With the holiday shopping season coming fast on its heels, fall is traditionally the season when we see the books publishers are pinning the bestseller dreams on, and biographies and memoirs are no exception. Starting next month, we’ll see volumes by and about the likes of Sally Field, Mr. Rogers, Kobe Bryant, Gisele Bündchen, and—in perhaps the most anticipated true love story of all time—Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. August might not have the biggest names, but sometimes the best stories are the ones that take you by surprise, either because you’ve never heard them (though maybe we should have), or because they’re so personal. Here are five that fit the bill.
1). Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien
Between the world wars, no sport was more popular, or more dangerous, than airplane racing. While male pilots were hailed, female pilots were more often ridiculed. Fly Girls recounts how a cadre of women banded together to break the original glass ceiling: the entrenched prejudice that conspired to keep them out of the sky. Together, they fought for the chance to race against the men—and in 1936 one of them would triumph in the toughest race of all.
2). Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris
In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off by bicycle down the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend, Mel. Pedaling mile upon mile in some of the remotest places on earth, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Weaving adventure and philosophy with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders celebrates our connection as humans to the natural world, and ultimately to each other.
3). Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor by Linda D. Dahl
Dahl chronicles the years she spent as an ear, nose and throat surgeon by day and a ringside physician by night. Intrepid, adrenaline-fueled and loaded with behind-the-scenes takes on famous boxers, including Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko and Miguel Cotto, Dahl’s story offers a modern examination of sexism, dislocation, the theater of boxing and a road map for how to excel in two very different male-dominated worlds.
4). Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna
Little has been known of one of the most important figures in early American history, Dr. Joseph Warren, an architect of the colonial rebellion, and a man who might have led the country as Washington or Jefferson did had he not been killed at Bunker Hill in 1775. Di Spigna’s definitive new biography of Warren is a loving work of historical excavation, the product of two decades of research and scores of newly unearthed primary-source documents that have given us this forgotten Founding Father anew.
5). JELL-O Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom
In 1899, Rowbottom’s great-great-great-uncle bought the patent to Jell-O from its inventor for $450. The sale would turn out to be one of the most profitable business deals in American history, and the generations that followed enjoyed immense privilege—but they were also haunted by suicides, cancer, alcoholism, and mysterious ailments. JELL-O Girls is a gripping examination of the dark side of an iconic American product and a moving portrait of the women who lived in the shadow of its fortune.