The Best Biographies & Memoirs of September 2019

Permanent Record, by Edward Snowden
One of the most controversial and, ultimately, consequential figures of our time, Edward Snowden’s life and career speaks to all the ways in which we’re not fully prepared for the surveillance age. In 2013, CIA contractor Snowden leaked word of an NSA surveillance program that he’d helped to build—a program to collect data on every cell phone call, text, and email in a way that would impact almost everyone on the planet. It was one of the most consequential acts of whistleblowing in American history. He’s seen as a hero by some, and a traitor by others, and now, six years later, the exile—complex, revered, vilified—tells his side of the story.

What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics, by Rachael Denhollander
Hundreds of young athletes were sexually abused by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar over the course of decades, and he wasn’t the sport’s only predatory figure. When Rachael Denhollander and others revealed the abuse they’d suffered in 2016, it inspired other victims to come forward and reveal the systems that had protected and empowered people like Nassar. Denhollander tells her own story here, one that is both deeply personal and widely relevant in exploring both the reasons why the sex abuse was allowed to continue within USA Gymnastics for as long as it did, and explicating the strength and bravery it took to break the whole thing open.

Inside Out: A Memoir, by Demi Moore
She earned fame for her iconic movie roles (St. Elmo’s FireGhost, Indecent Proposal, etc.), broke barriers in pay for actresses in Hollywood, and led a personal life highlighted by tabloid-ready marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher. Throughout all of this, just under the surface of her glamorous Hollywood life, Demi Moore battled life-long insecurities, barely concealed childhood trauma, and addiction. In her new memoir, she lays it all on the line, from her complicated relationship with her mother, to the ins-and-outs of her acting career, to the challenges of raising a family under the watchful gaze of the paparazzi.

Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, by Jonathan Van Ness
The current Netflix run of Queer Eye has gone well beyond a makeover show for the fashionably clueless, layering in heartwarming and poignant stories of overcoming prejudice that are inspired by a cast that’s not afraid to get to the heart of the issues in the lives of the show’s subjects. That’s certainly the case for grooming and self-care expert Jonathan Van Ness, whose message has been that taking care of yourself comes from the inside out. During his childhood in a small Midwestern town, he was misunderstood by just about everyone—over-the-top and very gay even as a child, he was an easy target for the ridicule and judgement of his peers. Those early experiences shaped his unapologetic positivity and compassion, and he shares that journey in this personal and raw account of the journey to self-acceptance.

The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power
Beginning her career as a war correspondent and vocal critic of United States military policy, Samantha Power moved on to a role as a human rights educator and activist before joining the Obama administration, eventually taking on the role of United States Ambassador to the United Nations. In her new memoir, the Pulitzer-Prize winner describes her childhood as an American immigrant and describes the challenges of balancing a high-stakes career with parenthood. Her personal story dovetails with that of an increasingly troubled world, highlighting the importance of standing up for the ideals you revere, even in the face of institutional opposition.

Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy, by A. N. Wilson
Following up his acclaimed biography of Queen Victoria, A.N. Wilson capitalizes on the occasion of the 200th birthday of the Prince from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to tell Prince Albert’s story. For two decades, Albert had an impact on almost every aspect of British life, pushing for scientific and political modernization amid the rule of his legendary wife. Their deeply complicated but undeniably passionate relationship was often a tug-of-war over the reins of power, with Albert finding ways to work with and around the Queen in order to advance his priorities for the country. Given the significance of Wilson’s book on Victoria, there’s every reason to believe this followup will be just as enlightening.

Sontag: Her Life and Work, by Benjamin Moser
Sometimes left off of male-centric lists of the big thinkers of the twentieth century, few Americans had as much to say (and on as many topics) as Susan Sontag. She wrote on photography, on politics, AIDS, human rights, communism, capitalism, and dozens of other topics in her long career as one of America’s most important intellectuals. Her life, as well, was fascinating: she struggled with her sexuality, courted famous lovers, and traveled to some of the most significant and horrific conflict zones of the recent past. Frequently (if not always) controversial, she nonetheless helped shape the consensus of thought during her 71 years, and this definitive biography of her life represents an important effort at reckoning with her legacy.

To Love and Let Go: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Gratitude, by Rachel Brathen
Though they looked nothing alike, everyone called Rachel and Andrea twins—such was the nature of their friendship. Until 2014, when Rachel woke up from emergency surgery while on a trip to learn that Andrea had been fatally injured in a car accident. Over the following years, Rachel—already the author of the New York Times bestseller Yoga Girl and the founder of YogaGirl.com—faced trials and triumphs in equal measure while her grief and the memory of childhood trauma conspired to keep her from moving forward. A pregnancy becomes an opportunity to find a way to face the future in this poignant and, ultimately, uplifting memoir.

Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time, by Ian O’Connor
A book proclaiming its subject to be “the greatest football coach of all time” might sound like hyperbole—if the title were referring to anyone but New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who, as the NFL’s longest-tenured head coach, has a record of wins that’s  unprecedented in the game (since this book was released in hardcover late last year, he’s added a sixth Super Bowl victory to his resume—it’s tough to keep up). Based on extensive new research and interviews, O’Connor offers up the first complete portrait of the dour-faced coach, exploring his life and relationships on and off the field.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King
Between last year’s blockbuster documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and the forthcoming Tom Hanks movie about his life, Mr. Rogers is having a moment. And is it any wonder? His lessons about the virtues of curiosity, honesty, play, and simple compassion are evergreen, and we seem to need them now more than ever. King’s new work is the first full-length print biography of the icon, and (thank goodness) it’s no shocking tell-all: by all accounts, the Mr. Rogers we saw on TV wasn’t that far removed from the real-life figure. What does come to light are the struggles of his own childhood, as well as the savvy behind-the-scenes decision making that made his show a beloved staple for generations of kids.

Whose story inspires you?

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