Sometime back, the idea of reading famous biographies honestly bored me. I was thoroughly a fiction enthusiast. However, my first encounter with biography was when I got a free copy of Why I left Goldman Sachs. The title seemed kind of interesting, and slowly and steadily, I waded through the book. It got me hooked on this genre. Oh boy, what wealth I was missing out on.
A good biography is gripping, exciting, and informational. It may end up delivering you moral messages and a perspective on the world around you. Bottom line, you’d end up more aware. So, here’s a list of 10 famous biographies of the mighty who give us a glimpse of greatness in humans. IMO, these are among the best and most famous biographies and autobiographies ever written.
1. Elon Musk : How The Billionaire CEO Of Spacex And Tesla Is Shaping Our Future
About Elon Musk : If it ever comes down to robots vs. people, I would bank upon this man to save us. Elon Musk is the co-founder of Tesla, a groundbreaking technology company, and founder of SpaceX, a revolutionary aerospace manufacturing, and space transportation company. He is a visionary, technology geek, inventor, and dreamer. He was also the co-founder of Paypal, a globally used online payment system, now owned by eBay,
Book Review : You’d be awed by the man. Ashlee Vance sure wrote like a fanboy, but there isn’t any other way, now, is there? Elon Musk is one of the most important man of our times in the field of technology, and the book is pretty convincing on why that is so. The book is definitely engaging. What I found the most interesting is Musk’s growing up days in South Africa, and then his early adulthood in the US. The book digs deep into Musk’s life, his associations over the last two decades and his contributions to shape the world. You will also get a glimpse of the technology of the past decade, today and future esp. in the areas of space, energy, and automation.
2. Steve Jobs
About Steve Jobs : Whenever I think of Steve Jobs, every innovation and technological advancement seems believable and doable (A person with an average intelligence like me finds internet, space travel and even mobile technologies mind-boggling, so what!). He was a creative genius and path-breaking innovator who co-founded Apple Inc and ignited the PC revolution, transformed the world of computing devices and changed the way people listen to music.
Book Review : It is an intriguing yet an objective and balanced account of Steve Job’s life. The book delves into early years of Steve Jobs. His partnering with the other Steve, the evolution of Apple, his contention with Microsoft CEO, his relationship with the stakeholders and much of professional life has been covered in the book. You’ll get to know what kind of a boss he was and his management style. You’ll navigate through his nuances as a social person and his intellectual prowess as a designer. What is an autobiography without delving into personal space. So you have a bit of that as well. Like it ends up happening with every great autobiography, Steve Jobs will no more remain a mere Co-founder of Apple, but a person you have known.
3. John Nash : A Beautiful Mind
About Josh Nash : He was a brilliant Mathematician. His path-breaking contributions in the fields of game theory, differential geometry, and the study of partial differential equations are priceless. (There are actual people who are experts in these areas! I remember how I was disgustingly under-prepared on these topics for my exams even after spending countless sleepless nights). His work on game theory has helped in better understanding the interplay of decision making and changes in simple and complex systems. He was awarded Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994 along with two other game theorists.
Book Review : Welcome to the complicated and delicate yet enigmatic, awe-inspiring and encouraging world of Josh Nash esp. when seen through the eyes of Sylvia Nasar. It is an account of how a genius surpasses his medical condition, which was deemed incurable by doctors, morphed the world of mathematics and economics and went on to become a Nobel Laureate. Sylvia Nasar does not go after explaining the mathematical pursuits of John Nash. She has written about his personal and professional life, and the hardships and adversities that came along the way.
4. Alan Turing: The Enigma
About Alan Turing : I would like to quote him “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?” and “A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human” And this is from the 1950s. He not only is the pioneer and father of modern day computers and led us to the computer age, but also sprouted a foundation for AI. He was a genius of a computer scientist, mathematician, and crypt-analyst. His logic and IQ could have given a lot of big tech companies a run for their money if he were to be alive till this decade.
P.S. Alan Turing is one person, and probably the only person, I’d like to meet from the past. He was shy, overachiever, loner, even polite, socially awkward and massively intelligent. I guess, for the most part he was a nice guy, and it’s really depressing to know how things ended for him.
Book Review : Andrew Hodges has rightfully written an extraordinary and heart-rending biography of an enigma that Alan Turing is. The book does get complicated with the detailed mathematical analysis and discussions sprawled all over. Nevertheless, the man you’d come to know, his brilliance, his foresight, and yet his naivety and innocence in social setups, will touch your heart.
5. Srinivasa Ramanujan : The Man Who Knew Infinity
About Ramanujan : Ramanujan was a child prodigy and a genius mathematician. Over his short span of life, he deduced ample valuable theorems, identities, and equations in the areas of number theory, continued fractions, infinite series and numerical analysis. He was a quintessential example of a born mathematician who was unfathomably intuitive and inventive at Mathematics.
Book Review : This a riveting and beautifully written story of genius mathematician that Ramanujan was. The book is thorough in its accounting of how life transpired for Ramanujan right from his childhood days through the day when he was accepted by a professor at Cambridge to his early death. Robert Kanigel intelligently describes the social panoramas at every point in Ramanujan’s life whether it be colonial India, life at Cambridge, cultural burdens of a South Indian Brahmin family or Europe during WWI.
6. Richard Branson : Losing My Virginity
About Richard Branson : Richard Branson is a business tycoon and founder of Virgin group, which operates more than 400 companies. With his impeccable business sense and principles, he has come a long way from being an anxious teenagerteenager with passion, dreams and Virgin Records to a seasoned business magnate. Right now he is the 8th richest British national. Would you believe if I tell you that he is school drop out and had difficulty reading.
Book Review : It’s an autobiographical account of a man with acute business sense and unfettered risk-taking capabilities. He gives a good peek into his crucial decisions and the growth of Virgin Group, his early struggles, and his persuasive and charismatic presence that helped him build an empire. The autobiography is fascinating and exceptional, and Branson’s flamboyant persona oozes out of the book.
7.Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam : Wings Of Fire
About Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam : Dr. Abdul Kalam was a defense scientist and chief of India’s defense research and development programme. During his tenure there, he spearheaded major technological innovations and entirely morphed and charged up the defense research center. He was awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India, in 1997. Dr. Kalam has also served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007.
Book Review : The book is truly inspirational. Dr. Kalam’s story of disappointments, struggles, and hardships at least at his initial years and his persistence and determination through all those times is commendable and encouraging. He is one of the India’s most humble and distinguished scientists, engineer, mentor, and professor. In case you want to learn about India, you might as well start with this book. This is one of my most favorite famous biographies.
8. The Boys In The Boat
About : It’s a true account of an American Team’s journey to bag Gold at the 1936 Olympics held in the Nazi Germany.
Book Review : This absorbing and inspirational story by Daniel James Brown of nine working-class boys from the American West who won the Olympics in boat rowing by their sheer hard work and courage to dream the impossible is immensely inspirational. The personal account of the boys, their lives, the shared dream, and journey to the unimaginable is awe-inspiring. Joe Rantz’s story was esp. very moving and exuded human potential to bear despair. The book at the same time is illuminating as it brings forth historical aspect and details the sport of boat rowing.
9. Into Thin Air
About : This is based on the true story of the May of 1996 disaster at Mt. Everest.
Book Review : Well, in case you don’t have “tracing Mt. Everest” on your bucket list and at the same time have FOMO, this book is a must-read. You can live through the dangers, adventures and adrenaline rush of climbing Mt. Everest vicariously through John Krakauer’s experiences. His factual account of grave dangers involved in scaling Mt. Everest rather than just it’s glorification is commendable. Krakauer talks about their journey, the accident and the unfathomable risky situations that he and his team found themselves in. Though why a married man with two kids would go on this perilous adventure is beyond any logical interpretation. I liked the appreciation he bestowed on Sherpas.
10. Dr. Paul Farmer : Mountains Beyond Mountains
About Dr. Paul Farmer : Dr. Paul Farmer is a medical anthropologist and physician. He received his MD and Ph.D. from Harvard University. All his life, he has been committed to looking after the medical needs of the impoverished. He has helped poor in Haiti always endevors to reach out to the underprivileged in other parts of the World. He is a man with ethics, good intentions, and single-mindedness. He has been vociferous on issues of health and human rights, social inequalities, and global health.
Book Review : Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Paul Farmer’s efforts in reaching out to the poor to provide free medical help is inspiring and heartwarming. His admiration for the man who went to great heights for the sake of the impoverished and forgotten is reasonably placed. Over the course of 20 years, Dr. Farmer has traveled to Haiti, Russia, and Peru to treat countless people diagnosed with TB, AIDS, and Malaria. For research purposes, Kidder accompanied him on some of his trips. He was touched by Dr. Farmer’s determination, noble purpose, and absolute devotion. The book will inevitably revive your faith in mankind. This is one of the most influential famous biographies.
If you ever plan on writing a biography or get curious about understanding how to write a biography, reading these would be a good first step.
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You can also checkout the list of some really good non-fiction books.
Keep Reading. Chao!