The Best Biographies & Memoirs of October 2019

Me, by Elton John
It’s  hard to believe Sir Elton has never produced an autobiography until now. With a career that spans more than a half century, the one-time Reginald Dwight has plenty of stories to tell—some relating to the excesses and pitfalls that have plagued so many rockers, many others having to do with his run-ins with some of the most significant figures of our time, including Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth. The suburban kid from Pinner grew up to be one of the most shocking and outrageous figures in glam rock, and soared to the heights of respectability as an icon, and also a father. This is the story of a living legend, told in his own words.

The Beautiful Ones, by Prince
Another equally significant, but very different musical visionary has a new memoir out this month, this one a bit more poignant. The autobiography begun prior to Prince’s death in 2016 is the first-person account of a Minnesota kid who created some of the most visionary pop and funk ever recorded, cultivating a mystique very different from what his upbringing would have suggested. Prince’s own recollections of his childhood and early growth as an artist make up the first part of the book, while writing and candid photographs fill in the major events from the rest of his storied career. Finally, the Artist’s own handwritten treatment for “Purple Rain” is included in its entirety. Though sadly truncated, this is an essential portrait of The Artist: Prince sought to retell his own story as a mythic and funky adventure, and succeeded.

Edison, by Edmund Morris
He was once a defining figure in America’s own self-mythology, but there was certainly much more to prolific inventor Thomas Edison than the lightbulb. With seven years of of research and access to millions of documents, many of them unavailable until now, Edmund Morris confronts Edison in full: the whirlwind of inventor and capitalist whose technology touched every aspect of American life, as well as the autocratic leader and neglectful husband. Morris’ approach is to look for the human beneath the myth; he even spends some time exploring Edison’s notorious, but overstated, competition with Nikola Tesla. Most, if you’ll pardon the pun, enlightening.

The Book of Gutsy Women, by Hillary Rodham and Chelsea Clinton
Any new book from Hillary Clinton is an event, and this one seemed particularly well timed to capitalize on our current political moment. Joined by daughter Chelsea, the Clintons shares the stories of women who’ve inspired them and who, each in her own way, broke barriers and made progress possible for themselves and future generations. Among the women chronicled are LGBTQ trailblazer Edie Windsor, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, civil rights activist Dorothy Height, swimmer Diana Nyah, historian Mary Beard, activist Malala Yousafzai, and Harriet Tubman—among many others. They’re all inspiring stories, and they all have things to teach us about the many different ways to chart a better future

Face It: A Memoir, by Debbie Harry
It’s obviously a huge month for musical memoirs, and it’s impossible to overstate the importance of each of the talents with books out this month, but none of them rocks harder than punk icon Debbie Harry, who led the band Blondie, a fusion of rock, punk, disco, and hip-hop incarnate. The deeply private artist’s new memoir revisits the gritty music scene in 1970s New York, an era when some of the greatest bands of all time were on the verge of becoming legends. Through drug addiction, heartbreaks, and breakups, Harry evolved from rock star to activist to icon, busting down barriers and making great music all the while.

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, by Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton
Her first memoir, Home, chronicled Julie Andrews’ difficult childhood and emergence as a singer and stage performer, while this follow-up discusses her Hollywood career from its earliest days and offers insights into her biggest successes in her own words. Co-writing with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, Andrews not only dives into the stories behind roles in films like Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and Victor/Victoria, but deals with her own transition into worldwide superstardom, and the effect it had on her marriages and children.

Where Do I Begin? Stories from a Life Lived Out Loud, by Elvis Duran
It’s not easy to make it in radio these days, so Duran’s success as the host of New York City’s “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show” is doubly impressive: between local broadcast and syndication, the show is typically heard by around 10 million live listeners. As open (and funny, and engaging) on the page as he is on the air, Duran has plenty of stories to tell about his rise through the ranks—he started as a DJ-for-hire in several markets before moving to NYC in 1996, becoming a favorite among listeners for his interviews with pop music royalty and chats with his fans.

Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie, by Carly Simon
Another book from a musical legend, this one less about Carly Simon’s music than about her relationship with another American icon: following a chance encounter at a party in Martha’s Vineyard,  Simon and Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis developed a relationship somewhere between that of best pals and a mother and daughter. When Simon write children’s books in the 1980s and ’90s, it dovetailed with Jackie’s late-career move into the publishing world, and she became Simon’s editor. The friendship lasted right up until Jackie’s death in 1994. Here, Simon shares the intimate story of their unique bond.

Whose story inspires you?

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