October is always a big month for serious biographies and memoirs in the publishing world, and this year is no different. Our list of the Best Books of the Month has a little something for everyone: foodies, hard-core historians, music fans (rock 'n' roll, pop, and country), those looking for comfort in hard times, lit lovers, and so much more.
For the purposes of this article, though, definitive biographies and memoirs are the name of the game. We’ve got Malcom X, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, the legendary food critic James Beard, Lenny Kravitz, and three women who changed the fate of World War II. We found these books to be inspiring, entertaining, and sometimes astonishing. Have a look, have a read, and enjoy!
The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne
Recently named a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Dead Are Arising chronicles the life of Malcolm X. In 1990 the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Les Payne, set out to interview everyone and anyone who knew Malcolm X in an effort to provide a fully realized portrait of one of America’s iconic human rights activists. The result is a thorough, intimate rendering of his life, work, and death.
Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz's memoir is steeped in reflection and details his life of opposites: "Black and white. Jewish and Christian. The Jackson 5 and Led Zeppelin. I accepted my Gemini soul. I owned it. I adored it. Yins and yangs mingled in various parts of my heart and mind, giving me balance and fueling my curiosity and comfort." There is magic in this memoir, the kind that says 'Let Love Rule.'
The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard by John Birdsall
James Beard was a food critic who, as John Birdsall writes, "spent his life urging us to kick down the barriers—of class and geography…that kept many Americans from knowing the pleasures of food and drink." He was progressive, gay, anti-elitist, and a larger than life personality that could be a charmer one minute and explosive the next. While this biography should be feasted on by foodies, it's also a remarkable portrait of a closeted man reveling in the simplicity of home cooking.
The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War by Catherine Grace Katz
The Daughters of Yalta is proof that behind every great man there is a great woman. During the pivotal Yalta Conference in February 1945, the wartime alliance among Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin nearly fell apart. As the "Big Three" convened to chart out the path forward, the "Little Three"—Kathleen Harriman, Sarah Churchill, and Anna Roosevelt—proved indispensable. They performed behind-the-scenes diplomacy, removed bedbugs, drank late into the night, kept secrets, and acted as powerful confidants to their fathers. These women were bold, intelligent, accomplished, caring, and funny. I can't wait to read more about the remarkable maneuvering and relationships of these three women.
In his Best Book of the Month review, Chris Schluep wrote: "In this highly readable biography, Brands alternates between histories of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln, driving home just how much slavery was a part of the American fabric during their lifetimes. Although they never met, Brown—who believed God had chosen him to free the slaves—committed violent acts that would help to upend Lincoln's attempts at political moderation. Brown's activism ended at Harper’s Ferry—but he became a martyr to the North and demon to the South, as the nation lurched toward Civil War."
We found these biographies and memoirs of foodies, civil rights activists, rock stars, and the daughters of political leaders to be inspiring, entertaining, and sometimes, astonishing.