Biographies for People Who Have Never Read a Biography

In recent weeks I’ve encountered a number of people who have never read a biography. While there’s no law commanding the reading of biographies, there are certainly many good reasons to make them a regular part of a reading diet. Today I want to offer just a few suggestions and recommendations for people who are approaching biography for the first time, or for the first time in a long while.

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Three Tips

I’ll begin with a few suggestions for getting started in biography.

First, I’d recommend beginning with a biography that is relatively short. While William Manchester’s three-volume set on Winston Churchill is brilliant, it is also more than a little daunting (the audiobook is 131 hours long!). You’re probably better-off beginning with something more manageable.

Second, I’d recommend beginning with a biography that is generally positive in its tone. While there’s value in reading about false teachers or even tricky figures—those who may have been brilliantly sold-out for the Lord in one way but living in open defiance in another—it can introduce a level of complexity to properly interpreting a life. Before reading about heretics, charlatans, and the ones who aren’t so easily categorized, it may be helpful to get a good baseline of godly characters.

Third, start with a well-known figure. Though it’s not always the case, it’s generally true that history mostly remembers the best and the worst figures of any period. There are a few people in every generation who tower over their peers and they represent a great place to begin.

Ten Recommendations

Here are ten biography recommendations for people who are just getting started. I’ll try to keep them focused on Christians and keep them shorter than 300 pages. Before I do that, let me recommend a few series. Christian Focus’s History Makers are biographies of key figures that tend to be around the 200-page mark. I’ve read quite a few of them and they have all been excellent. Steve Lawson’s A Long Line of Godly Men series is meant to serve as introductions to notable figures, both in their lives and impact, so they tend to include a relatively short overview of the subject’s life followed by topical discussions of his accomplishments. John Piper’s The Swans Are Not Silent series contain several short biographies per volume.

And now, the biographies:

I promised ten, so will stop there. And even if none of these look particularly appealing, do consider picking up a different biography and giving it a read. I suspect you’ll be glad you did.