The Best New Biographies and Memoirs to Read in 2024

This year sees some riveting and remarkable lives—from artist Ai Weiwei to singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell—captured on the page.

A collage of book covers
These are the life stories to read this year. Courtesy the publishers

A life story can be read for escapist pleasure. But at other times, reading a memoir or biography can be an expansive exercise, opening us up to broader truths about our world. Often, it’s an edifying experience that reminds us of our universal human vulnerability and the common quest for purpose in life.

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Biographies and memoirs charting remarkable lives—whether because of fame, fortune or simply fascination—have the power to inspire us for their depth, curiosity or challenges. This year sees a bumper calendar of personal histories enter bookshops, grappling with enigmatic public figures like singer Joni Mitchell and writer Ian Fleming, to nuanced analysis of how motherhood or sociopathy shape our lives—for better and for worse.

SEE ALSO: The Best Addiction Memoirs for the Sober Curious

Here we compile some of the most rewarding biographies and memoirs out in 2024. There are stories of trauma and recovery, art as politics and politics as art, and sentences as single life lessons spread across books that will make you rethink much about personal life stories. After all, understanding the triumphs and trials of others can help us see how we can change our own lives to create something different or even better.

Zodiac: A Graphic Memoir by Ai Weiwei and illustrated by Gianluca Costantini

A book cover with an line drawing illustration of an Asian warrior
‘Zodiac: A Graphic Memoir’ by Ai Weiwei. Ten Speed Graphic

Ai Weiwei, the iconoclastic artist and fierce critic of his homeland China, mixes fairy tales with moral lessons to evocatively retrace the story of his life in graphic form. Illustrations are by Italian artist Gianluca Costantini. “Any artist who isn’t an activist is a dead artist,” Weiwei writes in Zodiac, as he embraces everything from animals found in the Chinese zodiac to mystical folklore tales with anamorphic animals to argue the necessity of art as politics incarnate. The meditative exercise uses pithy anecdotes alongside striking visuals to sketch out a remarkable life story marked by struggle. It’s one weaving political manifesto, philosophy and personal memoir to engage readers on the necessity of art and agitation against authority in a world where we sometimes must resist and fight back.

Alphabetical Diaries by Sheila Heti

A book cover with the words Alphabet diagonally set and Diaries horizontally set
‘Alphabetical Diaries’ by Sheila Heti. Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Already well-known for her experimental writings, Sheila Heti takes a decade of diary entries and maps sentences against the alphabet, from A to Z. The project is a subversive rethink of our relationship to introspection—which often asks for order and clarity, like in diary writing—that maps new patterns and themes in its disjointed form. Heti plays with both her confessionals and her sometimes formulaic writing style (like knowingly using “Of course” in entries) to retrace the changes made (and unmade) across ten years of her life. Alphabetical Diaries is a sometimes demanding book given the incoherence of its entries, but remains an illuminating project in thinking about efforts at self-documentation.

Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story by Leslie Jamison

A book cover with a collage of photographs
‘Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story’ by Leslie Jamison. Little, Brown and Company

Unlike her previous work The Empathy Exams, which examined how we relate to one another and on human suffering, writer Leslie Jamison wrestles today with her own failed marriage and the grief of surviving single parenting. After the birth of her daughter, Jamison divorces her partner “C,” traverses the trials and tribulations of rebound relationships (including with “an ex-philosopher”) and confronts unresolved emotional pains born of her own life living under the divorce of her parents. In her intimate retelling—paired with her superb prose—Jamison charts a personal history that acknowledges the unending divide mothers (and others) face dividing themselves between partners, children and their own lives.

Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring by Brad Gooch

A book cover with a photo of a man sitting in a chair; he's spreading his legs and covering his mouth with his hand
‘Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring’ by Brad Gooch. Harper

Whether dancing figures or a “radiant baby,” the recognizable cartoonish symbols in Keith Haring’s art endure today as shorthand signs representing both his playfulness and politicking. Haring (1958-1990) is the subject of writer Brad Gooch’s deft biography, Radiant, a book that mines new material from the archive along with interviews with contemporaries to reappraise the influential quasi-celebrity artist. From rough beginnings tagging graffiti on New York City walls to cavorting with Andy Warhol and Madonna on art pieces, Haring battled everything from claims of selling out to over-simplicity. But he persisted with work that leveraged catchy quotes and colorful imagery to advance unsavory political messages—from AIDS to crack cocaine. A life tragically cut short at 31 is one powerfully celebrated in this new noble portrait.

The House of Hidden Meanings by RuPaul Charles

A book cover with a close-up headshot of a man with a goatee in black and white
‘The House of Hidden Meanings’ by RuPaul Charles. Dey Street Books

In The House of Hidden Meaning, celebrated drag queen, RuPaul, reckons with a murky inner world that has shaped—and hindered—a lifetime of gender-bending theatricality. The figurative house at the center of the story is his “ego,” a plaguing barrier that apparently long inhibited the performer from realizing dreams of greatness. Now as the world’s most recognizable drag queen—having popularized the art form for mainstream audiences with the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race—RuPaul reflects on the power that drag and self-love have long offered across his difficult, and sometimes tortured, life. Readers expecting dishy stories may be disappointed, but the psychological self-assessment in the pages of this memoir is far more edifying than Hollywood gossip could ever be.

Sociopath: A Memoir by Patric Gagne

A book cover with text on the bottom and a photograph of a young girl's face on top
‘Sociopath: A Memoir’ by Patric Gagne. Simon & Schuster

Patric Gagne is an unlikely subject for a memoir on sociopaths. Especially since she is a former therapist with a doctorate in clinical psychology. Still, Gagne makes the case that after a troubled childhood of antisocial behavior (like stealing trinkets and cursing teachers) and a difficult adulthood (now stealing credit cards and fighting authority figures), she receives a diagnosis of sociopathy. Her memoir recounts many episodes of bad behavior—deeds often marked by a lack of empathy, guilt or even common decency—where her great antipathy mars any ability for her to connect with others. Sociopath is a rewarding personal exposé that demystifies one vilified psychological condition so often seen as entirely untreatable or irreparable. Only now there’s a familiar face and a real story linked to the prognosis.

Ian Fleming: The Complete Man by Nicholas Shakespeare

A book cover with a black and white portrait of a man with short hair wearing a white shirt
‘Ian Fleming: The Complete Man’ by Nicholas Shakespeare. Harper

Nicholas Shakespeare is an acclaimed novelist and an astute biographer, delivering tales that wield a discerning eye to subjects and embrace a robust attention to detail. Ian Fleming (1908-1964), the legendary creator of James Bond, is the latest to receive Shakespeare’s treatment. With access to new family materials from the Fleming estate, the seemingly contradictory Fleming is seen anew as a totally “different person” from his popular image. Taking cues from Fleming’s life story—from a refined upbringing spent in expensive private schools to working for Reuters as a journalist in the Soviet Union—Shakespeare reveals how these experiences shaped the elusive world of espionage and intrigue created in Fleming’s novels. Other insights include how Bond was likely informed by Fleming’s cavalier father, a major who fought in WWI. A martini (shaken, not stirred) is best enjoyed with this bio.

Knife: Meditations after an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie

A book cover with the word KNIFE where the I is a blade
‘Knife: Meditations after an Attempted Murder’ by Salman Rushdie. Random House

Salman Rushdie, while giving a rare public lecture in New York in August 2022, was violently stabbed by an assailant brandishing a knife. The attack saw Rushdie lose his left hand and his sight in one eye. Speaking to The New Yorker a year later, he confirmed a memoir was in the works that would confront this harrowing existential experience: “When somebody sticks a knife into you, that’s a first-person story. That’s an ‘I’ story.” Knife: Meditations after an Attempted Murder is promised to be his raw, revelatory and deeply psychological confrontation with the violent incident. Like the sword of Damocles, brutality has long stalked Rushdie ever since the 1989 fatwa issued against the author, following the publication of his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. The answer to such barbarity, Rushdie is poised to argue, is by finding the strength to stand up again.

The Art of Dying: Writings, 2019–2022 by Peter Schjeldahl (Release: May 14)

A book cover with what appear to be mock up book pages with black text on white
‘The Art of Dying: Writings, 2019–2022’ by Peter Schjeldahl. Abrams Press

Peter Schjeldahl (1942-2022), longstanding art critic of The New Yorker, confronted his mortality when he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer in 2019. The resulting essay collection he then penned, The Art of Dying, is a masterful meditation on one life preoccupied entirely with aesthetics and criticism. It’s a discursive tactic for a memoir that avoids discussing Schjeldahl’s coming demise while equally confirming its impending visit by avoiding it. Acknowledging that he finds himself “thinking about death less than I used to,” Schjeldahl spends most of the pages revisiting familiar art subjects—from Edward Hopper’s output to Peter Saul’s Pop Art—as vehicles to re-examine his own remarkable life. With a life that began in the humble Midwest, Schjeldahl says his birthplace was one that ultimately availed him to write so plainly and cogently on art throughout his career. Such posthumous musings prove illuminating lessons on the potency of American art, with whispered asides on the tragedy of death that will come for all of us.

Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell by Ann Powers (Release: June 11)

A book cover with a black and white photograph of a woman holding an acoustic guitar
‘Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell’ by Ann Powers. Dey Street Books

Joni Mitchell has enjoyed a remarkable revival recently, even already being one of the most acclaimed and enduring singer/songwriters. After retiring from public appearances for health reasons in the 2010s, Mitchell, 80, has returned to the spotlight with a 2021 Kennedy Centers honor, an appearance accepting the 2023 Gershwin Prize and even a live performance at this year’s Grammy Awards. It’s against this backdrop of public celebration of Mitchell that NPR music critic Ann Powers retraces the life story and musical (re)evolution of the singer, from folk to jazz genres and rock to soul music, across five decades for the American songbook. “What you are about to read is not a standard account of the life and work of Joni Mitchell,” she writes in the introduction. Instead, Powers’ project is one showing how Mitchell’s many journeys—from literal road trips inspiring tracks like “All I Want” to inner probings of Mitchell’s psyche, such as the song “Both Sides Now”—have always inspired Mitchell’s enduring, emotive and palpable output. These travels hold the key, Powers says, to understanding an enigmatic artist.

The Best New Biographies and Memoirs to Read in 2024