The Plutarch Award

Named after the famous ancient Greek biographer, the Plutarch is awarded to the best biography of the year by a committee of five distinguished biographers from nominations received by BIO members and publishers. The award comes with a $2,000 honorarium.

Congratulations to Jennifer Homans, winner of the 2023 Plutarch Award for Mr.B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century.




  • Biographies published in English (including in translation) during the current calendar year are eligible for nomination.
  • Nominated biographies must be by an author or group of authors about another figure or figures.
  • Nominated biographies may include those about two or more people, as well as those written in narrative forms other than cradle-to-grave format.
  • Autobiographies, memoirs, works of fiction, self-published works, and non-print forms of biography are not eligible.
  • Both publishers and BIO members may nominate books before December first of the current year.

Publishers wishing to nominate biographies should email BIO for instructions.

BIO members may nominate biographies (including their own work) by filling out the nomination form—one form per book, please. There is no limit on the number of books a member may propose.

This is a complete listing of past Plutarch Award nominees, with the winner for each year highlighted in bold.


  • Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (Pantheon Books)
  • John A. Farrell, Ted Kennedy: A Life (Penguin Press)
  • Paul Fisher, The Grand Affair: John Singer Sargent in His World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century (Viking)
  • Jennifer Homans, Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century (Random House)
  • Jon Meacham, And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle  (Random House)
  • Jane Ridley, George V: Never a Dull Moment (HarperCollins)
  • Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Stacy Schiff, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (Little, Brown and Company)
  • Miranda Seymour, I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys (W. W. Norton)


  • Claude A. Clegg III, The Black President: Hope and Fury in the Age of Obama (Johns Hopkins University Press)
  • Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little, Brown, & Co.)
  • Robert Elder, Calhoun: American Heretic (Basic Books)
  • Janice P. Nimura, The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine (W. W. Norton & Co.)
  • Fiona Sampson, Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (W. W. Norton & Co.)
  • Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, Francis Bacon: Revelations (Knopf)
  • Matthew Sturgis, Oscar Wilde: A Life (Knopf)
  • Dorothy Wickenden, The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights (Scribner)
  • Frances Wilson, Burning Man: The Trials of D. H. Lawrence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Richard Zenith, Pessoa: A Biography (Liveright)


  • These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson by Martha Ackmann (W.W. Norton)
  • His Very Best: Jimmy Carter: A Life by Jonathan Alter (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution by Stephen Heyman (W. W. Norton)
  • The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography by Hilary Holladay (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
  • The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright)
  • Abe: Abraham Lincoln In His Times by David S. Reynolds (Penguin Press)
  • Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer by Steven C. Smith (Oxford University Press)
  • Hitler: Downfall 1939–1945 by Volker Ullrich, translated from the German by Jefferson Chase (Knopf) Originally published in Germany as Adolf Hitler: Die Jahre des Untergangs (S. Fisher Verlag GmbH)
  • Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington by Ted Widmer (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Mystery of Charles Dickens by A. N. Wilson (Harper)


  • All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856–1860, Sidney Blumenthal (Simon & Schuster)
  • Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter, Kerri K. Greenidge (Liveright)
  • Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (W. W. Norton)
  • Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century, Charles King (Penguin Random House)
  • Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus, Fiona MacCarthy (Belknap Press-Harvard University Press)
  • Susan Sontag: Her Life and Work, Benjamin Moser (Ecco)
  • Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, George Packer (Knopf)
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, Sonia Purnell (Viking/Penguin)
  • George Marshall: Defender of the Republic, David L. Roll (Dutton Caliber-Penguin Random House)
  • Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer, Carol Sklenicka (Scribner)



  • David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster)
  • Craig Brown, Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Julie Dobrow, After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet (W. W. Norton)
  • Lindsay Hilsum, In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Yunte Huang, Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History (Liveright)
  • David Levering Lewis, The Improbable Wendell Wilkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party, and Conceived a New World Order (Liveright)
  • Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made (Simon & Schuster)
  • Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (Viking)
  • Hilary Spurling, Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time (Alfred Knopf)
  • Jeffrey C. Stewart, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press)


  • Ron Chernow, Grant (Penguin Press)
  • Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • John Farrell, Richard Nixon: The Life (Doubleday)
  • Andrzej Franaszek, Milosz: A Biography, translated by Aleksandra Parker and Michael Parker (Belknap Press)
  • Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan/Henry Holt)
  • Francine Klagsbrun, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel  (Schocken)
  • Megan Marshall, Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray  (Oxford University Press)
  • Victor Sebestyen, Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror  (Pantheon)
  • William Taubman, Gorbachev: His Life and Times  (W. W. Norton)


  • Alex Beam, The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship (Pantheon)
  • Simon Callow, Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band  (Viking)
  • Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright)
  • Joseph Lelyveld, His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt (Knopf)
  • Ruth Scurr, John Aubrey, My Own Life (New York Review Books)
  • Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Early Years, translated by Shelley Frisch (Princeton University Press)
  • Louisa Thomas, Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams (Penguin)
  • Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon (Random House)
  • Volker Ullrich, Hitler: Ascent, 1889–1939, translated by Jefferson Chase (Knopf)
  • Frances Wilson, Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)



  • Emily Bingham, Irrepressible: A Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Betty Boyd Caroli, Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage (Simon & Schuster)
  • Cathy Curtis, Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter (Oxford)
  • Irwin F. Gellman, The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon 1952-1961 (Yale)
  • Peter Guralnick, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll (Little, Brown)
  • Anne Heller, Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times (New Harvest)
  • Jay Parini, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (Doubleday)
  • Sonia Purnell, Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill (Viking)
  • T.J. Stiles, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Knopf)
  • Rosemary Sullivan, Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (Harper)

In 2016, BIO for the first time also gave special awards for excellence in four categories to books that the Plutarch Committee considered for but did not place on the list of semi-finalists. The categories and the winners were:

  • Arts and Literature: Jonathan Bate, Ted Hughes: The Unauthorized Life (Harper)
  • Politics and Leadership: Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (Random House)
  • History and Science: Andrew Lownie, Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Popular Culture and Sports: James Kaplan, Sinatra: The Chairman (Doubleday)


  • Nigel Hamilton, The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (Scribner)
  • John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh ( W. Norton & Company)
  • Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Knopf)
  • Helen Rappaport, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (St. Martin’s)
  • Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life (Viking Adult)
  • Richard Norton Smith, On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller (Random House)
  • Will Swift, Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage (Threshold Editions)
  • Edward White, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • N. Wilson, Victoria: A Life (Penguin Press)


  • Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia (Doubleday)
  • Marie Arana, Bolivar: American Liberator (Simon & Schuster)
  • A. Scott Berg, Wilson (Putnam)
  • Ben Bradlee, Jr., The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams (Little, Brown)
  • Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His Life And His World (Yale)
  • Lucy Hughes-Hallet, Gabriele D’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War (Knopf)
  • Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine)
  • Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down: The Life And Work of Marianne Moore (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (Knopf)
  • Ray Monk, Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center (Doubleday)


  • Deirdre Bair, Saul Steinberg: A Biography (Nan A. Talese)
  • Robert Caro, The Passage of Power (Knopf)
  • Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Timothy Egan, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Alice Kessler-Harris, A Difficult Woman, The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman (Bloomsbury Press)
  • David Maraniss, Barack Obama, The Story (Simon & Schuster)
  • John Matteson, The Lives of Margaret Fuller (W. W. Norton & Company)
  • Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown)
  • William Souder, On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson (Crown)
  • Rachel L. Swarns, American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama (Amistad)