Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our guides.
I’m a memoir junkie, I admit, but there’s also something irresistible about a really juicy biography. I appreciate first person candor, but writing objectively about yourself is basically impossible—so why not let someone else take a stab at it? Below, I’ve collected 15 fascinating biographies published this year that will make a great gift for any biog lover on your list.
For the Political Wonk
Wilson, by A. Scott Berg: Quick, without looking it up, when was Woodrow Wilson president? I’ll even accept the correct century. If you got it wrong, you probably aren’t the political wonk in your family, but either one of you would probably enjoy this in-depth account (from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author) of one of our lesser-known commanders-in-chief.
Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands, by Charles Moore: In the wake of Thatcher’s recent passing comes the first in a series of authorized biographies, chronicling the early years of one of the most divisive political figures of the 20th century.
Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch, by Barbara A. Perry: November 2013 was all about memorializing the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but this illuminating look at the life of his mother provides another reminder that JFK was just one part of America’s defining political dynasty.
For the Music Geek
Tune In: The Beatles All These Years, by Mark Lewisohn: Yes, this book is nearly 1,000 pages long. Yes, it only follows the band through the end of 1962. Yes, the author, a Beatles insider, is planning two equally long follow-ups, which will take more than a decade to write. A true Beatlemaniac understands, and would accept nothing less.
Johnny Cash: The Life, by Robert Hilburn: The guitarist and singer-songwriter has already inspired an award-winning biopic (Walk the Line), but there’s plenty more to learn about his life in this labor of love from music critic Hilburn, who was Cash’s close friend and actually in the audience on the day of his legendary performance at Folsom Prison.
Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, by Terry Teachout: Ellington is unquestionably one of the most influential jazz musicians of any era, but also one of the most famously enigmatic—even his closest confidants claimed not to understand him. This work, which collects memoirs by Ellington’s friends and family as well as the man himself, offers a few pieces of the puzzle.
For the Literary Fiend
Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno: This epic tome provides a long-awaited look at the life of one of our most infamous modern literary recluses. Though the most exciting revelation the is confirmation that new writing from Salinger is forthcoming, there’s plenty more to chew on here.
Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers, by Valerie Lawson: Before you go see Emma Thompson play Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, read about the real deal in this biography, which was published in Australia over a decade ago but, thanks to the new movie, is only now making its way to the U.S.
Norman Mailer: A Double Life, by J. Michael Lennon: The strange and contradictory life of one of the chief literary figures of the 20th century, as chronicled by J. Michael Lennon, his official archivist and friend of more than 35 years.
For the Film and TV Lover
Jim Henson: The Biography, by Brian Jay Jones: The biggest surprise you’ll find in this 700-page examination of the life of the man who created the Muppets? He was actually a really nice guy, and none of the dozens of people interviewed have much dirt to spill about him (even his ex-wife!). Come to think of it, what else would you expect from the man who gave voice and life to Kermit?
Johnny Carson, by Henry Bushkin: After inviting him into your home every night for 30 years, you might feel like you already knew Johnny Carson, the man who came to epitomize late-night television. But Bushkin, who was hired as Carson’s lawyer in 1970 at the tender age of 27, has plenty of fascinating insights and raucous anecdotes into a very public figure with a controversial private life.
Fosse, by Sam Wasson: Famously driven—perhaps into an early grave—by his perfectionism and ambition, Bob Fosse had an indelible impact on what we think of when we think of Broadway, and also managed to direct a few films that are regarded as masterworks. Wasson provides a thorough look at both his work and his tumultuous personal life in the year’s most fascinating on- and offstage drama.
For the Sports Nut
The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, by Ben Bradlee, Jr.: These days, it’s getting hard to remember when our baseball heroes really were heroes, and when performance-enhancing drugs were limited to beers in the dugout. Ted Williams is one of the most beloved figures of the glory days of America’s game, and this book offers an untempered look at his life both on and off the field.
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football, by Rich Cohen: Not a biography of one person but of an entire team, this book is a touching portrait of the players and coaches (including, of course, “Da Coach”) that became one of the greatest Cinderella stories in sports history.
The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry, by Mark Ribowsky: Landry spent nearly 30 years coaching the biggest team in football from under that trademark hat, helping to create what we think about when we think about professional football.
What’s the best biography you’ve ever read?