The best biographies and memoirs of January

Al Woodworth on January 08, 2021
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The best biographies and memoirs of January

This month, our the Best Biographies and Memoirs illuminate stories of woman grieving the loss of their parents, wrestling with identity, and discovering secrets from their family's past. Also on our list this month, is a biography of two of the first female doctors in America, a biography of a modern day Robin Hood, and a "touchingly funny memoir" from Gabriel Byrne.

Here are some the biographies and memoirs that stood out this month, but be sure to see the full list here


Aftershocks: A Memoir by Nadia Owusu

Achingly intimate and flaming with rage, hurt, and sadness, Nadia Owusu’s memoir wrestles with big questions of identity and demonstrates just how fragile it can be. After the death of her father and the discovery of shape-shifting secrets from her family's past, Owusu must “construct a story, to reconstruct her world.” A blistering and searching portrait of what it means to belong and to whom.


The Unusual Suspect: The Rise and Fall of a Modern-Day Outlaw by Ben Machell

This is the biography of a 22-year-old who robbed banks and got away with it, nearly every time. Think meticulous escape routes, multiple costume changes, decoys—the works. Every dollar he stole, he'd write RH on; he kept careful diaries and notes of all of his missions, so it's with those and interviews that Machell pieces together this fascinating portrait of a robber, a hero, an unstable young man who conned the FBI, Interpol, and police in four countries. For fans of the movie Catch Me If You Can and, of course, the classic, Robin Hood.


Dog Flowers: A Memoir by Danielle Geller

At every turn in this book the writing and story surprises, in both quiet and tectonic ways. And I should qualify the tectonic: a homeless mother, an alcoholic father, a stripping sister, and the constant hum of bipolar disorder. Geller seems to bare it all in this absorbing and beautifully written memoir about grappling with the death of her mom—"I trace my fingers over my mother's careful cursive, over the destruction that unfolds."


The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames: A Memoir by Justine Cowan

Turns out Justine Cowan's British, fussy, mean, and secretive mother, whom she never got along with, was hiding everything about her past from her daughter, including her name. After her mother's death, Cowan sets aside her issues—"I feared that knowing the truth would giver her a power over me that I couldn't bear"—and begins to search for the truth about her mother. This emotional and transatlantic journey is a page-turner about identity, the sacrifices mothers make for their children, how cruel society could be to unmarried mothers at the turn of the century in England, and the history of the Foundling Hospital.


The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura

It seems impossible to imagine—or maybe too easy to imagine—a time when women were not doctors. In The Doctors Blackwell, Janice P. Nimura tells the story of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, sisters and the first and third women to earn a medical degree in the United States. Feisty, talented, and ambitious, these women fought to provide medicine to the underserved and to promote women's rights and abolition. Together they founded the first ever hospital staffed entirely by women—but it wasn't easy and it came at a cost. This is an important part of American history, and while it's particularly timely today, their work has endured since Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became a doctor in 1849.


Walking with Ghosts: A Memoir by Gabriel Byrne

As Vannessa Cronin wrote in her review: "Walking with Ghosts would be a fascinating, moving, lyrical, and touchingly funny memoir even if one didn’t know its subject and author were actor Gabriel Byrne. Avoiding the celebrity-studded tell-all, Byrne, with the wonder of someone examining pieces of sea glass, touchingly and self-deprecatingly recounts the people and events that shaped him and set him on his life’s path."


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