Reading Group Center

Unconventional Biographies to Expand Your Reading Horizons

Reading a biography can be a fascinating and captivating way to learn about someone’s life. Whether it’s a tell-all about a famous figure, like your favorite musician, or a heartwarming look into the life of an everyday person, biographies can both teach us something new and make us feel more connected to the world around us.

However, sometimes you want to read a biography that’s more inventive and that adds a little spice and intrigue to this time-honored literary tradition. If you are looking for an unconventional biography to dive into, check out our recommendations!

Breakdowns by Art Spiegelman

A look at his own oeuvre, as well as the world of comics—how they are made and appreciated today—Breakdowns is a one-of-a-kind, experimental, and visually daring portrait of an artist that only Art Spiegelman, the legendary creator of Maus, could have written.

Buy the book

The Sassoons
The Sassoons by Joseph Sassoon

A spectacular generational saga, The Sassoons is the riveting untold story of the gilded Jewish Bagdadi Sassoons. Written by a descendant of the family, this sweeping biography uncovers the making (and undoing) of a family dynasty, and provides an insider look into the family through access to rare family photographs and archives.

Read an excerpt | Buy the book

Surrender by Bono

U2 fans—this is the biography for you! Separated into 40 chapters that are named after the band’s songs, Bono’s autobiography shares the story of the remarkable life he’s lived, the challenges he’s faced, and the friends and family who have shaped and sustained him. Bono has also created forty original drawings for Surrender, which appear throughout the book.

Read an excerpt | Buy the book

Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man
Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman

Before he passed, Paul Newman began an extraordinary project. Working with his friend screenwriter Stewart Stern, he set out to document his life story, in both his own words and those of the friends, family members, and collaborators who knew him best. What results is a wholly singular look at a man who, in and of himself, was singular.

Read an excerpt | Buy the book

Zabar’s by Lori Zabar

Both a family history and cultural history of a New York institution, Zabar’s tells the fascinating story of the origins of famous New York City deli. Lori Zabar takes readers from the story of how her grandparents started the store through its gradual expansion and paints a portrait of Zabar’s as it is today, through behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the long-time employees, family members, and eccentric customers. This biography also includes ten recipes from the Zabar family, which you can cook along with as you read.

Read an excerpt | Buy the book

Constructing a Nervous System
Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson

In a book that integrates elements of memoir and criticism, Margo Jefferson untangles and examines the cultural and personal influences of her life that have made up her sense of self as a person and as a writer. Throughout this wildly innovative work of depth and stirring beauty, Jefferson interrogates her own identity as well as the act of writing memoir and probes the fissures at the center of American cultural life.

Buy the book

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

Emmy-nominated TV writer Bess Kalb is no stranger to weaving a tale. But the true storyteller in her family was her grandmother, Bobby Bell—which is probably why Bess saved every voice message Bobby ever sent her. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me draws on Bobby’s own words as Bess seeks to reconstruct the story of her family and the wisdom of its matriarch.

Read an excerpt | Buy the book

Lon Chaney Speaks
Lon Chaney Speaks by Pat Dorian

Lon Chaney was known as “the man of a thousand faces” having used—and in cases created—incredible makeup techniques to bring to life characters such as the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. In Lon Chaney Speaks, Pat Dorian employs stunning black-and-white drawings, reminiscent of early-era New Yorker cartoons, to tell the story of the life, fears, and triumphs of one of Hollywood’s most enduring names.

Buy the book