Best Books of the Month: Biographies & Memoirs

Jon Foro on November 12, 2018

The Amazon Books Editors' selections for the best new biographies of November include: an amiable book by a widely respected, amiable rock star (who almost certainly wouldn't call himself a rock star); the life and tragic death of an iconoclastic war correspondent; a patchwork memoir from an all-time essayist; a rowdy love letter from the Beastie Boys to their fans; and the struggles of an Antarctic adventurer following in the footsteps of that continent’s most famous explorer.

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Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc by Jeff Tweedy

This book will be best enjoyed by those familiar with both Tweedy's music and his career with Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. But Tweedy's tales are relatable and funny, and his prose comes off as natural, personal, and self-deprecating, and his accounts of his many highs and lows—especially the lows; Tweedy has suffered from anxiety and opioid addiction—are affecting but not overwrought. But mostly it's fun to read about an artist who has steadfastly walked his own line, one that happens to define the border between unsung and overexposed. 

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In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

When Marie Colvin was killed in an artillery attack in Homs, Syria, in 2012, at age fifty-six, the world lost a fearless and iconoclastic war correspondent who covered the most significant global calamities of her lifetime. Written by her fellow reporter Lindsey Hilsum—with exclusive access to her Colvin's diaries—In Extremis is a thrilling investigation into an epic life and tragic death. 

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The Patch by John McPhee

John McPhee is, of course, one of the finest essayists we have, and his collection of thoughts on writing (Draft No. 4) was one of our favorite books of last year, and also one of the best. The Patch presents writings previously unpublished in book form: the front nine is classic McPhee (fishing, sports, nature, golf), while the back is an "album quilt" of  reminiscence—a kind of crafty memoir. It might not be a "major work," but any new McPhee is always welcome.

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Beastie Boys Book by Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz

The authors otherwise known as Mike D and Ad-Rock present this rambling and unruly stream-of-consciousness trip through more than three decades of uncensored memories—records, rashes, tours, graphic novels, and playlists. Lest you think this is frivolous, disreputable stuff, Amy Poehler, Wes Anderson, Jonathan Lethem, and National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead stop by with their own contributions. Beastie Boys Book is uncountable things, but overall it's a box full of love letters to fans, founding member Adam Yauch (who passed away in 2012), and the early days of hip-hop. 

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The White Darkness by David Grann

Henry Worsley is an Ernest Shackleton acolyte and relation to Frank Worsley, one of the legendary explorer's crew members in the Antarctic. In 2008, Henry determined to measure himself against his hero, aiming to succeed where Shackleton had failed. Though The White Darkness is short (the article appeared in The New Yorker earlier this year), the addition of over 50 photographs—historical images from the Endurance expedition in addition to Worsley’s own—has turned it into a fascinating (and gift-worthy!) record of struggle and determination against the grimmest of odds. 

More notable biographies and memoirs in November:

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