“A Great Book Begins with an Idea; A Great Life, with a Determination” – 10 of the Best American Biographies of All Time

There’s no shortage of amazing stories about amazing people. But this list is about the American ones in particular. You might as well just go ahead and add these biographies to your list of what books to read next. You won’t be disappointed. Happy reading!

Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer, 1996


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In April 1992, John Krakauer went to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car possessions, burned all his cash, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, a party of moose hunters found his decomposed body. How he came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild. His story is both beautiful and tragic.The memorable book is an international bestseller which has been printed in 30 languages and 173 editions and formats. The book is widely used as a high school and college reading curriculum.

“Happiness is only real when shared.” – Jon Krakauer

Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson, 2011


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The biography is based on more than forty interviews with Jobs that were conducted over two years as well as interviews with more than one hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues. The book was written at the request of Jobs. Isaacson is a former executive at CNN and TIME who has written best-selling biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Jobs is said to have encouraged the people interviewed to speak honestly. Even though Jobs cooperated with the book, he wanted no control over its content other than the book’s cover and waived the right to read it before it was published. The book was released on October 24, 2011 – 19 days after Jobs’ death.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

The Story of My Life

Helen Keller, 1903


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The Story of My Life is Helen Keller’s account of her triumph over deafness and blindness. Keller’s story has become a symbol of hope for people all over the world. The book was published when Keller was only 22. She reveals her frustrations and rage and takes the reader on an unforgettable journey of her education and breakthroughs into the world of communication. An amazing moment was when she recognized the word “water” when her teacher finger-spelled the letters.

The book was actually dedicated to inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The dedication reads, “TO ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL; Who has taught the deaf to speak and enabled the listening ear to hear a speech from the Atlantic to the Rockies.”

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Barack Obama, 1995


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Obama’s memoir explores the events of his early years in Honolulu and Chicago up until his entry into law school in 1988. Obama published the memoir in July 1995, when he was starting his political campaign for Illinois Senate. The book tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him, being the son of a black African father and white American mother. Obama’s biography might be the most revealing portrait we have of a major American leader.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Cheryl Strayed, 2012


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At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed the most impulsive decision of her life after hitting rock bottom. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she decided to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State, alone. Cheryl’s story powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds. The book reached No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and was the first selection for Oprah’s Book Club.

Cheryl’s book was made into a film called Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. The movie won numerous awards.

“I’m a free spirit who never had the balls to be free.” – Cheryl Strayed

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou, 1969


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This is a coming-of-age tale of abandonment and prejudice. It describes the early years of the American writer and poet. She overcomes racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 16. Maya transforms from a victim of racism into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice. Maya’s story is poetic and powerful and definitely inspiring.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Autobiography of Mark Twain

By Mark Twain, 1907


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Mark Twain’s autobiography is a classic book about a classic American author. It has all the marks of greatness in it: style, scope, imagination, laughter, and tragedy. Mark Twain tells his story with the same flair he brought to his fiction. He wrote this autobiography on his deathbed and vowed to he “free and frank and unembarrassed.” This book is one for those who appreciate the written word as well as history.

“If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.” – Mark Twain

Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles

By Anthony Swofford, 2003


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Anthony Swofford is Jarhead. His story is the first Gulf War memoir by a frontline infantry marine, and its narrative is unforgettable. His inspiring and truthful story is a portrait of a tormented consciousness struggling for inner peace. It shows the dark truth of a marine’s inner thoughts, contrary to what real-time print and television coverage of the Gulf War portrayed.

Swofford’s story was so compelling, that a movie was created about it. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx. It’s worth a watch, but only after you read the book.

“Every war is different. Every war is the same.” – Anthony Swofford

Dylan: The Biography

By Dennis McDougal, 2014


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This is a groundbreaking biography that goes deep into the life of Bob Dylan. It includes subjects Dylan himself left out of his autobiography “Chronicles: Volume One.” This book moves beyond the analysis of his song lyrics or famous biographical facts. Dylan’s biography has the real story behind all the myths.

“All I can be is me, whoever that is.” – Bob Dylan

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King, 2000


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This memoir is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. Entertainment Weekly said, “Long live the King” when they remarked upon the publication of the book. He includes the basic tools of the trade that every writer must have. King’s advice is given on the backdrop of his vivid memories from childhood up to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999. King’s book will inspire and entertain everyone who reads it, whether they are fans, writers, or simply anyone who loves a great story well told.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King