6 of My Favorite Biographies

Biographies are strange beasts. They open doors and windows into the lives of people we love or hate, but they aren’t created equal. When the subject of the biography gives direct input into the book it can be phenomenal. On the other hand, writing from a distance can sometimes make the story dry.

The following six biographies I count among my all-time favorites and I highly recommend each of them.

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My Sergei: A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva.

Thrown together as children by the Soviet regime and told to skate for the good of the state, Sergei Grinkov and Katia Gordeeva became the most celebrated pairs skaters in the world–falling madly in love, marrying, and having a beautiful baby daughter. But after winning two Olympic gold medals and four World Championships, Katia’s world collapsed when Sergei suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 28. A deeply moving, heartfelt memoir of their remarkable lives, this is Katia’s final love letter to her beloved Sergei.

I remember watching Katia and Sergei skate. They were beautiful and awe-inspiring. The revelations in this book are more than just about skating. It gives us a glimpse behind the iron curtain during the Cold War. Something that really stuck with me, years after reading this, was Katia mentioning her non-understanding of religion. As someone that grew up in the USSR she was educated in a system that propagated atheism. Her grandmother gave her the only glimpse of a forbidden belief.

The love story told in My Sergei is touching and atypical. Their affection toward each other grew from the dependency formed on the ice. Even if you aren’t a fan of figure skating you’ll find this biography to be enlightening on several levels.

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Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar

For almost forty years, Sammy Hagar has beena fixture in rock music. From breaking into the industry with the band Montrose to his multiplatinum solo career to his ride as the front man of Van Halen, Sammy’s powerful and unforgettable voice has set the tone for some of the greatest rock anthems ever written—songs like “I Can’t Drive 55,” “Right Now,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.”

In Red, Sammy tells the outrageous story of his tear through rock ‘n’ roll. From the decadence of being one of the world’s biggest rock stars to the unfiltered story of being forced out of Van Halen, Sammy’s account spares no one, least of all himself. His is a tale of a true rock ‘n’roller—someone who’s spent decades bringing the party with him wherever he goes but always headin’ back to Cabo for más tequila.

I’ve always been a huge Sammy Hagar fan. I’m talking even before the Van Halen years. When I saw this biography for sale, I snagged it without thinking. Before delving in, I did worry that it would change my feelings toward the Red Rocker. If I were easily offended, it might have. It’s unfiltered and he spares no one, including himself. He reveals himself, warts and all. And his story is remarkable. From his tumultuous relationship with his first wife, through the highs of rock and roll stardom to astute business decisions and family his story unfolds. It’s one of those books that’s difficult to put down. While this biography may appeal more to his fans than people who don’t know him, there is something for everyone.

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The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nonna Bannister

Nonna Bannister carried a secret almost to her Tennessee grave: the diaries she kept as a young girl experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust while learning compassion and love for her fellow human beings. Nonna’s writings tell the remarkable tale of how a Russian girl, born into a family that had known wealth and privileges, was exposed to the concentration camps and learned the value of human life and the importance of forgiveness.

This biography distinguishes itself from other holocaust biographies in that it shows the hardships of WWII from the perspective of an affluent Russian. Nonna grows up in the middle of chaos. She sees humankind’s cruelty and compassion, endures hardship and accepts blessings, is forcibly separated from family and discovers her own resilience. I highly recommend this book especially to those who study WWII.

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Decision Points by George W. Bush

In this candid and gripping account, President George W. Bush describes the critical decisions that shaped his presidency and personal life.

George W. Bush served as president of the United States during eight of the most consequential years in American history. The decisions that reached his desk impacted people around the world and defined the times in which we live.

Whether you love him or hate him, President Bush served during a period of great change for our country and the world. His biography doesn’t cover every aspect of his presidency, instead it focuses on those decisions he feels defined it. Decision Points is an enlightening glimpse behind the doors of the oval office and Bush’s decision making process.

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Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes by Deana Martin

Deana Martin’s captivating and heartfelt memoir of her father, the son of an Italian immigrant from modest beginnings who worked his way to the top of the Hollywood firmament to become one of the greatest stars of all time.

Charming, debonair, and impeccably attired in a black tuxedo, Dean Martin was coolness incarnate. His music provided the soundtrack of romance, and his image captivated movie and television audiences for more than fifty years. His daughter Deana was among his most devoted fans, but she also knew a side of him that few others ever glimpsed.

I been a Dino fan since before I can remember. I remember watching his television program when I was a child – not understanding the jokes, but loving the atmosphere it created. As an adult I’ve added his music to my collection and never tire of his voice.

Deana’s account of life with Dean Martin is both lovely and heartbreaking. As a daughter from his first marriage, she was witnessed the struggling entertainer and the superstar. She doesn’t shy away from discussing his shortcomings, but her affection and respect shines through.

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That’s Amore: A Son Remembers Dean Martin by Ricci Martin

In this book, Ricci Martin takes readers on a tour through his childhood, from the star-studded parties to the exploration of three marriages, eight kids, one family, to the treasured one-on-one time he shared with his father. He also discusses Dean’s first meeting with Jerry Lewis and divulges his father’s version of the Martin and Lewis breakup.

That’s Amore is a delightful book filled with humorous anecdotes and loving memories. Ricci reveals tidbits that are priceless and every Dean Martin fan will appreciate what it has to offer. However, it’s obviously written through a lens of affection.

A good deal of this book shares information about Martin’s children and what their life was like. Their father’s influence is evident, but it appears Ricci was shielded or blinded from his father’s flaws. As biographies go, it’s a fine example. If you’re a fan of Dean Martin, this is a must read.

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