The Biographies To Read When You Need A Little Inspiration

Look, I love memoirs just as much as the next person. But sometimes I want to sit down with a full-on biography. See, a memoir explores a certain set of experiences, or a particular portion of a person's life, and that's lovely. A biography is a big hulking book that barrels right through someone's life story from beginning to end, in chronological order. And some days, that's the exact kind of motivation I need. I want birth to death coverage of that notable person's life (or, you know, birth to present day, if it's an autobiography). Because every life has its ups and downs, and there's nothing like stepping into someone else's life to give you a little perspective on your own. Here are a few biographies that will inspire you to keep going.

Almost any book, fictional or non, can inspire. But biographies have the particular ability to give you a brief taste of someone's real experience. Perhaps you aspire to follow in their foot steps. Maybe you're looking for a great story of triumph against all odds. Perhaps you just want a cautionary tale. Either way, a biography can help you out. So, whether you need inspiration to finish writing your novel, to call your senator yet again, or just to keep getting up in the morning, here are a few great biographies to give you the energy:


'The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou' by Maya Angelou

Yes, Maya Angelou wrote several autobiographies to follow I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and yes, they're all worth reading. You probably know Angelou for her gorgeous, lyrical writing, and her story of surviving childhood trauma. But her adult life was also full of art, tragedy, travel, romance, and several dozen different career paths. She was everything from a lounge singer to a pimp to a civil rights activist before becoming a writer. This is a six book epic that forever changed what an autobiography could be, and it's a must read at every stage of life.

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'Hamilton' by Ron Chernow

Are you young, scrappy, hungry, and in need of motivation? Alexander Hamilton understands. So does Ron Chernow, who manages to transport you into the radical world of America's founding fathers without giving you flashbacks to high school history. Hamilton is a remarkable story that'll make you want to get out there and make your mark on the world (and good luck getting the songs from the musical out of your head).

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'The Woman Who Would Be King' by Kara Cooney

Forget Cleopatra (I mean, don't because she was also a fascinating historical figure). It's all about Hatshepsut, the cross-dressing, twenty year old female king of Ancient Egypt. Her life was wild. She basically weaseled her way onto the throne and then just ran with it. Read this book, and then channel your new friend Hatshepsut when it comes time to ask for your next raise.

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'Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay' by Nancy Milford

Whether or not you know Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry, you're going to want to know her life. As the quintessential poet of the Jazz Age, it was pretty dramatic. Millay shocked the public with her many lovers (male and female, married and unmarried), and flouted convention at every turn. She's a confusing, passionate, fascinating person to read about for "misfits" of every kind.

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'Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol' by Nell Irvin Painter

You've probably heard the name Sojourner Truth before, but how much do you actually know about her life and accomplishments? Truth was more than just a vague symbol for triumphing over adversity: she helped lay the groundwork of modern feminism. Read up on her life of activism, and keep fighting for what's right.

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'Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China' by Jung Chan

Look, is it just me who draws inspiration almost exclusively from books about empresses? Empress Dowager Cixi was one of the most important figures in Chinese history. She ruled during the Boxer Rebellions, war with France and Japan, and various other invasions. She fell in love with a eunuch. She certainly wasn't perfect (like that whole thing where she imprisoned her nephew), but her biography is a stunning portrait of one woman's rise to power.

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'Notorious RBG' by by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Who knew the American justice system could be so fun and feminist? Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik are simply delightful, and RBG is, of course, a stone cold bad ass who's been fighting for justice and gender equality for decades without fail. This is the kind of book that fills you with joy while also making you consider a law school application.

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