“Read no history–nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” ? Benjamin Disraeli

If you want to learn about history, forget the textbooks. One of the best ways to learn about the past is by reading biographies or memoirs of the people who lived during the period.

Historical Biographies Worth Your Time

This year has seen the release of several historical biographies that are worth your time.

Historical biographies – The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, May 5, 2015)

How much do you know about the Wright Brothers? You probably know the two brothers built and then flew the first heavier-than-air machine. You may be able to pull the spot where they made the flight — Kitty Hawk, North Carolina — out of your memory bank.

But there is so much more to the fascinating story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. In the hands of Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, you learn about the ingenuity and the perseverance of these two brothers who grew up in Dayton, Ohio.

McCullough uses letters, notebooks, diaries and scrapbooks to give us an insider’s look into the exceptional minds and the courage of these men, who literally risked everything to make their dream come true.

Favorite quote: “But it isn’t true,” Orville responded emphatically, “to say we had no special advantages . . . the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”

Historical biographies – Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years by Michael E. Newton (Eleftheria Publishing, July 1, 2015)

For most of our nation’s history, little has been known about the early life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. History books usually reveal he was born in the West Indies but few details other than that.

With new research and his extensive analysis of other works, Michael E. Newton fills in some of the gaps for us. How did a poor young man from an obscure background become General George Washington’s “principal and most confidential aid” advising the Washington on critical military and political matters?

It is a riveting story of intelligence, bravery and being in the right place at the right time and one you are not soon to forget.

Favorite Quote: “More than two centuries after he lived and died, political biases continue to influence public opinion regarding Alexander Hamilton. As a foremost proponent of a stronger union, a key drafter of the Constitution, the leader of the ratification movement, Washington’s primary advisor and administrator, and the chief architect of America’s economic and financial systems, Hamilton addressed issues that are still being debated today, such as the size and role of government, the balance between liberty and power, constitutional interpretation, national defense, foreign policy, and the roles of banks and corporations. As a result, Alexander Hamilton remains at the center of today’s political debates.”

Historical biographies – A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster July 7, 2015)

He came across to many Americans who were disheartened and disillusioned by the resignation of a President as a breath of fresh air. Then and now, his directness and candor are disarming.

In this memoir, President Jimmy Carter reflects on his life as a serviceman, as a peanut farmer, as a husband and a father and as a President of the United States. He has a lot to think about, but he does so with humor and, surprisingly, with few second thoughts.

His views on the world and on the world’s leaders, including his successors, are interesting and thought provoking.

Favorite quote: “With hard work and favorable circumstances, I was chosen, and I relished the challenges and opportunities to make important decisions as president. I always tried to address the issues forthrightly. I wanted another term, but seemed to be plagued with a series of misfortunes when the time for reelection came. I look back on those four years with peace and satisfaction, knowing that I did my best and had some notable accomplishments.”

And here is a biography that is slated for a September release:

Historical biographies – Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt and Co. Sept. 22, 2015)

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, the authors of Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Patton, give a compelling account of the career of Ronald Reagan from his career as a radio sportscaster and a Hollywood actor, to his years as the governor of California, to his successful bid for the White House.

Although the two-term president presided over the end of the Cold War, the authors contend that his most difficult task was overcoming the attempt on his life that occurred just two months into his first term.

New Historical Biographies