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Discovering History through Biography

Authored By: 
Ian Rusten, History Teacher

As Marian Wright Edeleman said, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

History has been shaped and molded by many figures from the past and present. Some of these people are controversial and their impact has not always been seen as positive, however, their actions have left a deep mark on history. To learn more about these figures, you can read the autobiographies and biographies suggested below.

Abigail Adams was advisor to and wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States.

            The Letters of Abigail and John Adams by Abigail and John Adams

Muhammad Ali was an American political activist and professional boxer.

            The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali and Richard Durham

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II and had a great influence on the outcome of the War.

            Churchill: We Shall Never Surrender | The Life and Legacy of Winston Churchill by Jack Crawford

Henry Ford was an American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company.

            The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts

Alexander Hamilton was one of the founding fathers of the United States, an author of the Federalist papers and first Secretary of the Treasury.

            Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician and author.

            Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi and Fergal Keane

Nelson Mandela was an activist, politician and the first democratically elected leader of South Africa.

            Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela.

Steve Jobs was an American inventor, businessman and co-founder of Apple.

            Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Harvey Milk was an American politician who was the first openly gay person elected to public office in California.

            The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts 

Prince Henry the Navigator was a Portuguese prince who contributed to the birth of the Age of Discovery and the rise of the Atlantic slave trade.

            Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ A Life by Peter Russell

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States and led the country during the Great Depression and World War II.

            FDR by Jean Edward Smith, or to learn about both FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt read No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II

Alan Turing was the British mathematician and logician who contributed to the birth of computer science and artificial intelligence.

            Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges and Douglas Hofstadter

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

            I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

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