Roger Ailes. Catherine the Great. William Armstrong Custer. Steve Jobs. Malcolm X. These are among the men and women featured in the 34 biographies I’ve listed below. I’ve reviewed each of these books online and awarded them four or five out of five stars. The books are listed in alphabetical order by the subject’s last name. Each is linked to the review I wrote. (If a link doesn’t work, search for the title at www.malwarwickonbooks.com. The review is there.)
Roger Ailes: The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country, by Gabriel Sherman. The former Republican chairman invented Fox News and ran it for decades.
Robert Ames: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, by Kai Bird. A CIA officer for two decades in the 1960s and 70s—the best the agency could field—he died in the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983.
David Brower: David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, by Tom Turner. He built the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth.
Catherine the Great: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert K. Massie. The German-born empress of Russia commanded an empire and founded the Hermitage.
Cleopatra: Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff. The queen of Egypt was nothing like the woman in the movies.
William Armstrong Custer: Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T. J. Stiles. Custer was a general and Civil War hero before his ill-fated “last stand.”
Clarence Darrow: Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, by John A. Farrell. He was a superstar of the Gilded Age, the most famous attorney of his day.
William Donovan: Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage, by Douglas Waller. Donovan laid the foundation for the CIA but never ran the agency.
Allen Dulles: The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by David Talbot. He built the CIA in the 1950s as a tool to overthrow governments and assassinate leaders.
John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles: The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, by Stephen Kinzer. Together, the Dulles brothers dominated US foreign policy in the 1950s through “brinksmanship” and black ops.
Paul English: A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success, by Tracy Kidder. A bipolar software entrepreneur who never made a billion dollars, he built the widely-used travel site Kayak.
Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. The controversial cofounder of Apple emerges as a complex figure in this authorized biography.
Steve Jobs: Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart Into a Visionary Leader, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. Two reporters who followed Jobs for many years paint a less sympathetic portrait than Walter Isaacson.
Lyndon Johnson: The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, by Robert A. Caro. In the fourth volume of his biography of our 36th President, Robert Caro sees a self-confident and manipulative master politician.
Joseph P. Kennedy: The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by David Nasaw. JFK’s father was no bootlegger but he was a ruthless businessman who built a fortune on liquor and the movies.
Robert F. Kennedy: Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, by Larry Tye. The man who would have been president was no liberal but acquired progressive views as he learned more about the country.
Lawrence of Arabia: Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. The legendary World War I leader was a complex and unlikable man who helped set the Middle East on a disastrous course.
Ernest Lawrence: Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex, by Michael Hiltzik. A brilliant physicist himself, Lawrence entered history as an administrator of large-scale scientific projects, including the building of the cyclotron.
Karl Marx: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, by Jonathan Sperber. “Marx was not our contemporary [but] more a figure of the past than a prophet of the present.”
Stanley Milgram: The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram, by Thomas Blass. He was the social psychologist who proved the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory and ran the notorious “obedience” experiments.
Elon Musk: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance. He is unquestionably one of the most influential entrepreneurs of the modern age.
Richard Nixon: One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, by Tim Weiner. The conversations Weiner reports among Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, and John Mitchell must simply be read to be believed.
Kim Philby: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben MacIntyre. So far as can be known, he may have been the greatest spy in history, a Soviet agent for three decades who reached the pinnacle of British intelligence.
Vladimir Putin: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Geffen. The man who now rules Russia, once a low-level thug for the KGB, may now be the richest person in the world.
Fred Ross, Sr.: America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century, by Gabriel Thompson. He trained Cesar Chavez, helped the farmworkers’ movement thrive, and pioneered new techniques in grassroots organizing.
Jeffrey Sachs: The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, by Nina Munk. The Columbia economist is the man behind the UN’s Millennium Development Goals but a failure himself at development.
Jonas Salk: Jonas Salk: A Life, by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs. Though most famous as the man who cured polio, he was a leading figure in medical research for decades.
Joseph Smith: American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, by Alex Beam. The founder of the Mormon Church was uneducated, though he wrote a book that has been read by millions.
Alexander von Humboldt: The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, by Andrea Wulf. The most famous scientist of the 19th century was the world’s first ecologist, the first to view the web of life on Earth holistically.
Kurt Vonnegut: And So It Goes—Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, by Charles J. Shields. A POW in WWII Germany and a struggling writer for many years, Vonnegut’s life was unhappy, reflecting little of the humor that graced his work.
Kurt and Bernard Vonnegut: The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic, by Ginger Strand. The novelist’s older brother was a brilliant scientist who found him a job in PR for General Electric, supplying him with fodder for his stories.
Orville and Wilbur Wright: The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. The talented amateurs accomplished far more than simply taking the first heavier-than-air flight; they took the world by storm with daring demonstrations.
Malcolm X: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable. He was one of the most important African-American leaders of the 1960s and is revered by many today.
Samuel Zemurray: The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, by Rich Cohen. The penniless Russian immigrant rose to dominate the banana trade and steered the US to overthrow the Guatemalan government.
Previously, I’ve posted other lists of books I’ve rated highly. Included are 17 good nonfiction books about espionage, 29 good books about business history, and 17 books that illuminate the World War II era.