The best biographies and memoirs of July

Al Woodworth on July 06, 2020
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The best biographies and memoirs of July

This July is an exceptional month for biographies and memoirs—four of which made our Top Ten Best Books of the Month. If you’re looking to bask in the world of sports, look no further than Arshay Cooper’s memoir of being on the first all-Black high school rowing team; or if you want to know what the emergency room is like at 3:30 in the morning, check out Michele Harper’s knock-out memoir. There are also biographies and memoirs of swindling con-men, unsung World War II heroes, Saturday Night Live cast members, and more.

Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Biographies and Memoirs of the Month.


A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America's First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper

Missing sports? The thrill of rooting for an underdog? Well, look no further than Arshay Cooper’s memoir of rowing in what was the first all-Black high school rowing team in the country. To say rowing was an improbable outcome for Cooper and his pals is an understatement of a lifetime. He grew up surrounded by gang members, drug dealers, drug addicts, and prostitutes. Violence was a given and poverty was not far behind. And yet, crew offered him an escape: “I am done with my old life. I choose rowing. I choose a future.” And so begins the pursuit of rowing in unison, which would expose Cooper and his teammates to college campuses, different states, internships, and jobs. In some ways this is a memoir of underdogs fighting their way to the top, but it’s also about how an entire population is left out of the opportunity loop, and how a seemingly small thing like sports can change lives.


Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous

This true story based in make-believe is a breath of fresh air and a lot of fun. Duchess Goldblatt is a fictional 81-year-old social-media personality and author of the bestselling Feasting on the Carcasses of My Enemies, who tweets things like "Hello, lemon-lime sourballs. It’s Transitory Saturday, when we remember that nothing is good forever, and nothing is bad forever.” Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is the memoir of her creator, discovering humor, camaraderie, and community through “Her Grace” (as her fans call her) as she deals with the sadness and loneliness that comes from a divorce, partial custody of her kid, job annoyances, and the absence of care. This memoir is a powerful testament to the joys of the imagination and how a simple change in viewpoint can make a more sprightly and supportive world.


The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper is a page-turning memoir of a Black emergency room doctor who, while tending to the sick and the injured, mends her own wounds inflicted from an abusive father and a broken marriage. This book couldn’t be more timely, and yet Harper’s story is timeless. Readers will learn the ins and outs of the ER at three am, will see the systematic racism and sexism that dominates the healthcare industry, and understand what it is like to grieve and rebuild from a traumatic event, whether a cracked rib, a horrible father, or the babies she never had with her husband. Dr. Harper is determined to heal, but also to take the time necessary to understand the pain, in a page-turning memoir of hurt, diagnosis, and recovery.


A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

Sure, Colin Jost might have an argument for his very punchable face (pantsing people in the subway, terrorizing his younger brother, and looking like “a guy who is always on the verge of asking do you know who my father is?”), but it is also a comically endearing, self-effacing face. And, let’s be real, who would want to read a book entitled A Very Lovable Face? With ceaseless wit, relentless optimism, and a healthy dose of self-awareness, Jost recounts his childhood in Staten Island, why he loves his mother (you will too, after you read that chapter), writing for The Harvard Lampoon, interviewing for Saturday Night Live, getting thrown out of a wrestling ring, and all the sketches and Weekend Updates in between. Whether or not you’re an SNL fan, this feisty, funny memoir is well worth the read and the punches—I mean, the laughs. Oh, the laughs.


The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs by Robert J. Mrazek

What’s the saying: not all heroes wear capes? Well, Filipino native, Florence Fitch certainly didn’t wear one, and she is one of the great unsung heroes of World War II. Despite being the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom it wasn't until fifty years later that she recounted her dramatic days of self-sacrifice, courage, and bravery that saved countless American lives in the Philippines. This is a front row seat to her story—how she survived on her own from the age of seven, fell in love with an American intelligence agent, and after his death, how she hatched a bold plan to divert tons of fuel from the Japanese army and sell it on the black market in exchange for medicine and supplies for American POWs. A harrowing and compelling biography of one woman’s grit, care, and fortitude.


The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey

And, if you’re looking for an escape—like an escape from living an honest life, you’ve got to check out the biography of America’s most infamous con man. In the summer of 1843, James Strang vanished from the hills of upstate New York and re-emerged in the Midwest, convincing thousands to follow him, “a divine king”, to an island in Lake Michigan. There he unveiled a world of plural marriage. He also thieved, pillaged, corrupted, and committed fraud like no other huckster before. Strang’s life is one of adventure and bad behavior that culminates in an epic downfall, all of which has largely been forgotten. Acclaimed historian Nathaniel Philbrick calls this book “a masterpiece,” and Dave Eggers raves “unputdownable.”


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