The Best Books of the Month: Biographies & Memoirs

Jon Foro on October 09, 2018

The Amazon Books Editors' selections for the best new biographies and memoirs of October include: An informative look into the life and work of Frederick Douglass using previously unavailable sources; a frank and emotional (and uplifting?) story of a family that will "destroy each other... destroy themselves"; and The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, as told by two lovers who absolutely believe it. See all of our picks across nine categories—including Literature & Fiction, Nonfiction, and History—in the Best Books of the Month.

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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

There are many biographies of Frederick Douglass, but there has not been a major one written in nearly twenty five years. David W. Blight’s new book is a valuable contribution to the understanding of Douglass as both a man and as a historical figure, utilizing papers that had not previously been available. Although direct in his message, Douglass, like many great men, was a person of contradictions. Blight explores those contradictions, painting Douglass as a complete human being, even as he lays out the clear argument for his greatness. This thorough and highly readable biography traces Douglass’s entire life, starting on a plantation in Maryland, covering his education and eventual escape, his two marriages, his complicated relationship with his family, and his work as an abolitionist and orator. In the end, the reader will walk away with a deeper grasp of a still deeply misunderstood chapter of American history, as well as understanding, respect, and admiration for one of the county’s greatest figures. —Chris Schluep

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There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald

Gerald begins and ends his passionate memoir by describing a photograph of his family taken when he was just a little boy. There’s his handsome, football-star father, his glamorous mother, his “portrait perfect” sister, and Gerald himself, with his arms outstretched like an airplane, ready to fly away. “See the family,” Gerald writes, “Savor them. Soon they will be destroyed. They will destroy each other. They will destroy themselves.” That prophetic voice gives There Will Be No Miracles Here drama and gravity that is surprising given Gerald’s youth, but well-suited to his bust-to-boom-and-back-again story of growing up poor, gifted, and gay. Gerald left behind his troubled family in Dallas and headed east to play football for Yale, intern at Lehman Brothers, and then study for an MBA at Harvard. A career in politics beckoned, but Gerald’s soul proved too big for such worldly goals, and he returned to Texas to find himself. Complicated and nuanced, There Will Be No Miracles Here is a frank and emotional depiction of the causes and costs of “upward” mobility.

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The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

If there's ever a situation that calls for my first use of sui generis, this is it. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is made of many parts: Part epistolary memoir; part tongue-in-cheek self-help; part family photo album; part puzzle book; part helpful self-help; part comedy; part performance art; all true love story. Offerman and Mullally are totally committed to each other, and totally committed to this book. It's the only way it could have worked (and it succeeds, phenomenally), and they might be the only two who could have pulled it off. Hilarious, touching, and sincere, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is sui generis.

More of the best biographies and memoirs of September:

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