Best Biography Books: 200 Books List

The best biography books give us the ability to take a peek inside another person’s life without being invasive while still maintaining our curiosity. It’s human nature to want to know more about stellar athletes, beautiful celebrities, and influential characters, which is why social media is as popular as it is. With an astounding number of biographies on the market, you can learn about anyone, from Rod Stewart to Carl Jung.

There’s something about biographies that is so satisfying, especially if you are a fan of a specific person or have always wondered what their life is like. For example, have you ever considered what it was like to be in a hair metal band in the ‘80s? Perhaps you wanted to know what it was like for an individual to work for a First Lady while living in the White House.

If there’s one thing to be said about the best biography books, it’s that it appeases every reader’s appetite. From sports personalities to YouTube vloggers, biographies can capture every demographic perfectly while still maintaining their informative nature. It truly is as if you are given an inside look into some of the most influential personalities in sociology, history, philosophy, politics, and popular culture.

Frequently, understanding a person and their character enables you to follow developments, decision-making, and, at times, better understand yourself in a positive light. You might find that you are more relatable to a particular individual than you had initially thought, which can help you to pave a new path in your life.

Alternatively, you can make immediate changes if you find that you are too relatable to a particular personality. It’s true when they say that to understand the importance of Amelia Earhart, for example, you must first understand the life of a woman in the 1900s.

The best biography books help to make it all possible, as you will be transported to any point in time to any country in the world and be able to learn. Some of the smartest people on the planet have bookshelves filled with biographies, and for a good reason, because you can always learn something new from them.

Best Biography Books

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer

The biographies have been useful, because I do think that there’s a tendency, understandable, to think that whatever’s going on right now is uniquely disastrous or amazing or difficult.
Barack Obama
Former USA President
Edison: A Biography

Edison: A Biography

Older biographies are better in my experience. This one is 50+ years old and that’s right in the sweet spot. It didn’t have to be trendy, it didn’t have to psychoanalyze, it didn’t have to be political correct or controversial. It just had to be a sweeping, conclusive picture of the man. Modern enough to be historically accurate, old enough to still have respect for ambition. No question, this is a big book but I learned a lot. For instance, I had no idea that Edison had been mostly deaf (and that that deafness fueled and improved many of his sound inventions). I didn’t know about his friendship with Henry Ford or what a shrewd businessman Edison was. If you like big biographies, read this.
Ryan Holiday
Founder/Brass Check
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.

A biography has to be really good to make read you all 800 pages. To me, this was one of those books. Since reading it earlier this year, I’ve since found out it is the favorite book of a lot of people I respect. I think something about the quality of the writing and the empathic understanding of the writer that the main lessons you would take away from someone like Rockefeller would not be business, but life lessons. In fact, when I went back through and took notes on this book, I filled out more cards for Stoicism than I did for Strategy, Business or Money. I found Rockefeller to be strangely stoic, incredibly resilient and, despite his reputation as a robber baron, humble and compassionate. Most people get WORSE as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. Rockefeller did neither of these things, he grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. Does that excuse the “awful” things that he did? Well, the things he did really weren’t that awful so yes. (By that I mean I’d certainly choose him over the robber barons of this age like Zuckerberg or Murdoch.)

Ryan Holiday
Founder/Brass Check
Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

The definitive biography of an industrial genius, philanthropist, and enigma. At the meeting in May of this year, Munger also mentioned the Mellon Brothers as people to study.
Charlie Munger
Vice Chairman/Berkshire Hathaway
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire

I knew nothing about Queen Victoria but Julia Baird does an amazing job of making her accessible and interesting–and captures just what life was like for a woman in the 19th century, even if she was a queen!
Ryan Holiday
Media Strategist, Author, Founder/Brass Check
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

Both Marc and Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, have read and recommended Neal Gabler's biography of Walt Disney.
Marc Andreessen
Co-Founder/Andreessen Horowitz
Washington: A Life

Washington: A Life

In terms of big biographies, Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington, Eric Romm’s biography of Seneca Dying Every Day (LOVED THIS) and Edmund Morris’ final biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Col. Roosevelt were all worth every page.
Ryan Holiday
Founder/Brass Check
Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

It’s unusual for modern biographies to be this good. It’s especially unusually for the subject of the biography to approach the biographer in the way that Steve Jobs did (thinking that he was the intellectual heir of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein). But despite those two things, this bio is and will likely forever be a classic. It shows Jobs at his best–determined, creative, prophetic–and at his worst–petty, selfish, tyrannical and vicious. You can learn just as much about what kind of leader you probably don’t want to be from this book as you can from anything else. That’s what is so strange about Jobs and this biography. You read it and you’re blown away and impressed but I think very few of us think: yeah, I want to be that guy. I want to treat my kids that way, I want to be obsessed with trivial design things that way, I want to hate that way, and so on. You admire him but you also see him as a tragic figure. That’s how you know that Isaacson did an amazing job with this book. TC mark
Ryan Holiday
Founder/Brass Check
Losing My Virginity

Losing My Virginity

I encourage you to read his autobiography “Losing My Virginity” as well as his book “Business Stripped Bare” if you haven’t gone through them yet. Uber-inspiring. For people who want to become Remarkable Entrepreneurs – and express their absolute best.
Robin Sharma
Founder/Sharma Leadership International
Grant

Grant

This is a good time for Ron Chernow’s fine biography of Ulysses S. Grant to appear… As history, it is remarkable, full of fascinating details sure to make it interesting both to those with the most cursory knowledge of Grant’s life and to those who have read his memoirs or any of several previous biographies… For all its scholarly and literary strengths, this book’s greatest service is to remind us of Grant’s significant achievements at the end of the war and after, which have too long been overlooked and are too important today to be left in the dark… As Americans continue the struggle to defend justice and equality in our tumultuous and divisive era, we need to know what Grant did when our country’s very existence hung in the balance. If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.
Bill Clinton
President/United States
Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein: His Life and Universe

I didn't read actually very many general business books, but I like biographies and autobiographies, I think those are pretty helpful. Actually, a lot of them aren't really business. [...] I also feel it’s worth reading books on scientists and engineers.
Elon Musk
Founder/SpaceX
Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has plunged into what must be an advance copy of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, who has written biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin. Isaacson’s biography is based on the Renaissance master’s personal notebooks, so you know we’re going to be taken into the creative mind of the genius.
Satya Nadella
CEO/Microsoft
Michael Jordan: The Life

Michael Jordan: The Life

Michael Jordan and Phil Knight, the Nike founder, two different biographies, those were great. See, Michael Jordan’s was really really quite good and doesn’t seem to get talked about as much but it’s nice and solid.
Yaro Starak
Founder/Entrepreneurs-Journey.com
Arthur Ashe: A Life

Arthur Ashe: A Life

As 2018 draws to a close, I’m continuing a favorite tradition of mine and sharing my year-end lists. It gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the year through the books I found most thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved. It also gives me a chance to highlight talented authors – some who are household names and others who you may not have heard of before. Here’s my best of 2018 list.
Barack Obama
Former USA President
Napoleon

Napoleon

I just finished Vincent Cronin’s book on Napoleon, a man who definitely needed better PR. Napoleon codified the laws for the first time in Europe. He was constantly limiting kings and other tyrants. He opened the ghettos and stopped religious discrimination. He was an extraordinary man who wrote a lot of laws himself. He was incredibly polite, generous almost to a fault, a remarkable person who was vilified. By who? The kings that he deposed — the kings of England, and the old king of France, and the kings of Prussia, and the Tsar of Russia — were all threatened by this man who was bringing democracy.

I think it’s interesting to read this book and look at Napoleon and see how history has treated him. Even the expression “Napoleon complex,” Napoleon was average height for a French person. The idea is just preposterous, treating maybe the most gifted man of the 19th century as some kind of despot. He was a liberator, a law-giver, and a man of incredible gifts. He never considered himself a soldier, he considered himself a politician, though he was probably the greatest general in all history.

It’s interesting to read about him for a couple of reasons: to see what one man of modest birth can do with his life, and to see how history can distort the truth entirely. The job of historians is often just that, to distort history, because history is based on fashion. So we’re changing American history all the time, whatever’s politically fashionable. The school districts decide they want to emphasize this person in history, and de-emphasize that person. It’s illuminating to understand that even history is based on fashion. Even morality — popular morality — is based on fashion. Real morality is based on reason, and never make the mistake between the two.

Larry Ellison
Co-Founder/Oracle