The best biographies and memoirs of August

Jon Foro on August 23, 2019
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There's something for everyone in this month's collection of the best in biography and memoir, including: Shiftless youth and young adulthood under the bleak fluorescent lights of a loved and loathed burger franchise; the often harrowing adventures of one of the world's preeminent cave divers; the life of "the greatest showman the world has ever seen"; the rivalry that shaped public lands policy; and a wild and Kerouacky journey into the darker corners of these United States.


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Nights in White Castle: A Memoir by Steve Rushin

In 2017, Steve Rushin published Sting-Ray Afternoons, a memoir about growing up in the ‘70s— of the Golden Age of candy cigarettes, sugar on your grapefruit, and Nixon on the TV. A muscle car has replaced the Schwinn on his follow-up, so it seems he’s moved on to more grown-up things. Not necessarily mature things, though. Nights in White Castle is a chronicle of that awkward phase between adolescence and adulthood, of terrible jobs and cheap beer and the bad decisions that led young men to BIG DOGS tank-tops in the ‘80s.


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Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

Jill Heinerth has descended farther into the inner depths of our planet than any other woman. She takes us into the harrowing split-second decisions that determine whether a diver makes it back to safety, the prejudices that prevent women from pursuing careers underwater, and her endeavor to recover a fallen friend’s body from the confines of a cave. Into the Planet is the first book to deliver an intimate account of cave diving, transporting readers deep into inner space, where fear must be reconciled and a mission’s success balances between knowing one’s limits and pushing the envelope of human endurance.


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Barnum: An American Life by Robert Wilson

P. T. Barnum was the greatest showman the world has ever seen, and nearly 125 years after his death, his still inspires wonder. Robert Wilson’s vivid new biography captures the full genius, infamy, and allure of the ebullient showman. Wilson makes the case for P. T. Barnum’s place among the icons of American history, as a figure who represented, and indeed created, a distinctly American sense of optimism, industriousness, humor, and relentless energy.

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Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America's Public Lands by John Clayton

John Muir, the most famous naturalist in American history, protected Yosemite, co-founded the Sierra Club, and is sometimes called the Father of the National Parks. Raised in wealth, Gifford Pinchot founded the U.S. Forest Service and advised his friend Theodore Roosevelt on environmental policy. Natural Rivals examines a time of environmental threat and political dysfunction not unlike our own, and reveals their complex dynamic, which gave birth to America's rich public lands legacy.


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Idiot Wind: A Memoir by Peter Kaldheim

Owing drug debts to a dealer who is no stranger to casual violence, Peter Kaldheim flees New York City, living hand-to-mouth in flop-houses and pan-handling with his fellow itinerants. As he makes his way across America in search of a new life, the harsh reality of vagrancy forces him to face up to his past, from his time in Rikers prison to lost and lamented relationships. Kaldheim hikes and buses through an America rarely seen, and his encounters with a disparate collection of characters instills in him a new empathy and wisdom, as he journeys on a road less traveled.


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