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The Best of the Year in Biographies and Memoirs



The best part about picking the year's best biographies and memoirs is the variation--the list spans almost every genre and category, literally offering something for anyone who reads. 2013's best are no less diverse, including: harrowing survival stories both physical1 and psychological2; a gigantic book befitting a literary giant3; a visit from a long-gone childhood friend4; the strange tale of an eccentric recluse and her Gilded Age riches5; and the life and times of one of America's most obsessive weirdoes, penned by Amazon's own Neal Thompson6. And much more.

  1. A House in the Sky: A Memoir
  2. Coming Clean: A Memoir
  3. Norman Mailer: A Double Life
  4. Jim Henson: The Biography
  5. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
  6. A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley

Here are closer looks at three highlights from the twenty books on our Best of the Year list in Biographies and Memoirs. See all of our selections here.

A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

To freelance journalist Amand Lindhout, who made her living reporting from the most volatile places on earth, danger had become a hazy abstraction. After she and photojournalist Nigel Brennan (her former lover) are abducted in Somalia by armed extremists, their lives become a nightmare of torture (and worse), and survival means drawing on every reserve. Written with uncommon sensitivity, A House in the Sky is a moving testament to resilience and a kind of spiritual transcendence, even in profound darkness.

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Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David Henry and Joe Henry

Brothers David and Joe Henry have written the definitive tribute to Pryor's momentous cultural legacy. This is no straightforward biography: structured as a long series of roughly chronological vignettes, the resulting impressionistic portrait mirrors the flights of fancy that marked Pryor's most memorable stand-up comedy performances. Furious Cool resists the fan's impetus toward hagiography in favor of an artistic performance of the written word that does lovely justice to a brilliant, tortured man.

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Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer

No one would ever accuse Jenna Miscavige Hill of being an "objective reporter" about Scientology, the religion in which she was raised and from which she escaped in 2005. But unlike other books about the controversial sect, this one offers up personal daily details--sometimes maybe a few more than we want to know--about what it was like to be a seven-, eight-, nine-year-old separated from family (even though her uncle, David Miscavige, is the church's leader, and her parents were, for a time, high up in the organization) and forced to spend days scrubbing bathrooms and pondering "misunderstood words."

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See all 20 books on the Biographies & Memoirs Best of the Year list


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