Biographies and Autobiographies Not By or About SF, Fantasy, or Horror Authors


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
"I know many people who might not like fantasy, crime thrillers or sci-fi but who love to escape the modern drudge of reality by reading biographies; or technical manuals; or text-books or even journals." -- Overread, Sept. 2017

Well, here is a place to discuss biographies of people other than those who are primarily known as authors of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Here we can discuss the written lives of the famous and the little-known who have, nevertheless, been written up, or who have written autobiographies that have been published.

An existing thread,

focuses on sf authors, etc. The intention for this thread is for everyone other than "genre" authors.

At the moment I'm reading a biography of Colin Wilson, the author of The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel, Dreaming to Some Purpose, etc. After that book, I expect to reread a biography of guitar composer-player John Fahey. Certainly books about people other than authors would be appropriate for this thread, though my guess is that Chrons people mostly read about authors.
I highly recommend the often light-hearted autobiographical "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman?" and the follow up "What do you care what other people think?" by noted non-SF author Richard Feynman.
For some reason, Onyx, your reference to R. Feynman made me think of an anecdote related by Freeman Dyson:

-----When I was a boy in England long ago, people who traveled on trains with dogs had to pay for a dog ticket. The question arose whether I needed to buy a dog ticket when I was traveling with a tortoise. The conductor on the train gave me the answer: “Cats is dogs and rabbits is dogs but tortoises is insects and travel free according.”-----

This memory actually seems to have derived, somehow, from an 1869 Punch cartoon, but never mind.
I'm currently just finishing up London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Ackroyd has written numerous biographies (as well as fiction) and this one is well researched. It offers an overview of London over more than 2,000 years. It is at times sad and humorous and surprising.
I highly recommend the often light-hearted autobiographical "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman?" and the follow up "What do you care what other people think?" by noted non-SF author Richard Feynman.

Those are two that I just came in with the intent of recommending!
I've been reading quite a few WWII autobiographies, but one that stands out for me is Once a Hussar by Ray Ellis.

Although sold as a war memoir, there's an emotional layer not normally present in others, which made this one all the more engaging. However, there were unanswered questions about his personal life, which he concludes in a general autobiography Always a Hussar. Together they make one of the most satisfying personal stories that I've read.

Others autobiographies that I've recently enjoyed for their sheer difference of experience are Nigger by Dick Gregory, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

EDIT: I've linked to the reviews of Ray Ellis' books I posted on Goodreads.
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Favourites, not sure whether they should be classed as memoirs, or even if that is a different thing:
The Corfu trilogy by Gerald Durrell
Cider with Rosie and sequels by Larie Lee.
Jackdaw Cake by Norman Lewis
I've been reading tons of biographies of the great musicians, such as - especially Chopin's, starting from his biography written by his contemporary Liszt to the latest by Adam Zamoyski, and many in between. Every generation produced many scholars who were fascinated by this greatest tone poet, his music and life, just like we listeners and players. And as more materials have been discovered, also people's taste and feel of classical music have been changing over the years, each book shines new light. I also read biographies of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt; of 20th century's music giants Glenn Gould, Horowitz; autobiography of Evgeny Kissin, Daniel Barenboim, Gary Graffman, Helene Grimaud. There are still more to be read!
Allegra, wow!

Do you know Gaines's Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment?

Now I've been reading Marissen's Bach and God from Oxford UP.
Hi Extollager, I remember you mentioned that book of Gaines in a post recently, I thought that was a novel idea of a book! Have to look it up. Please let us know about Bach and God after you finish it. The Bach biography I read was Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christoph Wolff. He is a German musicologist, wrote quite a few books about Bach. One of which I will have to get: The New Bach Reader: Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents. I've read Chopin's Letters, enlightening. As well as Wodehouse' letters, nothing as funny as his books but interesting.
Marissen's Bach and God -- I have been focusing on other things to read, but, so far as I've gone, one topic has been the varying, and often not too great, translations of the words of Bach's cantatas. That's interesting but not as compelling as Gaines was.
Bach certainly is another historical figure (a very important one!) forever fascinating scholars and writers.

Harold C Schonberg, the first music critic to win Pulitzer Prize for Criticism wrote some excellent biographies: Horowitz - His Life and Music, The Great Pianists, The lives of Great Composers, The Virtuosi, all very enjoyable, full of interesting anecdotes and insightful views about their lives and music.

Of autobiographies, James Rhodes's Instrumental is a shocking book, and his latest Fire on all Sides, about his mental illness issues is also thought-provoking.

Well, this couple of years I haven't read much of anything else, though some books mentioned were read before. Sometimes I crave for a good fantasy or thriller, but that seems almost a luxury.

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