Five Biographies/Autobiographies

You probably rarely read biographies for fun, or maybe you do and you’re looking for some new ones to read. I have recently read several noteworthy biographies that I feel discuss significant people and subjects, and that were actually interesting to read because they were written in new or unconventional styles. There are some really amazing people that have made or are making significant contributions to the world, and I believe that it is important to read about them and their work. So why not try reading one? It might just change your life!

I AM MALALAI Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Many people may remember the Pakistani girl who stood up for girls’ education and was targeted and shot by the Taliban in October 2012. Now after her remarkable recovery she has written a book about her life and her goals. Malala begins by describing the history of her country and then details her life in Pakistan before the Taliban controlled her valley. When she begins to discuss life under Taliban rule, it is shocking to read about the struggles of her family and the entire community. Malala then recounts the events of October 2012 and ends by describing her goals for universal education. Written in an absolutely beautiful fashion from beginning to end, this book makes you think about your own struggles and how to overcome them.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

A link to the Malala Fund website:


immortal-lifeThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is a book about science, ethics, and one incredibly important but forgotten woman. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black farmer who got cancer as a young woman. Doctors later took samples of her tumor cells without consent. Little did they know that these cells would eventually become the most important cells in scientific research as they continued to multiply and were shipped all over to be used in research. Henrietta Lacks was largely forgotten after her cells were taken, and her family had no idea what the doctors had done until years later. In this journalistic-style book, Skloot, who had the privilege to befriend Henrietta’s daughter, explores the ethics behind Henrietta’s story and finally gives a complete account of the woman who was forgotten for years and known simply as HeLa.

Click here to read a Wikipedia page about HeLa cells.


feynmanFeynman by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Leland Myrick

Have you ever seen a biography written in comics? Well, here’s one! This graphic biography tells the story of the famous theoretical physicist and educator Richard Feynman. The book begins with Feynman as a boy and follows the rest of his life through college, teaching, and work on the atomic bomb. Another interesting aspect of this book is that it takes place from Feynman’s point of view. When beginning this book, I thought that it would probably be boring to read about a physicist, but the first person point of view, the fact that the book explored his personal life (not just his professional one) and of course the simple but engaging illustrations kept me reading.

Click here for a link to some of the pictures from the book

Here’s a link to Feynman’s website: (Note: it has sound!)


running in the famRunning in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

I was assigned to read this book for my literature class, and I was skeptical as to what a literature class could study in a memoir. I mean, a memoir is just a book written by someone about one’s life, right? And that didn’t sound very interesting. But this book is different. Michael Ondaatje is most known for his work as a Canadian poet. In fact, as we learn by reading his memoir, he grew up in Sri Lanka and has a rich family history on the island. Ondaatje uses beautiful poetic language, straight ahead narrative, outright poems, and dream-like lists of memories to tell his story about his complex past. The diverse writing styles keeps you engaged as the book jumps around in time and place.

A quote from the book: “Here where the cassette now starts up in the next room. During the monsoon, all this Beethoven and rain.”

A link to the author’s Facebook page:


mountains beyondMountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

This book tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, an American doctor who has devoted his life to establishing health clinics in Haiti that would bring medical technologies to the people most in need. Farmer spent most of his own money to buy materials for his clinic and to provide treatments for free. This book is written in a journalistic style. The author begins by describing Farmer’s childhood and progresses to tell how he got to be a doctor in Haiti and the work that he has done. One interesting aspect of the book is that the author spent time following Farmer around in Haiti, visiting patients with him and observing his clinic, so the author’s voice appears in several passages as “I.” The main reason I enjoyed this book was because I found Dr. Farmer’s work to be monumental and quite inspiring.

Here’s what critics have to say:

“Stunning… Mountains Beyond Mountains will move you, restore your faith in the ability of one person to make a difference in these increasingly maddening, dispiriting times.” – John Wilkens, The San Diego Union-Tribune

“[A] masterpiece… an astonishing book that will leave you questioning your own life and political views…” – Nicholas Thomas, USA Today

By RuthMabel, Greenwood Teen Blogger


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