Fantastic History Biographies

As a lover of history, I’m also a big fan of biographies. They allow us a glimpse into a person’s life and the time period they lived in. And the truly great biographers can make us forget that we’re even reading nonfiction! The following books are some great biographies that have come out over the past year.

Georgia Bragg’s witty and clever writing tells the story of the unusual deaths of nineteen prominent historical figures, from King Tut to Albert Einstein. Students will love reading about how Cleopatra poisoned herself with a hairpin or how Edgar Allen Poe most likely died from rabies rather than the long-believed alcohol poisoning. A word of warning; this book is not for those with weak stomachs. Particularly the Einstein chapter in which Bragg describes his autopsy in gritty detail, including the “sticky, sucking sound” of Einstein’s cranium being wedged from the rest of his body. This book is definitely for reluctant readers!

While many of us know of Benedict Arnold’s bitter treachery, Steve Sheinkin sheds light on the often forgotten contributions Arnold made toward the Revolution. Using letters, journals and historical accounts, Sheinkin brings Benedict Arnold and the American Revolution to life for his readers. He describes how Arnold’s bold and daring personality made him a brilliant strategist, much beloved by his men. However, his obsession with praise and recognition ultimately led him to his infamous end. 

Born in 1838, Charles S. Stratton quickly became known to the world as Tom Thumb, the remarkable two-foot man. Teaming up with P.T. Barnum at the age of five, Tom toured the world, mesmerizing people with his unusual size. Tom later married another little person, and the couple’s fame reached as far as Australia and India. Using photographs, diaries, letters and theatrical programs, Sullivan documents Tom’s life as America’s first real celebrity. 

The tragic disappearance of Amelia Earhart is one of the biggest mysteries in U.S. history. Candace Fleming brings both Amelia’s life and her disappearance to life in this captivating biography. She builds tension by switching her narrative back and forth between the rescue efforts to find the missing plane and Amelia’s life before that fateful flight. Fleming also goes into Earhart’s life before the flight, showing a women determined to succeed by raising the money to fly any way she could. This engaging and compelling biography will shine new light on one of America’s most intriguing characters.

Michael O. Tunnell engagingly tells the story of Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen, who became known as The Chocolate Pilot. Starting with the small gesture of giving two pieces of gum to a group of children, Halvorsen soon started dropping candy attached to small parachutes during his regular drops. He told children to watch for the plane that wiggled its wings. News of his generosity spread, and soon Operation Little Vittles became a USAF-sanctioned operation. Candy donations from individuals and companies around the world were dropped all over West Berlin. With numerous photographs, letters, and drawings, Candy Bomber will help students learn about this little-known period in history.

Bibliography:

Amelia Lost : The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candance Fleming. 2011.

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell. 2010.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg. 2011.

The Notorious Benedict Arnold : A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin. 2010.

Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature by George Sullivan. 2011.

Lindsey L.