If you went to public school, at least in the United States, you’ve probably gotten an extremely brief look at some of the many, many significant historical figures that have popped up throughout human history. However, even the most thorough of professors can really only give a snapshot’s worth of attention to any given one. If you want the full story — or at least a more complete picture — you’re going to have to seek it out yourself.
One of the best, most convenient, and most educational options is by reading biographies. These tomes trend toward illuminating individuals, their stories, and their exploits on a much deeper level even than, say, biographical movies. And they represent some of the best ways to acquire a deeper understanding of any historical figure on a much more intimate level. And while it’s difficult to say that any collection of biographies is more deserving of being read than another, we’re pretty confident that our list represents at least a solid portion of the most worthwhile reads currently available. These are the 25 biographies that every man should read.
Editor’s Note: To the best of our knowledge, these are the correct prices at the time of writing. However, book prices are constantly in flux, sometimes wildly, and different formats often have vastly different prices, and they’re always changing. In fact, some of these books can even be had for no additional cost with a paid subscription to Audible. Just make sure you’re checking that you have the correct format of your choosing and that the pricing is acceptable before you buy.
My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla
To call this an autobiography isn’t a misnomer, but it might be a little misleading. That’s because this relatively short read is actually a collection of serialized essays written by Nikola Tesla for a periodical. That being said, it’s also one of the deepest insights to one of the most incredible minds that humanity has ever known. If you want to see what made Tesla tick, this is the tome for you.
Author: Nikola Tesla
A perfect counterpoint to Tesla, Edison was also brilliant — although his acumen comes more in the form of cutthroat business dealings than just purely scientific ventures. Regardless of how you feel about him, there’s no denying the impact that Thomas Alva Edison had on American culture and, more importantly, the development of modern technologies — many of which we still use to this day in some form or another. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris, this book is perhaps the best look at one of the most prolific inventors and businessmen in history.
Author: Edmund Morris
Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon
Even if you’re familiar with his body of work, there’s a lot more to the King of Cool than you might actually know. But you can acquire a much deeper understanding of this masculine movie, entertainment, and motorsport icon by reading Greg Laurie’s exceptional biography on the entertainer. From McQueen’s humble beginnings as the child of a single mother in 1930s Indiana to his eventual, tragic terminal cancer diagnosis and everything in-between, there simply isn’t a better book out there on this timeless, iconic figure.
Author: Greg Laurie & Marshall Terrill
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
The author of this book, David Goggins, is still the only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller. And that’s after he survived poverty, abuse, prejudice, and more. Long story short, his life is an example of both just how strong the human spirit is and how much someone can achieve with perseverance. And he’s distilled all those lessons and more into Can’t Hurt Me. Part autobiography and part inspirational self-help book, this tome is as inspirational as they get.
Author: David Goggins
Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson
It should be clear to anyone with even a modicum of familiarity with the man that Hunter S. Thompson was one of the most bizarre, dedicated, intelligent, and wild journalists of all time. Known for his somewhat unhinged lifestyle — marked by drug abuse, an affinity for firearms, and a unique approach to American freedom — Thompson took on everyone from the Hells Angels biker gang to big-name politicians and everyone in-between. And the only thing more interesting and off-kilter than his “Gonzo” style of journalistic immersion was his own personal life, which is documented tooth-and-nail in this must-read biography.
Author: Jann Wenner & Corey Seymour
Open: An Autobiography
Andre Agassi will go down in history as one of the best tennis players ever to step foot on the court. However, as is outlined in this autobiography, it wasn’t all trophies and medals. In his private life, Agassi resented his illustrious career — having been forced into it by his father at an early age. Not only is this an outstanding autobiography from cover to cover, but it offers intimate proof that success and, by extension, money and fame do not necessarily equal happiness.
Author: Andre Agassi
Guy Martin: My Autobiography
Guy Martin is a hell of a character from the world of motorsport, boasting a tremendous racing career and also gaining additional fame as a TV personality and presenter. However, in 2010, his career and, more importantly, his life almost ended when he crashed and his bike exploded during the final race of the Isle of Man TT. By some miracle, however, Martin survived and even rose back to prominence and the podium. This book is a deep dive into his story and, best of all, it’s told in his own words.
Author: Guy Martin
Ernest Hemingway: A Biography
It’s nearly impossible to have even a modicum of familiarity with American literature and not know the name Ernest Hemingway. In fact, he might be the most significant fiction author of our country’s entire history. Turns out his private life was nearly as exciting and interesting as his stories if this biography is to be believed. Called the “most fully faceted portrait of Hemingway now available” by The Washington Post, this book touches on some of the most intimate details of the tortured artist’s brief existence, and it should be on the bookshelf of anyone that calls themselves an aficionado of American authors.
Author: Mary Dearborn
Ali: A Life
Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, is one of the most recognizable figured in pop culture history and also happens to be one of the greatest boxers of all time. And while his life was certainly marked with tremendous athletic achievements, he also had to contend with an abundance of speedbumps and, often, complete roadblocks — including growing up in segregated Louisville, Kentucky, being labeled a draft-dodger during the Vietnam War, and eventually being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This might be the most definitive work on one of the greatest athletes and showmen ever to compete.
Author: Jonathan Eig
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
For the younger crowd, Steve Martin is probably best known as a comedic film star. But, back in the 1970s, he was the biggest star that stand-up comedy had ever seen. In fact, he drew bigger crowds than anyone in comedy history. But in 1981, he quit doing stand-up — ostensibly forever. While he’s since returned to the stage, albeit in a limited capacity and only a couple of times, this book tells the story of why he performed and why, without notice, he quit. It also happens to be one of the best-selling biographies of all time, which should speak to just how riveting it truly is.
Author: Steve Martin
Einstein: His Life and Universe
Albert Einstein is so synonymous with scientific intelligence that his name is used interchangeably with words like “smart” and “genius.” However, there was far more to this patent-clerk-turned-Nobel-Prize-winner than wild hair, chalkboards, and the Theory of Relativity. If you’ve ever wondered what made one of the most interesting minds in human history tick, you’ll certainly want to pick up this definitive biography — which benefits from knowledge acquired via personal letters to Einstein that were only recently uncovered.
Author: Walter Isaacson
I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but his importance to the game is far bigger than his athletic performances, as it was his entrance in the MLB that marked the end of segregated leagues around the globe. And while he’s now revered as a hero, his experiences while he was alive were a very different story. In Robinson’s own words, this book touches on everything from his early years — including becoming the first-ever our-letter athlete at UCLA — to his post-baseball life as a civil rights activist — when he sparked up friendships with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. If you love baseball and the USA, this isn’t a book to miss.
Author: Jackie Robinson & Alfred Duckett
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
Few people, if any truly exemplify the idea of the American Dream more than John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Chock-full of knowledge taken from Rockefeller’s own private papers, Ron Chernow has masterfully reconstructed the life and experiences of one of the most cutthroat and successful businessmen of American history. Whether you admire his unmatched drive or you’re just trying to get a better insight into the capitalist machine we’re all slaves to today, you’ll find answers in this tome. And you might just learn a thing or two about our collective culture via one of its most colorful, controversial figures in the process.
Author: Ron Chernow
Best Seat in the House: 18 Golden Lessons from a Father to His Son
There are many ways to garner knowledge from historical figures, ranging from piecemeal recreations of their lives via archival documents to self-told autobiographical tomes. However, few accounts are more intimate and personal than the tales told from their children’s perspective, which is what we are offered in Jack Nicklaus II’s Best Seat in the House . Framed through the sport that permeated his and his father’s life, this is a book about golf as much as it’s a book about love and family, passion and sport, and how they’re all sometimes at odds with one another. Even if you’re not familiar with the Golden Bear and his long, successful career, this is a book full of lessons worth heeding.
Author: Jack Nicklaus II & Don Yeager
Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend
The word “daredevil” is synonymous with the name Evel Knievel, at least in American culture. But, as is so often the case, the real man behind the red-white-and-blue caped jumpsuit was much more complicated and multifaceted than his canyon-jumping public persona. In fact, Knievel had a dark side that was often at odds with his life in the spotlight, which is all detailed in beautiful prose amongst the pages of this tome. There was nobody quite like Evel Knievel and there might never be again, but, whether that’s a good or bad thing, all you need to know and probably a bit more can be found in this masterfully-penned biography.
Author: Leigh Montville
When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi was so important to the development of American football and the NFL as an organization that the sport’s championship trophy to this day is still called the Lombardi. The man was such an imposing figure, in fact, that every football coach since has been judged by his example. Known for his work ethic, innovation, and — perhaps most surprisingly — his compassion for his players, Vince Lombardi was a giant of a man when he was alive and his stature has only increased in the time since his death. If you want to get to know this man, myth, and legend, this book needs to be on your shelf.
Author: David Maraniss
My Brief History
When speaking of sheer intellect, Einstein’s name is usually followed by a mention of this man, Stephen Hawking. And while his rise to academic prominence and worldwide fame is certainly interesting, it is also bookended by what some might call tragedy in the form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This book charts that journey from boyhood in postwar London to how his life changed after his diagnosis and everything in between, this is the perfect companion piece to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, especially for those who already appreciate his contributions to science.
Author: Stephen Hawking
Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last
Old Rip Van Winkle distillery produces some of the most sought-after bourbons on the planet. But the label wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for Julian Van Winkle III and his family. This book tells the story of how the aforementioned man “fought to protect his family’s heritage and preserve the taste of his forebears.” And if you’ve ever enjoyed even a single sip of Pappy Van Winkle, it’s a story you should know. For those that appreciate whiskey, especially American varieties, this is a must-read.
Author: Wright Thompson
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
What’s really interesting about Steve Jobs, at least in part, is how much of a household name he became when, in truth, most people know very little about this prolific businessman apart from his involvement as the mad genius behind Apple — or at least the Apple we know today. Well, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about what makes an enigma like Jobs tick, this book is easily the best method for obtaining said information. Based on over 40 interviews with the man himself — as well as interviews with over 100 family members, friends, colleagues, and even rivals — this is the definitive book on the turtleneck-wearing tech guru.
Author: Walter Isaacson
Empire of the Summer Moon
Indigenous history is American history, period. And to really understand the United States, understanding the people that were here before our country was even an idea is not only a good idea, it’s something we’d love to see better integrated into public schooling on a widespread basis. And while a single book isn’t going to do the trick, it’s definitely a start — especially because this book tells the story of chief Quanah Parker, as well as the rise and fall of the Commanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. If you think you know all there is to know about US history and you haven’t read this book, it’s time to reconsider that stance.
Author: S. C. Gwynne
A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
Edward I is probably best known, at least in popular culture, as the brutal tyrant that faced off against the noble William Wallace in Braveheart. And while we wouldn’t exactly call Edward a good man, the western world as we know it probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for this complicated ruler. That’s because facing off with the Scots was actually the end of Edward I’s campaign to unite all of Britain under a single flag — meaning he helped create the UK as we know it today. He’s no hero, to be sure, but he’s also not the villain we’ve all come to believe he is — or at least he’s a good deal more complex and important than we’ve been led to believe.
Author: Marc Morris
Churchill: Walking with Destiny
Clocking in at over 1,000 pages, Churchill: Walking with Destiny is the most densely packed biography on our entire list. However, it’s the appropriate length for a historical figure as multifaceted and complicated as Winston Churchill. After all, it was Churchill’s leadership that helped England survive the Blitz to go on and help win WWII for the Allies. If you have an appreciation for war and/or political history, this is a tome worth investing your time in — and you might just garner a greater appreciation for the cigar-smoking, smart-mouthed Prime Minister that protected the UK from the nazis.
Author: Andrew Roberts
Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography
Technically, this book doesn’t come out for another week — and while that might be jumping the gun, we have plenty of reason for including it on this list. For starters, this book was created to celebrate the life and influence of perhaps the most prolific and significant modern culinary and travel journalist, Anthony Bourdain — who we lost to suicide in 2018. But, more importantly, it was penned by Laurie Woolever, Bourdain’s longtime collaborator (she even worked with him on his best-selling cookbooks), and is comprised of stories and recollections as shared by his closest friends and colleagues. And who better to illuminate such a man’s significance than those who were most immediately affected by him?
Author: Laurie Woolever
Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings
Though the majority of the biographies on our list are from people that lived closer to our time, there are some figures from history that, regardless of how much time has passed since their life, are too big and significant to ignore. Miyamoto Musashi is one such figure, a prolific Japanese ronin (a masterless, wandering samurai) whose writings — specifically The Book of Five Rings — are still used in business strategy to this day. Known as an unmatched duelist, the inventor of a two-sword fighting style, and one of the most thoughtful swordsmen ever, Musashi’s story is one that needs to be read to be believed.
Author: Kenji Tokitsu
The World of Charles and Ray Eames
It could be said that good design speaks for itself. And while that might be true, it belittles the people behind some of the greatest designs of all time and, in our opinion, the two simply cannot be separated. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the works of Charles and Ray Eames, as outlined in this tome. Not only does this book touch on the couple’s most significant creations, including the legendary Eames Lounge, but it also illuminates their lives as humans and beautifully illustrates their long and loving relationship as husband and wife. For lovers of design, this is probably the most important biography on our list.
Author: Su Blackwell
The 50 Best Adventure Books Of All Time
Some tales worth reading are true stories. Others are fiction. Regardless of which you prefer — fact or fiction — there are plenty of tomes to help get your blood pumping and adrenaline rushing on our list of the best adventure books of all time.
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