The best biographies for sheer inspiration

Sanford D. Greenberg Author Of Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man's Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life
By Sanford D. Greenberg

Who am I?

I’m a man who has led two lives. The first was as a junk dealer’s son from Buffalo, New York, who worked his tail off in school, won a full scholarship to Columbia University in 1958, and began dreaming of entering politics and someday becoming governor of New York State. The second life arrived suddenly during the third semester of my junior year when blindness seemed to rob me of my dreams. It didn’t, and along with dear friends and a loving family, these biographies have played a central role in keeping my dreams alive.


I wrote...

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man's Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life

By Sanford D. Greenberg,

Book cover of Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man's Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life

What is my book about?

It’s a memoir built around a tragic event—the day in February 1961 when a Detroit surgeon blinded me ironically to save my eyes—but it is far from a tragic tale. My future wife, Sue, my college roommate Art Garfunkel, and others got me back on my feet and helped me find my way from there. Today, I consider myself, as did Lou Gehrig in his distress, “the luckiest man in the world.” That’s the story I tell, in part to understand my own life and in part to encourage others. It's also available in a Young Adult edition.

The books I picked & why

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Churchill: A Life

By Martin Gilbert,

Book cover of Churchill: A Life

Why this book?

“I esteem biography,” Samuel Johnson once said, “as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use.” None of us is ever likely to be called upon to save Western democracy, as Winston Churchill was. But democracy can use some help these days, and all of us can be inspired by the absolute boldness Churchill showed when Great Britain was facing its darkest hour.


Leonardo Da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci

Why this book?

Walter Isaacson’s biography left me in a constant state of awe. How in the world could one human being accomplish all that Da Vinci did, across so many fields of endeavor, in a single human lifetime? Ultimately what I took away from this book is how limitless human potential really is, especially if we pursue big dreams.


Edison

By Edmund Morris,

Book cover of Edison

Why this book?

Like Da Vinci, Thomas Edison was possessed of great genius, but the point Edmund Morris drives home so well is that Edison was also indefatigable. The Wizard of Menlo Park worked untold hours on end, often sleeping on a mat on the floor, hard by whatever his current project was. It’s such a simple concept—enormous work can lead to enormous accomplishments—and Morris gives us a living example of one man whose work ethic changed civilization.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life in American History

By Nancy Hendricks,

Book cover of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life in American History

Why this book?

The Notorious RBG was my neighbor at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC, for forty years and my dear friend through all of them. I can still see her sitting on her patio, even with advanced cancer, contemplating the issues that shaped her own life and the nation’s: What is right? What is just? What is fair? Is it possible to spend a life any more usefully than that?


The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson I

By Robert A. Caro,

Book cover of The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson I

Why this book?

Great biographers never ignore the warts, and Lyndon Johnson—the subject of Robert Caro’s masterful quartet of biographies—had plenty of them. For starters, LBJ mishandled the war in Vietnam, for which history will never forgive him. But Johnson was also a stunning contradiction—a rural Texas conservative who did more for urban society than anyone in modern history—and an absolute force of nature. I served as a White House Fellow under him in 1966-67. Close to Johnson, you could sense his nobility.


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