The best Pablo Picasso books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Pablo Picasso and why they recommend each book.

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Pablo Picasso

By Pierre Cabanne,

Book cover of Pablo Picasso: His Life and Times

The world of Picasso's biography is a deeply contentious and well ploughed field. I should know as I worked for 5 years on the yet-to-be-published Volume 4 of John Richardson’s epic sex fest.  Hiding in the glare of the Picasso craze is Pierre Cabanne’s revelatory masterpiece. Cabanne knew him, knew his circle, and was not frightened to enter Picasso’s Spanish world in exile. This is the first step to a genuine understanding of Picasso’s genius.

Pablo Picasso

By Pierre Cabanne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pablo Picasso as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

A lifetime of an obsession with Spain since a childhood spent on Miro’s farm in Montroig del Camp and just a short walk away from where Gaudi was born I have cooked, researched, battled, and fallen in love with this extraordinary country. Almost 40 years ago I bought a farmhouse in Arevalillo de Cega in the central mountains in Spain from where I have crisscrossed the country in the footsteps of Goya, the culinary genius Ferran Adria and in search of information for my biography on Gaudi – the God of Catalan architecture. Spain is an open book with a million pages, endlessly fascinating, contrary, unique, and 100% absorbing. I fell in deep.


I wrote...

Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

By Gijs van Hensbergen,

Book cover of Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon

What is my book about?

Artfully disguised behind Picasso’s astonishing canvas Guernica: The Biography of a 20th icon is a fascinating history of Spain and the 20thc. There is espionage, war, sex, spies, double-dealing, treason, and the devastating effects of total war – blitzkrieg. Reaching deep into personal trauma, collective grief, and the full history of art from caveman to the present day Picasso fashioned the most powerful enduring icon ever produced. Totally unique - despite its endless re-production - Guernica, still speaks to us today with alarming urgency about the horrors of war.

Book cover of Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays

I read this play before I saw it, and it was great as a read. Steve Martin is obviously known as a comedic actor. But if you like the few movies he’s written, think Roxanne and LA Story, then you might want to give this one a try. It’s the fictional meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein circa 1904. Picasso has started gaining fame for his breaking of artistic boundaries, and Einstein is a year away from releasing his theory of relativity. The two men have a chance meeting in a bar and drunkenly philosophize about art, science, society, meaning, and sex. And because it’s Steve Martin, don’t be surprised if Elvis comes along.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays

By Steve Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An imagined meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in 1904 examines the impact of science and art on a rapidly changing society.

Who am I?

I'm the writer and artist of the Johnny Hiro graphic novels. In those books, I use pop culture reference humor, but never simply as a joke. A reference can act as a hint to a world beyond the story the writer tells. I often dig slightly into an emotional resonance behind that reference—perhaps the (fictional) story of why it exists, or perhaps it even becomes an integral plot point. Popular media and culture often have a direct influence on our creative arts projects. And just sometimes, that art becomes an integral part of the popular culture itself.


I wrote...

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

By Fred Chao,

Book cover of Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

What is my book about?

Johnny Hiro is about a young sushi chef-in-training and his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi trying to live a happy-enough life in NYC. But such a big, chaotic city is hard, especially when filled with giant lizards, chef rivalries, ancient gods, ronin businessmen, and NY Times food reviewers. But with all the chaos, it’s essentially about trying to live happily enough as a young couple.

I felt like there was so much drama in romance stories, and I wanted to tell a story about a healthy-enough relationship with the responsibilities of rest of the world often causing the stresses that hurt us. Because, well, sometimes simply making rent is hard enough.

Je Suis Le Cahier

By Arnold Glimcher (editor), Marc Glimcher (editor),

Book cover of Je Suis Le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso

I can’t help being inspired by an artist for whom drawing was such a natural, intuitive, lifelong act. Picasso is known to have kept 175 sketchbooks during his lifetime, some linked to his best-known works, such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This book (“I Am the Sketchbook”) not only catalogues all 175, but it reproduces six of them in full, revealing a process of trial and discovery. The looseness, the simplicity, the richness, and the joy of enquiring lines and marks in these pages are, to me, an irresistible stimulant to draw. (There’s the occasional dud too, as any sketchbook should have.)

Je Suis Le Cahier

By Arnold Glimcher (editor), Marc Glimcher (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Je Suis Le Cahier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I started drawing in my twenties when I was lucky to meet and be inspired by tutors who passed on their passion for it. I have drawn and kept sketchbooks ever since: they trace the everyday things, my travels and important life events, but they are also places for thoughts and experiments, notes, and phone numbers. I don’t dare leave home without a sketchbook and pen in case I miss some unmissable thing. I went to art college, trained as a journalist, worked at a variety of art publications, have written three books about drawing, and exhibit and sell my drawings and prints. 


I wrote...

Sketch Your World: Drawing techniques for great results on the go

By James Hobbs,

Book cover of Sketch Your World: Drawing techniques for great results on the go

What is my book about?

Sketch Your World shows how 60 artists go about drawing on location and capturing the energy of the scene around them. Drawing can change the way you see your environment – it makes you stop, look and engage with your surroundings in ways that you probably wouldn’t otherwise. Sketch Your World is an accessible and encouraging guide, if that’s what you want to do too. It doesn’t try to tell you how to draw, but instead artists, architects, illustrators, students, and reportage artists explain how they select tools, find subjects, deal with onlookers and take creative risks.

You need only the simplest, cheapest items – just a pen or pencil and small sketchbook – to do this thing that can excite and sustain you for the rest of your days.

The Weeping Woman

By Zoe Valdes, David Frye (translator),

Book cover of The Weeping Woman: A Novel

We all know that Picasso wasn't very nice to his muses – nothing unusual there. He was arrogant and with a massive sense of entitlement. Dora Maar had good reason to weep. She was an artist herself – a successful painter & photographer, gaining commissions historically awarded to men and creating a radical new image of the modern woman  that's until she met Picasso. When she started to cause trouble he had her put away. It's extraordinary how many muses ended up in asylums. Unlike Rodin's muse she did get out, however. In Valdes' novel the story doesn't exactly end happily but in reality she did go on working, as a photographer, up till her death at eighty-nine. Good for you, Dora.

The Weeping Woman

By Zoe Valdes, David Frye (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Weeping Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the prestigious Azorin Prize for Fiction, the best-selling novel about love, sacrifice, and Picasso's mistress, Dora Maar.

A writer resembling Zoe Valdes a Cuban exile living in Paris with her husband and young daughter is preparing a novel on the life of Dora Maar, one of the most promising artists in the Surrealist movement until she met Pablo Picasso. The middle-aged Picasso was already the god of the art world's avant-garde. Dora became his lover, muse, and ultimately, his victim. She became The Weeping Woman captured in his famous portrait, the mistress he betrayed with other mistress-muses, and…

Who am I?

As an art historian and painter, I was inevitably drawn to the theme of artists and their muses when I started writing historical fiction. Female, passive, disempowered, and doomed sums up the fate of most muses. History is littered with their corpses - Rossetti’s model Lizzie Siddal committed suicide, Rodin’s model Camille Claudel went mad, Edie Sedgwick, made famous by Warhol, died of an overdose. The title ‘muse’ might offer immortality, but their lives were often hell on earth.  My books set out to understand what drove these women, some of whom were artists in their own right, to make such huge sacrifices. 


I wrote...

Painted Ladies

By Lynn Bushell,

Book cover of Painted Ladies

What is my book about?

For twenty-five years, the legendary Marthe has been Pierre Bonnard's companion and muse. His captivating new model, Renée, thinks it's time her rival stepped aside. But Marthe won't give up her place in history without a fight. 

The Devil's Cloth

By Jody Gladding, Michel Pastoureau,

Book cover of The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes

The French historian Michel Pastoureau is the master of finding topics you never knew could have a history. His research spans from the history of blue to the history of the bear, and everything he writes makes you see the world with new eyes. One of my favorites is this slim volume about the history of stripes. Pastoureau explains why stripes were associated with the devil in the Middle Ages, why sailors and swimmers took to stripes, and why cultural preferences have shifted from horizontal stripes to vertical stripes and back again. He convincingly shows that the history of the stripe is really a history of the impulse to contain social groups and people.

The Devil's Cloth

By Jody Gladding, Michel Pastoureau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil's Cloth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To stripe a surface serves to distinguish it, to point it out, to oppose it or associate it with another surface, and thus to classify it, to keep an eye on it, to verify it, even to censor it.
Throughout the ages, the stripe has made its mark in mysterious ways. From prisoners' uniforms to tailored suits, a street sign to a set of sheets, Pablo Picasso to Saint Joseph, stripes have always made a bold statement. But the boundary that separates the good stripe from the bad is often blurred. Why, for instance, were stripes associated with the devil…

Who am I?

I’m a historian who’s spent far too much time thinking about how the color magenta contributed to climate change and why eighteenth-century humanitarians were obsessed with tobacco enemas. My favorite historical topics—like sensation, color, and truth—don’t initially seem historical, but that’s exactly why they need to be explored. I’ve learned that the things that seem like second nature are where our deepest cultural assumptions and unconscious biases hide. In addition to writing nonfiction, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up on a ranch, live in Paris, work as an interior design writer, teach high school and college, and help stray dogs get adopted.


I wrote...

The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

By Carolyn Purnell,

Book cover of The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

What is my book about?

Blindfolding children from birth? Playing a piano made of live cats? Using tobacco to cure drowning? Wearing "flea"-colored clothes? These actions may seem odd to us, but in the eighteenth century, they made perfect sense.

As often as we use our senses, we rarely stop to think about their place in history. But perception is not dependent on the body alone. Carolyn Purnell persuasively shows that, while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages. Journeying through the past three hundred years, Purnell explores how people used their senses in ways that might shock us now. And perhaps more surprisingly, she shows how many of our own ways of life are a legacy of this earlier time.

A Child's Book of Art

By Lucy Micklethwait,

Book cover of A Child's Book of Art: Great Pictures - First Words

This book hits a kind of non-narrative sweet spot: It doesn’t tell a specific story, but every page-spread is a feast of beauty and interest and there are just enough words sprinkled here and there to encourage parents to supply their own commentary. This particular book happened to be a huge favorite in my family, but any collection that introduces great paintings and different styles of art will do the trick. I love making art part of a baby’s world from the get-go: It awakens the aesthetic senses and gives a child a sense of cultural ownership. Later, seeing a Vermeer or a Picasso, we can hope that child will feel a sparkle of recognition.

A Child's Book of Art

By Lucy Micklethwait,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Child's Book of Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

As a journalist, WSJ book critic, and mother of five, I‘ve been perfectly placed to witness the astounding effects of reading aloud. For decades I've been reading to my children (and to my husband, too) every night, often for a solid hour or more. Storytime has been the central civilizing joy of our family life: We’ve bonded emotionally, gone on shared imaginative adventures, and filled our heads with pictures and words. Long ago I knew something big was happening to us, and I felt sure my children were benefitting, but it wasn’t until I began digging around into the behavioral and brain science that I learned just how consequential reading aloud can be. In my book, I lay it all out.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction

What is my book about?

A conversation-changing look at the social, familial, neurological, and psychological benefits of reading aloud, especially for parents and children.

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioural research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children who are read to, whatever their class, nationality or family background.

Creating Minds

By Howard E. Gardner,

Book cover of Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi

Howard Gardner admitted Creative Minds was the personal favorite of all his books, and I can see why. From Albert Einstein’s transformational science to Martha Graham’s innovative dance, the book traces the personal forces at work in radical creativity of ‘the greats’ from science to arts and politics. It taught me to look at the entirety of a person’s biography to get to grips with their creativity and challenges the reader to think about a common creative scheme, but perhaps underestimates the role of conversation and community.

Creating Minds

By Howard E. Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creating Minds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since it was first published in 1993, Creating Minds has served as a peerless guide to the creative self. Now available as a paperback reissue with a new introduction by the author, the book uses portraits of seven extraordinary individuals to reveal the patterns that drive the creative process,and to demonstrate how circumstance also plays an indispensable role in creative success.

Who am I?

I have worked in scientific research and teaching for over 30 years, and maintained a love of art and music as well, but am saddened when I hear statements, especially from high-school pupils, that ‘there is no room for creativity or imagination in science.’ Like all working scientists, I know that imagination is the most important faculty for a scientist. The Poetry and Music of Science is my project to tease out the creative threads in the scientific process, and also to find the buried pathways that link science with the arts and humanities. The journey of discovery has been full of surprises and delights for me.


I wrote...

The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

By Tom McLeish,

Book cover of The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

What is my book about?

What human qualities make scientific discoveries, and which great art? Many would point to 'imagination' and 'creativity' in the second case but not the first. This book challenges the assumption that doing science is in any sense less creative than art, music, or fictional writing and poetry, and treads a historical and contemporary path to their shared creative process. Personal stories of scientists and artists reveal their common desires for a creative goal, experiences of failure, periods of incubation, moments of sudden insight, and the experience of the beautiful or sublime. Themes weaving through both science and art emerge.

A new paperback edition of The Poetry and Music of Science is being published on Feb 13th, completely revised and with a new chapter on Poetry and Theoretical Science.

The Jazz Age in France

By Charles A. Riley II,

Book cover of The Jazz Age in France

This is a terrific coffee table-sized book with wonderful photographs of the sundry characters and vivid reproductions of paintings and other images. Here you’ll find a young, muscular Pablo Picasso with hair—on the beach in his bathing suit in front of Gerald & Sara Murphy’s villa on the Côte d’Azur. This privileged couple—he a fine avant-garde artist in his own right, and she, who became Picasso’s muse, a refined and elegant hostess—were patrons of the arts who surrounded themselves at their home with the young luminaries of the Jazz Age. Chapter headings in this stunning volume tell the tale.

At 174 large pages, this is a beautifully rendered and specific encapsulation of les années folles, from start to finish.

The Jazz Age in France

By Charles A. Riley II,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jazz Age in France as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A panorama of the arts scene in Jazz Age France draws on letters, diaries, journals, photo albums, and private archives, in a visual exploration that includes unpublished paintings by Picasso and Leger, previously unknown works by e. e. cummings and John Dos Passos, and more. 15,000 first printing.

Who am I?

As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming a novelist. I was fascinated and inspired by Les Années Folles, The Crazy Years of 1920’s Paris, when artists of all disciplines, from countries all around the world came together electrifying the City of Lights with an artistic passion. My mother was French. France is my 2nd country, where I spend a portion of each year. While researching my novel, The Memory of Love, I stayed in the actual atelier of my protagonist Chrysis Jungbluth, a young, largely unknown painter of that era. I visited, too, the addresses of dozens of the artists who bring the era alive again in our imagination. 


I wrote...

The Memory of Love

By Jim Fergus,

Book cover of The Memory of Love

What is my book about?

A story based on actual historical figures: After recovering from grave wounds suffered in The Great War, Bogey Lambert, a young cowboy from Colorado, makes his way to 1920s Paris, where he encounters the beautiful painter, Chrysis Jungbluth. Precocious, passionate, talented, the free-spirited Chrysis rebels against a society and an art world in which men have all the privilege and women none. By day, a serious student at the prestigious l'École des Beaux-Arts, at night Chrysis loses herself to the sensual pleasures of the Montparnasse nightlife, where all seems permissible. There, she and the American cowboy will live the love of a lifetime. 

Picasso and Minou

By P.I. Maltbie,

Book cover of Picasso and Minou

No one wants to buy Pablo Picasso’s sad blue paintings. Unable to feed himself or his cat, Picasso sends Minou out into the world, hoping she can find herself a meal. Minou meets some circus performers who feed her, but she doesn’t finish her food; she brings a sausage home to Picasso. Minou introduces Picasso to her new friends, who inspire him to create more joyful paintings which are purchased by an art dealer. This book is all about kindness. The circus performers kindly feed Minou, Minou kindly brings food to Picasso, and Picasso kindly paints the circus performers’ portraits in exchange for meals. This book, based on a true story, shows that cats, who are rumored to be self-centered and aloof, are really very loving, generous, and kind.

Picasso and Minou

By P.I. Maltbie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Picasso and Minou as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I have always loved cats and have lived with many: Princess Sheba Darling, Precious Sammy Dearest, Couscous Kerouac, P.C. (Perfect Cat), Neshama, and Mitzi. Each cat has a distinct personality and quickly taught me how things were going to go: some cats are lap cats, some are not. Some cats are finicky, some cats will eat anything. Some cats slept on my pillow, some cats prowled—and yowled—all night long. In addition to cats, I have always loved picture books and have written many about cats including: Cats, Cats, Cats! Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With A Tail, A-B-C Cats, 1-2-3 Cats, and The Best Cat In The World.


I wrote...

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed

By Lesléa Newman, Amy June Bates (illustrator),

Book cover of Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed

What is my book about?

Moshe Cotel was a composer who lived in a noisy building on a noisy street in a noisy city. But Moshe didn’t mind. Everything he heard was music to his ears. One day, while out for a walk, he heard a small, sad sound that he’d never heard before. It was a tiny kitten! “Come on, little Ketzel,” Moshe said, “I will take you home and we will make beautiful music together.” And they did—in a most surprising way. Inspired by a true story, author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Amy June Bates craft an engaging tale of a creative man and the beloved cat who brings unexpected sweet notes his way. Winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and the Massachusetts Book Award.

A Face for Picasso

By Ariel Henley,

Book cover of A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome

This first-person account of what it’s like to grow up visibly different is beautifully written, and manages to be both heartrending and uplifting at the same time. Henley does a stellar job of keeping the reader invested in her struggles, and her musings on how pervasive the idea of arbitrary physical traits and one’s value as an individual is, makes for an uncomfortable but necessary read. A must-read for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t fit in.

A Face for Picasso

By Ariel Henley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Face for Picasso as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Raw and unflinching . . . A must-read!" --Marieke Nijkamp, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of This Is Where It Ends

"[It] cuts to the heart of our bogus ideas of beauty." -Scott Westerfeld, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of Uglies

I am ugly. There's a mathematical equation to prove it.

At only eight months old, identical twin sisters Ariel and Zan were diagnosed with Crouzon syndrome -- a rare condition where the bones in the head fuse prematurely. They were the first twins known to survive it.

Growing up, Ariel and her sister endured numerous appearance-altering procedures. Surgeons would…

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the way people respond to physical beauty since childhood—my teachers heaped praise on the pretty kids, reserving hard words for the less genetically blessed. This experience drove me to explore the pervasive ways in which unconscious beauty bias perpetuates injustice, and how it intersects with racism and privilege. Prison plastic surgery might sound like a punchline but for many, it was a lifeline. UK-born, I now live in San Francisco and have a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, New York. My work has been published by The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, and Fast Company, among others.


I wrote...

Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery in Prisons

By Zara Stone,

Book cover of Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery in Prisons

What is my book about?

In 1965, Douglas Lipton, an idealistic 28-year-old psychologist offered free plastic surgery to people incarcerated in Rikers Island. He believed the socioeconomic boost of a nose job or facelift might curb recidivism. Three years later the data was in: a 36% drop in reoffending from prisoners who’d said yes to the scalpel. 

Lipton’s study was part of a broader picture: some 500,000 prisoners across the US, the UK, and Canada, received free surgeries between 1920 and 1995, the tab picked up by the government. Killer Looks provides a deep dive into the history of prison reform through the lens of beauty and explores how physical appearance can simultaneously empower and remove agency. The intersection of appearance bias, racism, and privilege continues to impact people today.

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