Biography

Books that are in the genre of biography,autobiography and memoir. These books are voted by our community of book lovers.

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

Taking place during the most critical period of our nation’s birth, The First Conspiracy tells a remarkable and previously untold piece of American history that not only reveals George Washington’s character, but also illuminates the origins of America’s counterintelligence movement that led to the modern day CIA.

In 1776, an elite group of soldiers were handpicked to serve as George Washington’s bodyguards. Washington trusted them; relied on them. But unbeknownst to Washington, some of them were part of a treasonous plan. In the months leading up to the Revolutionary War, these traitorous soldiers, along with the Governor of New York, William Tryon, and Mayor David Mathews, launched a deadly plot against the most important member of the military: George Washington himself.

This is the story of the secret plot and how it was revealed. It is a story of leaders, liars, counterfeiters, and jailhouse confessors. It also shows just how hard the battle was for George Washington and how close America was to losing the Revolutionary War.

In this historical page-turner, New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer teams up with American history writer and documentary television producer, Josh Mensch to unravel the shocking true story behind what has previously been a footnote in the pages of history. Drawing on extensive research, Meltzer and Mensch capture in riveting detail how George Washington not only defeated the most powerful military force in the world, but also uncovered the secret plot against him in the tumultuous days leading up to July 4, 1776.

About My Mother: True Stores of a Horse-Crazy Daughter and Her Baseball-Obsessed Mother: A Memoir

A Message from Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs Guy: Just to be clear, About My Mother is a book about my grandmother, written by my mother. That’s not to say it’s not about my mother—it is. In fact, About My Mother is as much about my mother as it is about my grandmother. In that sense, it’s really a book about “mothers.”

…It is not, however, a book written by me. True, I did write the foreword. But it doesn’t mean I’ve written a book about my mother. I haven’t. Nor does it mean my mother’s book is about her son. It isn’t. It’s about my grandmother. And my mother. Just to be clear.—Mike

A love letter to mothers everywhere, About My Mother will make you laugh and cry—and see yourself in its reflection. Peggy Rowe’s story of growing up as the daughter of Thelma Knobel is filled with warmth and humor. But Thelma could be your mother—there’s a Thelma in everyone’s life. Shes the person taking charge—the one who knows instinctively how things should be. Today Thelma would be described as an alpha personality, but while growing up, her daughter Peggy saw her as a dictator—albeit a benevolent, loving one. They clashed from the beginning—Peggy, the horse-crazy tomboy, and Thelma, the genteel-yet-still-controlling mother, committed to raising two refined, ladylike daughters. Good luck.

When major league baseball came to town in the early 1950s and turned sophisticated Thelma into a crazed Baltimore Orioles groupie, nobody was more surprised and embarrassed than Peggy. Life became a series of compromises—Thelma tolerating a daughter who pitched manure and galloped the countryside, while Peggy learned to tolerate the whacky Orioles fan who threw her underwear at the television, shouted insults at umpires, and lived by the orange-and-black schedule taped to the refrigerator door.

Sometimes, we’re more alike than we know.

And in case you’re wondering, Peggy knows a thing or two about dirty jobs herself…

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this brilliant biography, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jon Meacham chronicles the life of George Herbert Walker Bush.

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Time • NPR • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Drawing on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the forty-first president and his family, Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times. From the Oval Office to Camp David, from his study in the private quarters of the White House to Air Force One, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the first Gulf War to the end of Communism, Destiny and Power charts the thoughts, decisions, and emotions of a modern president who may have been the last of his kind. This is the human story of a man who was, like the nation he led, at once noble and flawed.

His was one of the great American lives. Born into a loving, privileged, and competitive family, Bush joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday and at age twenty was shot down on a combat mission over the Pacific. He married young, started a family, and resisted pressure to go to Wall Street, striking out for the adventurous world of Texas oil. Over the course of three decades, Bush would rise from the chairmanship of his county Republican Party to serve as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, director of Central Intelligence, vice president under Ronald Reagan, and, finally, president of the United States. In retirement he became the first president since John Adams to see his son win the ultimate prize in American politics.

With access not only to the Bush diaries but, through extensive interviews, to the former president himself, Meacham presents Bush’s candid assessments of many of the critical figures of the age, ranging from Richard Nixon to Nancy Reagan; Mao to Mikhail Gorbachev; Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld; Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton. Here is high politics as it really is but as we rarely see it.

From the Pacific to the presidency, Destiny and Power charts the vicissitudes of the life of this quietly compelling American original. Meacham sheds new light on the rise of the right wing in the Republican Party, a shift that signaled the beginning of the end of the center in American politics. Destiny and Power is an affecting portrait of a man who, driven by destiny and by duty, forever sought, ultimately, to put the country first.

The Queen: Aretha Franklin

You know her voice. Now hear her story.

Audible has teamed up with Rolling Stone to produce an uncompromisingly honest Audible Original that honors the life and legacy of the incomparable Aretha Franklin. Aretha’s universal appeal was evident from the release of her first album at age 14 through her nearly 50 Top 40 hits. Yet this intimate biography reminds us that Aretha knew pain as much as she knew glory. It was the blues, residing deep within her soul, that gave way to a voice able to lift millions with a profound sense of freedom, self-worth, and undeniable talent to rise above sorrow.

Aretha’s unshakeable foundation of faith – fueled by a childhood spent singing in church alongside her famous father, minister C.L. Franklin – allowed her to blend heartbreak with spirituality in soul-stirring song. By diving into the true story of Aretha – from the years following her mother’s passing to the moment she decided to become a singer – the listener can’t help but glimpse the roots of the sorrow behind her famous eyes.

Beastie Boys Book

A panoramic experience that tells the story of Beastie Boys, a book as unique as the band itself—by band members ADROCK and Mike D, with contributions from Amy Poehler, Colson Whitehead, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, Luc Sante, and more.

Formed as a New York City hardcore band in 1981, Beastie Boys struck an unlikely path to global hip hop superstardom. Here is their story, told for the first time in the words of the band. Adam “ADROCK” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond offer revealing and very funny accounts of their transition from teenage punks to budding rappers; their early collaboration with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin; the debut album that became the first hip hop record ever to hit #1, Licensed to Ill—and the album’s messy fallout as the band broke with Def Jam; their move to Los Angeles and rebirth with the genre-defying masterpiece Paul’s Boutique; their evolution as musicians and social activists over the course of the classic albums Check Your Head, Ill Communication, and Hello Nasty and the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits conceived by the late Adam “MCA” Yauch; and more. For more than thirty years, this band has had an inescapable and indelible influence on popular culture.

With a style as distinctive and eclectic as a Beastie Boys album, Beastie Boys Book upends the typical music memoir. Alongside the band narrative you will find rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors, and many more surprises.

Down Below- Reminiscences of a WW2 Engine Room Merchant Navy Seaman

Adventure and terror in wartime can shape one’s life story like nothing else.

In 1941 eighteen year old Welshman Ted Whitehead, with no nautical experience, found himself crewing on a Greek freighter, the S/S Lily out of Swansea, Wales. From his native home, Ted started making hazardous, convoy-protected journeys as a steamship engine room seaman on the North Atlantic corridor which was constantly menaced by German U-boats and bad weather. One British shipping official stated that 27% of merchant seaman died through enemy action and the angry ocean. The Lily some months later was torpedoed and sunk in frigid waters – a chilling introduction to the perils of war for a teenager who had to undergo a stay in a Canadian hospital. Revisiting his past, 95 year old Whitehead recounts how ships delivered him to distant harbours where his wartime odyssey was alternately dramatic and amusing, intriguing and reflective, filled with adventures and misfortunes. His voyages included vignettes in both North and South America as well as the shores of the Mediterranean and Africa, sailing on British, Norwegian and Greek coal-burning ships. Through it all Ted was always a solid seaman aboard ship but when chance allowed, he was also a bit of a lad ashore.

Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters

Both recalling his life story and recounting many of the major advances in twentieth-century science, a renowned physicist shares his autobiography through letters.

Having penned hundreds of letters to his family over four decades, Freeman Dyson has framed them with the reflections made by a man now in his nineties. While maintaining that “the letters record the daily life of an ordinary scientist doing ordinary work,” Dyson nonetheless has worked with many of the twentieth century’s most renowned physicists, mathematicians, and intellectuals, so that Maker of Patterns presents not only his personal story but chronicles through firsthand accounts an exciting era of twentieth-century science.

Though begun in the dark year of 1941 when Hitler’s armies had already conquered much of Europe, Dyson’s letters to his parents, written at Trinity College, Cambridge, often burst with the curiosity of a precocious seventeen-year-old. Pursuing mathematics and physics with a cast of legendary professors, Dyson thrived in Cambridge’s intellectual ferment, working on, for example, the theory of partitions or reading about Kurt Gödel’s hypotheses, while still finding time for billiards and mountain climbing. After graduating and serving with the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command operational research section, whose job it was “to demolish German cities and kill as many German civilians as possible,” Dyson visited a war-torn Germany, hoping through his experience to create a “tolerably peaceful world.”

Juxtaposing descriptions of scientific breakthroughs with concerns for mankind’s future, Dyson’s postwar letters reflect the quandaries faced by an entire scientific generation that was dealing with the aftereffects of nuclear detonations and concentration camp killings. Arriving in America in 1947 to study with Cornell’s Hans Bethe, Dyson continued to send weekly missives to England that were never technical but written with grace and candor, creating a portrait of a generation that was eager, as Einstein once stated, to solve “deep mysteries that Nature intend[ed] to keep for herself.”

We meet, among others, scientists like Richard Feynman, who took Dyson across country on Route 66, Robert Oppenheimer, Eugene Wigner, Niels Bohr, James Watson, and a young Stephen Hawking; and we encounter intellectuals and leaders, among them Reinhold Niebuhr, George Kennan, Arthur C. Clarke, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr.

The “patterns of comparable beauty in the dance of electrons jumping around atoms” invariably replicate themselves in this autobiography told through letters, one that combines accounts of wanton arms development with the not-inconsiderable demands of raising six children. As we once again attempt to guide society toward a more hopeful future, these letters, with their reenactment of what, at first, seems like a distant past, reveal invaluable truths about human nature.

I Wrote This Book Because I Love You: Essays

New York Times essayist and author of We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider trains his virtuoso writing and singular power of observation on his (often befuddling) relationships with women.

Psychologists have told him he’s a psychologist. Philosophers have told him he’s a philosopher. Religious groups have invited him to speak. He had a cult following as a cartoonist. But, above all else, Tim Kreider is an essayist—one whose deft prose, uncanny observations, dark humor, and emotional vulnerability have earned him deserved comparisons to David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and the late David Foster Wallace (who was himself a fan of Kreider’s humor).

In his new collection, I Wrote This Book Because I Love You, he focuses his unique perception and wit on his relationships with women—romantic, platonic, and the murky in-between. He talks about his difficulty finding lasting love, and seeks to understand his commitment issues by tracking down the John Hopkins psychologist who tested him for a groundbreaking study on attachment when he was a toddler. He talks about his valued female friendships, one of which landed him on a circus train bound for Mexico. He talks about his time teaching young women at an upstate New York college, and the profound lessons they wound up teaching him. And in a hugely popular essay that originally appeared in The New York Times, he talks about his nineteen-year-old cat, wondering if it’s the most enduring relationship he’ll ever have.

Each of these pieces is hilarious and profound, and collectively they further cement Kreider’s place among the best essayists working today.

The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

Tessa Fontaine’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, The Electric Woman, follows the author on a life-affirming journey of loss and self-discovery―through her time on the road with the last traveling American sideshow and her relationship with an adventurous, spirited mother.

Turns out, one lesson applies to living through illness, keeping the show on the road, letting go of the person you love most, and eating fire:

The trick is there is no trick.
You eat fire by eating fire.

Two journeys―a daughter’s and a mother’s―bear witness to this lesson in The Electric Woman.

For three years Tessa Fontaine lived in a constant state of emergency as her mother battled stroke after stroke. But hospitals, wheelchairs, and loss of language couldn’t hold back such a woman; she and her husband would see Italy together, come what may. Thus Fontaine became free to follow her own piper, a literal giant inviting her to “come play” in the World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow. How could she resist?

Transformed into an escape artist, a snake charmer, and a high-voltage Electra, Fontaine witnessed the marvels of carnival life: intense camaraderie and heartbreak, the guilty thrill of hard-earned cash exchanged for a peek into the impossible, and, most marvelous of all, the stories carnival folks tell about themselves. Through these, Fontaine trained her body to ignore fear and learned how to keep her heart open in the face of loss.

A story for anyone who has ever imagined running away with the circus, wanted to be someone else, or wanted a loved one to live forever, The Electric Woman is ultimately about death-defying acts of all kinds, especially that ever constant: good old-fashioned unconditional love.

Kickflip Boys: A Memoir of Freedom, Rebellion, and the Chaos of Fatherhood

“Thompson captures the ache, fizz, yearning and frustration of being the father of adolescent boys.” —Michael Chabon

“What a riveting, touching, and painful read!” —Maria Semple

“Fun, moving, raw, and relatable.” —Tony Hawk

What makes a good father, and what makes one a failure? Does less-is-more parenting inspire independence and strength, or does it encourage defiance and trouble? Kickflip Boys is the story of a father’s struggle to understand his willful skateboarder sons, challengers of authority and convention, to accept his role as a vulnerable “skate dad,” and to confront his fears that the boys are destined for an unconventional and potentially fraught future.

With searing honesty, Neal Thompson traces his sons’ progression through all the stages of skateboarding: splurging on skate shoes and boards, having run-ins with security guards, skipping classes and defying teachers, painting graffiti, drinking and smoking, and more. As the story veers from funny to treacherous and back, from skateparks to the streets, Thompson must confront his complicity and fallibility. He also reflects on his upbringing in rural New Jersey, and his own adventures with skateboards, drugs, danger, and defiance.

A story of thrill-seeking teens, of hope and love, freedom and failure, Kickflip Boys reveals a sport and a community that have become a refuge for adolescent boys who don’t fit in. Ultimately, it’s the survival story of a loving modern American family, of acceptance, forgiveness, and letting go.

Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage

In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie traveled 1200 miles on the immense river in Canada that now bears his name, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage that had eluded mariners for hundreds of years. In 2016, the acclaimed memoirist Brian Castner retraced Mackenzie’s route by canoe in a grueling journey — and discovered the Passage he could not find.

Disappointment River is a dual historical narrative and travel memoir that at once transports readers back to the heroic age of North American exploration and places them in a still rugged but increasingly fragile Arctic wilderness in the process of profound alteration by the dual forces of globalization and climate change. Fourteen years before Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie set off to cross the continent of North America with a team of voyageurs and Chipewyan guides, to find a trade route to the riches of the East. What he found was a river that he named “Disappointment.” Mackenzie died thinking he had failed. He was wrong.
In this book, Brian Castner not only retells the story of Mackenzie’s epic voyages in vivid prose, he personally retraces his travels, battling exhaustion, exposure, mosquitoes, white water rapids and the threat of bears. He transports readers to a world rarely glimpsed in the media, of tar sands, thawing permafrost, remote indigenous villages and, at the end, a wide open Arctic Ocean that could become a far-northern Mississippi of barges and pipelines and oil money.

Here Is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World

An extraordinary memoir about finding wonder in everyday life, from magician Nate Staniforth.

Nate Staniforth has spent most of his life and all of his professional career trying to understand wonder–what it is, where to find it, and how to share it with others. He became a magician because he learned at a young age that magic tricks don’t have to be frivolous. Magic doesn’t have to be about sequins and smoke machines–rather, it can create a moment of genuine astonishment.

But after years on the road as a professional magician, crisscrossing the country and performing four or five nights a week, every week, Nate was disillusioned, burned out, and ready to quit. Instead, he went to India in search of magic. Here Is Real Magic follows Nate Staniforth’s evolution from an obsessed young magician to a broken wanderer and back again. It tells the story of his rediscovery of astonishment–and the importance of wonder in everyday life–during his trip to the slums of India, where he infiltrated a three-thousand-year-old clan of street magicians. Here Is Real Magic is a call to all of us–to welcome awe back into our lives, to marvel in the everyday, and to seek magic all around us.

From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia 1st Edition

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

From the diplomat Putin wants to interrogate—and has banned from Russia—a revelatory, inside account of U.S.-Russia relations from 1989 to the present

“A fascinating and timely account of the current crisis in the relationship between Russia and the United States.” —New York Times Book Review

Putin would need an enemy, and he turned to the most reliable one in Russia’s recent history: the United States and then, by extension, me.

In 2008, when Michael McFaul was asked to leave his perch at Stanford and join an unlikely presidential campaign, he had no idea that he would find himself at the beating heart of one of today’s most contentious and consequential international relationships. As President Barack Obama’s adviser on Russian affairs, McFaul helped craft the United States’ policy known as “reset” that fostered new and unprecedented collaboration between the two countries. And then, as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, he had a front-row seat when this fleeting, hopeful moment crumbled with Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. This riveting inside account combines history and memoir to tell the full story of U.S.-Russia relations from the fall of the Soviet Union to the new rise of the hostile, paranoid Russian president. From the first days of McFaul’s ambassadorship, the Kremlin actively sought to discredit and undermine him, hassling him with tactics that included dispatching protesters to his front gates, slandering him on state media, and tightly surveilling him, his staff, and his family.

From Cold War to Hot Peace is an essential account of the most consequential global confrontation of our time.

Einstein: His Life and Universe

By the author of the acclaimed bestsellers Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs, this is the definitive biography of Albert Einstein.

How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.

Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk—a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn’t get a teaching job or a doctorate—became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom, and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.

These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King

The fascinating, untold tale of Samuel Zemurray, the self-made banana mogul who went from penniless roadside banana peddler to kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary
When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless. When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty-nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. Working his way up from a roadside fruit peddler to conquering the United Fruit Company, Zemurray became a symbol of the best and worst of the United States: proof that America is the land of opportunity, but also a classic example of the corporate pirate who treats foreign nations as the backdrop for his adventures.

Zemurray lived one of the great untold stories of the last hundred years. Starting with nothing but a cart of freckled bananas, he built a sprawling empire of banana cowboys, mercenary soldiers, Honduran peasants, CIA agents, and American statesmen. From hustling on the docks of New Orleans to overthrowing Central American governments and precipitating the bloody thirty-six-year Guatemalan civil war, the Banana Man lived a monumental and sometimes dastardly life. Rich Cohen’s brilliant historical profile The Fish That Ate the Whale unveils Zemurray as a hidden power broker, driven by an indomitable will to succeed.

You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession

“Unflinching, rich and revelatory.”—MEGAN ABBOTT

“Gorgeous, moody, and evocative . . . half coming-of-age story and half exhaustively researched true crime.” —VANITY FAIR

“Bracingly honest and extremely discomfiting, this book is like a riveting episode of Law & Order: SVU set at a Manhattan prep school with the U.S. Open as a backdrop.”—MARIE CLAIRE

A riveting blend of true crime and coming-of-age memoir—The Stranger Beside Me meets Prep—that presents an intimate and thought-provoking portrait of girlhood within Manhattan’s exclusive private-school scene in the early 1990s, and a thoughtful meditation on adolescent obsession and the vulnerability of youth.

Piper Weiss was fourteen years old when her middle-aged tennis coach, Gary Wilensky, one of New York City’s most prestigious private instructors, killed himself after a failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. In the aftermath, authorities discovered that this well-known figure among the Upper East Side tennis crowd was actually a frightening child predator who had built a secret torture chamber—a “Cabin of Horrors”—in his secluded rental in the Adirondacks.

Before the shocking scandal broke, Piper had been thrilled to be one of “Gary’s Girls.” “Grandpa Gary,” as he was known among his students, was different from other adults—he treated Piper like a grown-up, taking her to dinners, engaging in long intimate conversations with her, and sending her special valentines. As reporters swarmed her private community in the wake of Wilensky’s death, Piper learned that her mentor was a predator with a sordid history of child stalking and sexual fetish. But why did she still feel protective of Gary, and why was she disappointed that he hadn’t chosen her?

Now, twenty years later, Piper examines the event as both a teenage eyewitness and a dispassionate investigative reporter, hoping to understand and exorcise the childhood memories that haunt her to this day. Combining research, interviews, and personal records, You All Grow Up and Leave Me explores the psychological manipulation by child predators—their ability to charm their way into seemingly protected worlds—and the far-reaching effects their actions have on those who trust them most.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is his moving and exhilarating autobiography, destined to take its place among the finest memoirs of history’s greatest figures. Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life–an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph.

Leonardo da Vinci

The author of the acclaimed bestsellers Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin brings Leonardo da Vinci to life in this exciting new biography.

Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson weaves a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills

we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy.

He produced the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. But in his own mind, he was just as much a man of science and technology. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued

innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences, made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him

history’s most creative genius.

His creativity, like that of other great innovators, came from having wide-ranging passions. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, drew the muscles that move the lips, and then painted history’s most memorable smile. He explored the math

of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. Isaacson also describes how Leonardo’s lifelong enthusiasm for staging theatrical productions informed his paintings and

inventions.

Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity. So, too, does his ease at being a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical. His life should

remind us of the importance of instilling, both in ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it—to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.