My assignment was to choose the five best, but there are way too many excellent biographies for me to make that choice. There are great biographies of presidents and the like, but those are well known without my help. So here are five excellent biographies of women, with the reasons I chose them.
1. David Michaelis, Eleanor. Before Michaelis wrote this book, the best biography of Eleanor Roosevelt was two volumes long, very well researched, but rather heavy going. This one-volume biography is extremely readable as well as authoritative.
2. Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy. I knew nothing about Christian Science or its founder until I read this book and was fascinated. Eddy’s story is extraordinarily sad—a pregnant widow forced to give up her child and then was told falsely that he had died, crippling illness, public scorn—but with faith and intelligence, she triumphed.
3. Margery M. Heffron, Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams. Wife of John Quincy, daughter-in-law of Abigail, mother of Charles Francis, and a savvy political operator, Louisa Catherine is well worth your time. She was the most important force behind John Quincy’s political career and a talented writer. This is the first full biography of America’s first foreign-born first lady.
4. Jean Strouse, Alice James: A Biography. Alice was the sister of the novelist Henry James and the psychologist William James. This book is really a family biography, focusing on the sister who was left at home, and the relationships among the siblings are fascinating.
5. Megan Marshall, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Before I read this book, I had seen Margaret Fuller only through the eyes of her fellow Transcendentalists, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson. This book was an eye-opener. She was more intelligent, more enterprising, and much more interesting than Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott gave her credit for.