The best books of the month: biographies and memoirs

Jon Foro on June 07, 2019
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Summer is right around the corner, and you know what that means: Time to sink into a good biography, autobiography, or memoir. Among our picks for the best of June: A winding, nearly inconceivable tale of a young Army recruit driven to prove herself in a man's world; Tan France's path from a conservative upbringing to Queer Eye fame; North Korea's seemingly unlikely tyrant, Kim Jong Un; and a long overdue look at the life of boxing legend Smokin' Joe Frazier.


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Formation: A Woman's Memoir of Stepping Out of Line by Ryan Leigh Dostie

Ryan Leigh Dostie’s story of her life so far—raised in a matriarchal cult in Connecticut, joining the army to pursue her love of languages, her sexual assault by a fellow solider, deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the crippling aftershocks of PTSD—flings the reader around so many unsettling corkscrews as well as breathtaking highs and lows that you may stagger when you flip the final page.


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Naturally Tan: A Memoir by Tan France

Naturally Tan recalls how a South Asian boy from a conservative immigrant family grew up in South Yorkshire, navigating multiple issues: parents who pushed him to become a doctor or lawyer though he knew his passion was for fashion; the occasionally violent racism of his working class neighborhood; and being gay (a fact he kept from his parents until he was 34). While Naturally Tan will be catnip to the fans who know him from the show that made him famous, Netflix’s Queer Eye, readers who never watched an episode will also find this memoir captivating.

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The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un by Anna Fifield

North Korea is the oddest and most secretive political regime in the world—isolated yet internationally relevant, bankrupt yet in possession of nuclear weapons—ruled by one of the world's strangest and most elusive tyrant: the self-proclaimed Beloved and Respected Leader, Kim Jong Un. Fifield reconstructs Kim's past and present with exclusive access to sources near him, and brings her unique understanding to explain the dynastic mission of the Kim family in North Korea.

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Grinnell: America's Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West by John Taliaferro

Before Rachel Carson, there was George Bird Grinnell, the man whose prophetic vision did nothing less than launch American conservation. Drawing on forty thousand pages of Grinnell’s correspondence and dozens of his diaries, Taliaferro reveals a man whose deeds and high-mindedness earned him a lustrous peerage, from presidents to chiefs, Audubon to Aldo Leopold, John Muir to Gifford Pinchot, Edward S. Curtis to Edward H. Harriman.


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Smokin' Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier by Mark Kram Jr.

History will remember the rivalry of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali as one for the ages, a trilogy of extraordinary fights that transcended the world of sports and crossed into a socio-cultural drama that divided the country. Frazier was a much more complex figure than just his rivalry with Ali would suggest. In this riveting portrayal, Kram unlinks Frazier from Ali and for the first time gives a full-bodied accounting of Frazier’s life.


More of the best biographies and memoirs of June:


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