1927), Mahatma Gandhi
    An autobiography
    528 pages. Rated 4.1 over 49,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  35. Seabiscuit (1999), Laura Hillenbrand
    An American Legend
    457 pages. Rated 4.2 over 141,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  36. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1958), Irving Stone
    776 pages. Rated 4.1 over 77,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  37. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt, #1) (1996), Frank McCourt
    452 pages. Rated 4.1 over 530,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  38. Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), Mitch Albom
    210 pages. Rated 4.1 over 764,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  39. What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988), Richard Feynman
    Further Adventures of a Curious Character
    288 pages. Rated 4.3 over 21,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  40. Team of Rivals (2005), Doris Kearns Goodwin
    The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
    916 pages. Rated 4.3 over 147,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  41. Up from Slavery (1900), Booker T. Washington
    256 pages. Rated 4.1 over 23,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  42. Travels with Charley (1962), John Steinbeck
    In Search of America
    214 pages. Rated 4.1 over 68,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  43. Surprised by Joy (1955), C.S. Lewis
    The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Lewis
    185 pages. Rated 4.1 over 48,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  44. A Moveable Feast (1964), Ernest Hemingway
    192 pages. Rated 4.0 over 114,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  45. The Last Lecture (2008), Randy Pausch
    217 pages. Rated 4.3 over 297,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  46. First They Killed My Father (2000), Loung Ung
    A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
    238 pages. Rated 4.4 over 32,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  47. Wind, Sand and Stars (1939), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    229 pages. Rated 4.2 over 12,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  48. Speak, Memory (1951), Vladimir Nabokov
    255 pages. Rated 4.2 over 11,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  49. Black Boy (1945), Richard Wright
    419 pages. Rated 4.1 over 46,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  50. My Early Life, 1874-1904 (1930), Winston S. Churchill
    396 pages. Rated 4.3 over 3,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  51. Born a Crime (2016), Trevor Noah
    Stories From a South African Childhood
    304 pages. Rated 4.5 over 355,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  52. Educated (2018), Tara Westover
    334 pages. Rated 4.5 over 724,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  53. The Boys in the Boat (2013), Daniel James Brown
    Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
    416 pages. Rated 4.4 over 213,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  54. Peter the Great (1980), Robert K. Massie
    His Life and World
    909 pages. Rated 4.2 over 13,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  55. Becoming (2018), Michelle Obama
    426 pages. Rated 4.5 over 506,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  56. Kon-Tiki (1948), Thor Heyerdahl
    240 pages. Rated 4.1 over 19,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  57. When Breath Becomes Air (2016), Paul Kalanithi
    208 pages. Rated 4.4 over 396,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  58. Alexander Hamilton (2004), Ron Chernow
    818 pages. Rated 4.2 over 119,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  59. A Beautiful Mind (1998), Sylvia Nasar
    461 pages. Rated 4.1 over 121,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  60. Into the Wild (1996), Jon Krakauer
    207 pages. Rated 4.0 over 861,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  61. Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau
    352 pages. Rated 3.8 over 152,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  62. Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850), Sojourner Truth
    80 pages. Rated 4.1 over 8,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  63. A Walk in the Woods (1997), Bill Bryson
    Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
    397 pages. Rated 4.1 over 340,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  64. The Color of Water (1996), James McBride
    A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
    291 pages. Rated 4.1 over 100,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  65. Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003), Tracy Kidder
    The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
    333 pages. Rated 4.2 over 69,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  66. Shoe Dog (2016), Phil Knight
    A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE
    386 pages. Rated 4.5 over 134,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  67. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791), Benjamin Franklin
    160 pages. Rated 3.8 over 66,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  68. Gifted Hands (1990), Ben Carson
    The Ben Carson Story
    224 pages. Rated 4.2 over 15,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  69. Kitchen Confidential (2000), Anthony Bourdain
    Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
    312 pages. Rated 4.1 over 218,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  70. Plutarch’s Lives (100), Plutarch
    Volume I
    766 pages. Rated 4.1 over 5,200 reviews on Goodreads.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

A

📚 What are some good biographies to read?

The top-ranked biographies on my list (and a good place to start) are Night (The Night Trilogy, #1), The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Complete Maus (graphic novel). For more ideas on some good biographies to read, check out the full list of the top 70 biography books of all time.

A

📚 What is the best selling autobiography of all time?

The best selling autobiography of all time is almost certainly The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. While there’s no actual data on best selling autobiographies, Anne’s diary is by far the most reviewed autobiography on F2M‘s list of the best biographies of all time, which makes it a likely contender. Other best selling autobiographies include Night (The Night Trilogy, #1) by Elie Wiesel and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

A

📚 What’s the best autobiography to read?

The top two books on this list – Night (The Night Trilogy, #1) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X – are both fantastic autobiographies. Other top-ranked options include famous autobiographies like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Want more ideas? Click here to read the full list of best biographies and autobiographies ever written.

A

📚 Why you should read biographies?

Biographies combine the life-wisdom and lessons you’d expect from nonfiction with the readability and storytelling you’d expect from a novel. They’re often easy to read and they’re a wonderful way to experience the world through the eyes of someone who may see and have experienced things very differently. Click here to check out my ranked list of the 70 best biographies of all time.

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Enjoyed this list of best biographies? You might also like…

II. Best Books Of All Time

These are the overall best books to read (by type).

III. Best Nonfiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best nonfiction books to read (by topic).

IV. Best Fiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best fiction books to read (by genre).

Or, you can read all my book recommendations.
Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a thinker and writer who helps people who want more from their lives learn to be more productive, find more balance and live life more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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  1. Stefan Sandström says:

    Of course I don’t agree with the order of the individual books in the lists, but that’s just me. However, the book that I think is the all time best biography isn’t even mentioned. Yet. Here goes: Marguerite Yourcenar’s amazing book: Memoirs of Hadrian. The story how she repeatedly tried to put it together from ~20 years of age over the years, until she finally got cancer and finally matured enough to write her masterpiece. Fantastic storytelling, history lesson and a deep dive into the psyche of men, all-in-one!

    • Arthur says:

      Hey Stefan.

      Memoirs of Hadrian is a wonderful book but it’s a novel (historical + philosophical fiction) rather than an accurate account of Hadrian’s life, which is why it doesn’t appear on this list.

      Thank you for the recommendation though. Keep them coming!

      Best, Arthur

  2. Chandler Kinney says:

    Fantastic job done. I just loved your work here. Lovely. I visited your blog for the first time.

    • Arthur says:

      Hey Svjetlana – I’ve got 239 suggestions on my biography long-list at the moment and neither of these gems was on there, thank you for suggesting them!

      I’ll add them in and let’s see if they make it onto the short-list with the next update 🤗

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