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The 20 Best Biographies of All Time

Get more motivation from the life stories of beloved celebrities, CEOs, politicians, activists, and many more

We see them on the movie screens, read about them in articles, and hear the latest news from their lives on TV. However, there is a unique and inspiring story behind every famous person we know. Their success is not something that appeared out of nowhere. In most cases, there were blood, sweat, and tears on their path before getting to the point they are at now.

From this book list, you will find out more about the best biographies of all time. If every single one of them wakes up a major interest in you, don’t worry. On the Headway app, you will find summaries of all these titles that you can read in just 15 minutes!

Ready to get to know these remarkable people better? Let’s start!

1. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Alright, alright, alright. Some people may doubt that an autobiographical title written by an Academy Award-winning actor is worth reading. Yet this is hardly the case. McConaughey’s Greenlights is the #1 New York Times bestseller, one of the best biography books, and simply an exceptional read.

Matthew’s title is a story of a successful man looking back at his life, revising what he’s learned, and buying a one-way ticket to the… desert? Yes, that’s correct. And it inspired McConaughey to write this book with his insights on living, career, happiness, and other crucial topics. It’s an honest narrative that doesn’t try to hide the ugly parts while celebrating all the best ones. That’s what human life consists of, after all.

2. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

We stan for Kamala Harris. This woman made history as the first female, Asian-American, and black VP of the USA. Her book The Truths We Hold is not just the best biography to read in the current day and age. It is also Kamala’s personal story intertwined with deep thoughts and advice on politics, society, justice, and more.

From this title, you will learn what it takes to become and stay a leader and, ultimately, be a better individual. Even more, this read will also be perfect for parents as they will find actionable tips on how to raise a leading child. Enough of spoilers though, better check it out yourself!

3. Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peter Petre

Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Ex-bodybuilder and governor of California, actor, businessman. Yes, it’s all about Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s why there is hardly one person who doesn’t know his name.

If you’ve ever wondered how one person is capable of combining many different talents, it’s a good idea to read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book. Total Recall is more than one of the best sports biographies. Deep and transparent, his story can serve as an inspiration for most of us. The title unfolds it all! From a childhood in Austria (yes, Arnie is actually Austrian) to winning Mr. Olympia, becoming a huge Hollywood hit, and serving as a politician for seven years. It seems like there is no reason to tell this bestseller, ‘I’ll be back.’

4. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

One of the greatest minds of the 21st century and a maker of unusual baby names… Yes, you’re right. We are about to talk about Elon Musk. His life path has been filled with surprising facts and inspirational deeds. And innovations that Elon Musk is trying to implement into our everyday life may seem unrealistic, yet they are already on their way.

It is no wonder that many people want to find out more about this entrepreneur and one of the most outstanding modern visionaries. And in this case, Ashlee Vance’s book about Elon Musk’s life and work will be the best biography to read. In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, you will find everything you’ve been curious about before. ‘To infinity and beyond!’

5. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb

When she was only 15, she proved to have more bravery inside her soul than most adults. Back in 2012, she stood up for Pakistani female rights and was almost shot dead by the Taliban. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, and she is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

We wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard of Malala’s story back in time. After all, it’s something that doesn’t happen every day. And, of course, this shocking event can teach us all a lot about staying true to yourself and your ideals. I Am Malala is the book that will reveal all the insides of this brilliant Pakistani girl’s life. We can all agree on it being one of the best biographies of all time. At the very least because it enlightens on human rights from the most nerve-wracking perspectives.

6. Me: Elton John Official Biography by Elton John

The story of Me begins with a suburban boy named Reginald Dwight and eventually gets to one of the best-selling music artists of all time — Elton John. That name you have heard of, right? And it’s no wonder, considering what this British icon has accomplished. Truly, it is impossible to give a quick recap of his life, which would easily make up a series of movies.

More than 4000 concerts since 1969, drug addiction and getting clean, his very own AIDS foundation, dancing with the Queen. Sir Elton John is indeed a phenomenon, and his book turned out accordingly. What makes Me one of the best biographies to read is its absolute candor and self-irony. Not only does the author share the most painful moments of his life, but he also holds himself accountable for all the wrongdoings. This autobiography is like a breath of fresh air and needs to be checked out by everyone.

7. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Being one of the most polarizing influential figures of our time, Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder, is someone you either love or hate. On the one hand, you get his questionable approaches towards relationships. And on the other, a pivotal revolution he caused in both the technology and entertainment industries. And how can such a life story not result in a captivating read?

Written by Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs has been one of the best-selling biographies ever since it came out in 2011. The book unveils what price one has to pay to stay at the top of the game in the tech field. Besides, Walter Isaacson doesn’t leave out the ugly details of the Apple CEO’s strive for excellence. For example, how Jobs would request from his team a thousand different variants of white and yet would not be satisfied with them. That and many other details in the book illustrate what it takes to be innovative and demanding in the XXI century. And for that, Steve Jobs is a must-read for every perfectionist and entrepreneur out there.

8. Invent & Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos by Jeff Bezos, Walter Isaacson

Garage startups have become somewhat a cliché at this point. But when they turn into multi-billion dollar companies, the skepticism goes away. That is the journey that Amazon took, thanks to Jeff Bezos — the founder of this e-commerce giant.

As of 2021 (according to Forbes), Bezos is the richest person in the whole world. Luck, you may say? Not nearly so. He contributes his success to hard work, a specific mindset, and time-proven strategies. And if you are eager to tap into his invaluable expertise, Invent & Wander got that covered. Ultimately, it is one of the best business biographies nowadays. The book has collected Jeff’s shareholder letters, speeches, interviews that fully captured his growth as a brilliant entrepreneur. Throughout the reading, you will discover what it takes to become a successful business owner and, finally, what let Jeff Bezos build his multinational conglomerate.

9. Unfinished: A memoir by Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Calling Priyanka Chopra Jonas a remarkable woman would be an understatement, even. For example, Forbes has put her into the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, making her the first Indian to appear in the listing. And deservedly so — she is the Miss World 2000, an astonishing actress, producer, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

Priyanka’s path from childhood in India, moving to the US, where she had become a victim of racism to worldly success, made up an inspirational memoir. Unfinished is not just a compilation of personal stories and insights and one of the best biography books. It is also a manifesto to every girl out there doubting her abilities.

10. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Not only is Becoming undoubtedly one of the best biographies of women, but it is also one of Essence’s 50 most impactful black books of the past 50 books. Michelle Obama is the name known worldwide — eight years of service as the First Lady of the United States did the trick. But her life is full of other sensational accomplishments that make her the ultimate American woman icon.

Michelle started her early years on the South Side of Chicago and then secured a notable law career before getting to the White House. Becoming is a vulnerable, humorous, heart-warming, and motivational story of one woman who managed to have it all. And, more importantly, who wasn’t afraid to share how many failures and downfalls it took.

11. Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb

Nowadays, mental health is a hot topic, and each day we become more and more aware of its importance. However, if we rewound time a couple of decades ago, it was not the case back then. Any psychological problems were heavily stigmatized and, therefore, were not brought up much. But as of now, we are learning more about various mental illnesses that have affected beloved historical figures.

The best biography on that matter would be Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder. A health and science journalist Claudia Kalb scrutinized theories of Albert Einstein’s autism, Frank Lloyd’s narcissism, Marilyn Monroe’s borderline personality disorder, Charles Darwin’s anxiety, and many more. Having studied these claims and stories of great names in history, the author provides a new perspective on mental issues. And, as a side effect, Claudia lets us feel not alone with our psychological struggles. After googling ’biography best books,’ Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder might not be what you have expected to find. But who said it’s not one of them?

12. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr., Ph.D.

One of the best biographies of all time is the one that followed the famous ‘I have a dream.’ A year before being assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his final masterpiece. Where Do We Go from Here covers the eternal dilemmas of the civil rights movement, the future of America, and the author’s political ideas. His words and thoughts manage to strike a chord even half a century after and will do so for generations. Thus, it is crucial for any person who believes in equality to read this ever-green classic.

13. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

Just as Disney’s royals characters have titles, the same goes for the company’s CEO Robert Iger. His labels have nothing to do with crowns, but they describe him as one of the 100 Most Influential People (Times, 2019) and one of the World’s Most Powerful People (Forbes, 2018). Impressive, right? Even more so, Iger stepped into the role of CEO at Disney during its most struggling time and turned it into the largest media company in the world.

In the book The Ride of a Lifetime, the author shares all his life lessons and core principles for running a successful company. Topping the list of best-selling biographies, this title unveils the strategies of one of the most outstanding CEOs of our era. And that is a reason big enough to give The Ride of a Lifetime a read.

14. That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea by Marc Randolph

Many of us struggle to choose between reading a book and binging that one TV show on Netflix. For that case, we have a perfect compromise! That Will Never Work is just as binge-worthy, for it offers a backstage look at what brought Netflix its colossal success.

This memoir of the company’s co-founder Marc Randolph reveals their brilliant business strategies and answers rather philosophical questions. For example, should you leap into the unknown when you have nothing but an idea and passion? How to survive the failures? And, more importantly, how to survive success? All that and even more is in That Will Never Work, one of the best biographies of all time.

15. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

As for the best historical biographies, A Woman of No Importance is a definite leader. It is a riveting story of Virginia Hall, an undercover American spy who has done her part in helping win World War II. Being named ‘the most dangerous of all Allied spies,’ Virginia ran extensive spy networks, freed swathes of France from Nazis, and accomplished dozens of other heroic acts in spite of her prosthetic leg.

A Woman of No Importance is that type of book to grip you from the very beginning and not let go till the very last page. And what may be even more heart-wrenching is the realization that you are reading not someone’s figment of imagination. Because it was, in fact, someone’s reality which contributed to making the world a more peaceful place.

16. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

According to Bill Gates, who labeled Shoe Dog as one of his favorite reads in 2016, ‘Phil Knight opens up in ways few CEOs are willing to do.’ Indeed, the memoir of Nike’s creator is genius due to its vulnerable candor. The title sheds light on all the hurdles the company had to overcome before becoming one of the most profitable brands in the world. And even five years after publication, Shoe Dog is firmly set in the Goodreads’ list of ‘best biographies 2021’ due to its ever-relevant entrepreneurial tips.

17. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

A narrative that started with a goal to commemorate his deceased sister led Greg Mortenson to build schools in Pakistan and embark on one of the most significant charitable journeys. His memoir Three Cups of Tea is a breath of fresh air in a world rife with conflicts. What makes it one of the most popular biographies is its hopefulness which is perfectly manifested in Greg’s devotion to his peace-oriented ideals. In the long run, Three Cups of Tea shows everyone that even regular people like Mortenson can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it.

18. More Myself: A Journey by Alicia Keys, Michelle Burford

This girl is on fire! And as you may have guessed, it is Alicia Keys in question. Apart from becoming a world-renowned music artist, she has struggled with self-acceptance, people-pleasing, complicated family relationships, and having her private life under a society’s microscope.

As one of the best new biographies, Alicia’s book tells her journey as an artist, along with personal obstacles everyone can relate to. However_, More Myself_ is not just a life narrative of a music icon. It is also a wellspring of heartfelt insights that will find their way to your heart.

19. My Inventions by Nikola Tesla

One of the most revolutionizing inventors of all time, an indisputable genius, and the one whom you got to thank for not having to use candles every evening. Nikola Tesla is the name to be remembered for centuries due to his breakthroughs in the electricity field.

And we can commemorate this visionary by learning more about his achievements and what led to them. For that matter, My Inventions is a perfect match while also being one of the best biography books. This title will gift you contemplations on his greatest discoveries, a glimpse into Nikola’s early years, and his first steps on the scientific path.

20. Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography by Bear Grylls

Despite being autobiographical, Mud, Sweat, and Tears feels like blood-curdling adventurous fiction. And it’s not because Bear Grylls is a stickler for literary embellishments — for him, it is everyday life. As a star of the TV series Man vs. Wild, where he was put into dangerous settings to remain alive, the author became a survivor by profession.

Finally, Bear’s thrilling escapades alongside his life revelations got together in his book. An instant bestseller, Mud, Sweat, and Tears, quickly became one of the top biographies of today. So if you are looking for a fascinating read overflowing with adrenaline, this title will meet your expectations.

We can bet that now you must have found the best biography to serve your reading needs! And, of course, all these stories deserve admiration. However, there are more than 7.6 billion people on this planet. And the path of every individual is filled with something worth sharing with the whole world. It’s time to make your life remarkable. Go for it!

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