People are Interesting: The Ten Biographies Project

8 Dec

I typically make some reading goals each year, and for 2012 I’ve been thinking I would like to read more biographies and memoirs. There’s so much wisdom and inspiration that can be drawn from the lives of others. Amirite?

Didn't make the list

While there are a ton of people I’d love to read about, I wanted to set an attainable goal, so I limited my list to just ten. This meant I had to rule out Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, Drew Barrymore’s Little Girl Lost, and Corey Haim’s video diary, Me, Myself, and I.  Here’s what made the cut (though I might make a few adjustments as I go):

  1. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal. The author is a well-known ceramicist, the fifth generation in his family to receive a collection of small Japanese carvings called netsuke. He traces the history of his family through the passing down of the collection.
  2. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. My mother recommended this memoir of the author’s growing up in an east Texas oil town. Goodreads says the characters are as “darkly hilarious as any of J.D. Salinger’s.”
  3. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m pretty sure I could learn a thing or two about leadership from the man who preserved the union.
  4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I’m a fan of Rebecca Skloot, and this sounds like a story that needs to be told. Henrietta Lacks was a tobacco farmer whose cells were used without her knowledge to advance many medical causes including developing the polio vaccine and advances in in vitro fertilization.
  5. Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. I heard the author interviewed on NPR and this book sounds awesome. Also, my friend Joanna gave it four stars on Goodreads.
  6. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox. Rosalind Franklin helped Wilkins, Crick, and Watson to discover DNA but did not share in the Nobel Prize. I first heard about her during a DNA class at the Brooklyn Brainery last year, and I made a note to learn more about this woman and her story.
  7. Two Lives: A Memoir by Vikram Seth. Seth tells the unusual love story of his great uncle and his German wife. The story spans much of the 20th century and covers ground from India to Germany to England.
  8. Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers. I’m sure there are a lot of great Twain biographies out there – and maybe I should start with his own words in My Life on the Mississippi anyway – but I was persuaded by the reviews on Amazon that this would be a good one to start with.
  9. You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn. This one has been on my list forever. I had a chance to interview Howard Zinn in 2002, and have been meaning to read this collection of his personal stories of social activism since then.
  10. Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick. This is a graphic biography of famed quantum physicist Richard Feynman. I hope it’s as quirky as he was.

Do any of you have any favorite biographies or memoirs?

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2 Responses to “People are Interesting: The Ten Biographies Project”

  1. Joanna December 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    I like memoirs/biographies in graphic novel form, like Persepolis and Vietnamerica (and Radioactive!). Maybe I would like Feynman.

    Another couple of books I’ve been meaning to read are An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Oh, and The Liars’ Club too!

    • Hannah Kane December 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

      I’m going to add Paul Rusesabagina’s book to my list, even though I’m sure it will be a challenging read.

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