The Best Biographies That Show How Grit Transforms People’s Lives

The Books I Picked & Why

Jackie Robinson: A Biography

By Arnold Rampersad

Jackie Robinson: A Biography

Why this book?

Because it’s the amazing story of how a supremely gifted and charismatic young Black man overcame his impoverished background and the racism endemic in the United States to break the color barrier in the national sport—baseball, and became an iconic figure in the struggle for civil rights. Rampersad’s unprecedented access to Robinson’s papers allowed him to paint a detailed, intimate, and moving portrait of a courageous and defiant man.


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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

By Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Why this book?

Because it’s the celebrated biography of a remarkable young woman born into a minor German noble family, who, through her ingenuity and determination, transformed herself into the Empress of Russia, defined a Golden Age in her adopted country’s history and culture, and became one of the most influential figures in late 18th c. Europe. Robert Massie’s masterful narrative encompasses dozens of vivid portraits of Catherine’s associates and places them into a sweeping historical canvas.


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Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt

By David McCullough

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt

Why this book?

It’s inspiring to read how a sickly boy became the larger-than-life figure who dominated turn of the century America. Although born into a famous and wealthy family, the young Theodore’s future seemed hopeless because of his repeated bouts with an illness that almost killed him. But through his own will, and with the inspiration and support of his remarkable family, he managed to overcome his ailment and grow into robust and productive manhood. McCullough’s discovery of a rich cache of family letters allowed him to create a fine-grained and moving narrative about how this exceptional man came to be.


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

By Laura Hillenbrand

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

Why this book?

Just the story of how Louis Zamperini, a troubled youth from a humble background, became an Olympic runner would have been enough for a remarkable life. But when WWII broke out, Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force and went on to survive an incredible series of harrowing experiences, any one of which would have destroyed a weaker man—survival of a plane crash, a month adrift in an ocean full of sharks, and years of unbelievable brutality in Japanese POW camps. Zamperini’s indomitable spirit prevailed after the war as well when he overcame the darkness into which he slipped and was able to rebuild his life on a new foundation of faith.


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The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson I

By Robert A. Caro

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson I

Why this book?

The first volume in Robert Caro’s magisterial, multi-volume biography of LBJ describes in unprecedented detail the daunting obstacles—financial, geographical, educational, familial—that Johnson had to overcome during his extraordinary career, and the phenomenal drive that allowed him to rise to the summit of political power in the United States. Caro’s brilliant biography sheds light not only on an extraordinary man but also on the political processes that are the nation’s lifeblood.


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