What is the best bio that you have read?


I don’t know much about Elizabeth Taylor. I’ve only been remotely aware of her life and work. Lots of husbands. Actress a generation ago. Best friend of Michael Jackson. Health problems.

That was pretty much my sum knowledge of her. So when she died, I became more interested and decided I wanted to read a biography. But which one? With a celebrity as huge as Elizabeth Taylor there are dozens. Is there a definitive one? A best one? And how do I find out what that is?

Which got us all talking about biographies.

Mia: I loved Tina Brown’s biography of Princess Diana, The Diana Chronicles. Two women who loomed incredibly large in my formative years…one as an iconic editor and the other as the ultimate icon. The book was scrupulously researched but easy to read. I learned so much about Diana (a good thing when you’re reading a biography – duh) and I came to see so many nuances in her life and personality that I’d been unaware of. Loved, loved, loved it. The ultimate Diana biography.

Lana: Long Walk To Freedom. Definitely and without a doubt.  Being South African born and  witness to Nelson Mandela’s release from detention made this compulsory reading for me.  What really got to me – besides his amazing presence, his calm, his authority and composure even in detention, his humility and grace (can you tell that I am a fan) was the way that he made me look at South Africa.  He helped me carve my conscience.  I recently got a children’s version of the book for my son.  I insisted he love it.  Actually he just loved it on his own.  (Little fact to show my family allegiance to Mandela – my eldest sister once met him and shook his hand.  She didn’t wash it for a VERY long time and I could swear she got a little glow that never faded from meeting him),

Nicky: I loved Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, not because I am an aspiring drug addict but because it was fascinating to read about his struggle with addiction since his father gave him a joint to smoke at 12 years old. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is also high on my list, it confirmed by conviction to being a feminist and her to plight for freedom and commitment to her political and social agendas is nothing short of inspirational.

Rick: Richard Branson’s biography, Losing My Virginity, is awesome. From hippie record brat to multi-billionaire, it really, truly is inspiring. And, for something a little left of centre, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It’s a biography in the sense that it’s a history of the world from the start as we know it to now. And it’s one of the best books I have ever read.

Nat: Stasiland – I suppose this is more of a travel memoir than a biography, but I absolutely loved this Aussie journalist’s story of travelling through East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her perceptions and experiences are so beautifully articulated that it was incredibly difficult to pry myself away from the book and back into reality.


Bec Sparrow: OPEN by Andre Agassi is brilliant.  In many ways it’s not so much a book about tennis. It’s about the struggle of being really, really good at something that actually brings you no joy (Agassi actually hates playing tennis but has this astounding natural ability).  It also details his drug-use, relationships with Barbra Streisand and Brooke Shields (including his jealous meltdown when Brooke appeared on Friends and licked Matt LaBlanc), his mullet wig (!!) and his beautiful relationship with Steffi Graff. LOVED IT.

Kate Hunter: Is That It? By Bob Geldof. I read it in the late 80s and it was such an insight into the lives of the poppy music world I loved. It is also the story of a very flawed man doing very big things before it was popular to do so. It’s a great read.

Kerri Sackville: Naked by David Sedaris. The guy manages to satirise his childhood with OCD, and his description of himself frantically licking the light switches as his mother got his concerned teacher drunk had me crying with laughter.

We asked  John Purcell from Booktopia to compile a list of the best selling biographies of all time (plus a few of his personal recommendations). Click through the gallery below for all the best biographies and go to the links below to buy them.

Wild Swans

Angela’s Ashes

Inside The Third Reich

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Confessions

The Life of Samuel Johnson

Scar Tissue

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

A Fortunate Life

A Moveable Feast

A Postillion Struck by Lightning

Life: Keith Richards

Kings In Grass Castles

The Sexual Life Of Catherine M

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

Losing My Virginity

WikiLeaks Versus the World

What’s the best bio you’ve read?

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