When each of us inevitably leaves this world, we unfortunately don’t leave much more than memories behind, and those are bound to fade away with time as well, until not even the memory of a memory remains. This has never boded well with the amount of self-importance we tend to give ourselves, and while we haven’t figured out immortality yet, we have been looking for ways to immortalize ourselves.
Statues, drawings and paintings were some of the most obvious choices, but they only reminded people of someone’s external appearance, and said nothing of their inner worlds. The next obvious choice was quite obviously literature, and the idea caught on like wildfire.
Countless people from all walks of life and time periods have sought to immortalize themselves or even others by writing true accounts of their lives, forever preserving the essence of their inner worlds on paper. I’ll be the first to admit not all biographies are equally interesting, there are some giving us unique and unprecedented insight into aspects of life or events in history we knew nothing about.
Below is a collection of biographies and memoirs which I believe to be not very well-written, but also exceptionally insightful about certain specific subjects and can be of interest to almost literally anyone on the planet.
Ben Macintyre has an evidently profound interest in the world of espionage, as evidenced by his large number of non-fiction books in the matter. In A Spy Among Friends, one of his bestselling books, he explores the life, relationships, thoughts and actions of Kim Philby, a British MI6 agent who spied for the Soviet Union for over three decades before being successfully extracted.
Ross King, while dabbling in fiction at times, seems to have made his greatest literary impacts in the realm of non-fiction, as he recently did once again with The Bookseller of Florence. Taking us back to the fifteenth century, it tells the true story of Vespasiano da Bisticci, known in his day as the king of the world’s booksellers and perhaps the greatest propagator of knowledge, ultimately setting Italy on the long road to the Enlightenment.
Larry Loftis is quickly becoming a voice worth listening to in the realm of biographies, and he has recently reinforced this notion further upon publishing The Princess Spy. Mixing small bits of inconsequential fiction with hard, cold facts, it recounts the life of Aline Griffith, a regular girl from suburban New York who really wanted to do her part and serve her country during World War II.
Patricia Lockwood had a childhood unlike most people, being even uncommon for the realm of religious upbringing. In her memoir titled Priestdaddy, Lockwood looks back on her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood which were strongly marked by her father, Greg Lockwood, a larger-than-life Catholic priest who defied all conventions.
Doris Payne is without a doubt one of the most unusual women one could hope to meet, boasting a six-decade long career as a notorious international jewel thief. Now almost ninety years old and still getting regularly convicted for theft, she has decided to write her autobiography to share her unique life story with the rest of the world. In Diamond Doris she recalls as much as she can from her life, showing her true face to all.
Julian Barnes has long ago distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually-stimulating authors of our times, and with The Man in the Red Coat he puts his talents to use once again, taking us to the heart of the Belle Epoque Paris. Through a journey on which we are guided by Samuel Pozzi, a pioneering gynecologist of his times, we make the acquaintance of the many remarkable people who populated the end of the 19th century, and the unexpected parallels drawn between this epoch and our own.
Marie Benedict is one of the many authors today who have decided to delve into the lesser-known pages of our history, and her most recent efforts have resulted in the publication of Lady Clementine. A biographical novel, it follows the story of Lady Clementine Churchill, the strong and ambitious wife to one of the nation’s most famous leaders. From saving her husband multiple times to forging on against the world’s expectations, her life was nothing if not extraordinary.
Karen Abbott has certainly found her niche in exploring the rich history the United States of America has to offer, and with The Ghosts of Eden Park she continues her journey by exploring the life of George Remus.
Somewhat overshadowed by Al Capone’s efforts, Remus was actually the first “King of the Bootleggers” in America during the earliest days of the prohibition, and his life ended up being far stranger than fiction.
Joseph Horace Greasley is one of countless veterans from the Second World War who haven’t let their experience and memories go to waste, writing his autobiography shortly before his passing titled Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?. In this book, the brunt of the focus is placed on his time spent as a prisoner of war in a German camp, and his hundreds of successful attempts to sneak out and meet with his love interest, and then back in with anything to help his comrades.
Holly George-Warren is an authority like few others when it comes to the storied yet short history of Rock & Roll, having dedicated a large portion of her life to studying the phenomenon. As such, who better than to write a profoundly-researched and intimate biography of Janis Joplin, the Queen of Rock & Roll? In Janis, George-Warren aims to show the legend not only as a counterculture icon filled with suffering, but also as a passionate artist and perfectionist musician who was, in the end, human like the rest of us.