When you want to find out more about a historical or political figure, a biography is a great place to start. We have interviews dedicated to the best five books on historical figures—which can include primary sources, or books that focus on specific aspects of their life or legacy, as well as the story of their lives—but in this section, we have also included biographies of historical/political figures who don't yet have a dedicated interview on our site.
Best Spartacus biography
Best Alexander the Great books
Best Margaret Thatcher biography
Best Joan of Arc biography
Best books on Winston Churchill
Best books on Elizabeth I
Best Karl Marx Biography
Best Eleanor of Aquitaine biography
Best Isabella de' Medici biography
The best books on Napoleon Bonaparte
The best biography of Otto von Bismarck
Best Catherine the Great biography
The best books on Adolf Hitler
The best Franco biography
Best Books on Charles de Gaulle
Best Florence Nightingale biography
Best George Washington biography
Best Martin Luther King biography
Best Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt biography
Best Sitting Bull biography
Best Rachel Carson biography
Best Amelia Earhart biography
Best Frederick Douglass biography
Best John F Kennedy biography (though this only covers the earlier years)
Best Che Guevara biography
Best Eva Peron biography
Best Lula biography (from 2008)
My Early Life 1874-1904
by Winston Churchill
Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East
by Warren Dockter
In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War
by David Reynolds
Churchill and the Dardanelles
by Christopher M Bell
Winston Churchill As I Knew Him
by Violet Bonham Carter
Winston Churchill’s role as a global statesman remains immensely controversial. For some he was the heroic champion of liberty, saviour of the free world; for others a callous imperialist with a doleful legacy. Here, historian Richard Toye chooses the best books to help you understand the man behind the myths and Churchill’s own role in making those myths.
The Mirror and the Light—the final instalment of Hilary Mantel’s epic trilogy covering the life of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister and architect of the English Reformation—was published to great acclaim this month. Here, Five Books contributing editor Benedict King chooses five of the best books to help you get to grips with the real Thomas Cromwell and the political and religious environment in which he operated. You can watch Benedict talking about his Thomas Cromwell book choices here.
Alexander the Great: The Anabasis and the Indica
The History of Alexander
by Quintus Curtius Rufus
The First European: A History of Alexander in the Age of Empire
by Pierre Briant
The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period
by Amélie Kuhrt
Fire from Heaven
by Mary Renault
Alexander the Great never lost a battle and established an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. From the earliest times, historians have argued about the nature of his achievements and what his failings were, both as a man and as a political leader. Here, Hugh Bowden, professor of ancient history at King’s College London, chooses five books to help you understand the controversies, the man behind the legends, and why the legends have taken the forms they have.
The Campaigns of Napoleon
by David G Chandler
by Duff Cooper
With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign
by John H Gill
Private Memoirs Of The Court Of Napoleon
by Louis François Joseph Bausset-Roquefort
With Napoleon in Russia: Memoirs of General de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vicenza
by Armand de Caulaincourt
How did Napoleon Bonaparte, an upstart Corsican, go on to conquer half of Europe in the 16 years of his rule? Was he a military genius? And was he really that short? Historian Andrew Roberts, author of a bestselling biography of Napoleon, introduces us to the books that shaped how he sees l’Empereur—including little-known sources from those who knew Napoleon personally.
Gandhi’s peaceful resistance to British rule changed India and inspired freedom movements around the globe. But as well as being an inspiring leader, Gandhi was also a human being. Ramachandra Guha, author of a new two-part biography of Gandhi, introduces us to books that give a fuller picture of the man who came to be known as ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi.
Few people have had their ideas reinvented as many times as the German intellectual and political activist, Karl Marx. Professor of political theory, Terrell Carver, takes us through the most influential books, in English, about Marx, Marxism and his friend, publicist and financial backer, Friedrich Engels.
The classical Greek philosopher is credited with laying the foundation of Western philosophy – without ever having written a word. Here, the eminent scholar M M McCabe recommends the best books to read to understand Socrates and engage with the eternal question: How best to live?
It’s their frailty that makes politicians such interesting characters, says Tony Blair’s biographer Anthony Seldon. He tells us about the art of political biography and the writers who’ve best captured leaders such as Churchill and Thatcher
The story and tragedy of the Kennedys is so incredible you don’t need to turn to fiction, says the biographer of Joseph P Kennedy, David Nasaw. He talks us through the Kennedy generations.
Hitler has a reputation as the incarnation of evil. But, as British historian Michael Burleigh points out in selecting the best books on the German dictator, Hitler was a bizarre and strangely empty character who never did a proper day’s work in his life, as well as a raving fantasist on to whom Germans were able to project their longings.
The historian and author chooses five books on de Gaulle and the Resistance. He says the British tried to veto de Gaulle’s famous 1940 speech from London calling on the French to stand up to German occupation
by David Starkey and Susan Doran
The Faerie Queene
by edited by Thomas P Roche Jr and C Patrick O’Donnell Jr & Edmund Spenser
Translations by Elizabeth I, 1592-98
by Janel Mueller and Joshua Scodel
Rewriting the Renaissance
by Margaret W Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan and Nancy Vickers
Representing Elizabeth in Stuart England
by John A Watkins
University College London professor Helen Hackett selects five books on the Virgin Queen, including one by the monarch herself. “You get a sense of her independence of mind. She does her own thing”
Samuel Johnson, author of the 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language, was not a hard-hearted Tory caricature, but a champion of the poor and enslaved, according to Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Lilley.