Best political biographies and tips how to write one

This compilation presents 17 best political biographies, offering insights into political figures from various backgrounds and historical contexts. Each biography was selected based on a minimum 4.0 rating on Amazon and Goodreads, ensuring quality and reader approval. From renowned leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Margaret Thatcher to influential activists like Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela, these biographies provide deep insights into the lives and legacies of political giants. Additionally, this compilation includes valuable tips for aspiring biographers, offering guidance on research, narrative crafting and ethical considerations.

What is a political biography?

Before we dive into the list of best political biographies, here is a quick summary of this non-fiction genre. A political biography is a detailed account of the life, career and political contributions of an individual. It typically explores their upbringing, education, political beliefs, achievements and impact on society. Political biographies often analyse the subject’s policies, leadership style and interactions with other political figures. This wealth of information provides insights into their character, motivations and the historical context in which they operated.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin

"Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of the best political biographies
Amazon 4.8Goodreads 4.3

The first tile on the list of best political biographies is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin’s acclaimed biography explores the leadership of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Through meticulous research and captivating storytelling, Goodwin highlights Lincoln’s ability to assemble a diverse cabinet of political rivals and harness their talents to preserve the Union. With insight into Lincoln’s character, decision-making process and enduring legacy, Goodwin offers a fresh perspective on one of America’s greatest presidents. This Pulitzer Prize-winning work is a testament to Lincoln’s political acumen and enduring relevance in American history.

In 2012, Steven Spielberg directed a film adaptation of the Team of Rivals — Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979) by Edmund Morris

"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris is one of the best political biographies.
Amazon 4.7Goodreads 4.2

Next on the list of best political biographies is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Morris’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt offers a captivating account of the early life and political career of one of America’s most dynamic presidents. With meticulous research and vivid prose, Morris chronicles Roosevelt’s journey from a sickly child to a charismatic leader known for his progressive policies and larger-than-life personality. This Pulitzer Prize-winning work provides valuable insights into Roosevelt’s impact on American politics, conservation efforts and foreign policy, cementing his legacy as a transformative figure in American history.

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography (2013) by Charles Moore

"Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography" (2013) by Charles Moore is one of the best political biographies
Amazon 4.5Goodreads 4.2

Moore’s comprehensive biography offers unparalleled insight into Margaret Thatcher’s life and political career. With access to Thatcher’s private papers and interviews with key figures, Moore delivers a nuanced portrayal of the Iron Lady, exploring her rise to power, controversial policies, and lasting impact on British politics. While offering insights into her achievements and strengths as a leader, this political biography also acknowledges criticisms of her economic policies. For instance, it discusses the restructuring of industries and confrontations with labour unions.

John Adams (2001) by David McCullough

"John Adams" by David McCullough is one of the best political biographies.
Amazon 4.7Goodreads 4.1

Another US president’s biography on the list of best political biographies is John Adams by David McCullough. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, McCullough vividly portrays John Adams, America’s second president. Drawing on extensive research, McCullough illuminates Adams’ role in the founding of the United States, his complex relationship with Thomas Jefferson and his struggles to navigate the challenges of his time. With meticulous attention to detail and a compelling narrative style, McCullough brings Adams’ remarkable life and contributions to the forefront, offering readers a deeper appreciation for one of America’s founding fathers.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1: 1884–1933 (1992) by Blanche Wiesen Cook

"Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1: 1884–1933" (1992) by Blanche Wiesen Cook is one of the best political biographies
Amazon 4.6Goodreads 4.0

Cook’s biography offers a comprehensive look at the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Drawing on extensive research and access to previously unavailable materials, Cook traces Roosevelt’s evolution from a shy and insecure young woman to a powerful advocate for social justice and human rights. With insight and empathy, Cook explores Roosevelt’s complex relationships, political activism and enduring legacy as a champion of equality and democracy. This engaging and insightful biography sheds new light on Roosevelt’s remarkable life and achievements.

Mandela: The Authorised Biography (1999) by Anthony Sampson

Amazon 4.4Goodreads 4.2

Sampson’s authorised biography of Nelson Mandela provides a comprehensive overview of Mandela’s life, from his childhood in rural South Africa to his role as a global icon of freedom and reconciliation. Drawing on interviews with Mandela, his family and colleagues, Sampson offers a nuanced portrait of a man who endured imprisonment and hardship to lead his country out of apartheid. With meticulous detail and engaging storytelling, this biography sheds light on Mandela’s struggles, political leadership and enduring commitment to justice and equality.

For Mandela’s own perspective on his life, reach out for Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (1995) or its silver-screen version, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013), with Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela.

Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi (2001) by Katherine Frank

Amazon 4.5Goodreads 4.0

Another biography of an influential woman on the list of best political biographies is Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank. Frank’s biography delves into the complex life and legacy of Indira Gandhi, India’s first woman prime minister. Through extensive research and interviews, Frank traces Gandhi’s evolution from a shy young woman to a formidable political force. With insight and sensitivity, Frank explores Gandhi’s leadership style, her impact on Indian politics and the personal and political challenges she faced. This compelling biography offers a nuanced portrait of a woman who left an indelible mark on India and the world.

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Amazon 4.5Goodreads 4.1

Montefiore’s biography provides a chilling glimpse into the inner workings of Joseph Stalin’s regime. Drawing on newly released archival material and first-hand accounts, Montefiore paints a vivid picture of Stalin’s brutal dictatorship and the personalities that surrounded him. From the purges of the Great Terror to the intrigue of Stalin’s inner circle, this gripping narrative sheds light on the paranoia, cruelty and brutality of one of history’s most notorious leaders. Montefiore does not shy from discussing Stalin’s horrors and failures, such as the Great Purge, the forced collectivisation of agriculture and the millions of deaths attributed to his rule.

And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham (2022)

Amazon 4.7Goodreads 4.4

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham meticulously traces Lincoln’s journey. Meacham reveals Lincoln’s profound moral convictions, his struggles with depression and his unwavering commitment to justice and democracy. From his humble beginnings on the Kentucky frontier to his presidency during the Civil War, Lincoln’s story embodies the complexities of American politics, the enduring legacy of racism and the power of conscience to drive change. Meacham’s portrait offers a humanising perspective on Lincoln, showcasing his flaws and virtues and underscoring his pivotal role in shaping the nation’s history and identity.

Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (1963) by Andrew Mango

Amazon 4.4Goodreads 4.1

Another fantastic political biography, Atatürk unveils the enigmatic statesman’s true complexity. Mango debunks myths surrounding Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, portraying him as a visionary leader who shaped modern Turkey. Atatürk’s pivotal role in thwarting Allied plans, defeating the Sultan and establishing the Turkish republic highlights his significance in history. Mango’s portrayal sheds light on contemporary issues like nationalism, religious fundamentalism and democracy, making Atatürk’s story relevant to modern times.

The Last Lion (Winston Spencer Churchill series, 1983, 1988, 2012) by William Manchester and Paul Reid

Amazon 4.7Goodreads 4.4

This monumental political biography series, begun by William Manchester and completed by Paul Reid, offers a definitive account of the life and career of Winston Churchill, one of the twentieth century’s most influential leaders. The three-part series delves into Churchill’s childhood, political rise and leadership during World War II. With meticulous research and engaging prose, Manchester and Reid capture Churchill’s wit, courage and indomitable spirit, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of his enduring legacy as a statesman and orator. This acclaimed biography series is essential reading for anyone interested in Churchill and his pivotal role in shaping world history.

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century (2024) by Beverly Gage

Amazon 4.5Goodreads 4.4 

Gage’s Pullitzer-winning G-Man illuminates J. Edgar Hoover’s transformative tenure as FBI director from 1924. Hoover’s controversial methods reshaped law enforcement but also perpetuated discrimination. Gage provides a nuanced portrayal, highlighting Hoover’s influence on American politics, civil rights and ideology. Through meticulous research, the author unveils Hoover’s complex persona as a confidant to presidents and a symbol of conservative values. Despite criticisms of his tactics, Hoover’s enduring legacy underscores his significant impact on shaping modern America’s political landscape. Gage’s biography offers insight into broader societal shifts, from policing to civil liberties, making G-Man a vital exploration of twentieth-century American history.

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World (2017) by A. J. Baime

"The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World" (2017) by A. J. Baime is one of the best political biographies
Amazon 4.7Goodreads 4.5

The Accidental President recounts Harry S. Truman’s whirlwind first 120 days as FDR’s unexpected successor, navigating World War II’s climax, atomic bombs and the dawn of the Cold War. Truman’s remarkable rise to greatness unfolded amidst unprecedented challenges and decisions that shaped history. From the founding of the United Nations to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, author A. J. Baime immerses readers in the high-stakes decisions and pivotal moments that defined Truman’s presidency. With masterful storytelling, The Accidental President offers a gripping account of Truman’s leadership during a tumultuous period that changed the world forever.

Grant (2017) by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow’s "Grant" is one of the best political biographies.
Amazon 4.8Goodreads 4.5

Ron Chernow’s Grant offers a nuanced portrayal of Ulysses S. Grant, dispelling misconceptions about the Union general and president. Chernow unveils Grant’s remarkable military successes, struggles with alcoholism and dedication to civil rights. Through meticulous research and literary prowess, Chernow paints a comprehensive picture of Grant’s complex character and enduring legacy. From his rise from adversity to his presidency marred by corruption scandals, Grant emerges as a multifaceted figure whose contributions to American history are profound and enduring. This definitive biography illuminates Grant’s remarkable journey, showcasing his resilience, leadership and commitment to justice.

Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa (1975) by Jacques E. Levy

"Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa" (1975) by Jacques E. Levy is one of the best political biographies.
Amazon 4.8Goodreads 4.2

Levy’s biography provides an intimate look at the life and activism of Cesar Chavez, the renowned labour leader and civil rights activist. Written in collaboration with Chavez, it offers first-hand accounts of his efforts to organise farmworkers and advocate for their rights. Chavez shares his vision for social justice and his commitment to nonviolent protest through personal anecdotes and reflections. With passion and conviction, the autobiography inspires readers to continue the fight for equality and dignity in the workplace.

Alexander Hamilton (2004) by Ron Chernow

Chernow’s "Alexander Hamilton" is one of the best political biographies.
Amazon 4.7Goodreads 4.2 

Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton rectifies misconceptions about the founding father, revealing his pivotal role in shaping America’s political and economic landscape. Chernow portrays Hamilton’s humble beginnings, meteoric rise and passionate patriotism, dispelling myths and highlighting his enduring legacy. Through vivid storytelling, Chernow captures Hamilton’s complex character, from intimate relationships to fiery feuds. This biography offers a fresh perspective on America’s founding, emphasising Hamilton’s contributions to prosperity and power. As America faces contemporary challenges, Chernow’s narrative reminds readers of the enduring relevance of Hamilton’s ideas and the significance of our national heritage.

Ho Chi Minh: A Life (2001) by William J. Duiker

Duiker’s "Ho Chi Minh: A Life" is one of the best political biographies.
Amazon 4.5Goodreads 4.1

The final title on the list of best political biographies, Duiker’s Ho Chi Minh: A Life, offers a comprehensive portrayal of the influential political figure, meticulously researched and accessible. Duiker delves into Ho’s personal and political journey, highlighting his strategic prowess and nationalist fervour. The biography sheds light on Ho’s early travels and years in exile, revealing previously undocumented aspects of his life. Duiker’s narrative captures pivotal moments, such as Ho’s rise to power in northern Vietnam after World War II, and explores his complex relationships with Communist leaders. Ultimately, Duiker presents Ho Chi Minh as a nationalist and Marxist, challenging simplistic categorisations of his ideology and legacy.

Tips for writing a bestselling political biography

Choose your subject wisely

Select a subject whose life and political career you find fascinating and believe others will too. Consider figures with a compelling story, significant impact on politics or whose lives shed light on important historical events.

Conduct thorough research

Conduct extensive research on your subject, including primary sources such as letters, speeches and archival materials. Also, consult secondary sources and scholarly works to ensure accuracy and depth in your portrayal.

Maintain objectivity

Strive to maintain objectivity in your writing. While it is natural to have personal opinions, a political biography should present a balanced view of your subject, including their achievements, failures and controversies.

Craft a compelling narrative

Structure your biography in a way that engages readers and keeps them turning the pages. Consider narrative techniques such as storytelling, character development and foreshadowing to create a compelling narrative arc.

Work with a professional editor

Collaborate with a professional editor who specialises in biography or political writing. An editor can help refine your manuscript, ensure clarity and coherence and provide valuable feedback on structure, tone and content.

  • A developmental editor can assist in shaping the overall structure and content of your biography. They can provide feedback on the narrative arc, pacing and organisation of chapters to ensure a compelling and coherent storyline. For example, they might suggest restructuring chapters to create a more engaging narrative flow or help you identify areas where additional research or depth is needed to enrich the story.
  • Line editors focus on the substance and clarity of your writing. They can help refine your prose, clarify complex ideas and ensure consistency in tone and voice throughout the biography. For instance, they might suggest rewriting passages to improve clarity, eliminate jargon, or enhance readability for a broader audience.
  • Given the importance of accuracy in political biographies, hiring a fact-checking service can be invaluable. Fact-checkers meticulously verify details, dates, quotations and other factual information to ensure the integrity and credibility of your biography. This helps to avoid errors or inaccuracies that could undermine the trust of readers and critics.
  • Copyeditors focus on grammar, punctuation, spelling and style conventions. They polish your manuscript to ensure it adheres to standard publishing guidelines and is error-free. For example, they might correct typos, improve sentence structure and ensure consistency in formatting and citation style.
  • Proofreaders perform a final review of your manuscript before publication to catch any remaining errors or inconsistencies. They scrutinise the text for minor spelling, punctuation, or formatting mistakes that may have been overlooked during earlier editing stages. Their attention to detail ensures a polished and professional final product.

Respect privacy and ethics

Be mindful of privacy and ethical considerations, especially when writing about living individuals or sensitive topics. Obtain necessary permissions to use copyrighted materials and adhere to ethical standards in your research and writing.

Final thoughts

These political biographies offer invaluable insights into the lives and legacies of some of our time’s most influential political figures, providing a treasure trove of information and inspiration for aspiring biographers. With compelling narrative styles, meticulous research and insightful analysis, these biographies serve as a model for writers looking to craft engaging and informative political biographies. These best political biographies are an essential resource for anyone looking to explore the world of political biography, whether an experienced writer or just starting your writing journey.

Contact me for a free sample edit of your biography manuscript (and remember to use my early bird discount). I am an experienced editor working with non-fiction, academic and business texts. I can help prepare your text for publication, from a big-picture analysis through highlighting your authorial voice to ensuring the correctness and consistency of the language.

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Magda

I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

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