Biographies on My TBR

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Even as a history major, I didn’t read all that many biographies. They weren’t really assigned in any of my classes (for which I was already reading a lot of history), they’re usually pretty massive, and I was under the impression that they were all dry and boring. Fast forward a few (okay, more than a few) years, and I have discovered that I actually really enjoy biographies. My history professors would be proud. I’ve read quite a few lately – namely Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, and my current read, Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – and I’m definitely getting over my fear of big books about historical figures.

Today I thought I’d share some of the biographies currently on my TBR, because I haven’t read enough yet to do a recommendation post, but I’m excited to get to the ones on my list.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. I loved Hamilton, and am really fascinated by Washington, so I’m excited about this one. I’m hoping to get to it soon, because I am definitely in the mood for American history at the moment.

The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir. Weir is one of my favorite authors – both fiction and nonfiction – and a brilliant historian. I cannot believe I haven’t yet read a biography of Elizabeth I and I am definitely going with Weir’s when I do.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to a Walter Isaacson book, and I ended up reading one I didn’t even own. I have a few of his biographies, but haven’t read any of them yet. I think I want to read Einstein because I’ve realized that, as interested as I am by him, I know very little about Einstein.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. Cleopatra is one of those historical figures that everyone is familiar with, but is more often than not misrepresented in pop culture. (Did you know she was Greek, not Egyptian?) I am always up for learning more about powerful women in history, and Cleopatra is pretty high up on that list.

John Adams by David McCullough. McCullough is another author I haven’t yet read – shame! – and I still somehow ended up with TWO copies of this book. I’ve heard great things, and I do want to learn more about Hamilton’s political rival.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. This is another well-loved presidential biography that’s been sitting on my shelves for a while. I’m pretty curious about Jackson because he is arguably one of the worst US presidents of all time. (Though the man who hung Jackson’s portrait in the oval office is definitely giving him a run for his money.)

Alan Turing by Andrew Hodges. I almost forgot about this one! It’s been collecting dust on my shelf for years now – mostly because it is intimidatingly ginormous – but I still do want to read it. Turing’s story is both fascinating and sad, and I am definitely interested to find out more about him.

Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts. This is a fairly recent acquisition following my realization that I spent a full semester studying nothing but Eastern European history and remember pretty much nothing about Napoleon.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt. This was recommended by my Shakespeare professor in grad school, and I immediately went out and bought it and then proceeded to not read it. I love Shakespeare, and am curious to find out more about his life, because it’s really interesting.

I’m hoping to get to at least a couple of these this year (biographies take me a bit longer to get through than most books). But I am really looking forward to all of them.

I also need to add more biographies of women to my list, so send me recommendations! (To be fair, I have already read a few of the biographies of female figures that were on my list, which is why this list is predominantly male.) I’d love some recommendations for biographies of people of color as well. (I did just pick up a copy of Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire by Shane White, which looks pretty interesting.) I’ll read pretty much anything, so let me know if there are any biographies out there I need to get to.

24 thoughts on “Biographies on My TBR

      1. Oh, PS, my brother gave me a copy of the Einstein one. He says I have to read it as well as Einstein’s The Theory of Relativity. 🙂 I have the Da Vinci one on my TBR.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Aah I’m still reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography. I haven’t got very far through it but what I have read is so readable and I was pleasantly surprised by that since I don’t do well with history and dates and such. But it reads much more like a story so hopefully I’ll continue on with it.

    Stephen Greenblatt definitely comes highly recommended on Shakespeare and Renaissance Lit courses – I remember reading his Renaissance Self-Fashioning and Hamlet in Purgatory in particular and I found them really accessible although they were dealing with quite complex critical ideas. I’d hope his Will in the World would be just as accessible and I think I might need to add it to my TBR too now!

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    1. I really need to read it soon, it’s been sitting on my shelf for like two years now. I’ll let you know what I think when I finally get around to it.

      And I listened to the audiobook of Hamilton and it still took me almost three months to get through. I loved it, but it’s not an quick read. (I’m finding Isaacson’s bio of da Vinci a much easier read. It is brilliant.)

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    1. I really need to just read it soon! Maybe I’ll start it after I finish the da Vinci bio I’m currently in the middle of. I’ve owned it for way too long already. I’ll be sure to do a review once I’m done!


  2. I really want to read more biographies! You’ll have to update us on which of these you really enjoyed.

    I like to read biographies of evil people, for some reason. I’ve only read two in my life: one about Hitler and one about Lizzie Borden. I’m not sure what that says about me…

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    1. Those are always fun! I have biographies of both Putin and Rasputin on my shelves that I need to get to as well. (I literally just realized how similar their names are haha.) I love reading about Lizzie Borden, but I don’t think I’ve read an actual biography. That would be really interesting.

      If you’re looking to read more biographies, I loved the biographies of Queen Victoria by Mary Beard and Kate Williams, and I am currently obsessed with Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci. It’s really great!

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  3. Such an interesting post! I’ve always liked biographies but would find them daunting and so I would be reluctant to pick it up, but when I do I would really enjoy them! It’s been ages since I’ve picked one up, lately I’ve been gravitating more towards memoirs. A biography of a woman (sort of) that stuck to me was Bill & Hilary by Christopher Andersen that’s mostly about Bill and Hillary Clinton from when they met to several years ago.

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    1. I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately, too. That one sounds really interesting – I’ll have to check it out. I really enjoyed Hillary’s memoir about the election, so I might like that one, too. Thanks!

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  4. I’m definitely on a nonfiction kick lately. Husband took me to the bookstore for my birthday and I ended up with three NF titles. One is Stowaway (thanks for that!). I also got Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India by Kief Hillsbery which is basically a biography. Last was Bunk, but that’s not a bio.

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    1. Those sound really interesting! Definitely have to look into them. I’ve been on a nonfiction kick lately, too. I’ve been picking them up without really thinking about it, but that’s all I feel like reading at the moment.

      I hope you enjoy Stowaway!


  5. I adore biographies! The one you list on John Adams (by McCullough) is EXCELLENT. I bought a copy just so I could reread it. I think biographies are my favorite genre (of historical figures, as well as writers.) I also love memoirs from history.

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    1. They are definitely great reads! I also have a copy of The Civil War Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant I want to get to eventually. Good to hear you loved John Adams! I think that one’s pretty high up on my list.


          1. I thought it was extremely cool to read about the war through his eyes! It brought him to life for me. I never knew much about him. He struck me as blunt but kind, a little quiet and introverted, and extremely fair-minded. Also very calm (methodical) and intelligent. And he loved books! 🙂 I really enjoyed reading the part where he meets with Lee at Appomattox, near the end of the war. He also comments on Lincoln’s assassination: I liked his remarks there as well.

            Here are my brief notes from when I was reading:

            The battle descriptions are a little slow (for me), but they are written by GRANT, which adds some emphasis. I mean, he was there! But there’s a lot of other information in between, as well as his commentary throughout.

            Apparently Twain published them for him. He was dying and wanted to leave his family money to live on. So by the second half he was writing while very ill. Seems to me like a good man.

            My favorite scene is after the siege of Vicksburg. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    1. I do the same thing! It takes me at least a month to get through most biographies, so I tend to read a lot of other things in between.

      I actually found that Salem Witch trials book at the dollar bookstore, and I really want to read that one, too.


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