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20 Best Biographies for Teens Teachers Recommend

April 20, 2022 //  by  Jaclyn Hamod

Biographies can provide powerful reading material for teens. For reluctant readers, biographies are a great way to immerse themselves in a true story. Reading inspiring books allows young adults to learn valuable life lessons that go beyond their own experiences.  Learning about the successes and failures of others is important for what lies in the future for teenagers.  Here is a list of 20 middle school biographies that teenagers would benefit from reading.

1. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

A perfect book for middle schoolers.  No matter the size of your group, big or small, and whatever your goal is, Daniel Coyle takes you through the culture chemistry principles that can turn individuals into teams with the capabilities to create and accomplish great things.

2. Educated: A Memoir

A heartfelt story exploring the role of education in 17-year-old protagonist Tara Westover's coming of age. Westover's journey to literacy opens up a whole new world for her - but will she find her way home?

3. Into the Wild

How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of life, reflection, and struggle in the wilderness.

4. Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery

Scott Kelly is a four-time space veteran and holds the American record for the longest consecutive days spent in outer space.  In his life story, we gain a deeper understanding of the human imagination and persevering strength.

5. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

An Army Air Forces bomber crashes into the Pacific Ocean and is captured by the Japanese. Zamperini faces desperation with ingenuity; suffering, hope, resolve, and humor.

6. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

A story of a childhood survivor of the Cambodian genocide, this is a war crime narrative that reveals the unnerving strength of a small girl and her family.

7. Twelve Years a Slave

A reliable and accurate eyewitness account of the daily lives of slaves; in particular, an authentic narrative of a man starved of his freedom.

8. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Perfect for casual readers, this bestselling memoir by the creator of Nike shares the company's early stages as a start-up and how it evolved into one of most iconic household names and profitable brands in the world.

9. The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller

The remarkable story of Helen Keller's blindness and deafness.  A truly inspirational biography that shows the struggles and joys of her life.

10. The Bell Jar

A look into the life of Esther and her deep, dark descent into insanity which feels all too real and rational.

11. The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom

In the Dutch Underground, Corrie Ten Boom and her family become leaders in hiding Jewish people from the Nazis.

A brave and inspiring story of Will Smith - his learning curve that leads to an alignment of success, inner happiness, and human connection.

13. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

A trek in 1996 to Mount Everest that leads to a disastrous expedition that claims the lives of eight climbers.

14. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

Drawing on experiences as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Julie Smith shares the skills needed to navigate typical life challenges while also taking control of your mental health and emotions.

15. Becoming

A deep reflection on Michelle Obama and her experiences that have shaped her to be one of the most iconic women in our era.

16. Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

A story of an American childhood during the Civil Rights Movement that shaped Octavia Butler into the science-fiction storyteller that she became.

17. Up From Slavery: An Autobiography

An African-American history story where freedom, self respect, educational programs and industrial training are worth fighting for black Americans.

18. Up Close: Jane Goodall

The story of a young woman from London who travels to Africa to revolutionize views on chimpanzees, forest conservation, and women in scientific fields.

19. Autobiography of a Face

A heart-wrenching story about the author's disfiguring cancer and how she dealt with the pain and healing. In a world that obsesses over physical attributes, she looks for acceptance, inner peace and love.

20. We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist and author of many biographies for teens. A story that paints a vivid picture of what it's like to live in a refugee camp during war and border conflicts.  A fascinating story that reminds us that every displaced person has hopes and dreams.

10 Contemporary Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs for Teens

Real-life personal stories to inspire today's teens

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For some teens, reading the life stories of others—whether they're famous authors or victims of a civil war—can be an inspiring experience. This list of highly recommended contemporary biographies , autobiographies , and memoirs written for young adults includes life lessons about making choices, overcoming monumental challenges, and having the courage to be a voice for positive change.

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

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In his autobiographical memoir, "Hole in My Life" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004), award-winning children’s and young adult author Jack Gantos shares his compelling story about making a single choice that altered his destiny. As a young man of 20 struggling to find direction, Gantos seized an opportunity for quick cash and adventure, signing on to help sail a 60-foot yacht with a cargo of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City. What he hadn’t anticipated was getting caught. Winner of the Printz Honor Award, Gantos holds nothing back about his experiences with prison life, drugs, and the consequences of making one very bad decision. (Due to mature themes, this book is recommended for ages 14 and up.)

While Gantos clearly made a huge mistake, as evidenced by his critically acclaimed body of work, he was able to turn his life back around. In 2012, Gantos won the John Newbery Medal for his middle-grade novel "Dead End in Norvelt" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011).

Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

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"Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board" (MTV Books, 2006) is Bethany Hamilton's story. At 14, competitive surfer Bethany Hamilton thought her life was over when she lost her arm in a shark attack. Yet, despite this obstacle, Hamilton found the determination to continue surfing in her own creative style and proved to herself that the World Surfing Championships were still within reach.

In this true account, Hamilton chronicles the story of her life before and after the accident, inspiring readers to overcome obstacles by finding and focusing on an inner passion and determination. It's a wonderful story of faith, family, and courage. (Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

A movie version of ​​"Soul Surfer" was released in 2011. Hamilton has since written a number of inspirational books spun off from her original memoir.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara

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Brutally attacked by rebel soldiers who cut off both her hands, 12-year-old Mariatu Kamara from Sierra Leone miraculously survived and found her way to a refugee camp. When journalists arrived in her country to document the atrocities of war, Kamara was rescued. Her tale of survival as a victim of civil war to becoming a UNICEF Special Representative, "Bite of the Mango" (Annick Press, 2008) is an inspiring story of courage and triumph. (Due to mature themes and violence, this book is recommended for ages 14 and up.)

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

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In their own words, four young men sent to death row as teenagers speak candidly with author Susan Kuklin in the unflinching nonfiction book, "No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row" (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2008). The youthful offenders talk openly about the choices and mistakes they made, as well as about their lives in prison.

Written in the form of personal narratives, Kuklin includes commentary from lawyers, insights into legal issues, and the backstories leading up to each young man’s crime. It's a disturbing read, but it offers teens a perspective on crime, punishment, and the prison system from people their own age. (Due to mature subject matter, this book is recommended for ages 14 and up.)

I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure

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“He said goodbye with YouTube links.” What happens when you ask teens ranging from high-profile to just your average kid to summarize their hopes, dreams, and troubles in just six words? That's just what the editors of Smith Magazine challenged teenagers across the nation to do. The resulting collection, "I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure" (HarperTeen, 2009), contains 800 six-word memoirs ranging in emotion from comical to profound. These fast-paced, intuitive takes on adolescent life, written for teens by teens, read like poetry and just might inspire others to think up their own six-word memoirs. (Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

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Reminiscent of heart-tugging characters like Gilly Hopkins ("The Great Gilly Hopkins" by Katherine Paterson) and Dicey Tillerman ("The Tillerman Series" by Cynthia Voigt), the life of Ashley Rhodes-Courter is a series of real-life unfortunate events that are the everyday reality for too many children in America. In her memoir, "Three Little Words" (Atheneum, 2008), Rhodes-Courter recounts the 10 harrowing years she spent in the foster care system, poignantly giving voice to children trapped in circumstances beyond their control. (Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

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In the early 1990s, 12-year-old Ishmael Beah was swept up in Sierra Leone’s civil war and turned into a boy soldier. Although gentle and kind at heart, Beah discovered he was capable of horrific acts of brutality. The first part of Beah’s memoir, "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), depicts the frighteningly easy transformation of a typical child into an angry teen with the ability to hate, kill, and wield an AK-47. The final chapters of Beah’s story are about redemption, rehabilitation, and ultimately, coming to the United States, where he attended and graduated college. (Recommended for ages 14 and up.)

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

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"I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives" (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015) is a true-life tale that begins in 1997 when “typical 12-year-old American girl” Caitlin Alifirenka is tasked with a pen pal assignment at school. Her correspondence with a 14-year-old boy named Martin Ganda from Zimbabwe will eventually change both of their lives.

In the letters that go back and forth, readers learn that Alifirenka leads a life of middle-class privilege, while Ganda’s family lives in crushing poverty. Even something as simple as sending a letter is often beyond his means, and yet, Ganda makes “the only promise that I knew I could keep: that I would always write back, no matter what.”

The narrative takes the form of a dual pen-pal autobiography told in alternating voices and woven together with the help of writer Liz Welch. It covers the six-year period from Alifirenka's first letter to Ganda’s eventual arrival in America where he'll be attending college, thanks to a full scholarship arranged by Alifirenka's mom. Their inspiring long-distance friendship is a testament to just how much two determined teens can accomplish when they put their hearts and minds to it. (Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

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"I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliba" written by Malala Yousafza and Christina Lamb (Little, Brown and Company, 2012) is the autobiography of a girl who more than anything, wanted to learn—and was nearly put to death for her efforts.

In October 2012, 15-year-old Yousafzai was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school in her native Pakistan. This memoir traces not only her remarkable recovery but the path that led her to become the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize . It’s an account of a family touched first-hand by the brutality of terrorism, and the indomitable will of a girl who will not relinquish her education at any cost.

In a society dominated by males, it is also the heartening story of unconventional and courageous parents who bucked convention by encouraging their daughter to be all that she could be. Yousafzai's revelations are a bittersweet homage to all the remarkable accomplishments she’s achieved—and the price both she and her family have had to pay for her to achieve them. (Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain-Hill and Ariel Schrag

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"Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition" by Katie Rain-Hill and Ariel Schrag (Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014) is the story of a 19-year-old transgender teen who grew up as a boy, but always knew she was a girl. Bullied and suicidal, Rain-Hill finds the courage to follow her truth, and with her mom’s help, is able to transform both her body and her life.

This first-person memoir not only explores what it means to identify as transgender and what it takes undergo gender reassignment surgery but also gives a non-sugarcoated account of the challenges Rain-Hill faced once the body she was living in finally aligned with her gender identity.

It’s all told with self-deprecating humor and disarming candor that draws readers in, while at the same time, reinventing the standard teen coming-of-age tale and the meaning of what it is to be “normal.” (Recommended for ages 14 and up.)

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12 Must-Read Inspiring Autobiographies For Teens

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The Diary of Anne Frank

All boys aren't blue: a memoir-manifesto, i am malala: how one girl stood up for education and changed the world, i will always write back, soul surfer: a true story of faith, family, and fighting to get back on the board, being jazz: my life as a (transgender) teen, the reason i jump: one boy's voice from the silence of autism, mud sweat and tears junior edition, kian and jc: don't try this at home, courage to soar: a body in motion, a life in balance, jamie vardy from nowhere. my story, may i have your attention please.

As they become more independent, teenagers may listen less to their parents, but may be inspired by other people they admire.

As they get ready to head out into the big wide world, learning about other people's lives, their successes and even more importantly, their failures, is a great way to prepare teens for what lies ahead.

And if your teen is a bit of a reluctant reader, they may find it easier to immerse themself in a real-life story rather than a work of fiction.

Find more ways to entertain your teen during lockdown with the best YouTube channels and these debate ideas to encourage critical thinking.

Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. She was given a diary for her 13th birthday.

For any teens who are getting cabin fever, reading Anne Frank's account of how she and her family hid in a tiny secret annexe may help them to appreciate how well off they really are! The teenager's diary accounts in some detail how her family lived, and the fear of being arrested and taken away by the Nazis.

Anne and her family were sent to concentration camps, where Anne died at the age of 16. For a 21st century version, teens can watch The Anne Frank video diaries.

George M. Johnson is a  journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist.

This personal tale takes us through his childhood, teen and college years in the states of New Jersey and Virginia, from being bullied at the age of five to embarking on sexual relationships.

Suitable for older teens as it deals with some tough topics such as toxic masculinity, gender identity and consent, being black and gay,  it will appeal to teens who are exploring their own sexuality, black teens who are looking for role models and readers who want to stand up for themselves and fight for equality.

Growing up in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was taught to stand up for what she believes in. So when the Taliban took control of the area, and dictated that girls were not allowed to go to school, the 10-year-old resolved to fight for her rights.

It led to her being shot and nearly dying, as she rode the bus back from school.

Readers can discover how she came to have such strong views, what happened on the day she nearly lost her life, and how she has proven that one person - even a 10-year-old girl - can make a big difference. It will inspire readers to stand up for their rights and stick to their beliefs.

Proving how some school assignments can go further than just getting you a good grade, this story tells how 12-year-old  Caitlin Alifirenka's assignment to write to an unknown student in a far-off place turned into something life-changing.

When Caitlin first began corresponding with Martin Ganda in Zimbabwe, she began to learn about the poverty that he and his family lived in, and it opened her eyes to how other people lived, and helped to change Martin's future.

Teens will be inspired by Martin's determination to study his way out of poverty, and Caitlin's determination to help him.

Bethany Hamilton is a professional surfer, who returned to the world of elite surfing after she lost her arm in a shark attack.

In this moving story, Bethany describes how she survived that attack and found the determination and faith to continue with the sport she loved.

The books details how she adjusted her surfing style to compensate for her injury, and how her belief in God and her will power saw her putting in an impressive performance at the World Surfing Championships.

Teens will be inspired by Bethany's faith and resolve, especially young athletes who are struggling with injury or self-doubt.

Jazz Jennings already has her own hugely popular reality TV show on TLC. Jazz transitioned to life as a girl at the very young age of five and now she is one of the most recognised activists for transgendered kids, teens and adults.

In her memoir, Jazz describes how growing up in the public eye has helped to shape how the public see the transgender community.

She also describes the discrimination and bullying that she has to endure. Teens will be fascinated by how Jazz navigates adolescence, having started her life as a boy.

Autistic teen Naoki Higashida wrote this autobiography at the tender age of 13.

It's not always easy to understand why some people with autism behave the way they do, so a book written from their perspective offers a rare insight that is not only fascinating, but will help teens understand and accept the behaviour of autistic friends and family.

Naoki explains why he talks loudly, what causes his panic attacks, and why he likes to jump.

This book will inspire teens to be more considerate and understanding of the people around them.

Bear Grylls is the ultimate adventurer. A former SAS serviceman, he is also a survival instructor, and has found fame as a writer and TV presenter.

In this memoir, he describes how he learned to sail and climb with his dad, and spent his teenage years practising mountaineering and martial arts.

But when he broke his back in a terrible parachuting accident, he defied expectation and learned to walk again, eventually climbing Everest at the age of 23.. His story will inspire teens who love the outdoor life.

Entertainers Kian Lawley and Jc Caylen have 7 million subscribers on YouTube alone. Their fans will enjoy discovering how the pair of comedians found fame and huge success online with their unique offering of pranks. This book will inspire any teens who have dreamed of being an entertainer - or a YouTube star!

Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles appeared to somersault onto our screens from nowhere when she became the darling of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the gymnast, like all successful athletes, had spent many years perfecting her craft and overcoming a less-than-perfect start to her life.

Taken from her drug-addict mother, she was fostered and eventually adopted.

So it is even more remarkable that she managed to make her way into the highly-competitive arena of competitive gymnastics. Her story will inspire gymnasts, teens with ADHD or those who have been fostered or adopted.

Jamie Vardy has made it from being an ordinary boy in Sheffield to the soccer player who led underdogs Leicester City to the top of the Premier League and won himself a place on the England team, despite early career disappointment.

His autobiography describes his childhood in Sheffield, how he was dropped from Sheffield Wednesday and found himself playing for £30 a match and his subsequent rise to the top of his profession.

His tale will be inspiring to all football fans and sportspeople.

James Corden has achieved the dream of many a British entertainer, by becoming a huge success on the other side of the pond. His Carpool Karaoke TV show has an almost cult following.

Yet at school, he wasn't cool, or clever - in fact, he was pretty disruptive. But he never gave up, forming a boy band and going to hundreds of auditions.

It was only when he co-wrote Gavin and Stacey that his life changed. His story will be particularly inspiring for teens who haven't yet found their 'thing'.

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Raised in the Home Counties, Naomi is an enthusiastic explorer of London, Beds, Herts, and Bucks, frequently accompanied by her husband and son. In addition to this, she is an avid driver, often traveling to various skateparks around the UK. Naomi is always looking for new opportunities to explore or try new activities as a family.

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26 Excellent Nonfiction Books for Teens

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These nonfiction books for teens are excellent.  Real-life stories, biographies, memoirs, and informational texts are inspiring and educational. I suspect you’ll read them and then want to share them with all your friends and family.

In these books, you may be reading about people who did amazing things, usually despite great odds. There’s hope-giving power in these nonfiction true-life stories. For teens, and for us not-teens, too. Other books will educate you about a topic — fashion or historical inventions.


Excellent Nonfiction Books for Teens

biographies for teens

Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition)  by Margot Lee Shetterly I loved this book about female African Americans who made an impact in the space program.  It’s a blend of the historical realities and inspiring life stories of four mathematically talented women who worked to build this country’s aviation and aeronautical programs starting from the Civil Rights era to the Space Race and the Cold War to the fight for gender equality.  The text includes black-and-white photographs documenting the women’s lives and the historical events which add to the reader’s understanding.   Hidden Figures  educates and inspires readers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the movie translated what I read here.

biographies for teens

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)   by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick This is a powerful,  well-told personal memoir from the wise, self-reflective perspective of Malala Yousafzai . Malala draws readers in with her accounts of daily life in Pakistan — the sounds, smells, sights, habits. We are hooked from the first page. As the stage is set, we learn how her country used to be and the fearful place it became with the Taliban’s influence. After she is shot for her blog writing in support of educating females, she’s taken to England for recovery and safety. The confusion and contrast between the countries and cultures really stand out during this time. But what is even more striking is Malala’s hope, positivity, and belief in what she stands for. You can’t read this nonfiction book for teens and not be changed.

biographies for teens

Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge: Young Readers Edition  by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve This is not just an important story based on the true life of an escaped slave of George Washington’s, it’s also a cautionary tale about idealizing historical icons. Because people, as it turns out, are deeply flawed… George Washington included.  At age 10, Ona becomes Martha Washington’s personal slave.  After 13 years of this thankless work with no pay, no days off, no freedom to have a feeling,…many of those years in Philadelphia, Ona learns that Martha plans to send Ona as a wedding gift to Martha’s cruel granddaughter. With the help of freed slaves, Ona escapes north which results in an angry George Washington who tries to capture her back without a trial. Luckily that doesn’t happen and Ona lives free until her death.

biographies for teens

An Invisible Thread: A Young Readers Edition  by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski A true story with  messages of kindness, trust, and friendship that will renew your faith in humanity . Laura first meets Maurice when he’s 11-years-old and begging on the street corner, eventually spending a meal a week with him at McDonald’s. For YEARS. Laura treats Marice with respect and friendship — never, ever pity and she makes their time together educational, too — cooking from a recipe, sharing a Christmas experience for the first time, and things like that. The end of the book shows Marice as an adult with his own family who is still close friends with Laura.

biographies for teens

Bomb: The Race to Build –and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon  by Steve Sheinkin Another knock-out nonfiction book for teens from the talented Steve Sheinkin! I’m so impressed by how Sheinkin makes this story come ALIVE like it’s an adventure/mystery/thriller and not real life. Well, they do say truth is stranger than fiction. But usually, it’s written like it’s duller than dirt. This book is a great exception — mesmerizing. I wasn’t even interested in the topic until I started reading.

biographies for teens

The Making of America: Susan B. Anthony  by Teri Kanefield (ages 12+) You’ll admire the perseverance and dedication of  Susan B. Anthony who worked tirelessly to advocate for women’s rights and the rights of African Americans . Women now days can own property, vote, divorce abusers, have custody of their children, and are citizens because of the efforts of Susan B. Anthony and others. I hope this book becomes required reading for middle schoolers — both boys and girls. It’s also beneficial for kids to know how much one person can do to make a difference in the world.

biographies for teens

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America  by Susan Campbell Bartlett I love how the author writes this using the facts and clearly stating when there are gaps in the accounts, making conjectures very clear. It’s a great book — and frankly , fascinating to understand the details of solving and then proving that Mary was the common thread of illnesses.  It also asks the questions of Mary’s rights weighted with the rights of the public. This would be a great book club selection!

biographies for teens

Path   to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist  by Sylvia Acevedo Sylvia Acevedo’s story shows her incredible intelligence, drive, and determination.  She grows up poor in New Mexico greatly impacted by her Mexican-American heritage, Head Start, and the Girl Scouts. Sylvia credits the Girl Scouts with not just teaching her life skills but showing her that she could do hard things and that her life could be more than being a housewife. She is an amazing woman who becomes a rocket scientist and influential leader. I highly recommend this well-written nonfiction book for teens.

biographies for teens

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina  by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince An orphan who was thought never to be adopted due to her skin condition, Michaela was adopted from an orphanage in West Africa.  Even at the orphanage, she wanted to be a ballerina — and her determination and hard work paid off.  Now she’s the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

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biographies for teens

Whoppers: History’s Most Outrageous Lies and Liars  by Christine Seifert I read this nonfiction book aloud to my kids — it was SO fun because it prompted great discussion and interaction. They couldn’t believe that people would make up such outrageous lies.  Learn about historical people who told incredible wild whoppers  — from people you’ve heard of like Charles Ponzi to people you’ve never heard of like George Psalmanazar.

biographies for teens

The Faithful Spy: A True Story! Deitrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hilter   by John Hendrix Bonhoeffer was a Christian minister who believed, unlike most of his peers, that he should not go along with Hitler who put himself above God in the church.  I am endlessly fascinated by why people do what they do in their lives which is why I loved reading about Bonhoeffer, seeing his journey as not just an outspoken critic of Hitler but someone who decided that he must also act to try to stop Hitler. This biography is illustrated with several colors in an appealing visual layout.

biographies for teens

Rad American Women A – Z   by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl I learned a ton from this book because many of these inspiring women aren’t well known.  Each woman gets a full-page bio with information about what makes her a role model and “rad.”  Read about ladies like Wilma Mankiller, Nellie Bly, Lucy Parsons, and Hazel Scott.

biographies for teens

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club  by Phillip Hoose If you’re teaching leadership or becoming change-makers, use this book!  Knut and his friends couldn’t endorse their country of Denmark’s position on allying with the Nazi’s so they decided to do what they could to fight back.  Even though they were just teenagers, they managed small acts of sabotage. But more than that, they inspired a full Danish resistance movement!

biographies for teens

Untamed The Wild Life of Jane Goodall  by Anita Silvey, forward by Jane Goodall This book series contains some of the best nonfiction books you can read! Untamed  is an excellent depiction of Jane Goodall’s life with kid-friendly language and appealing layouts of colorful photos. Interesting insets throughout describe tips for kids and information such as sign language. I love the Gombe Family Scrapbook at the end with some of the significant chimps in Jane’s life. I also found it really interesting to learn how this English girl read about Africa as a child and fell in love with it.

biographies for teens

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins Three girls’ lives, Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell, are showcased in this beautiful verse. Each girl’s interest is explained and elaborated. We see how these interests grew into something more, into the passions and discoveries that become their life’s work. I love the flow of the poems and the celebration of these ground-breaking women.

biographies for teens

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Young Readers Edition)   by Ashlee Vance Elon’s story is fascinating.  His unique history, intelligence, and vision are unique and worth knowing. The ins and outs of his businesses give readers insight into the mind of Musk, a mind that is quite extraordinary. Anyone, teen or adult, interested in being an entrepreneur should read this book. Musk shows that it’s not a straight line to success; that vision, hard work, failures, and perseverance are the basic ingredients. As far as the writing goes, the book is dense with many details you may or not find as interesting as me. But for those of you who are interested in Tesla and the SpaceX project, you’ll devour these details.

365 Days of Wonder

If you enjoy reading nonfiction books like these, you might also like:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer Code Talker: a Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II  by Joseph Bruchac In the Heart of the Sea (Young Readers Edition)  by Nathaniel Philbrick The Finest Hours (Young Readers Edition) The True Story of a Heroic Sea Rescue  by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman Irena’s Children: Young Readers Edition a True Story of Courage  by Mary Cronk Farrell and Tilar J. Mazzeo

biographies for teens


Audiobooks for Teens

best audiobooks for teens

Melissa Taylor, MA, is the creator of Imagination Soup. She's a mother, former teacher & literacy trainer, and freelance education writer. She writes Imagination Soup and freelances for publications online and in print, including Penguin Random House's Brightly website, USA Today Health, Adobe Education, Colorado Parent, and Parenting. She is passionate about matching kids with books that they'll love.

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I would add Obsessed to this list for sure. The Borden Mysteries/Lizzie Borden and also Ten Days a Madwoman. MS/HS kids love them!

Can’t wait to read these — thanks for the suggestions!

biographies for teens

50 Must-Read Biographies

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Rebecca Hussey

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

View All posts by Rebecca Hussey

The best biographies give us a satisfying glimpse into a great person’s life, while also teaching us about the context in which that person lived. Through biography, we can also learn history, psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy, and more. Reading a great biography is both fun and educational. What’s not to love?

Below I’ve listed 50 of the best biographies out there. You will find a mix of subjects, including important figures in literature, science, politics, history, art, and more. I’ve tried to keep this list focused on biography only, so there is little in the way of memoir or autobiography. In a couple cases, authors have written about their family members, but for the most part, these are books where the focus is on the biographical subject, not the author.

50 must-read biographies. book lists | biographies | must-read biographies | books about other people | great biographies | nonfiction reads

The first handful are group biographies, and after that, I’ve arranged them alphabetically by subject. Book descriptions come from Goodreads.

Take a look and let me know about your favorite biography in the comments!

All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen

“In  All We Know , Lisa Cohen describes their [Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland’s] glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself,  All We Know  explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.”

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

“Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers,’ calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women.”

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie

“In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them – in works that readers of all kinds could admire.  The Life You Save May Be Your Own  is their story – a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.”

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

“As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.”

The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

“In a sweeping narrative, Fraser traces the cultural, familial and political roots of each of Henry’s queens, pushes aside the stereotypes that have long defined them, and illuminates the complex character of each.”

John Adams by David McCullough

“In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot — ‘the colossus of independence,’ as Thomas Jefferson called him.”

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming

“Emotionally riveting and eye-opening,  A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea  is the incredible story of a young woman, an international crisis, and the triumph of the human spirit. Melissa Fleming shares the harrowing journey of Doaa Al Zamel, a young Syrian refugee in search of a better life.”

At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers

“One terrifying night in 1848, a young African princess’s village is raided by warriors. The invaders kill her mother and father, the King and Queen, and take her captive. Two years later, a British naval captain rescues her and takes her to England where she is presented to Queen Victoria, and becomes a loved and respected member of the royal court.”

John Brown by W.E.B. Du Bois

“ John Brown is W. E. B. Du Bois’s groundbreaking political biography that paved the way for his transition from academia to a lifelong career in social activism. This biography is unlike Du Bois’s earlier work; it is intended as a work of consciousness-raising on the politics of race.”

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter

“[Eunice Hunton Carter] was black and a woman and a prosecutor, a graduate of Smith College and the granddaughter of slaves, as dazzlingly unlikely a combination as one could imagine in New York of the 1930s ― and without the strategy she devised, Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history, would never have been convicted.”

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

“An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives and experiences of her family members.”

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

“Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnet, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world.”

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

“Einstein was a rebel and nonconformist from boyhood days, and these character traits drove both his life and his science. In this narrative, Walter Isaacson explains how his mind worked and the mysteries of the universe that he discovered.”

Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

“In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States.”

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

“After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve ‘the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century’: What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett & his quest for the Lost City of Z?”

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

“Amanda Foreman draws on a wealth of fresh research and writes colorfully and penetratingly about the fascinating Georgiana, whose struggle against her own weaknesses, whose great beauty and flamboyance, and whose determination to play a part in the affairs of the world make her a vibrant, astonishingly contemporary figure.”

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik Ping Zhu

“Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. [This book], created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work.”

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

“A woman of enormous talent and remarkable drive, Zora Neale Hurston published seven books, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years. Today, nearly every black woman writer of significance—including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker—acknowledges Hurston as a literary foremother.”

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

“ Shirley Jackson  reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the literary genius behind such classics as ‘The Lottery’ and  The Haunting of Hill House .”

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro

“This is the story of the rise to national power of a desperately poor young man from the Texas Hill Country. The Path to Power reveals in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy, and ambition that set LBJ apart.”

The Life of Samuel Johnson   by James Boswell

“Poet, lexicographer, critic, moralist and Great Cham, Dr. Johnson had in his friend Boswell the ideal biographer. Notoriously and self-confessedly intemperate, Boswell shared with Johnson a huge appetite for life and threw equal energy into recording its every aspect in minute but telling detail.”

Barbara Jordan: American Hero by Mary Beth Rogers

“Barbara Jordan was the first African American to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction, the first black woman elected to Congress from the South, and the first to deliver the keynote address at a national party convention. Yet Jordan herself remained a mystery.”

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

“This engrossing biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo reveals a woman of extreme magnetism and originality, an artist whose sensual vibrancy came straight from her own experiences: her childhood near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution; a devastating accident at age eighteen that left her crippled and unable to bear children.”

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical by Sherie M. Randolph

“Often photographed in a cowboy hat with her middle finger held defiantly in the air, Florynce ‘Flo’ Kennedy (1916–2000) left a vibrant legacy as a leader of the Black Power and feminist movements. In the first biography of Kennedy, Sherie M. Randolph traces the life and political influence of this strikingly bold and controversial radical activist.”

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

“In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food.”

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma by Peter Popham

“Peter Popham … draws upon previously untapped testimony and fresh revelations to tell the story of a woman whose bravery and determination have captivated people around the globe. Celebrated today as one of the world’s greatest exponents of non-violent political defiance since Mahatma Gandhi, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only four years after her first experience of politics.”

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”   by Zora Neale Hurston

“In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine.”

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.”

The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart

“A tiny, fastidiously dressed man emerged from Black Philadelphia around the turn of the century to mentor a generation of young artists including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jacob Lawrence and call them the New Negro — the creative African Americans whose art, literature, music, and drama would inspire Black people to greatness.”

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux

“Drawing from the private archives of the poet’s estate and numerous interviews, Alexis De Veaux demystifies Lorde’s iconic status, charting her conservative childhood in Harlem; her early marriage to a white, gay man with whom she had two children; her emergence as an outspoken black feminist lesbian; and her canonization as a seminal poet of American literature.”

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams

“Thurgood Marshall stands today as the great architect of American race relations, having expanded the foundation of individual rights for all Americans. His victory in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the landmark Supreme Court case outlawing school segregation, would have him a historic figure even if he had not gone on to become the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court.”

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

“In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself.”

The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts

“ The Mayor of Castro Street  is Shilts’s acclaimed story of Harvey Milk, the man whose personal life, public career, and tragic assassination mirrored the dramatic and unprecedented emergence of the gay community in America during the 1970s.”

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

“The most famous poet of the Jazz Age, Millay captivated the nation: She smoked in public, took many lovers (men and women, single and married), flouted convention sensationally, and became the embodiment of the New Woman.”

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell

This book is “a vivid portrait of Montaigne, showing how his ideas gave birth to our modern sense of our inner selves, from Shakespeare’s plays to the dilemmas we face today.”

The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm

“From the moment it was first published in The New Yorker, this brilliant work of literary criticism aroused great attention. Janet Malcolm brings her shrewd intelligence to bear on the legend of Sylvia Plath and the wildly productive industry of Plath biographies.”

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley   by Peter Guralnick

“Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, [this book] traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed, creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis and his world.

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

“Kate Summerscale brilliantly recreates the Victorian world, chronicling in exquisite and compelling detail the life of Isabella Robinson, wherein the longings of a frustrated wife collided with a society clinging to rigid ideas about sanity, the boundaries of privacy, the institution of marriage, and female sexuality.”

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

“A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained?”

The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan by Claire Tomalin

“When Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan met in 1857, she was 18: a professional actress performing in his production of  The Frozen Deep . He was 45: a literary legend, a national treasure, married with ten children. This meeting sparked a love affair that lasted over a decade, destroying Dickens’s marriage and ending with Nelly’s near-disappearance from the public record.”

Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter

“Slowly, but surely, Sojourner climbed from beneath the weight of slavery, secured respect for herself, and utilized the distinction of her race to become not only a symbol for black women, but for the feminist movement as a whole.”

The Black Rose by Tananarive Due

“Born to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty and indignity to become America’s first black female millionaire, the head of a hugely successful beauty company, and a leading philanthropist in African American causes.”

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

“With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life, [Chernow] carries the reader through Washington’s troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian Wars, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention and his magnificent performance as America’s first president.”

Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings

“ Ida: A Sword Among Lions  is a sweeping narrative about a country and a crusader embroiled in the struggle against lynching: a practice that imperiled not only the lives of black men and women, but also a nation based on law and riven by race.”

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

“But the true saga of [Wilder’s] life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial records, Caroline Fraser—the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series—masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography.”

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

“Although mother and daughter, these two brilliant women never knew one another – Wollstonecraft died of an infection in 1797 at the age of thirty-eight, a week after giving birth. Nevertheless their lives were so closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other.”

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

“Subscribing to Virginia Woolf’s own belief in the fluidity and elusiveness of identity, Lee comes at her subject from a multitude of perspectives, producing a richly layered portrait of the writer and the woman that leaves all of her complexities and contradictions intact.”

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

“Of the great figures in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine.”

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

“On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.”

Want to read more about great biographies? Check out this post on presidential biographies , this list of biographies and memoirs about remarkable women , and this list of 100 must-read musician biographies and memoirs .

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35 Biographies that will Inspire your Middle School Student

Your tweens and teens can learn a ton by reading middle school biographies . Don’t let your middle schooler skip over this genre! There are just too many great books to choose from.

Reading about inspiring lives from the past and present allows kids to learn about the world beyond their own experiences. In addition, reading biographies teaches kids about history, science, sports, and so many other topics that may interest them.

Of course finding books that are challenging enough for a middle school reader without being overly challenging in reading level and content can be tough. This list was gathered specificially for the readers who are “stuck in the middle.”

These middle school biographies are perfect to inspire your teen or tween.

{This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure .}

Middle School Biographies

These middle school biographies will supplement many homeschool curriculums and make easy additions to any reading list for teens and tweens.

As with any booklist, you make the best choices when it comes to appropriate literature for your child to read. I have read many, though not all, of the books on this list. I highly recommend Common Sense Media when you want to know what sort of content might be included in any book.

A Simple Biography Report

Help your student thoughtfully remember facts from these middle school biographies with this free one-page biography report .

This simple report is perfect for your tween or teen to use to record what they learn as they read. It’s an easy (and fun!) way to report their reading. Ask them to share their findings over dinner if they are willing!

download a FREE Biography Report for kids

35 Biographies for Teens and Tweens

Middle School Biography: I am Malala

I am Malala

Malala Yousafai

Two of my kids dove into this one in middle school and couldn’t stop talking about it for quite some time. It opened their eyes to horrible situations in other countries and the courage it takes for one person to stand up to injustice.

Publisher’s Description: “Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.

No one expected her to survive.”

Amelia Lost is a great middle school biography.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Candace Fleming

Publisher’s Description: “On May 21, 1937, the most famous female pilot of all time, Amelia Earhart, set out to do the impossible: circumnavigate the globe at its widest point–27,000 miles in all. Just six weeks later, she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

Eighty years have passed since that fateful flight; and still, Amelia’s plane has never been found. Discover the thrilling life and tragic end of America’s most famous trailblazing flier with this impeccably researched and masterfully crafted book from acclaimed author Candace Fleming.”

Becoming Emily about the life of Emily Dickinson is a middle grade biography.

Becoming Emily: The Life of Emily Dickinson

Krystyna Poray Goddu

Publisher’s Description: “In Becoming Emily, young readers will learn how as a child, an adolescent, and well into adulthood, Dickinson was a lively social being with a warm family life. Highly educated for a girl of her era, she actively engaged in both the academic and social aspects of the schools she attended until she was nearly eighteen.

Her family and friends were important to her, and she was a prolific, thoughtful, and witty correspondent who shared many poems with her closest friends and relatives.

This indispensable resource includes photos, full-length poems, letter excerpts, a time line, source notes, and a bibliography to present a vivid portrait of this singular American poet.”

A great middle school biography is Promise of Change.

Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality

Jo Ann Allen Boyce

From Amazon: “In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen-year-old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee.

At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school.

Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen?”

Read the first in a biography series for middle school: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America

Teri Kanefield

Publisher’s Description: “The America that Alexander Hamilton knew was largely agricultural and built on slave labor. He envisioned something else: a multi-racial, urbanized, capitalistic America with a strong central government. He believed that such an America would be a land of opportunity for the poor and the newcomers.

But Hamilton’s vision put him at odds with his archrivals who envisioned a pastoral America of small towns, where governments were local, states would control their own destiny, and the federal government would remain small and weak.

The disputes that arose during America’s first decades continued through American history to our present day. Over time, because of the systems Hamilton set up and the ideas he left, his vision won out.

Here is the story that epitomizes the American dream—a poor immigrant who made good in America. In the end, Hamilton rose from poverty through his intelligence and ability, and did more to shape our country than any of his contemporaries.”

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind young Readers Version

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition)

William Kamkwamba

From Amazon: “When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land.”

March Book 1 Graphic Novel Biography

March: Book One

John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Who can resist a graphic novel biography ? This has been a popular one in our house with all four kids and myself!

From Amazon: “ March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.”

Thurgood Marshall Biography for Middle School Students

Thurgood Marshall: The Making of America

From the Publisher: “ Thurgood Marshall , the great-grandson of a slave, was born at a time when African Americans were denied equal rights in America. Segregation was legal. Lynching was common. In some places, African Americans were entirely excluded from public life; they were forbidden to enter public parks and museums or use public swimming pools and restrooms. After being denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race, Marshall enrolled at Howard University. He graduated first in his class and set out as a young lawyer determined to achieve equality for all Americans. Here is the story of how he did it—how he devised his legal strategy for expanding “we the people” to include all people.”

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

From the Publisher: “As the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Lynda Blackmon Lowery proved that young adults can be heroes. Jailed eleven times before her fifteenth birthday, Lowery fought alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for the rights of African-Americans.

In this memoir, she shows today’s young readers what it means to fight nonviolently (even when the police are using violence, as in the Bloody Sunday protest) and how it felt to be part of changing American history.”

The Plot to Kill Hitler

The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero

by Patricia McCormick

From Amazon: “It was April 5, 1943, and the Gestapo would arrive any minute. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been expecting this day for a long time. He had put his papers in order—and left a few notes specifically for Hitler’s men to see. Two SS agents climbed the stairs and told the boyish-looking Bonhoeffer to come with them. He calmly said good-bye to his parents, put his Bible under his arm, and left. Upstairs there was proof, in his own handwriting, that this quiet young minister was part of a conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler.

This compelling, brilliantly researched account includes the remarkable discovery that Bonhoeffer was one of the first people to provide evidence to the Allies that Jews were being deported to death camps. It takes readers from his privileged early childhood to the studies and travel that would introduce him to peace activists around the world—eventually putting this gentle, scholarly pacifist on a deadly course to assassinate one of the most ruthless dictators in history.”

Gifted Hands Biography of Ben Carson

Gifted Hands, Revised Kids Edition: The Ben Carson Story

by Gregg Lewis

My son read this book as part of his summer reading in middle school and then we watched the movie . He enjoyed both versions of Ben Caron’s story.

Without a doubt, Ben Carson and all of the amazing medical breakthroughs he is able to achieve are very inspiring.

From the Publisher: “When Ben Carson was in school, his classmates called him the class dummy. Many—including Ben himself—doubted that he would ever amount to anything. But his mother never let him quit. She encouraged Ben to do better and reach higher for his dreams, and eventually, he discovered a deep love of learning.

Today this young boy from the inner-city is one of the world’s greatest pediatric neurosurgeons. Through determination and lot of hard work, Ben overcame his many obstacles and is now dedicated to saving the lives of critically ill children around the world.”

>>> Grab Our FREE Book to Movie Discussion Guide <<<

Abrham Lincoln Biography for Middle School students

Abraham Lincoln: Making of America

From the Publisher: “Even though he grew up on the frontier without a formal education, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) worked his way up in the government. He was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, then to the US House of Representatives, and then he became the 16th president of the United States.

During his presidency, he led the United States through the Civil War, brought about the emancipation of the enslaved, and strengthened the federal government.”

Child of the Dream

Child of the Dream (Memoir of 1963)

by Sharon Robinson

From the Publisher: “ In January 1963, Sharon Robinson turns 13 the night before George Wallace declares on national television “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inauguration speech as governor of Alabama. It is the beginning of a year that will change the course of American history.

As the daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, Sharon has opportunities that most people would never dream of experiencing. Her family hosts multiple fundraisers at their home in Connecticut for the work that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is doing. Sharon sees her first concert after going backstage at the Apollo Theater. And her whole family attends the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

But things don’t always feel easy for Sharon. She is one of the only Black children in her wealthy Connecticut neighborhood. Her older brother, Jackie Robinson Jr., is having a hard time trying to live up to his father’s famous name, causing some rifts in the family. And Sharon feels isolated — struggling to find her role in the civil rights movement that is taking place across the country.

This is the story of how one girl finds her voice in the fight for justice and equality.”

A Long Way Home Middle school biography book

A Long Way from Home

Saroo Brierley

From Amazon: “ At only five years old, Saroo Brierley got lost on a train in India. Unable to read or write or recall the name of his hometown or even his own last name, he survived alone for weeks on the rough streets of Calcutta before ultimately being transferred to an agency and adopted by a couple in Australia.

Despite his gratitude, Brierley always wondered about his origins. Eventually, with the advent of Google Earth, he had the opportunity to look for the needle in a haystack he once called home, and pore over satellite images for landmarks he might recognize or mathematical equations that might further narrow down the labyrinthine map of India. One day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for and set off to find his family.”

This one is also a major motion picture, so you can follow up with movie after you read the book!

Life in Motion is the Biography of Misty Copeland for middle school readers.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Young Reader)

by Misty Copeland

From Amazon: “Determination meets dance in this New York Times bestselling memoir by the history-making ballerina Misty Copeland, recounting the story of her journey to become the first African-American principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

When she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, underprivileged, and anxious thirteen-year-old to become one of America’s most groundbreaking dancers .

A true prodigy, she was attempting in months roles that take most dancers years to master. But when Misty became caught between the control and comfort she found in the world of ballet and the harsh realities of her own life, she had to choose to embrace both her identity and her dreams, and find the courage to be one of a kind.”

Andrew Jackson biography for middle school readers.

Andrew Jackson: The Making of America

From the Publisher: “Born in the Carolina backwoods, Jackson joined the American Revolutionary War at the age of thirteen. After a reckless youth of gunfights, gambling, and general mischief, he rose to national fame as the general who defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

Jackson ran for president as a political outsider, championing the interest of common farmers and frontiersmen. Determined to take down the wealthy, well-educated East Coast “elites,” he pledged to destroy the national bank—which he believed was an engine of corruption serving the interest of bankers and industrialists.

A stanch nationalist, he sought to secure and expand the nation’s borders. Believing that “we the people” included white men only, he protected the practice of slavery and opened new lands for white settlers by pushing the Native people westward.

Jackson, a polarizing figure in his era, ignited a populist movement that remains a powerful force in our national politics.”

Elon Musk biography for middle school

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

by Ashlee Vance

This book remains a favorite biography for middle schoolers in my house. My husband read it out loud to my boys and they absolutely loved it.

From Amazon: “The version for adults has been praised as “riveting” (The Financial Times), “spirited” (The Wall Street Journal), and “masterful” (Vice). Now younger readers can read about this innovative leader who is revolutionizing three industries at once: space, automotive, and energy.”

The Lady is a Spy middle school biography title

The Lady is a Spy: Virginia Hall, World War II Hero of the French Resistance

Don Mitchell

From Amazon: “When Hitler invaded Poland, Virginia Hall traveled in Europe. Which was dangerous enough, but as fighting erupted, instead of returning home, she headed to France. In a country divided by freedom and fascism, Virginia was determined to do her part for the Allies.

An ordinary woman from Baltimore, Maryland, she dove into the action, first joining a French ambulance unit and later becoming an undercover agent for both the British Office of Strategic Services and the US Office of Strategic Services. Working as a spy in the intelligence network, she made her way to Vichy, coordinating Resistance movements, assisting in Nazi sabotage, and rescuing downed Allies. She passed in plain sight of the enemy and soon found herself being hunted by the Gestapo.

But Virginia cleverly evaded discovery and death, often through bold feats and escapes. Her covert operations, efforts with the Resistance, and risky work as a wireless telegraph operator greatly contributed to the Allies’ eventual win.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Making of America

From the Publisher: “ When Franklin D. Roosevelt was first elected president in 1933, America was in the throes of the Great Depression—the worst economic crisis in U.S. history—and the world was experiencing a menacing rise in Nazism and other dangerous extremists.

Throughout his four presidential terms, Roosevelt was a steady and inspiring leader. He implemented progressive social reform through his New Deal agenda and helped lift America from economic crisis. He guided America to victory in World War II.

Born into wealth and privilege, Roosevelt entered politics at a young age. His career and world views were shaped by his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt and his long struggle with polio.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our thirty-second president, forever left his mark on our nation and the world. By the time of his death, America had grown to a global economic and military superpower. His New Deal legislation changed the relationship of American citizens to their government. His policies came close to fully realizing Alexander Hamilton’s vision of a government that touches and improves the lives of all citizens.

Facing Frederick is a biography for middle school readers about Frederick Douglas.

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

Tonya Bolden

From Amazon: “Teacher. Self-emancipator. Orator. Author. Man. Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) is one of the most important African-American figures in US history, best known, perhaps, for his own emancipation.

But there is much more to Douglass’s story than his time spent in slavery and his famous autobiography. Delving into his family life and travel abroad, this book captures the whole complicated, and at times perplexing, person that he was.

As a statesman, suffragist, writer, newspaperman, and lover of the arts, Douglass the man, rather than the historical icon, is the focus in Facing Frederick.”

Behind Rebel Lines

Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy

Seymour Reit

From Amazon: “In 1861, when war erupted between the States, President Lincoln made an impassioned plea for volunteers. Determined not to remain on the sidelines, Emma Edmonds cropped her hair, donned men’s clothing, and enlisted in the Union Army.

Posing in turn as a slave, peddler, washerwoman, and fop, Emma became a cunning master of disguise, risking discovery and death at every turn behind Confederate lines.”

Susan B Anthony biography

Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America

From the Publisher: “Susan B. Anthony was born into a world in which men ruled women. A man could beat his wife, take her earrings, have her committed to an asylum based on his word alone, and take her children away from her. While the young nation was ablaze with the radical notion that people could govern themselves, “people” were understood to be white and male. Women were expected to stay out of public life and debates. As Anthony saw the situation, “Women’s subsistence is in the hands of men, and most arbitrarily and unjustly does he exercise his consequent power.” She imagined a different world—one where women and people of color were treated with the same respect that white men were given. Susan B. Anthony explores her life, from childhood to her public career as a radical abolitionist to her rise to become an international leader in the women’s suffrage movement.”

Becoming Kareem

Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

From the Publisher: “At one time, Lew Alcindor was just another kid from New York City with all the usual problems: He struggled with fitting in, with pleasing a strict father, and with overcoming shyness that made him feel socially awkward.

But with a talent for basketball, and an unmatched team of supporters, Lew Alcindor was able to transform and to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “

Never Caught

Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away (Young Readers Edition)

Erica Armstrong Dunbar

From Amazon: “In this incredible narrative, Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.”

Harriet Tubman's biography for middle school readers is Freedom Train.

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman

Dorothy Sterling

Publisher’s Description: “Born into slavery, young Harriet Tubman knew only hard work and hunger. Escape seemed impossible – certainly dangerous. Yet Harriet did escape North, by the secret route called the Underground Railroad. Harriet didn’t forget her people. Again and again she risked her life to lead them on the same secret, dangerous journey.”

My Survival: A Girl on Schindler's List

My Survival: A Girl on Schindler’s List

Joshua M. Greene

From the Publisher: “Rena Finder was only eleven when the Nazis forced her and her family — along with all the other Jewish families — into the ghetto in Krakow, Poland. Rena worked as a slave laborer with scarcely any food and watched as friends and family were sent away.

Then Rena and her mother ended up working for Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who employed Jewish prisoners in his factory and kept them fed and healthy. But Rena’s nightmares were not over. She and her mother were deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz. With great cunning, it was Schindler who set out to help them escape.”

Facing the Lion

Facing the Lion (Abridged Edition): Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe

Simone Arnold Liebster

From the Publisher: “Simone Arnold is an ordinary French schoolgirl—spirited and stubborn. Then the Nazis march in, demanding complete conformity. Friends become enemies. Teachers spout Nazi propaganda. School officials recruit for the Hitler Youth. Simone’s family refuses to heil Hitler as Germany’s savior. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they reject Nazi racism and violence. The Nazi Lion makes them pay the price.”

Reaching for the Moon biography

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

From the Publisher: “As a young girl, Katherine Johnson showed an exceptional aptitude for math. In school she quickly skipped ahead several grades and was soon studying complex equations with the support of a professor who saw great promise in her.

But ability and opportunity did not always go hand in hand. As an African American and a girl growing up in an era of brutal racism and sexism, Katherine faced daily challenges.

Still, she lived her life with her father’s words in mind: “You are no better than anyone else, and nobody else is better than you.”

In the early 1950s, Katherine was thrilled to join the organization that would become NASA. She worked on many of NASA’s biggest projects including the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon.”

Reach for the Skai biography

Reach for the Skai: How to Inspire, Empower, and Clapback

Skai Jackson

From the Publisher: “Actress and activist Skai Jackson is a star! Her rise to fame started on the popular Disney Channel shows Bunk’d and Jessie. Her cool sense of style led her to create her own fashion line. And her success has made her a major influencer, with millions of followers on Instagram, who isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in.”

The Secret Soldier biography book for tweens

The Secret Soldier: Story of Deborah Sampson: The Story of Deborah Sampson

Ann McGovern

From Amazon: “Deborah Sampson wanted to travel and have adventures, but since she had no money, the best way to do that was to join the army. This is the exciting true story of a woman who became a soldier during the American Revolutionary War, by dressing and acting like a man.”

Soul Surfer

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board

Bethany Hamilton

This was a favorite book and story when my girls were in middle school. Bethany was a source of inspiration to them for a long time.

There is also a movie you can watch after you read the book. We did watch the movie, but we had to fast-forward through the shark attack scene because it was too intense for them when they were younger.

From the Publisher: “Soul Surfer is a moving account of Bethany’s life as a young surfer, her recovery after the attack, the adjustments she’s made to her unique surfing style, her unprecedented bid for a top showing in the World Surfing Championships, and, most fundamentally, her belief in God.

It is a story of girl power and spiritual grit that shows the body is no more essential to surfing—perhaps even less so—than the soul.”

The Endless Steppe

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia

Esther Hautzig

From the Publisher: “In June 1941, the Rudomin family is arrested by the Russians. They are accused of being capitalists, “enemies of the people.” Forced from their home and friends in Vilna, Poland, they are herded into crowded cattle cars. Their destination: the endless steppe of Siberia.

For five years, Esther and her family lived in exile, weeding potato fields, working in the mines, and struggling to stay alive. But in the middle of hardship and oppression, the strength of their small family sustains them and gives them hope for the future.”

Chasing Space is Leland Melvin's biography for middle school students

Chasing Space (Young Readers’ Edition)

Leland Melvin

From the Publisher: “When the former Detroit Lion’s football career was cut short by an injury, Leland didn’t waste time mourning his broken dream. Instead, he found a new one—something that was completely out of this world.

He joined NASA, braved an injury that nearly left him permanently deaf, and still managed to muster the courage and resolve to travel to space on the shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station. Leland’s problem-solving methods and can-do attitude turned his impossible-seeming dream into reality.”

The Notorious Benedict Arnold

The Notorious Benedict Arnold

Steve Sheinkin

From the Publisher: “Most people know that Benedict Arnold was America’s first, most notorious traitor. Few know that he was also one of its greatest Revolutionary War heroes. Steve Sheinkin’s accessible biography, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, introduces young readers to the real Arnold: reckless, heroic, and driven. Packed with first-person accounts, astonishing American Revolution battle scenes, and surprising twists, this is a gripping and true adventure tale from history.”

10 Days a Madwoman

Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of Nellie Bly

Deborah Noyes

From the Publisher: “Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion.

But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.   Nellie Bly became a household name and raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.”

More Books for Middle Schoolers:

If your student is interested in graphic novels (a very popular option) then these graphic novels for middle schoolers are great options.

Our middle school book club enjoyed these 8 titles this year . They were fantastic reads for great discussions!

While these winter themed books for middle school are great in the winter, they can easily be enjoyed at any time of year.

Don’t forget your FREE one-page biography report:

Additional Biography for Kids Books:

Biography picture books your kids will love.

The Best Middle school biographies for your tween and teen.

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biographies for teens

11 Must Read Biographies for Your Teen

The young readers are the future leaders of the nation. So, it’s important to shape their mind in a way that keeps them ready for the future. Every generation is responsible for doing something new but it is also equally important to know their history. Stories of great leaders,  survivors or hard times and inspirational stories is a way to let the teenagers know that it takes to grow and build the world they have now.

Read More: 15 Best Martin Luther King Books for Kids

biographies for teens

Reading biographies is helpful but it is equally important to note which book a your teenager is reading. So,  here is a list of some amazing biographies from different times in history which will not just inspire teenagers but also give them life lessons regarding the choices they make, they coping mechanism in difficulties, and the importance to voice for any change. Let’s have a look:

Read More: 21 Interesting Facts About Sarojini Naidu Every Kid Should Know

11 Best Biographies for a Teenager to Read

The boy who challenged hitler: knud pedersen and the churchill club by phillip hoose.

Written in 2015, the book is a recap of the story of Danish resistance group during World War II, the Churchill club,  and it’s founder and leader, Knud Pedersen. The Germans were infuriated by the rebellious actions of the group and it also sparked the Danish rebellion which lead to the release of the boys from the temporary captivity of the Germans.  The book won the Boston Globe Book Nonfiction Honor.

Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes

This is an account of the daring life of a girl, Nellie Bly who has ambitious goals. Being a woman reporter of the nineteenth century,  she did not stop herself to articles about cleaning and fashion,  instead set to expose the feigning insanity at the asylum on Blackwell’s Island. She wrote an account about the horrific treatment of the patients at the clinic. It’s a must read.


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Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle

This amazing poetic memoir by Engle won the Puta Belprè Author Award. It has also been finalised in the YALSA nonfiction and has been honoured with the Walter Dean Myers Award. It talks about the struggle of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold war. Her heart lies in Cuba but she belongs to the United States. It’s all about how a child copes with being a part of such unrest. It is a very simple book written in poetic form. So,  it will not just be worthwhile but equally interesting.


Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles and Michelle Burford .

Simone Biles’ daycare field trips in her hometown Spring led her to the world of Gymnastics. With the help of her talent,  willingness,  passion and hardwork,  she became one of the top gymnasts in the world. She won the Olympic Gold in Rio de Janeiro four times. Inspiring? Suggest it to your teenage star.


How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana and Abigail Pesta

This book has several titles to its name and is highly recommended for teenagers. It is a story of a girl who survived through the hard times of the war and as a refugee in a base camp in Burundi. She presents her perspective on Race in America even after coming from a different background.


Becoming Kareem: Growing up on and off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

It’s a New York Times Bestseller and the first memoir for youngsters by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He jots down not only his career as a basketball player but also the stages of development of his identity as an adult and a player amidst the difficulties of racism and prejudice prevalent in the 1960s.


The Keeper: The Unguarded Story of Tim Howard Young Readers’ Edition by Tim Howard

This heartwarming account will surely inspire  teenagers as it’s about Time Howard, an ordinary person with an extraordinary talent and a disability. Even after suffering from Tourette Syndrome, this kid from Tourette fought and grew through all odds to become one of the World’s premier goalkeepers. If your child loves football,  then this is a must read for him.


The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

This book talks largely about race, gender, class, crime and punishment. It can make your child socially aware. It’s about a teenager in skirt(girl) being set on fire by another teenager with a lighter (a boy) in a bus in California. One act of recklessness sent the black boy Richard into jail for a life imprisonment and left Sasha a white life severely burnt.


Florence Nightingale: A life inspired by Lynn M. Hamilton and Wyatt North

This account about the selflessness of Florence Nightingale, a celebrity in Britain who left her life of comfort to help soldiers during wartime. She served her Nation with all her heart and gave her life in this service. She is a person everyone should learn from, also your child. Gift her this next time.


I will always write back: One letter changed two lives by Caitlin Alifirenka

An assignment turned into a life changing incident, interesting? Catalina chooses Zimbabwe to write a letter to an unknown student as a part of her assignment and it reaches Martin. This letter gives birth to a lifelong friendship and changed both their lives. I won’t give much detail,  why don’t you grab this one from your nearby book shop!


Lion: A long way Home by Saroo Brierley

It’s Brierley story of a life full of struggles. He got lost on a train when he was five years old. From being homeless to being in an orphanage to exploring life to finding back his home; his life is a worthy read.


So, these are some of the amazing biographies for teenagers. This is a great chance to shape them as individuals and also get them into a habit of reading. All these books are a must read but talking  about my personal favorite,  I would suggest “I am Malala”. Cheers!! Happy Reading!




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The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

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Trust book recommendations from real people, not robots 🤓

Blog – Posted on Monday, Jan 21

The 30 best biographies of all time.

The 30 Best Biographies of All Time

Biographer Richard Holmes once wrote that his work was “a kind of pursuit… writing about the pursuit of that fleeting figure, in such a way as to bring them alive in the present.”

At the risk of sounding cliché, the best biographies do exactly this: bring their subjects to life. A great biography isn’t just a laundry list of events that happened to someone. Rather, it should weave a narrative and tell a story in almost the same way a novel does. In this way, biography differs from the rest of nonfiction .

All the biographies on this list are just as captivating as excellent novels , if not more so. With that, please enjoy the 30 best biographies of all time — some historical, some recent, but all remarkable, life-giving tributes to their subjects.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great biographies out there, you can also take our 30-second quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized biography recommendation  😉

Which biography should you read next?

Discover the perfect biography for you. Takes 30 seconds!

1. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

This biography of esteemed mathematician John Nash was both a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize and the basis for the award-winning film of the same name. Nasar thoroughly explores Nash’s prestigious career, from his beginnings at MIT to his work at the RAND Corporation — as well the internal battle he waged against schizophrenia, a disorder that nearly derailed his life.

2. Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game - Updated Edition by Andrew Hodges

Hodges’ 1983 biography of Alan Turing sheds light on the inner workings of this brilliant mathematician, cryptologist, and computer pioneer. Indeed, despite the title ( a nod to his work during WWII ), a great deal of the “enigmatic” Turing is laid out in this book. It covers his heroic code-breaking efforts during the war, his computer designs and contributions to mathematical biology in the years following, and of course, the vicious persecution that befell him in the 1950s — when homosexual acts were still a crime punishable by English law.

3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is not only the inspiration for a hit Broadway musical, but also a work of creative genius itself. This massive undertaking of over 800 pages details every knowable moment of the youngest Founding Father’s life: from his role in the Revolutionary War and early American government to his sordid (and ultimately career-destroying) affair with Maria Reynolds. He may never have been president, but he was a fascinating and unique figure in American history — plus it’s fun to get the truth behind the songs.

Prefer to read about fascinating First Ladies rather than almost-presidents? Check out this awesome list of books about First Ladies over on The Archive.

4. Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

A prolific essayist, short story writer, and novelist, Hurston turned her hand to biographical writing in 1927 with this incredible work, kept under lock and key until it was published 2018. It’s based on Hurston’s interviews with the last remaining survivor of the Middle Passage slave trade, a man named Cudjo Lewis. Rendered in searing detail and Lewis’ highly affecting African-American vernacular, this biography of the “last black cargo” will transport you back in time to an era that, chillingly, is not nearly as far away from us as it feels.

5. Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert

Though many a biography of him has been attempted, Gilbert’s is the final authority on Winston Churchill — considered by many to be Britain’s greatest prime minister ever. A dexterous balance of in-depth research and intimately drawn details makes this biography a perfect tribute to the mercurial man who led Britain through World War II.

Just what those circumstances are occupies much of Bodanis's book, which pays homage to Einstein and, just as important, to predecessors such as Maxwell, Faraday, and Lavoisier, who are not as well known as Einstein today. Balancing writerly energy and scholarly weight, Bodanis offers a primer in modern physics and cosmology, explaining that the universe today is an expression of mass that will, in some vastly distant future, one day slide back to the energy side of the equation, replacing the \'dominion of matter\' with \'a great stillness\'--a vision that is at once lovely and profoundly frightening.

Without sliding into easy psychobiography, Bodanis explores other circumstances as well; namely, Einstein's background and character, which combined with a sterling intelligence to afford him an idiosyncratic view of the way things work--a view that would change the world. --Gregory McNamee

6. E=mc²: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis

This “biography of the world’s most famous equation” is a one-of-a-kind take on the genre: rather than being the story of Einstein, it really does follow the history of the equation itself. From the origins and development of its individual elements (energy, mass, and light) to their ramifications in the twentieth century, Bodanis turns what could be an extremely dry subject into engaging fare for readers of all stripes.

7. Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario

When Enrique was only five years old, his mother left Honduras for the United States, promising a quick return. Eleven years later, Enrique finally decided to take matters into his own hands in order to see her again: he would traverse Central and South America via railway, risking his life atop the “train of death” and at the hands of the immigration authorities, to reunite with his mother. This tale of Enrique’s perilous journey is not for the faint of heart, but it is an account of incredible devotion and sharp commentary on the pain of separation among immigrant families.

8. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

Herrera’s 1983 biography of renowned painter Frida Kahlo, one of the most recognizable names in modern art, has since become the definitive account on her life. And while Kahlo no doubt endured a great deal of suffering (a horrific accident when she was eighteen, a husband who had constant affairs), the focal point of the book is not her pain. Instead, it’s her artistic brilliance and immense resolve to leave her mark on the world — a mark that will not soon be forgotten, in part thanks to Herrera’s dedicated work.

9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Perhaps the most impressive biographical feat of the twenty-first century, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about a woman whose cells completely changed the trajectory of modern medicine. Rebecca Skloot skillfully commemorates the previously unknown life of a poor black woman whose cancer cells were taken, without her knowledge, for medical testing — and without whom we wouldn’t have many of the critical cures we depend upon today.

10. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, hitchhiked to Alaska and disappeared into the Denali wilderness in April 1992. Five months later, McCandless was found emaciated and deceased in his shelter — but of what cause? Krakauer’s biography of McCandless retraces his steps back to the beginning of the trek, attempting to suss out what the young man was looking for on his journey, and whether he fully understood what dangers lay before him.

11. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families by James Agee

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.” From this line derives the central issue of Agee and Evans’ work: who truly deserves our praise and recognition? According to this 1941 biography, it’s the barely-surviving sharecropper families who were severely impacted by the American “Dust Bowl” — hundreds of people entrenched in poverty, whose humanity Evans and Agee desperately implore their audience to see in their book.

12. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Another mysterious explorer takes center stage in this gripping 2009 biography. Grann tells the story of Percy Fawcett, the archaeologist who vanished in the Amazon along with his son in 1925, supposedly in search of an ancient lost city. Parallel to this narrative, Grann describes his own travels in the Amazon 80 years later: discovering firsthand what threats Fawcett may have encountered, and coming to realize what the “Lost City of Z” really was.

13. Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang

Though many of us will be familiar with the name Mao Zedong, this prodigious biography sheds unprecedented light upon the power-hungry “Red Emperor.” Chang and Halliday begin with the shocking statistic that Mao was responsible for 70 million deaths during peacetime — more than any other twentieth-century world leader. From there, they unravel Mao’s complex ideologies, motivations, and missions, breaking down his long-propagated “hero” persona and thrusting forth a new, grislier image of one of China’s biggest revolutionaries.

14. Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson by Andrew Wilson

Titled after one of her most evocative poems, this shimmering bio of Sylvia Plath takes an unusual approach. Instead of focusing on her years of depression and tempestuous marriage to poet Ted Hughes, it chronicles her life before she ever came to Cambridge. Wilson closely examines her early family and relationships, feelings and experiences, with information taken from her meticulous diaries — setting a strong precedent for other Plath biographers to follow.

15. The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes

What if you had twenty-four different people living inside you, and you never knew which one was going to come out? Such was the life of Billy Milligan, the subject of this haunting biography by the author of Flowers for Algernon . Keyes recounts, in a refreshingly straightforward style, the events of Billy’s life and how his psyche came to be “split”... as well as how, with Keyes’ help, he attempted to put the fragments of himself back together.

16. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

This gorgeously constructed biography follows Paul Farmer, a doctor who’s worked for decades to eradicate infectious diseases around the globe, particularly in underprivileged areas. Though Farmer’s humanitarian accomplishments are extraordinary in and of themselves, the true charm of this book comes from Kidder’s personal relationship with him — and the sense of fulfillment the reader sustains from reading about someone genuinely heroic, written by someone else who truly understands and admires what they do.

17. Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

Here’s another bio that will reshape your views of a famed historical tyrant, though this time in a surprisingly favorable light. Decorated scholar Andrew Roberts delves into the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, from his near-flawless military instincts to his complex and confusing relationship with his wife. But Roberts’ attitude toward his subject is what really makes this work shine: rather than ridiculing him ( as it would undoubtedly be easy to do ), he approaches the “petty tyrant” with a healthy amount of deference.

18. The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson IV by Robert A. Caro

Lyndon Johnson might not seem as intriguing or scandalous as figures like Kennedy, Nixon, or W. Bush. But in this expertly woven biography, Robert Caro lays out the long, winding road of his political career, and it’s full of twists you wouldn’t expect. Johnson himself was a surprisingly cunning figure, gradually maneuvering his way closer and closer to power. Finally, in 1963, he got his greatest wish — but at what cost? Fans of Adam McKay’s Vice , this is the book for you.

19. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Anyone who grew up reading Little House on the Prairie will surely be fascinated by this tell-all biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Caroline Fraser draws upon never-before-published historical resources to create a lush study of the author’s life — not in the gently narrated manner of the Little House series, but in raw and startling truths about her upbringing, marriage, and volatile relationship with her daughter (and alleged ghostwriter) Rose Wilder Lane.

20. Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi

Compiled just after the superstar’s untimely death in 2016, this intimate snapshot of Prince’s life is actually a largely visual work — Shahidi served as his private photographer from the early 2000s until his passing. And whatever they say about pictures being worth a thousand words, Shahidi’s are worth more still: Prince’s incredible vibrance, contagious excitement, and altogether singular personality come through in every shot.

21. Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Could there be a more fitting title for a book about the husband-wife team who discovered radioactivity? What you may not know is that these nuclear pioneers also had a fascinating personal history. Marie Sklodowska met Pierre Curie when she came to work in his lab in 1891, and just a few years later they were married. Their passion for each other bled into their passion for their work, and vice-versa — and in almost no time at all, they were on their way to their first of their Nobel Prizes.

22. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

She may not have been assassinated or killed in a mysterious plane crash, but Rosemary Kennedy’s fate is in many ways the worst of “the Kennedy Curse.” As if a botched lobotomy that left her almost completely incapacitated weren’t enough, her parents then hid her away from society, almost never to be seen again. Yet in this new biography, penned by devoted Kennedy scholar Kate Larson, the full truth of Rosemary’s post-lobotomy life is at last revealed.

23. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

This appropriately lyrical biography of brilliant Jazz Age poet and renowned feminist, Edna St. Vincent Millay, is indeed a perfect balance of savage and beautiful. While Millay’s poetic work was delicate and subtle, the woman herself was feisty and unpredictable, harboring unusual and occasionally destructive habits that Milford fervently explores.

24. Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes

Holmes’ famous philosophy of “biography as pursuit” is thoroughly proven here in his first full-length biographical work. Shelley: The Pursuit details an almost feverish tracking of Percy Shelley as a dark and cutting figure in the Romantic period — reforming many previous historical conceptions about him through Holmes’ compelling and resolute writing.

25. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Another Gothic figure has been made newly known through this work, detailing the life of prolific horror and mystery writer Shirley Jackson. Author Ruth Franklin digs deep into the existence of the reclusive and mysterious Jackson, drawing penetrating comparisons between the true events of her life and the dark nature of her fiction.

26. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

Fans of Into the Wild and The Lost City of Z will find their next adventure fix in this 2017 book about Christopher Knight, a man who lived by himself in the Maine woods for almost thirty years. The tale of this so-called “last true hermit” will captivate readers who have always fantasized about escaping society, with vivid descriptions of Knight’s rural setup, his carefully calculated moves and how he managed to survive the deadly cold of the Maine winters.

27. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The man, the myth, the legend: Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, is properly immortalized in Isaacson’s masterful biography. It divulges the details of Jobs’ little-known childhood and tracks his fateful path from garage engineer to leader of one of the largest tech companies in the world — not to mention his formative role in other legendary companies like Pixar, and indeed within the Silicon Valley ecosystem as a whole.

28. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini was just twenty-six when his US Army bomber crashed and burned in the Pacific, leaving him and two other men afloat on a raft for forty-seven days — only to be captured by the Japanese Navy and tortured as a POW for the next two and a half years. In this gripping biography, Laura Hillenbrand tracks Zamperini’s story from beginning to end… including how he embraced Christian evangelism as a means of recovery, and even came to forgive his tormentors in his later years.

29. Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff

Everyone knows of Vladimir Nabokov — but what about his wife, Vera, whom he called “the best-humored woman I have ever known”? According to Schiff, she was a genius in her own right, supporting Vladimir not only as his partner, but also as his all-around editor and translator. And she kept up that trademark humor throughout it all, inspiring her husband’s work and injecting some of her own creative flair into it along the way.

30. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

William Shakespeare is a notoriously slippery historical figure — no one really knows when he was born, what he looked like, or how many plays he wrote. But that didn’t stop Stephen Greenblatt, who in 2004 turned out this magnificently detailed biography of the Bard: a series of imaginative reenactments of his writing process, and insights on how the social and political ideals of the time would have influenced him. Indeed, no one exists in a vacuum, not even Shakespeare — hence the conscious depiction of him in this book as a “will in the world,” rather than an isolated writer shut up in his own musty study.

If you're looking for more inspiring nonfiction, check out this list of 30 engaging self-help books , or this list of the last century's best memoirs !

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