new books autobiography

15 Memoirs and Biographies to Read This Fall

New autobiographies from Jemele Hill, Matthew Perry and Hua Hsu are in the mix, along with books about Martha Graham, Agatha Christie and more.

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By John Williams ,  Joumana Khatib ,  Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter

  • Published Sept. 8, 2022 Updated Sept. 15, 2022

Solito: A Memoir , by Javier Zamora

When he was 9, Zamora left El Salvador to join his parents in the United States — a dangerous trek in the company of strangers that lasted for more than two months, a far cry from the two-week adventure he had envisioned. Zamora, a poet, captures his childhood impressions of the journey, including his fierce, lifesaving attachments to the other people undertaking the trip with him.

Hogarth, Sept. 6

A Visible Man: A Memoir , by Edward Enninful

The first Black editor in chief of British Vogue reflects on his life, including his early years as a gay, working-class immigrant from Ghana, and his path to becoming one of the most influential tastemakers in media.

Penguin Press, Sept. 6

Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman , by Lucy Worsley

Not many authors sell a billion books, but Christie’s nearly 70 mysteries helped her do just that. Born in 1890, she introduced the world to two detectives still going strong in film adaptations and elsewhere: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Her life even included its own mystery, when she vanished for 11 days in 1926 . Worsley, a historian, offers a full-dress biography.

Pegasus Crime, Sept. 8

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands , by Kate Beaton

This graphic memoir follows Beaton, a Canadian cartoonist, who joins the oil rush in Alberta after graduating from college. The book includes drawings of enormous machines built to work the oil sands against a backdrop of Albertan landscapes, boreal forests and northern lights.

Drawn and Quarterly, Sept. 13

Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir , by Jann S. Wenner

In 2017, Joe Hagan published “Sticky Fingers,” a biography of Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine. Now Wenner recounts his life in his own words, offering an intimate look at his time running the magazine that helped to change American culture.

Little, Brown, Sept. 13

Stay True: A Memoir , by Hua Hsu

A New Yorker staff writer reflects on a life-changing college friendship cut short by tragedy. Hsu — interested in counterculture, zines and above all music — seemed to have little in common with Ken, a Dave Matthews Band-loving fraternity brother, with the exception of their Asian American heritage. In spite of their differences, they forged a close bond; this is both a memoir of their relationship but also Hsu’s journey to adulthood as he makes sense of his grief.

Doubleday, Sept. 27

Wild: The Life of Peter Beard: Photographer, Adventurer, Lover , by Graham Boynton

A biography of the photographer Peter Beard, who had a fondness for risk, drugs and beautiful women. Boynton, a journalist and author, was a friend of Beard’s for more than 30 years.

St. Martin’s, Oct. 11

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir , by Paul Newman

When Newman and his iconic blue eyes died in 2008, the actor left behind taped conversations about his life, which he had put together with hopes of writing his life story. Now, with the participation of Newman’s daughters, the transcripts have been turned into this book, which sees Newman on his early life, his troubles with drinking and his shortcomings as a husband and parent, as well as his decorated career.

Knopf. Oct. 18

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman

Rickman, the English stage and screen actor who died in 2016, was famous for his roles in “Die Hard,” the Harry Potter movies, “Love Actually” and many other films. He kept a diary for 25 years, about his work, his political activism, his friendships and other subjects, and they promise to be “anecdotal, indiscreet, witty, gossipy and utterly candid.”

Henry Holt, Oct. 18

README.txt: A Memoir , by Chelsea Manning

Manning, a former Army analyst, shared classified documents about the U.S. military’s operations in Iraq with WikiLeaks. In this memoir, she explores her childhood and what drew her to the armed services, her eventual disillusionment with the military and her life as a trans woman.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Oct. 18

The White Mosque: A Memoir , by Sofia Samatar

Samatar, a novelist, turns to nonfiction in this complex work combining religious and personal history. Raised in the United States, the daughter of a Swiss-Mennonite and a Somali-Muslim, Samatar recounts her life while relating a pilgrimage she undertook retracing the route of German-speaking Mennonites who founded a village in Central Asia in the 1800s.

Catapult, Oct. 25

Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern , by Neil Baldwin

The biographer Baldwin’s eclectic list of subjects has included William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Here he turns his attention to Martha Graham, the American choreographer who revolutionized modern dance and founded her own company, which is still going strong, in 1926.

Knopf, Oct. 25

Uphill: A Memoir , by Jemele Hill

Hill, now a contributing writer at The Atlantic, rose to fame as a TV anchor on ESPN. Her memoir covers the time in 2017 when ESPN suspended her (she had criticized the politics of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, and had called President Trump a white supremacist). But the book offers a much broader canvas that includes her upbringing in Detroit and the trauma of generations of women in her family.

Henry Holt, Oct. 25

Friends, Lovers and the Terrible Thing: A Memoir , by Matthew Perry

Perry, who played Chandler Bing on “Friends,” has been candid about his substance abuse and sobriety. In this memoir, he returns again to discussions of fame and addiction, but also reaches back to his childhood.

Flatiron, Nov. 1

I Want to Die, but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: A Memoir , by Baek Sehee. Translated by Anton Hur.

A best seller in South Korea, Baek’s memoir recounts her struggles with depression and anxiety, told through discussions with her therapist, which she recorded over a 12-week period. The therapy sessions are interspersed with short essays that explore her self-doubt and how feelings of worthlessness were reinforced by sexism.

Bloomsbury, Nov. 1

Elizabeth A. Harris writes about books and publishing for The Times.  More about Elizabeth A. Harris

Alexandra Alter writes about publishing and the literary world. Before joining The Times in 2014, she covered books and culture for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she reported on religion, and the occasional hurricane, for The Miami Herald. More about Alexandra Alter

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The Best Memoirs of 2023

These ten books explore what it means to be a person..

new books autobiography

The beauty of memoir is its resistance to confinement: We contain multitudes, so our methods of introspection must, too. This year’s best memoirs perfectly showcase such variety. Some are sparse, slippery — whole lives pieced together through fragmented memories, letters to loved ones, recipes, mythology, scripture. Some tease the boundary between truth and fiction. Others elevate straightforward narratives by incorporating political theory, philosophy, and history. The authors of each understand that one’s life — and more significantly, one’s self — can’t be contained in facts. After all, the facts as we remember them aren’t really facts. It’s their openness and experimentation that allow, at once, intimacy and universality, provoking some of our biggest questions: How does a person become who they are? What makes up an identity? What are the stories we tell ourselves, and why do they matter? These books might not spell out the answers for you, but they’ll certainly push you toward them.

10. Hijab Butch Blues , by Lamya H

new books autobiography

NYC-based organizer Lamya H (a pseudonym) has described her memoir as “unapologetically queer and unapologetically Muslim .” What this looks like is a book that isn’t so much grappling with or reconciling two conflicting identities, but rather lovingly examining the ways each has supported and strengthened the other. Lamya provides close, queer readings of the Quran, drawing connections between its stories and her own experiences of persecution as a brown girl growing up in an (unnamed) Arab country with strict colorist hierarchies. Beginning with her study of the prophet Maryam — whose virgin pregnancy and general rejection of men brings a confused 14-year-old Lamya real relief during Quran class — Lamya draws on various religious figures to track her political, spiritual, and sexual coming of age, jumping back and forth in time as she grows from a struggling child into a vital artist and activist.

9. Better Living Through Birding , by Christian Cooper

new books autobiography

On May 25, 2020, birder Christian Cooper was walking the Central Park Ramble when he asked a white woman on the same path to leash her dog. She refused, he started recording, and after both he and his sister posted the video on social media , the whole world saw her call 911 and falsely claim that an African American man was threatening both her and her dog. Cooper quickly found himself at the center of an urgent conversation about weaponized whiteness and police brutality against Black men in the U.S., amplified by another devastating video circulating that same day: George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Many will pick up Cooper’s memoir for his account of the interaction that captured international attention and forever changed his life — and it is a powerful, damning examination — but it is far from the main event. By the time it shows up, Cooper has already given us poignant recollections of growing up Black and gay (and in the closet) in 1970s Long Island, a loving analysis of science fiction, a behind-the-scenes look at the comic-book industry as it broke through to the mainstream, and most significantly, an impassioned ode to and accessible education on recreational birding. (The audiobook comes with interstitial birdsong!) Recalling his time at Harvard, Cooper turns repeatedly to his love of his English classes, and this background comes through in his masterful writing. An already prolific writer in the comic-book space, his memoir marks his first (and hopefully not last) foray into the long-form territory.

8. Love and Sex, Death and Money , by McKenzie Wark

new books autobiography

McKenzie Wark is one of the sharpest, most exciting voices writing at the intersections of capitalism, community, gender, and sex — more broadly, everything in this title — and she is also criminally underread. In her epistolary memoir Love and Sex … , she looks at a lifetime of transitions — journeys not only through her gender, but also politics, art, relationships, and aging — and reflects on all the ways she has become the woman she is today, in letters to the people who helped shape her. Wark’s first letter is, fittingly, directed to her younger self. She acknowledges their infinite possible futures and that, in this way, this younger Wark on the brink of independence is the one most responsible for setting her on the path to this specific future. In theory, it’s a letter to offer clarity, even guidance, to this younger self, but really it’s a means of listening to and learning from her. Her letters to mothers, lovers, and others are as much, if not more, about Wark as they are about the recipients, but that self-reflection doubles as a testament to the recipients’ power. What comes across most strongly is Wark’s belief in ongoing evolution and education, and it’s hard not to leave inspired by that possibility.

7. A Man of Two Faces , by Viet Thanh Nguyen

new books autobiography

Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir maintains the singular voice of his fiction: audacious, poetic, self-aware. Written in nonlinear second-person stream of consciousness — its disjointedness represented on the page by paragraphs volleying from left to right alignment across the page — A Man of Two Faces recounts his life as a Vietnamese refugee in the U.S. When his family moves from wartime Vietnam to San Jose, California, 4-year-old Nguyen is placed in a different sponsor home than the rest of his family. The separation is brief, but it sets a tone of alienation that continues throughout his life — both from his parents, who left their home in pursuit of safety but landed in a place with its own brand of violence, and from his new home. As he describes his journey into adulthood and academia, Nguyen incorporates literary and cultural criticism, penetrating analyses of political history and propaganda, and poignant insights about memory and trauma.

6. Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere , by Maria Bamford

new books autobiography

It’s safe to say alt-comedian Maria Bamford’s voice isn’t for everyone. Those who get her anti-stand-up stand-up get it and those who don’t, don’t. Her absurdist, meta series Lady Dynamite revealed the work of a woman learning to recognize and love her brilliant weirdness, and in Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult , she channels that weirdness into a disarmingly earnest, more accessible account of both fame and mental illness. Centered on Bamford’s desperate pursuit of belonging, and the many, often questionable places it’s led her — church, the comedy scene, self-actualization conferences, 12-step groups, each of which she puts under the umbrella of the titular “cults” — Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult is egoless, eye-opening, uncomfortable, and laugh-out-loud funny. These are among the best qualities — maybe even prerequisites — of an effective mental-illness memoir, and Bamford’s has earned its keep in the top tier. If you’re thinking of skipping it because you haven’t connected with Bamford’s work before: don’t.

5. In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation , by Isabel Zapata

new books autobiography

In Isabel Zapata’s intimate, entrancing memoir In Vitro , the Mexican poet brazenly breaks what she calls “the first rule of in vitro fertilization”: never talk about it. Originally published in Spanish in 2021, and with original drawings woven throughout, In Vitro is a slim collection of short, discrete pieces. Its fragments not only describe the invasive process and its effects on her mind and body, but also contextualize its lineage, locating the deep-seated draw of motherhood and conception, analyzing the inheritances of womanhood, and speaking directly to her potential child. All together, it becomes something expansive — an insightful personal history but also a brilliant philosophical text about the very nature of sacrifice and autonomy.

4. The Night Parade , by Jami Nakamura Lin

new books autobiography

When Jami Nakamura Lin was 17 years old, she checked herself into a psych ward and was diagnosed bipolar. After years experiencing disorienting periods of rage, the diagnosis offers validation — especially for her historically dismissive parents — but it doesn’t provide the closure that mainstream depictions of mental illness promise. In The Night Parade , intriguingly categorized as a speculative memoir, Lin explains that if a story is good, it “collapses time”; in other words, it has no beginning or end. Chasing this idea, Lin turns to the stories of her Japanese, Taiwanese, and Okinawan heritage, using their demons, spirits, and monsters to challenge ideas of recovery and resituate her feelings of otherness. Intertwined in this pursuit is her grappling with the young death of her father and the birth of her daughter after a traumatic miscarriage. Extensively researched — citing not only folklore but also scholars of history, literary, and mythology — and elevated by her sister Cori Nakamura Lin’s lush illustrations, The Night Parade is both an entirely new perspective on bipolar disorder and a fascinating education in mythology by an expert who so clearly loves the material. It might be Lin’s first book, but it possesses the self-assurance, courage, and mastery of a seasoned writer.

3. Doppelganger , by Naomi Klein

new books autobiography

After the onset of the COVID pandemic, as the U.S. devolved into frenzied factions, sociopolitical analyst Naomi Klein found herself in the middle of her own bewildering drama: A substantial population, especially online, began to either confuse or merge her with Naomi Wolf, a writer who’d gone from feminist intellectual to anti-vaxx conspiracy theorist. Klein’s initial bemusement becomes real concern verging on obsession as she fixates on her sort-of doppelgänger and starts questioning the stability of her identity. Klein becomes entangled in the world of her opposite, tracing the possible pipelines from leftism to alt-right and poking at the cracks in our convictions. Throughout, she nails the uncanniness of our digital existence, the ways constant performance of life both splinters and constrains the self. What happens when we sacrifice our humanity in the pursuit of a cohesive personal brand? And when we’re this far gone, is there any turning back?

2. The Woman in Me , by Britney Spears

new books autobiography

Throughout the yearslong campaign to release Britney Spears from a predatory conservatorship , the lingering conspiracy theories questioning its success , and the ongoing cultural discourse about the ways public scrutiny has harmed her, what has largely been missing is Spears’s own voice. In her highly anticipated memoir, she lays it all out: her upbringing in a family grappling with multiple generations of abuse, the promise and betrayal of stardom, her exploitation and manipulation by loved ones, and the harrowing, dehumanizing realities of her conservatorship . These revelations are tempered by moments of genuine joy she’s found in love, motherhood, and singing, though it’s impossible to read these recollections without anticipating the loss — or at least the complication — of these joys. Most touching are her descriptions of her relationships with her sons; her tone is conversational, but it resonates with deep, undying devotion. It’s an intimate story, and one that forces questions about our treatment of mental illness, the ethics of psychiatric practices, the relationships between public figures and their fans, and the effects of fame — especially on young women. Justice for Britney, forever.

1. Pulling the Chariot of the Sun , by Shane McCrae

new books autobiography

When Shane McCrae was 3 years old, his white maternal grandparents told his Black father they were taking Shane on a camping trip. It wasn’t the first time they’d done so, but this time, they never returned. What followed was a life full of instability, abuse, and manipulation, while his grandparents — including a grandfather who had, more than once, trawled cities for Black men to attack — convinced McCrae his father had abandoned him and that his Blackness was a handicap. It’s clear McCrae is first and foremost a poet; the rhythm of his prose and his hypnotic evocation of sensory memory reveals the way a lifetime of lies affected his grasp on his past. Maybe he can’t trust the facts of his past, but he certainly knows what it felt like, what it looked like. As he excavates and untangles muddied memories, contends with ambivalent feelings about his grandmother and mother, and ultimately comes to terms with their unforgivable robbery of a relationship with both his father and his true, full self, McCrae’s pain bleeds through his words — but so too does a gentle sense of acceptance. We are lucky to bear witness.

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The Best New Biographies of 2023

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CJ Connor is a cozy mystery and romance writer whose main goal in life is to make their dog proud. They are a Pitch Wars alumnus and an Author Mentor Match R9 mentor. Their debut mystery novel BOARD TO DEATH is forthcoming from Kensington Books. Twitter: @cjconnorwrites | cjconnorwrites.com

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Read on to discover nine of the best biographies published within the last year. Included are life stories of singular people, including celebrated artists and significant historical figures, as well as collective biographies.

The books included in this list have all been released as of writing, but biography lovers still have plenty to look forward to before the year is out. A few to keep your eye out for in the coming months:

  • The World According to Joan Didion by Evelyn McDonnell (HarperOne, September 26)
  • Einstein in Time and Space by Samuel Graydon (Scribner, November 14)
  • Overlooked: A Celebration of Remarkable, Underappreciated People Who Broke the Rules and Changed the World by Amisha Padnani (Penguin Random House, November 14).

Without further ado, here are the best biographies of 2023 so far!

Master Slave Husband Wife cover

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo

Ellen and William Craft were a Black married couple who freed themselves from slavery in 1848 by disguising themselves as a traveling white man and an enslaved person. Author Ilyon Woo recounts their thousand-mile journey to seek safety in the North and their escape from the United States in the months following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

The art thief cover

The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel

Written over a period of 11 years with exclusive journalistic access to the subject, author Michael Finkel explores the motivations, heists, and repercussions faced by the notorious and prolific art thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Of special focus is his relationship with his girlfriend and accomplice, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus.

King cover

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

While recently published, King: A Life is already considered to be the most well-researched biography of Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. published in decades. New York Times bestselling journalist Jonathan Eig explores the life and legacy of Dr. King through thousands of historical records, including recently declassified FBI documents.

Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters cover

Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters by Lynnée Denise

This biography is part of the Why Music Matters series from the University of Texas. It reflects on the legendary blues singer’s life through an essay collection in which the author (also an accomplished musician) seeks to recreate the feeling of browsing through a box of records.

Young Queens cover

Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power by Leah Redmond Chang

Historian Leah Redmond Chang’s latest book release focuses on three aristocratic women in Renaissance Europe: Catherine de’ Medici, Elizabeth de Valois, and Mary, Queen of Scots. As a specific focus, she examines the juxtaposition between the immense power they wielded and yet the ways they remained vulnerable to the patriarchal, misogynistic societies in which they existed.

Daughter of the Dragon cover

Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang

Anna May Wong was a 20th-century actress who found great acclaim while still facing discrimination and typecasting as a Chinese woman. University of California professor Yunte Huang explores her life and impact on the American film industry and challenges racist depictions of her in accounts of Hollywood history in this thought-provoking biography.

Twice as hard cover

Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians, from the Civil War to the 21st Century by Jasmine Brown

Written by Rhodes Scholar and University of Pennsylvania medical student Jasmine Brown, this collective biography shares the experiences and accomplishments of nine Black women physicians in U.S. history — including Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black American woman to earn a medical degree in the 1860s, and Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

Larry McMurtry cover

Larry McMurtry: A Life by Tracy Daugherty

Two years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s death, this biography presents a comprehensive history of Larry McMurtry’s life and legacy as one of the most acclaimed Western writers of all time.

The Kneeling Man cover

The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by Leta McCollough Seletzky

Journalist Leta McCollough Seletzky examines her father, Marrell “Mac” McCollough’s complicated legacy as a Black undercover cop and later a member of the CIA. In particular, she shares his account as a witness of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.

Are you a history buff looking for more recommendations? Try these.

  • Best History Books by Era
  • Books for a More Inclusive Look at American History
  • Fascinating Food History Books

new books autobiography

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Best Biographies » New Biography

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The best new biographies. We scrutinized the bookshelves to bring you the best of the recent biographies. "There’s no rubric for what makes a great biography—they just provide a sense of what it means to be human"—Elizabeth Taylor, author, critic and chair of the National Book Critics' Circle biography committee.

Monet: The Restless Vision

By jackie wullschläger.

Read expert recommendations

“As I read it, at first Monet is not an attractive character. You think, ‘This is absolutely why, as a woman, you should not live with an artist.’ It’s full of scrounging letters, and the suffering of these women who are, of course, immortalised in beautiful portraits by him, but following him around or being abandoned by him…She explains quite how it is that he comes to revolutionise art and to create these ravishing works that are just luminous. She writes very beautifully about it. As life goes on, instead of being improvident, he becomes very wealthy. Finally, you see him at Giverny employing six gardeners, one of whom has to dust off the water lilies! There’s great pathos. You’re won over to him, as his life goes on, and see how he, too, has suffered for his art. It’s a rich and moving account.” Read more...

The Best Nonfiction Books: The 2024 Duff Cooper Prize

Susan Brigden , Historian

Marcus Aurelius: The Stoic Emperor

By donald j. robertson.

“In another Yale series, Ancient Lives, there’s a new biography of the 2nd-century Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, whose book, Meditations , is often recommended for those interested in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. It’s by Donald Robertson, a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist and a firm believer that Stoicism has much to teach us in our daily lives.” Read more...

Nonfiction Books to Look Out for in Early 2024

Sophie Roell , Journalist

Who Is Big Brother?: A Reader's Guide to George Orwell

By d j taylor.

“On the subject of political dystopias, Orwell biographer D.J. Taylor has a new book out about him: Who is Big Brother? A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell . You’ll learn a lot about Orwell’s life and how it made its way into his books.” Read more...

Maurice and Maralyn: A Whale, a Shipwreck, a Love Story

By sophie elmhirst.

“ Maurice and Maralyn by Sophie Elmshirst is about an ordinary couple from Derby who set out to sail around the world in the early 1970s. The reason we know about them is that theirs turned into a survival story: their boat was sunk by a sperm whale and they were left adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean for 118 days. It’s an easy and engaging read: I started it one evening after dinner and stayed up to finish it just after midnight.” Read more...

We Are Free to Change the World: Hannah Arendt’s Lessons in Love and Disobedience

By lyndsey stonebridge.

We Are Free to Change the World by Lyndsey Stonebridge is an excellent, well-written book that shows why Hannah Arendt is still an important and sometimes controversial thinker today.

The Genius of their Age: Ibn Sina, Biruni, and the Lost Enlightenment

By s. frederick starr.

“Also hailing from central Asia are the main protagonists of The Genius of Their Age: Ibn Sina, Biruni and the Lost Enlightenment by S. Frederick Starr. It’s a dual biography of Ibn Sina (aka Avicenna) and Biruni, key figures in the flowering of science and philosophy that took place in the Islamic world in the Middle Ages. Both men were born in the 10th century in modern-day Uzbekistan. This is an important period for anyone interested in the history of science, a missing gap in Western curricula (at least in my day).” Read more...

Schubert: A Musical Wayfarer

By lorraine byrne bodley.

“Other biographies published recently include one about the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). It’s called Schubert: A Musical Wayfarer by Lorraine Byrne Bodley, a professor of musicology at Maynooth University. Schubert famously died aged just 31, but striking early in the book is how old that was compared to some of his siblings. This book is written so it’s accessible to non-musicians, but this is a serious work of scholarship.” Read more...

Notable Nonfiction of Fall 2023

Ian Fleming: The Complete Man

By nicholas shakespeare.

“Another is Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books. Ian Fleming: The Complete Man is an authorized biography and offsets some of the more negative accounts of his life as a train wreck which ended early (he died of heart disease at age 56)…Both my parents were Dutch and I suppose like others around the world we half-believed that James Bond/Ian Fleming was a typical mid-20th century Englishman. With this book, we find out a bit more what Fleming was actually like.” Read more...

by Walter Isaacson

“Isaacson sat at the feet of Musk – literally, in the same room as Musk – for two or three years, I think. The whole second half of the book is about the last three years, so it’s very detailed. It’s very much reporting. He doesn’t step back except right at the end, and then to make a rather general point about how you need the good and the bad in order to have a genius…Isaacson doesn’t say, ‘I’m now going to make a judgment on what’s happened.’ It’s very much an account of being with this extraordinary, tempestuous entrepreneur…It’s a long book with very short chapters. It’s quite punchy, in that sense of ‘OK now we’re moving on’ which gives you a bit of an impression of what it must be like to live with or work with Elon Musk. But it doesn’t then step back and say how significant it is.” Read more...

The Best Business Books of 2023: the Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award

Andrew Hill , Journalist

Vergil: The Poet's Life

By sarah ruden.

“One interesting book for fans of the great epic poem of the Augustus years, the Aeneid, is a literary biography of its author, Vergil. Vergil: The Poet’s Life is by American scholar and translator Sarah Ruden. Other than his poem, we don’t know much about the author, so Ruden has to do a lot of heavy lifting, but why not? Ruden recently translated the Aeneid , and you can also read her Five Books interview about Vergil.” Read more...

Spinoza: Life and Legacy

By jonathan israel.

Spinoza: Life and Legacy is a new biography of the 17th-century Dutch-Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza , by historian Jonathan Israel. Israel is a leading historian of early modern Europe, and an expert on the Dutch Republic, the tolerant—by 17th-century standards—world in which Spinoza grew up. His parents had fled Portugal because of the Inquisition and, as Israel points out, that "dark Iberian context was a crucial factor in Spinoza's background, early life, and formation and likewise an essential dimension for understanding his thought generally." The book builds on Steven Nadler's biography of Spinoza , and at more than 1,200 pages is absolutely not for beginners. Rather, it's for those seeking to think deeply—and disagree with Israel at times, no doubt—about Spinoza and his life and thought.

(If you're looking for a more introductory approach to Spinoza, our interview about him is with Steven Nadler )

Ramesses the Great: Egypt's King of Kings

By toby wilkinson.

“Other biographies out these past three months include Ramesses the Great by Toby Wilkinson, the Cambridge Egyptologist…Both rulers spent a lot of time and energy building their reputations, which may be why we’re reading about them three millennia…later” Read more...

Notable Nonfiction of Early Summer 2023

Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan

By felipe fernández-armesto.

Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan is historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's takedown of the Portuguese explorer whose disastrous expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe.

Rebels Against the Raj

By ramachandra guha.

🏆 Winner of the 2023 Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography

The foreigners who fought against Franco in Spain are much feted in literature and the popular imagination, those who helped India fight for its independence from the British Empire not so much. In this book, Indian historian Ramachandra Guha tells the story of seven of them (five Brits and two Americans), rescuing them from obscurity.

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

By beverly gage.

🏆  Winner of the 2023 NBCC Biography Award

“Hoover answered to no voters. The quintessential ‘Government Man,’ a counselor and advisor to eight U.S. presidents, of both political parties, he was one of the most powerful, unelected government officials in history. He reigned over the Federal Bureau of Investigations from 1924 to 1972. Hoover began as a young reformer and—as he accrued power—was simultaneously loathed and admired. Through Hoover, Gage skilfully guides readers through the full arc of 20th-century America, and contends: ‘We cannot know our own story without understanding his.'” Read more...

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist

Elizabeth Taylor , Biographer

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

By rebecca donner.

🏆  Winner of the 2021 National Book Critics Circle award for biography

🏆  Winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld award for biography

The highly acclaimed biography of Mildred Harnack, an American doctoral student living in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, who became an important anti-Nazi activist and later a spy for Allied forces during the Second World War. Arrested by the Gestapo in Sweden, she was tried by a Nazi military court and finally executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler. In All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days , Harnack's great-great-niece reconstructs her story in an astonishing work of nonfiction that draws together letters, intelligence documents and the testimony of survivors to create this remarkable story of moral courage.

King: A Life

By jonathan eig.

“I was excited to see a new biography of Martin Luther King Jr. by American journalist and biographer Jonathan Eig. Like many foreigners who spend time in the US, I was aware who Martin Luther King Jr. was and his importance, but not the details nor why he shared a name with a 16th-century German monk (whom my history professors at Oxford seemed to think important). This biography is highly readable and, according to the introduction, draws on new information, particularly on Mike’s father.” Read more...

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World

By jonathan freedland.

“This book is extraordinary because Rudolf Vrba and a fellow inmate, Alfred Wetzler, were the first Jews ever to break out of Auschwitz. Jonathan Freedland is a fiction writer too—he writes thrillers under the name Sam Bourne—so there is an element of thriller in the way that he describes this escape and the build-up to it. It is incredibly heart-in-your-mouth compelling. But it’s a bigger story than just one man’s breakout. Vrba goes on to try and put the word out about what’s going on in Auschwitz and saves many lives in the process. The book is memorializing one man’s heroism.” Read more...

The Best Nonfiction Books: The 2022 Baillie Gifford Prize Shortlist

Caroline Sanderson , Journalist

The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science

By john tresch.

✩ Finalist for the  Los Angeles Times  Book Award for biography

✩ Nominated for the Edgar Award for best work of criticism or biography

John Tresch, a professor of history of art and science at the Warburg Institute, situates the iconic American author in an era "when the lines separating entertainment, speculation and scientific inquiry were blurred." The troubled horror writer embraced contradiction, exposing the hoaxes of contemporary scientific fraudsters even as he perpetuated his own.

Peerless among Princes: The Life and Times of Sultan Süleyman

By kaya şahin.

A new biography of Süleyman (often called 'the Magnificent' in the West, but not in this book), the Ottoman sultan who ruled from 1520 to 1566.  He was one of the most powerful men in the world but to the modern reader, his life seems utterly tragic. The book is by Kaya Şahin, a historian at Indiana University, who is able to bring his knowledge of Turkish sources to the story. Another aim of the book is "to restore Süleyman's place among the major figures of the sixteenth century"—which also included Henry VIII, Charles V and Francis I (Europe), Ivan IV (Russia), Babur and Akbar (India), Shah Ismail and Shah Tahmasb (Iran).

Kennan: A Life between Worlds

By frank costigliola.

Kennan: A Life between World s is an excellent biography of George Kennan, the American diplomat and Russophile who first raised alarm bells about Stalin after World War II, authoring an anonymous article in Foreign Affairs and "The Long Telegram". His biographer Frank Costigliola brings to life a man who loved Tolstoy and Chekhov, was devastated at never knowing his mother, and spent most of his life opposing the policy of containment towards the Soviet Union that he's best known for.

The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville

By olivier zunz.

🏆  Winner of the Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique 2022

An excellent biography of Alexis de Tocqueville , the 19th-century French politician and author of Democracy in America and The Ancien Regime and the Revolution .

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne

By katherine rundell.

🏆  Winner of the 2022 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

🏆  Winner of the 2023 British Book Award for Non-Fiction: Narrative

“Rundell is a children’s author who also specializes in Renaissance literature and makes the case that Donne should be as widely feted as William Shakespeare, his contemporary. She writes, ‘Donne is the greatest writer of desire in the English language. He wrote about sex in a way that nobody ever has, before or since: he wrote sex as the great insistence on life, the salute, the bodily semaphore for the human living infinite. The word most used across his poetry, part from ‘and’ and ‘the’, is ‘love”.” Read more...

Award Winning Biographies of 2022

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

By janice p. nimura.

✩ Finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for biography

A dual biography of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, the United States' first female physicians and the founders of the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, a hospital staffed entirely by women in antebellum America. Through the story of their lives, says the Wall Street Journal , we encounter "a rough-hewn, gaudy, carnival-barking America, with only the thinnest veneer of gentility overlaying cruelty and a simmering violence."

Pessoa: A Biography

By richard zenith.

The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote prolifically throughout his life, but often under a series of assumed names and identities, which he called 'heteronyms.' Relatively unknown during his lifetime, he left a cache of more than 25,000 papers which are still being studied, translated and published almost a century after his death. Here, the renowned translator and Pessoa scholar offers an insight into Pessoa's teeming imagination and polyphonous genius by tracing the back stories of his alter egos, recasting them as projections of Pessoa's inner tensions—social, sexual, and political.

Mike Nichols: A Life

By mark harris.

✩ Shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle award for biography

A  New York Times- bestselling biography of the Hollywood director Mike Nichols, one of America's most prolific and versatile creative figures, by the author of Pictures at a Revolution  and  Five Came Back . Born Igor Peschkowsky to a Jewish family in 1930s Berlin, Nichols immigrated to the United States as a child, where his incredible drive saw him rise through the social ranks; by 35 he lived in a New York City penthouse overlooking Central Park, with a Rolls Royce, a string of Arabian horses, and a circle of friends that included Richard Burton and Jackie Kennedy. Mark Harris draws on interviews with more than 250 of Nichols' contemporaries to tells this story of a complicated man and his tumultuous career.

Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

By keisha n. blain.

✩ Nominated for the NAACP Image Award for an outstanding biography or autobiography

The historian and best-selling author Keisha N. Blain examines the life and work of the Black activist Fannie Lou Hamer, positioning her as a key political thinker alongside leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks.

Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser

By susan bernofsky.

The first English-language biography of Robert Walser, one of the great literary talents of the twentieth century. In Clairvoyant of the Small, Susan Bernofsky—his award-winning translator—offers a diligently researched and delicately written account of his life and work, setting him in the context of 20th century European history and modernist literature.

Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II

By robert hardman.

The Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, has been on the throne for 70 years, making her the world's longest-reigning monarch other than Louis XIV of France (1643-1715: he came to the throne aged 4). Lots of events are taking place in the UK to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, including a number of new books about her life. We have an interview with royal biographer Robert Lacey on the best books about the Queen but it dates from a few years ago. Robert Hardman's Queen of Our Times came out this year and offers a detailed look at her life from birth. The book is readable, chatty almost, and a good corrective to anyone who has watched the Netflix drama The Crown , whose "questionable accuracy" Hardman points out.

Dostoevsky in Love: An Intimate Life

Dostoevsky in Love: An Intimate Life by Alex Christofi tells the story of the great Russian novelist's life by brilliantly intertwining it with his own words, taken from where Dostoevsky's fiction is drawn from his own lived experience. And it was quite some life: amongst other ups and downs, Dostoevsky was nearly executed and spent four years in a Siberian labour camp. You can read more in our interview with Alex Christofi on the best Fyodor Dostoevsky books .

Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said

By timothy brennan.

Places of Mind is a biography of Edward Said , the Palestinian intellectual who shot to prominence with his damning critique of how Westerners write about the East, Orientalism , in 1978. The biography is written by his student and friend Timothy Brennan.

The Van Gogh Sisters

By willem-jan verlinden.

We've heard much about the crucial role that Theo van Gogh played in the life of his brother, Vincent. But Vincent also had three sisters who were a big influence on him. In fact, it was an argument with his eldest sister, Anna, that was the reason he left the Netherlands. This is their story.

Critical Lives: Hannah Arendt

By samantha rose hill.

***🏆 A Five Books Book of the Year ***

“This book is brilliant. It’s written by Samantha Rose Hill, who must know as much as anyone about Hannah Arendt. She’s dived into Arendt’s surviving papers, notebooks, and even poetry, spending many hours in the archive. And what’s so great about this as a biography is that Hill has done something that biographers rarely do—she’s been highly selective in what she’s included. As a result, we don’t get the feeling of being overwhelmed by details of an individual life but rather get to understand what really mattered.” Read more...

The Best Philosophy Books of 2021

Nigel Warburton , Philosopher

Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs

Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times

By aaron sachs.

“A biography about writing biography! Very meta, and very much in the interdisciplinary tradition of American Studies. In his gorgeous braid of cultural history, Cornell University professor Sachs entwines the lives and work of poet and fiction writer Herman Melville (1819-1891) and the philosopher and literary critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), illuminating their coextending concerns about their worlds in crisis. Sachs brilliantly provides the connective tissue between Melville and his biographer Mumford so that these writers seem to be in conversation with one another, both deeply affected by their dark times.” Read more...

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century

By jennifer homans.

“It’s a biography of a man who almost walks with the 20th century, so you get all that history. Balanchine was of Georgian heritage and grew up in Tsarist Russia. Early on, he was selected to go into the Imperial Ballet School, so he’s on that track. Then, the Russian Revolution happens and everything falls into turmoil on all fronts. There’s a lot of hunger, violence, and chaos…Balanchine eventually winds up in America, where he meets well-connected benefactors and cultural managers. They feel that American ballet hadn’t yet achieved the same level of institutional high standing as Europe. They have the ambition to rectify that and are keen to use people like Balanchine and others who had come over to the US. Eventually, Balanchine sets up the New York City Ballet Company, which, in effect, becomes the country’s national ballet.” Read more...

The Best Nonfiction Books: The 2023 Baillie Gifford Prize Shortlist

Frederick Studemann , Journalist

The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge

The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family

By kerri k. greenidge.

“Greenidge, a professor at Tufts University, brings her unique, perceptive eye to African American civil rights in the North. Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke have been exalted as brave heroines who defied antebellum Southern piety and headed northward to embrace abolition. Greenridge makes the powerful case that, in clinging to this mythology, a more troubling story is obscured. In the North, as the Grimke sisters lived comfortably and agitated for change, they enjoyed the financial benefits of their slaveholding family in South Carolina. Greenidge not only provides a revisionist history of the Grimke sisters, but she also extends the Grimke family story beyond the 19 th century.” Read more...

Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill & Rachael Wiseman

Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life

By clare mac cumhaill & rachael wiseman.

The story of four mid-20th century philosophers based in Oxford—Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch , Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley . With many men who typically dominated academic philosophy away fighting World War II, they were able to make their own mark, arguing for a greater place for metaphysics in philosophical discourse.

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist , recommended by Elizabeth Taylor

G-man: j. edgar hoover and the making of the american century by beverly gage, the grimkés: the legacy of slavery in an american family by kerri k. greenidge, mr. b: george balanchine’s twentieth century by jennifer homans, metaphysical animals: how four women brought philosophy back to life by clare mac cumhaill & rachael wiseman, up from the depths: herman melville, lewis mumford, and rediscovery in dark times by aaron sachs.

Talented biographers examine the interplay between individual qualities and greater social forces, explains Elizabeth Taylor —chair of the judges for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award for biography. Here, she offers us an overview of their five-book shortlist, including a garlanded account of the life of J. Edgar Hoover and a group biography of post-war female philosophers.

Talented biographers examine the interplay between individual qualities and greater social forces, explains Elizabeth Taylor—chair of the judges for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award for biography. Here, she offers us an overview of their five-book shortlist, including a garlanded account of the life of J. Edgar Hoover and a group biography of post-war female philosophers.

We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.

This site has an archive of more than one thousand seven hundred interviews, or eight thousand book recommendations. We publish at least two new interviews per week.

Five Books participates in the Amazon Associate program and earns money from qualifying purchases.

© Five Books 2024

9 Captivating New Autobiographies and Memoirs

Cover image for list, containing three books.

This season, curl up with an eye-opening new narrative.

A great autobiography or memoir speaks to the shared human experience as it captures the magic of a unique life story. Below is a diverse list of new autobiographies and memoirs that will open your eyes to fresh and memorable perspectives this fall.

A poised figure in judicial robes, reflecting on the complexities and challenges of the legal system, with a backdrop that emphasizes the gravity and dignity of their profession. the title "her honor" prominently foregrounds a narrative of judicial authority, experience, and the pursuit of reform from within the courtroom.

By LaDoris Hazzard Cordell

As the first Black woman to sit on the Superior Court of Northern California, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell has a unique outlook on American justice. She’s witnessed its flaws and biases, and yet she believes in the essential value of the system. In her newly released memoir , Judge Cordell invites you into her courtroom for a behind-the-scenes look at America’s legal process, exploring what works and what needs fixing, from juvenile law and jury selection to the intricate ways that judges make sentencing decisions. Cordell draws on real-life cases to craft her wise and provocative account, chronicling a lifetime of experience on the bench while highlighting the steps we can take to make our imperfect system more equitable for all Americans.

Cover of Fox and I by Catherine Raven

Fox & I

By catherine raven.

Catherine Raven’s celebrated new autobiographical account is a deeply personal meditation on friendship and the extraordinary beauty of our shared natural world. Her narrative chronicles the time she spent living alone in a tiny cottage in Montana and the unlikely friendship she developed with one surprising visitor: a fox. At the time, Raven had just completed her Ph.D. in biology and was leading field classes at nearby Yellowstone National Park while she applied for full-time work. Life at the cottage was emotionally and physically isolating, until a mangy fox began appearing on her property every afternoon. As Raven’s interspecies connection with the fox deepened, so too did her understanding of loneliness and her sense of belonging in the wild world around us.

Cover of 'beautiful country' by qian julie wang, depicting a poignant scene on a city street with evocative typography overlaying the image, hinting at a deeply personal memoir.

Beautiful Country

By qian julie wang.

In her celebrated coming-of-age memoir , Qian Julie Wang recounts the story of her immigrant family, who emigrated from China and moved to America without documentation. Desperate for work, her former professor parents became sweatshop workers in New York City, while Wang struggled to fit in as a 7-year-old transplant. Wang’s lyrical narrative details how she sought refuge in books, found magic in the streets of Brooklyn, and navigated life as the child of a family whose “illegality” forced them into the shadows.

A vibrantly colored book cover featuring a profile illustration of a woman with the title "unbound: my story of liberation and the birth of the me too movement" by tarana burke.

By Tarana Burke

In this powerful new autobiography, Tarana Burke – the activist who founded the Me Too movement – shares her story of struggle, strength, and advocacy. Burke bravely chronicles her life story, documenting the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and the inspiration she found in supporting young Black and brown girls. By empowering others and fostering community, Burke freed herself from the guilt, shame, and isolation she experienced as a survivor of abuse – and rose to become the leader of a worldwide movement.

Cover of There's a hole in my Bucket

There's a Hole in My Bucket

By royd tolkien.

Royd Tolkien is the great-grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, and his new memoir proves that inspired storytelling runs in the family. Royd’s narrative pays tribute to his brother, Mike, who was diagnosed with ALS and who passed away at an early age. After Mike’s diagnosis, the brothers made it their mission to tick off as much as possible on Mike’s bucket list. After Mike’s death, however, Royd discovered a second list that his brother had left behind: 50 things for Royd to complete on his own. The challenges send Royd on an inspiring new journey, one that pushes him far outside his comfort zone and reminds him to cherish the fleeting beauty of life.

Cover of Bourdain The Definitive Oral Biography

Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography

By laurie woolever.

Food writer and editor Laurie Woolever offers an unprecedented look into the life of Anthony Bourdain, the beloved chef who passed away in 2018. Woolever was Bourdain’s longtime assistant and confidante. In her new release, she draws on her personal experiences and interviews with Bourdain’s close family and friends to celebrate a life cut short. The food memoir traces Bourdain’s journey from his childhood through his years of success as a globe-trotting gourmand, producing an intimate portrait of the culinary icon.

Cover of Somebody's Daughter

Somebody's Daughter

By ashley c. ford.

Ashley C. Ford’s bestselling new autobiography is a heart-wrenching account of her experience growing up as the daughter of an incarcerated parent. During her childhood, Ford’s father was in prison – for what, she did not know. Young Ashley and her mother struggled to get by in Indiana. With unflinching prose, Ford chronicles her search for meaning while facing poverty and a racist system, laying bare the hardships and abuse she endured as a young Black girl and her reckoning with the truth about her father’s crimes.

Cover of Manifesto Evaristo

By Bernardine Evaristo

In her celebrated new memoir, Booker Prize–winning author Bernadine Evaristo delivers an impassioned narrative about finding your voice and staying true to your vision. The famed writer, teacher, and activist chronicles her creative journey and her commitment to sharing “untold” stories, alongside examining contemporary social issues of sex, race, class, gender, and age. The result is an inspirational and multifaceted account that urges readers to never give up, no matter the obstacle.

Cover of Real Estate

Real Estate

By deborah levy.

Deborah Levy’s latest release is the third entry in her Living Autobiography series. In it, she delivers a thoughtful examination of “home” and how it intersects with concepts such as ownership, patriarchy, and belongingness. Drawing on gender theory and philosophy as well as her own personal experiences, Levy crafts a moving meditation on the ways we value and devalue womanhood and women’s lived experiences.

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Spring 2024 Adult Preview: Memoirs & Biographies

Among the season’s most anticipated biographies and memoirs are experimental works from familiar names, personal histories that reframe the American past, and debut memoirs from Christine Blasey Ford, Leslie Jamison, and RuPaul.

All the Worst Humans: How I Made News for Dictators, Tycoons, and Politicians

Phil Elwood. Holt, June 25 ($28.99, ISBN 978-1-250-32157-2)

Elwood, a former PR professional in Washington, D.C., pulls back the curtain on his work for the Qatari government, Muammar Gaddafi, and other clients.

Alphabetical Diaries

Sheila Heti. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feb. 6 ($27, ISBN 978-0-374-61078-4)

Heti follows up Pure Colour with a formal experiment in which she rearranges sentences from 10 years’ worth of personal journal entries in alphabetical order.

Burn Book: A Tech Love Story

Kara Swisher. Simon & Schuster, Feb. 27 ($30, ISBN 978-1-982163-89-1)

Swisher recounts her career reporting on the tech industry, from covering the rise of Silicon Valley in the early 1990s to sit-downs with Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and other titans who’ve shaped the 21st century, for better and worse.

The House of Hidden Meanings: A Memoir

RuPaul. Dey Street, Mar. 5 ($29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-326390-1)

The trailblazing drag performer and television host chronicles his turbulent San Diego, Calif., childhood, early days in the Atlanta and New York City punk scenes, and unlikely ascent to stardom.

Night Flyer: Harriet Tubman and the Faith Dreams of a Free People

Tiya Miles. Penguin Press, June 18 ($28, ISBN 978-0-593-49116-4)

National Book Award winner Miles seeks to render the larger-than-life abolitionist on a human scale by focusing on Tubman’s relationships with the natural world and other enslaved women.

Not Your China Doll: The Wild and Shimmering Life of Anna May Wong

Katie Gee Salisbury. Dutton, Mar. 12 ($32, ISBN 978-0-593-18398-4)

Salisbury debuts with a biography of actor Wong, who in the 1920s became the first Asian American star of a major motion picture.

One Way Back: A Memoir

Christine Blasey Ford. St. Martin’s, Mar. 19 ($29, ISBN 978-1-250-28965-0)

Blasey Ford documents her life before, during, and after she accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault at his 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

What Have We Here? Portraits of a Life

Billy Dee Williams. Knopf, Feb. 13 ($32, ISBN 978-0-593-31860-7)

The Star Wars star chronicles his Harlem childhood, early theater career, and onscreen achievements.

Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story

Leslie Jamison. Little, Brown, Feb. 20 ($29, ISBN 978-0-316-37488-0)

For her debut memoir, the author of The Empathy Exams takes a microscope to her fraying marriage, comparing it to her parents’ own bond and examining her feelings about motherhood in the process.

Whiskey Tender: A Memoir

Deborah Taffa. Harper, Feb. 27 ($32, ISBN 978-0-06-328851-5)

Taffa interweaves an account of growing up on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in the 1970s and ’80s with reflections on major events in the history of Native relations with America’s European settlers and their descendants.

Memoirs & Biographies longlist

Abrams Press

Cactus Country: A Boyhood Memoir by Zoë Bossiere (Apr. 17, $27, ISBN 978-1-4197-7318-1) recounts how the author began living as a boy after moving with their family to an Arizona trailer park as an 11-year-old, before arriving at a more complicated gender identity as they grew older.

Joyce Carol Oates: Letters to a Biographer by Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson (Mar. 5, $28.95, ISBN 978-1-63614-116-9), collects Oates’s correspondence with writer Johnson, covering the details of her writing practice, private travels, and musings on art and culture.

Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir of Love, Loss, and Family Recipes by Chantha Nguon (Feb. 20, $29, ISBN 978-1-64375-349-2) weaves more than 20 recipes into Nguon’s account of her family’s experiences during the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s.

The Moment: Thoughts on the Race Reckoning That Wasn’t and How We All Can Move Forward Now by Bakari Sellers (Apr. 23, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-308502-2). The CNN commentator and former South Carolina state representative recounts his reaction to the 2020 police killing of George Floyd and reflects on subjects from voting rights to policing.

The Editor: How Publishing Legend Judith Jones Shaped Culture in America by Sara B. Franklin (May 28, $30, ISBN 978-1- 982134-34-1). In the first biography of Jones, Franklin examines the Knopf editor’s work on such classics as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and The Art of French Cooking , pulling from interviews with her colleagues and previously unseen personal papers.

Dancing on the Edge: A Journey of Living, Loving, and Tumbling Through Hollywood by Russ Tamblyn and Sarah Tomlinson (Apr. 9, $28.99, ISBN 979-8-212-27331-2). Tamblyn discusses his life as a teen actor in the 1950s and ’60s, sharing anecdotes about his friendship with Neil Young, his 1958 Academy Award nomination, and the breakdown of his marriage.

I Will Show You How It Was: The Story of Wartime Kyiv by Illia Ponomarenko (May 7, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-63973-387-3) sees the Ukrainian war correspondent providing a firsthand account of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Accordion Eulogies: A Memoir of Music, Migration, and Mexico by Noé Álvarez (May 28, $26, ISBN 978-1-64622-089-2). In his second memoir, Álvarez writes of traversing the U.S. with his accordion in an attempt to better understand his late Mexican grandfather, who was also an accordion player.

Counterpoint

Thunder Song: Essays by Sasha taqwsˇəblu LaPointe (Mar. 5, $27, ISBN 978-1-64009-635-6) delves into the author’s Indigenous heritage, interweaving autobiography with anthropological research and reflections on art and music.

Outofshapeworthlessloser: A Memoir of Figure Skating, F*cking Up, and Figuring It Out by Gracie Gold (Feb. 6, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-593-44404-7). 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Gold reveals the private struggles with bulimia and suicidal ideation that accompanied her ascent in the public eye.

Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell by Ann Powers (May 14, $35, ISBN 978-0-06-246372-2). NPR music critic Powers delivers a wide-ranging volume on the singer-songwriter that combines the author’s reflections and interviews with Mitchell’s contemporaries.

The Yankee Way: The Untold Inside Story of the Brian Cashman Era by Andy Martino (May 21, $30, ISBN 978-0-385-54999-8) draws from two years’ worth of interviews with Yankees general manager Cashman to deliver an inside look at the team’s 1998 and 2000 World Series victories, ego clashes, and more.

Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk by Kathleen Hanna (May 14, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-282523-0). The Bikini Kill frontwoman reflects on her adolescence in Washington State, the formation of the band, and her friendships with famous musicians including Kurt Cobain and Joan Jett.

A Darker Shade of Blue: A Police Officer’s Memoir by Keith Merith (Mar. 26, $21.95 trade paper, ISBN 978-1-77041-679-6) chronicles the author’s years as a Black man working for Canada’s York Regional Police and shares strategies for police reform.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar by Cynthia Carr (Mar. 19, $30, ISBN 978-1-250-06635-0). In the first full biography of Warhol superstar Darling, Carr documents the artist’s Long Island childhood, celebrity connections, and untimely death in 1974.

Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life: Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life by Joseph Epstein (Apr. 16, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-66800-963-5). The former American Scholar editor discusses his early life in Chicago, U.S. Army service, and exploits in New York City’s literary scene.

Wild Life: Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World by Rae Wynn-Grant (Apr. 2, $28, ISBN 978-1-63893-040-2) traces Grant’s trajectory from her childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area to becoming a prominent ecologist, cataloging the trials and triumphs of being a Black woman scientist.

Grand Central

Make It Count: My Fight to Become the First Transgender Olympic Runner by CeCé Telfer (June 18, $30, ISBN 978-1-5387-5624-9). Jamaica-born athlete Telfer discusses her coming-of-age, her coming out, and her path to becoming the first openly trans woman to win an NCAA championship.

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me. by Manni Coe, illus. by Reuben Coe (May 7, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-77840-144-2), focuses on Manni’s removal of his brother, Reuben, who has Down syndrome, from a dreary English care home so the two could live together in a farm cottage.

My Mama, Cass: A Memoir by Owen Elliot-Kugell (May 7, $30, ISBN 978-0-306-83064-8) details the artistic and personal achievements of the author’s mother, musician Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas.

Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring by Brad Gooch (Mar. 5, $37.50, ISBN 978-0-06-269826-1). Biographer Gooch draws on new research from the late artist’s archives to delve into Haring’s life, work, and 1980s New York City milieu.

Amphibious Soul: Finding the Wild in a Tame World by Craig Foster (Apr. 17, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-328902-4). The star and subject of the documentary My Octopus Teacher discusses his return to the Cape of Good Hope, where he was born, to conduct oceanic research.

Dear Mom and Dad: A Letter About Family, Memory, and the America We Once Knew by Patti Davis (Feb. 6, $21.99, ISBN 978-1-324-09348-0) mixes anecdotes from Davis’s personal life with reflections on the thorny legacies of her parents, Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

On a Move: Philadelphia’s Notorious Bombing and a Native Son’s Lifelong Battle for Justice by Mike Africa Jr. (July 9, $32.50, ISBN 978-0-06-331887-8). Africa, whose parents were members of the Black liberation group MOVE, writes of being born in jail and being raised by his grandmother, and recounts the 1985 bombing of his parents’ commune by Philadelphia police.

Gri ef Is for People by Sloane Crosley (Feb. 27, $27, ISBN 978-0-374-60984-9). The essayist portrays her grief and confusion after her best friend died by suicide.

Melville House

Death Row Welcomes You: Visiting Hours in the Shadow of the Execution Chamber by Steven Hale (Mar. 19, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-61219-928-3). Journalist Hale collects his reporting on Tennessee’s death row inmates after the state resumed executions in 2018, including his experiences befriending some of the prisoners.

Chop Fry Watch Learn: Fu Pei-mei and the Making of Modern Chinese Food by Michelle T. King (May 14, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-324-02128-5) braids together a biography of Taiwanese chef Fu, who helped popularize Chinese cooking with her television appearances in the mid-20th century, and stories from King’s own childhood in a food-centric Chinese American household.

The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality by Amanda Montell (Apr. 9, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-66800-797-6) follows up Montell’s Cultish with a blend of memoir and cultural criticism that takes aim at the information age’s assistance of distorted thinking.

Beckett’s Children: A Literary Memoir by Michael Coffey (July 30, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-68219-608-3). The former co-editorial director of PW draws on his experiences as an adoptee and a father to examine the works of Samuel Beckett and poet Susan Howe, in light of unsubstantiated rumors that Beckett was her father.

Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Queer Histories by Diarmuid Hester (Feb. 6, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-63936-555-5) delves into lesser-known periods in the lives of notable queer artists, including James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, E.M. Forster, and Derek Jarman.

Penn State Univ.

With Darkness Came Stars by Audrey Flack (Feb. 27, $37.50, ISBN 978-0-271-09674-2) contains the groundbreaking photorealistic painter’s musings on her contemporaries, art practice, legacy, and motherhood.

PublicAffairs

In True Face: A Woman’s Life in the CIA, Unmasked by Jonna Mendez (Mar. 5, $30, ISBN 978-1-5417-0312-4) follows the author’s career arc from secretary to spy, recounting some of her most treacherous tours of duty and culminating in her promotion to the CIA’s chief of disguise.

Random House

How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone by Cameron Russell (Mar. 19, $29, ISBN 978-0-593-59548-0). The supermodel recounts her entry into the modeling industry at 16, subsequent disillusionment, and eventual resolution to organize for labor rights with her fellow models.

Feh by Shalom Auslander (July 23, $29, ISBN 978-0-7352-1326-5). The novelist delivers his first work of nonfiction since 2007’s Foreskin’s Lament , a memoir about his struggle to shake off generational guilt.

Double Click: Twin Photographers in the Golden Age of Magazines by Carol Kino (Mar. 5, $29, ISBN 978-1-9821-1304-9). This dual biography covers the lives and careers of Frances and Kathryn McLaughlin, twin New York City magazine photographers in the 1930s and ’40s who acquired success before women were nudged back toward domestic duties in the ’50s.

Seven Stories

Breaking the Curse: A Memoir About Trauma, Healing, and Italian Witchcraft by Alex Difrancesco (June 4, $18.95 trade paper, ISBN 978-1-64421-384-1) swirls together self-help and memoir as the author reflects on the ways alternate spirituality helped bring them peace after addiction and transphobic attacks.

St. Martin’s

Rise of a Killah by Ghostface Killah (May 14, $35, ISBN 978-1-250-27427-4) takes an illustrated look at the life of the rapper and Wu-Tang Clan cofounder.

The Story Game by Shze-Hui Tjoa (May 21, $17.95 trade paper, ISBN 978-1-959030-75-1). Singaporean writer Tjoa excavates memories lost to PTSD in this memoir of her childhood that’s structured as a mystery.

Union Square

Inconceivable: Super Sperm Donors, Off-the-Grid Insemination, and Unconventional Family Planning by Valerie Bauman (Apr. 16, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-4549-5143-8) describes the author’s plunge into an underground community of off-book sperm donors as she sought to become a single mother.

Ghosted: An American Story by Nancy French (Apr. 16, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-310-36744-4). French delivers a memoir about her difficult childhood in Appalachia, which she escaped by marrying a stranger and moving to New York City, where she started ghostwriting memoirs for conservative politicians.

This article has been updated with further information.

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The Rulebreaker: The new biography of legendary journalist Barbara Walters | The Excerpt

new books autobiography

On a special episode (first released on Thursday, April 11) of The Excerpt podcast: At age 47, Barbara Walters broke the glass ceiling for women in broadcast journalism, becoming co-anchor of a network evening news program at ABC. She would go on to land big interviews, from U.S. presidents to world leaders like Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro but also celebrities like the singer Courtney Love and boxer Mike Tyson. Through it all, Walters brought a signature style of interviewing. Her interview subjects laughed with her and cried with her. Actor Patrick Swayze even danced with her. What drove this bold and ambitious woman? Here to talk about the incredible life and career of Barbara Walters is USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page. Susan’s new book  “The Rulebreaker: The Life and Times of Barbara Walters”  takes readers behind the glamour of the famous broadcaster to share the story of a woman who broke all the rules, shattered glass ceilings and gave women a permanent place on America’s news airwaves.

Hit play on the player below to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript beneath it.  This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Podcasts:  True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here

Caren Bohan:

Hello and welcome to The Excerpt. I'm Caren Bohan, executive editor for politics at USA TODAY. At age 47, Barbara Walters broke the glass ceiling for women in broadcast journalism, becoming co-anchor of a network evening news program at ABC. She also negotiated a salary that broke records, $1 million a year, which was a huge sum back in 1976. She would go on to land big interviews from US presidents to world leaders like Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro, but also celebrities like the singer, Courtney Love, and Boxer Mike Tyson. And there was her famous interview with Monica Lewinsky about the fallout from her affair with Bill Clinton.

Check out: USA TODAY's weekly Best-selling Booklist

Through it all, Walters brought a signature style of interviewing. Her interview subjects laughed with her and cried with her. Actor Patrick Swayze even danced with her. What drove this bold and ambitious woman? Here to talk about the incredible life and career of Barbara Walters is USA Today Washington bureau chief, Susan Page. Susan's new book, The Rulebreaker: The Life and Times of Barbara Walters, takes readers behind the glamour of the famous broadcaster to share the story of a woman who broke all the rules, shattered glass ceilings, and gave women a permanent place on America's news airwaves. Susan, thanks for joining me.

Susan Page:

Hey, Caren, it's great to be with you.

I want to start with rule breaking and sexism. What were the biggest rules Barbara Walters broke?

Well, when she was starting out in the business, the rule was that women were not substantive enough to do the big interviews, the big newsmaker interviews. So she just went ahead and did them. And the rule was that women's voices weren't authoritative enough for viewers on the evening news to accept as anchors. So she just pushed her way onto the air. And then the rule was that women were not allowed to age on the air. So when she was 67 years old, she started a show called The View, and she appeared on that until she was in her 80s. So for Barbara Walters, it's not just that she broke the rules. It's that she ignored the rules. She pretended that the rules simply could not possibly apply to her.

Bring us inside a TV newsroom in the 1960s and 70s. What was it like for a young woman when Barbara Walters was getting her start?

So she got her first job on TV as a writer for a short-lived CBS morning show, because the man doing the hiring said she had the cutest ass. And this was a time when that kind of comment that nobody batted an eye at it. When she finally got herself on the air with Frank McGee, he set a rule. He went to the head of the network and set a rule that she could not speak until he had asked the first three questions. So this was a world in which women didn't hold most of these jobs. And if one woman did, another woman certainly couldn't. One woman at a time. That was the rule. So that meant that there was not any great sisterhood. Women often did not support one another in the workplace. It was fierce competition between them.

She was told she wasn't glamorous enough for on-air TV. She was passed over for socialites and movie stars. She pushed ahead anyway. And when she finally got on air, she faced open hostility from her male colleagues, on camera. How is she able to put that aside and thrive?

Harry Reasoner, her co-anchor on the ABC evening new, was so hostile that they stopped doing two shots. That's a shot where you can see Harry Reasoner listening to Barbara Walters talk because he would always be scowling at her. I think it's wrong to say she ignored it. She was wounded. She was rattled by the hostile workplace that she found herself in. She would go into the makeup room and cry. And then the makeup artist would say, "Stop crying. You're messing up my makeup." So she didn't cry in front of Harry Reasoner because she would never have shown that kind of vulnerability with the men who were torturing her. But it carried a cost for her. It wounded her, it rattled her. It shook her confidence.

For all the many male coworkers who were appalled at her rise and her salary, there was one exception.

Hugh Downs was the host of the NBC Today Show, and he encouraged them to put her on the air. She was a writer for The Today Show. He saw her possibility. He was not put off by her ambition as many of the men she worked with were. And she was helpful to her in a way almost no one else was. And later in their careers, they became co-hosts again on 20/20.

People like Walter Cronkite dismissed her as a showbiz type and said she wasn't a serious journalist. But her interviewing skills were legendary. She had this powerful connection with her interview subjects and her audience loved it. What was her secret?

She just worked harder than anybody else. She sometimes worked for years to get someone to agree to do an interview with her. She got a personal connection with news makers that served her well, when she wanted to get them on the air. And she was relentless in working up questions and working over the questions and revising them again and again, putting them on five by eight cards, to say, "What is the best question I could ask, and what is the best way I could ask it?"

Barbara Walters childhood was unconventional and painful in a lot of ways. How did that shape her path?

Yeah, unconventional for sure. Her father was one of the great impresarios of the 20th century, the founder of the famous Latin Quarter. Her mother was unhappy, distracted. Her older sister was developmentally disabled. And what her father would do, he would gain a huge fortune and they would move into a penthouse off Central Park. And then he would gamble it all away and they would find themselves all but penniless. He did this more than once, and that left her with a sense of her whole life that you could never count on things to be okay. That everything you had could be lost in an instant.

One thing that surprised me in your book was that she got into TV journalism almost by accident. She didn't at first have this grand vision of becoming Barbara Walters, the TV anchor. You write that fresh out of college, she took a job as a secretary and then left that job when her boss became too amorous. And then she ended up in PR at an NBC affiliate. But she was directionless early in her life. And then something changed when she was in her late 20s.

She had no big ambitions. She had nothing that really she was passionate about in college or afterwards. But when she was 28 years old, her father attempted suicide. And her mother did not call the ambulance. Her mother called her and had her come over, and she called the ambulance and she rode in the ambulance with her father to the hospital. And at that moment, she understood that the responsibility for keeping that family afloat was about to fall on her. That was the pivot point of her life, and it fueled this fierce and unrelenting ambition that she showed for the rest of her life.

We talk a lot in journalism and other professions about work-life balance. For Barbara Walters, what was it like to be a news anchor and a single mother in the 1970s and 80s?

Barbara Walters did not worry much about work-life balance because she believed in work. Now, she adopted a daughter. But then she hired a live-in nanny and a live-out housekeeper to take care of her daughter. And there was never any question, with her daughter or with her three husbands, about who would come first if she had a chance at a big interview. Even with her close friends, they understood that they were not Barbara Walters priority. And I think she paid a great cost for that late in her life when she found herself isolated and alone and sick in her Fifth Avenue apartment.

What was your favorite Barbara Walters interview?

I think the interview she was proudest of was the one with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, the first interview ever between an Egyptian president and an Israeli Prime minister. And she especially liked the fact that she had beaten Walter Cronkite in getting that interview. And the interview that got the biggest splash, that had the biggest ratings of any interview on a single network, before or since, was the interview with Monica Lewinsky. But I have to say the interviews that I like most are the ones where she shows how fearless she is in standing up to power. She was the first Western journalist to get an interview with Vladimir Putin after the 9/11 attacks in Moscow. And she knew the last question she wanted to ask, and she didn't write it down on one of her five by eight cards, because she was worried that Russian Intelligence Services would somehow find it and he would know this last question. And so the interview is almost over. She asked the last question. It was, "President Putin, have you ever ordered a man killed?" And he said, "Yet", which is an answer I don't think anybody believed.

Well, it makes sense why she didn't write it down. When Barbara Walters passed away in 2022 at 93, her remains were brought to Miami where her parents and older sister are buried. The grave site is very private. But you were determined to find her parting words. Can you share the back story?

So she dies, and there is a great movement among ABC and others to have a big memorial service for her, because she had been such an iconic figure. But her daughter wasn't comfortable with that. And so they cremated her body. The remains went to her daughter. Her daughter then told no one [inaudible 00:09:46], none of her friends or the ABC executives, what her plan was. Now, I assumed that she would go and be interred in the same Miami cemetery where her parents and her sister were. But the cemetery refused to tell us, number one, that she was there or number two where she was. So I hired a researcher, Romi Ruiz, who was a Miami-based editor for USA Today. And she, I cannot tell you what she had to do, moving heaven and Earth, defined Barbara Walters grave site. And the message that she left on her gravestone, which said, "No regrets. I had a wonderful life."

Final question: Apart from being a trailblazer, how do you think Barbara Walters change the news business itself, and where does her imprint continue to be most visible?

To say that Barbara Walters was a groundbreaking woman, journalist, understates her influence. She was a groundbreaking journalist of either gender. She was interested in presidents and murderers and sports figures and Hollywood figures, and she interviewed all of them. She thought all of them were worth interviewing. She was a great innovator at a time TV was just beginning to imagine its possibilities. I think she stands in the company of people like Roone Arledge and Edward R. Murrow and Oprah Winfrey, when it comes to defining this medium in exploring its possibilities.

Susan's book is called The Rulebreaker, and you can find it out on bookshelves or at your favorite online retailer, April 23rd. Thanks so much for being on The Excerpt, Susan.

Hey, thanks, Caren.

Thanks to our senior producers, Shannon Rae Green and Bradley Glanzrock for their production assistance. Our executive producer is Laura Beatty. Let us know what you think of this episode by sending a note to [email protected]. Thanks for listening. I'm Caren Bohan. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with another episode of The Excerpt.

How did Ian Fleming create James Bond? He looked in the mirror.

A new biography, ‘ian fleming: the complete man,’ by nicholas shakespeare, recounts the storied life of the writer behind 007.

new books autobiography

Some years ago, I gave a talk to the graduating seniors at a local school. Whatever I said that night — probably something about the importance of books and reading — has utterly vanished from my memory except for three words. During the question period, a young woman stood up and asked, “Mr. Dirda, what fictional character would you most like to be?” A number of possibilities flashed through my mind, and I almost said Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, because then I’d be married to Elizabeth Bennet. But instead, I put on my most sardonic smile and silkily whispered into the microphone, “Bond, James Bond.”

It’s hard to imagine that I might have answered “Secretan, James Secretan.” That was what Ian Fleming initially called his hero in the typescript of “Casino Royale,” first published in April 1953. Fortunately, just as Arthur Conan Doyle realized that Sherrinford Holmes wasn’t quite the right name for the greatest of all detectives, Fleming recognized that he needed something punchier than “Secretan” for the greatest of all secret agents.

According to Nicholas Shakespeare, in his huge, immensely detailed new biography, “ Ian Fleming: The Complete Man ,” there may have been two or three sources behind the final, seemingly inevitable choice. The 43-year-old Fleming, who was living two months of each year in Jamaica, regularly consulted “Birds of the West Indies,” by a Philadelphia ornithologist named James Bond. And back when he was working in British Naval Intelligence during World War II, one operation was saved from disaster by a heroic Rodney Bond. Somehow, though, I can’t imagine we’d be watching movies today about Rodney Bond.

One of the strengths — or, arguably, weaknesses — of Shakespeare’s 821-page biography is its length. If not exactly too much of a good thing, there’s always a little more than seems necessary. Take the long central section devoted to Fleming’s wartime intelligence work. While documentation is sketchy, since the relevant records were either destroyed or remain classified, Shakespeare deduces that Fleming was far more than the deskbound assistant to the head of Naval Intelligence and quite probably the department’s guiding mastermind. In these chapters, he describes in detail espionage strategies, meetings with American spymasters and botched operations — all of which may well be catnip to students of military history but will send other readers off for a cat nap. In any event, Fleming almost certainly based Bond on a composite of several agents and commandos he knew, as well as himself and his intrepid older brother, Peter Fleming, who is now remembered mainly for the classic travel book “Brazilian Adventure.”

Overall, though, “Ian Fleming: The Complete Man” is a dazzling, even dizzying achievement, despite that ludicrous-sounding subtitle. A “complete man,” Fleming believed, would resemble one of those swashbuckling Elizabethan all-rounders who were simultaneously poets, courtiers, lovers and soldiers. For Fleming, I think being a “complete man” remained largely aspirational. In his personal life, he was, by turns, a youthful rebel, a resentful mama’s boy, a modern-day Don Juan and a middle-aged melancholiac.

Consider his family background, tailor-made for psychological disaster. Grandfather Robert Fleming was Britain’s leading banker, one of the richest men in the world. After Ian’s father, Valentine, was killed during World War I, Winston Churchill, no less, wrote the obituary for the Times. From that point on, Val was held up to his four young sons as an unattainable ideal. His widow, Eve, would blackmail the boys into doing what she wanted by invoking their father’s spirit and example. As it happens, the eldest, Peter, excelled at everything effortlessly, from athletics to academics, was dubbed the “king” of Eton and was even regarded as a good bet to become a future prime minister. Born in 1908, Ian, the moody, insecure second son, dwelled in Peter’s shadow until the Bond novels reversed the relationship. The two youngest brothers happily entered the banking business but, like Scottish lairds, spent as much time as possible hunting and fishing on their highland estate.

Eve Fleming ruled Ian through her absolute control of the family purse strings. She even made him break up with the woman he wanted to marry by threatening to cut off his allowance. Mummy herself was extravagant in every way: A maid said that if it were raining, Eve would put on a new pair of shoes to walk to her waiting car and never wear them again. She never remarried, partly because her late husband’s will stipulated that she would then forfeit much of her enormous wealth. But this didn’t preclude an affair with the painter Augustus John, with whom she had a daughter, Ian’s half sister, Amaryllis.

As Ian grew up, he not only discovered an ability to charm women, he also used it. Again and again, Shakespeare notes his subject’s casual seductions, affairs with the girlfriends and wives of his friends, and, most disagreeably, a gigolo-like willingness to accept gifts and money from rich older women in his thrall — one gave him the equivalent of what would today be a quarter-million dollars to build his Jamaican compound, Goldeneye. While obviously whip smart and capable, Fleming nonetheless found nearly all his jobs, starting with a stint as a journalist for Reuters, through the interventions of fond women.

Yet, once hired, he would quickly win the almost paternal affection of his boss, whether Adm. John Godfrey of Naval Intelligence or Lord Kemsley, owner of the Sunday Times, who made him the paper’s foreign editor, with an exorbitant salary and two months of paid holiday each year. Fleming lived luxuriously even before the first Bond movies started to bring in the serious cash. While 007 might occasionally be an agent provocateur, his creator was always an agent-entrepreneur.

Again and again, Shakespeare’s biography reminds us of what a tight little island Britain could be for those of its privileged class. If you’ve read any of the books about the Brideshead generation , you’ll find many of the same people cropping up in Fleming’s life, including the critic Cyril Connolly, a former Eton classmate, and Evelyn Waugh, whose novels Fleming would like to have written more than his own. He even counted the multitalented showman Noel Coward as a confidant and once shared a wealthy girlfriend with Roald Dahl, to whom he gave the idea for a famous story, “Lamb to the Slaughter.”

Then there was the socialite Ann O’Neill (nee Charteris), whose Etonian husband was killed in World War II while she was having an intense affair with the newspaper magnate Esmond Rothermere, whom she eventually married. Soon thereafter, Ann broke Rothermere’s heart by sleeping with their friend Ian Fleming. Against the advice of almost everyone he knew, Ian married Ann in 1952, having kept his mind off the upcoming nuptials by writing “Casino Royale.” It took him just a month. A son was soon born, but the new Mrs. Fleming loved dinner parties and house guests, while her new husband was at his happiest snorkeling and playing golf. Neither was faithful to the other.

As with his excellent biography of the travel writer Bruce Chatwin, Shakespeare has produced one of those books you can happily live in for weeks. It will deservedly become the standard life of Ian Fleming, replacing a fine one by Andrew Lycett that appeared almost 30 years ago. Bond devotees, however, should be aware that there are no close analyses of the novels, and the only films discussed are the early ones with which Fleming was involved. But Shakespeare certainly recognizes that Bond’s creator, especially when young, behaved much like his hero toward women — in fact, much worse. He regularly comes across as a callous, sexist jerk, no matter how vehemently his friends, lovers and admirers testify to the man’s charisma, thoughtfulness and ability to light up a room. Not even Fleming’s book collecting — he focused on works that changed history — wholly improves his image: It seems to have been more for ostentation than for use. However, he did establish and underwrite Britain’s premier bibliophilic journal, the Book Collector, an act that pays many debts.

A far more likable, even mellow Fleming appears in his letters, edited by his nephew Fergus Fleming for the book “The Man With the Golden Typewriter” (2015). The creator of James Bond could be remarkably courteous in answering correspondents, even those who pointed out his factual errors or other slips. Didn’t he know that the perfume Vent Vert came from Balmain, not Dior, and that a Beretta is a lady’s gun rather than a proper weapon for a secret agent? The letters also make plain that the directors of the publisher Jonathan Cape despised the Bond books, regarding them as sadistic trash even though they ended up keeping the firm afloat.

Fleming died in 1964 at the relatively young age of 56 from cardiac disease, to which smoking 60 or more cigarettes a day doubtless contributed. Today, the real question is: Do the original James Bond thrillers stand up to rereading in the 21st century?

All too often, the only version of 007 most people are familiar with is the one created by Hollywood. Until the humorless, even unpleasant, albeit gripping Daniel Craig films, most of the Bond movies could be likened to commedia dell’arte, drawing on a set formula and softening the violence with cheeky quips, double entendres and even a weird campiness, as in the two films featuring Jaws, the assassin with steel teeth. The movies remain, above all, pure eye candy through their glamorous settings, expertly choreographed action sequences and one gorgeous “Bond girl” after another. Not that Bond himself isn’t the ultimate heartthrob. As I once heard a woman sigh, most men are boys, Sean Connery is a man.

Over the years, the movies have paid less and less attention to the Fleming thrillers from which they borrow their titles. In my experience, the original books — a dozen novels and two short-story collections — remain compulsive page-turners, while being grounded in their time, the Cold War era of the 1950s. Bond is nothing if not patriotic and deeply conservative. In “Casino Royale,” he maintains that “women were for recreation,” while in “Live and Let Die” the Black characters are largely stereotypes. Whether working for SMERSH or SPECTRE, Fleming’s villains invariably turn out to be “foreigners”: Even Sir Hugo Drax, from “Moonraker,” was born Hugo von der Drache.

Still, the best novels — “Casino Royale,” “From Russia, With Love,” “Dr. No,” “Moonraker” and “Goldfinger” — surmount any occasional drawbacks, energized as they are by elements from Fleming’s own life as well as by the speed and freshness of his prose. Who else could make a long chapter about a bridge game (in “Moonraker”) so riveting? Little wonder that poet Philip Larkin spoke of Fleming’s “mesmerizing readability.” What’s more, though the books emphasize action and violence, they don’t utterly shy away from elegance and lyricism, or even the occasional philosophical reflection:

“Mania, my dear Mister Bond, is as priceless as genius. Dissipation of energy, fragmentation of vision, loss of momentum, the lack of follow-through — these are the vices of the herd.” Doctor No sat slightly back in his chair. “I do not possess these vices. I am, as you correctly say, a maniac — a maniac, Mister Bond, with a mania for power. That” — the black holes glittered blankly at Bond through the contact lenses — “is the meaning of my life. That is why I am here. That is why you are here. That is why here exists.”

Those last three sentences, and particularly the last, demonstrate that when Ian Fleming is on point, nobody does it better.

Ian Fleming

The Complete Man

By Nicholas Shakespeare

Harper. 821 pp. $45

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Still need more reading inspiration? Super readers share their tips on how to finish more books . Or let poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib explain why he stays in Ohio . You can also check out reviews of the latest in fiction and nonfiction .

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Institute for Research in the Humanities

Review of Steven Nadler’s new biography of Descartes

Descartes: The Renewal of Philosophy (London: Reaktion Books, 2023), written by Steven Nadler , (IRH Director, 2018–) received an excellent review in H-France Review  Vol. 24 (March 2024), No. 29. The reviewer, Stephen Bold of Boston College, praises the work stating: “It is hard to imagine a more sure-handed account, both concise and clear, of the vast and challenging Cartesian corpus than the one that Nadler provides. Even very technical texts, like those concerning the broad field of physics, are presented in a manner that should be quite comprehensible for non-specialists.” The full review is available here .

  • International edition
  • Australia edition
  • Europe edition

‘Waged a relentless campaign against an increasingly dictatorial regime’ … Alexei Navalny.

Alexei Navalny’s memoir due to be published posthumously in October

The Russian opposition politician, who died in prison in February, completed an autobiography which will come out later this year

A memoir by the late Russian politician Alexei Navalny is due to be published this autumn, publisher Penguin Random House (PRH) has announced.

The Russian opposition leader and pro-democracy campaigner began writing his book, titled Patriot, shortly after his poisoning in 2020. He completed it before he died in prison in 2024, dictating some parts.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has been working with editors to bring the book to publication. She described it as “a testament not only to Alexei’s life, but to his unwavering commitment to the fight against dictatorship – a fight he gave everything for, including his life.” She hopes that readers will “come to know the man [she] loved deeply – a man of profound integrity and unyielding courage.”

“Sharing his story will not only honour his memory but also inspire others to stand up for what is right and to never lose sight of the values that truly matter”, she added.

Patriot is Navalny’s only memoir, and covers his early life through to his marriage, political career and activism. The book “expresses Navalny’s total conviction that change cannot be resisted and will come”, according to Vintage, the division of PRH that is publishing Patriot in the UK.

“In vivid, page-turning detail, including never-before-seen correspondence from prison, Navalny recounts, among other things … the many attempts on his life, and on the lives of the people closest to him, and the relentless campaign he and his team waged against an increasingly dictatorial regime”, the publisher added.

Navalny, who began his career as a lawyer, went on to become Russia’s most prominent anti-government campaigner and President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic. He was founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and was awarded the European Union’s Sakharov prize for “individuals, groups and organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to protecting freedom of thought” in 2021.

In 2013 and 2014 Navalny received suspended sentences for embezzlement, charges he said were fabricated to thwart his political ambitions. He ran in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election and came in second with 27% of the vote but was barred from running in the 2018 presidential election. In August 2020, he was sent to a hospital in Berlin after being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. Navalny accused Putin of being responsible for his poisoning.

In 2021, he returned to Russia and was detained on accusations of violating parole conditions while in Germany. In 2022, he was sentenced to nine years in a maximum security penal colony after being found guilty of large-scale fraud and contempt, in a trial described as a sham by Amnesty International. In August 2023, he was sentenced to an additional 19 years in prison. On 16 February 2024, the Russian prison service reported that Navalny had died at the age of 47 .

Patriot by Alexei Navalny (Vintage Publishing, £25). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com . Delivery charges may apply.

  • Alexei Navalny
  • Autobiography and memoir

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A new taylor swift biography for kids hits the bestsellers chart (and it’s on sale for $5).

The paperback tracks the singer's rise to fame, from her small-town beginnings in Pennsylvania to her travels around the globe.

By Tim Chan

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Who Is Taylor Swift Kids Book Cover

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Taylor Swift fans have a few more weeks to wait until her new album is released , but Swifties can spring for a new Taylor-inspired book in the meantime, that’s topping the charts online.

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Though it’s written for children ages 8-12, the new book is suitable for fans of all ages, and makes a great gift idea too.

Listed at a suggested manufacturer’s price of $6.99, Amazon has the new Taylor Swift biography on sale for just $5 as of this writing. The 112-page book is available on paperback, hardcover, for Kindle and as an audiobook on Audible (which you can listen to free with a free trial to Audible here ).

While this isn’t an official release from Swift’s camp, the book does hail from publishers Penguin Workshop, whose best-selling Who Was? series tells the stories of “important scientists, artists, writers, athletes, changemakers, and musicians,” in “inviting and digestible packages” for middle-grade readers.

As the publisher notes detail, “Since the release of her self-titled debut album in 2006, Taylor Swift has dominated the music charts, reinvented her sound, won numerous awards, shaken off public criticism, and spoken up for herself and others. Whether you’re a lifelong Swiftie or someone who just loves learning about musicians, this enchanting book will teach you all about the experiences that helped Taylor Swift become the successful superstar many kids and adults looks up to.”

Who Is Taylor Swift? is written by Kirsten Anderson, whose other titles include  Who Is Zendaya?  and  Who Is Kamala Harris? The young adult book also features illustrations from Gregory Copeland, an award-winning artists whose work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators New York, Communication Arts Illustration Annual, and 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide, among others.

The book comes on the heels of an unofficial Taylor Swift fan journal that was released last year, in the middle of the singer’s record-breaking Eras Tour.

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