Newest Autobiography Reviews

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A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies

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Although I knew the name Hunter Davies before I picked this book up, I was unaware just how pivotal a figure of the Swinging Sixties Hunter Davies really was. Take him, Harold Wilson and a certain musical quartet from Liverpool out of the decade, and you are left with a bit of a vacuum. Full review...

War by Roald Dahl

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In war, are we at our heroic best or our cowardly worst? Featuring the autobiographical stories from Roald Dahl's time as a fighter pilot in the Second World War as well as seven other tales of conflict and strife, Dahl reveals the human side of our most inhumane activity. Full review...

Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn

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John Craske was a fisherman, from a family of fishermen, who became too ill to go to sea. He was born in Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast in 1881 and would eventually die in the Norwich hospital in 1943 after a life which could have been defined by ill health. There were various explanations for what ailed him, what caused him to sink into a stupour, sometimes for years at a time and he was on occasions described as 'an imbecile'. But John had a natural artistic talent, albeit that his work had to be done on the available surfaces in his home. Chair seats, window sills, the backs of doors all carried his wonderful pictures of the sea. Then he moved on to embroidery, producing wonderful pictures of the Norfolk coast - and, most famously, of the evacuation at Dunkirk. Full review...

Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren Elkin

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Lauren Elkin is down on suburbs: they're places where you can't or shouldn't be seen walking; places where, in fiction, women who transgress boundaries are punished (thinking of everything from Madame Bovary to Revolutionary Road). When she imagines to herself what the female version of that well-known historical figure, the carefree flâneur, might be, she thinks about women who freely wandered the world's great cities without having the more insalubrious connotation of the word 'streetwalker' applied to them. Full review...

Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor

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The letters begin much in the fashion of any young man away from home, perhaps in a quite exciting country, writing back to family and friends to tell them of his experiences, the sights he's seen and the people he's met. It's just a little different in Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants though: Saqib Noor is a junior doctor, training to be an orthopaedic surgeon and over a period of ten years he visited six countries, not as a tourist but to give medical assistance. They're countries which Noor describes as fourth world - third world with added disaster - and their need is desperate. Full review...

Cargoes & Capers: The life and times of a London Docklands man by Johnny Ringwood

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Johnny Ringwood was born in 1936, just three years before the start of the second world war, as he says, slap bang next to the Royal Victoria dock. His education was somewhat limited, not least because it was regularly interrupted by the Luftwaffe. You might therefore be surprised at what he has managed to achieve in the intervening eighty years. I certainly was. Full review...

Outskirts by John Grindrod

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Outskirts is an interesting take on a phenomenon of the modern age: the introduction of the green belt of countryside surrounding inner city housing estates. John Grindrod grew up on the edge of one such estate in the 1960's and '70's, as he puts it, I grew up on the last road in London. Grindrod explores the introduction of the green belt, and the various fights and developments it has gone through over the subsequent decades, as environmental and political arguments have affected planning decisions. Within this topic, he has somehow managed to wind around his personal memories of childhood, producing a memoir with a lot of heart. Full review...

Shepherd of Another Flock by David Wilbourne

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David Wilbourne's CV looks like a career path for people who are hard-of-humoured. Banker, teacher of Ancient Greek, vicar, bishop…none of these are jobs normally connected in our minds with a jovial twinkle. Yet in David's case we'd be totally wrong to assume. The current Bishop of Llandaff takes us by the hand to show us episodes from his life as vicar of the character-packed Yorkshire parish of Helmsley proving that tears of sorrow are equally shared with tears of laughter. Full review...

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson

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Maggie Nelson is the author of four volumes of poetry and five wide-ranging works of nonfiction that delve into the nature of violence and sexuality. From what I'd heard about her writing, I knew to expect an important and unconventional thinker with a distinctive, lyrical style. Now Vintage is making some of her backlist, including this book (originally published in 2007) and the uncategorisable Bluets, available for the first time in the UK. Full review...

Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

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It's more than two years since I read Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery but the memories have stayed with me. I had thought then that a book about brain surgery might sound as though I was taking my pleasures too sadly, but the book was superb - and very easy reading and when I heard about Admissions I decided to treat myself to an audio download, particularly as Henry Marsh was narrating. I knew that my expectations were unreasonably high, but how did the book do? Full review...

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

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Celebrity autobiographies. It's a genre long tainted by the examples of people who clearly didn't deserve to be a celebrity, let alone have a ghost-writer create their book, and by those who did so little but managed to churn out five memoirs before they were even thirty. But more recently it's become a way of staking a claim to importance for female comics. They've not all written autobiographies, as Bridget Christie proved, but enough have to provide for a rapidly-filling shelf at the bookstore. 2016 we had Amy Schumer winning a GoodReads award, Lena Dunham's been at it, and we've also got Anna Kendrick. Now she's not a strict comic – not all of her films are designed to make you laugh, and some of them that are just don't – but this has to be in the same bracket. Full review...

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir by Chris Packham

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Everything seemed alive in that scintillating moment and as the gleams gyrated and glittered I imagined I could see their tiny twinkling hearts, seeding the sparks that made them so very vivid. And then I wiped away the spilled slop of the river, polished the glare and thrust my fingers into the sparkle jar to stir the soft tickles of the swirling tinsel of fishes.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a unique memoir, written in a distinct style quite unlike any other. Chris Packham, well-known TV presenter and wildlife expert, takes us back to his childhood in 1960s Southampton, and we meet a curious child who doesn't quite fit in to the societal norm. Fast forward a few years, and the chasm widens, leading to bullying, name-calling and beatings at the hands of the local thugs at his comprehensive school. Full review...

This Mum Runs by Jo Pavey

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I am something of a self-confessed running addict: I think nothing of hitting the roads for 50 miles a week, and spend much of my time searching for races to run all over the country. That is, until I wound up with a persistent sports injury, hung up my running shoes for nearly a year, and switched the road to the pool. At the time I thought nothing could alleviate the misery of not being able to run; but now I wish I had had Jo Pavey's autobiography, This Mum Runs, to keep me company because the elite athlete’s account of the Olympics, injury, family, and life in general falls nothing short of inspirational. Full review...

The Stone Cradle by Patrice Chaplin

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'The Stone Cradle' is a remarkable book from the author Patrice Chaplin. It is a biography, the third in a series set in the Catalonian city of Girona. It is also an enduring love story and a journey into mystery and spirituality. The city has drawn artists, writers and philosophers for centuries. Rich in Kabbalistic thought through Azriel, the most famous student of Isaac the Blind, it has always been a home for mysticism and secrets. The magnetism and resonance of the city has had a hold on Patrice Chaplin since she first visited it in the fifties. The series of books detail her journey and her encounters with the esoteric society that have protected its mysteries since ancient times. 'The Stone Cradle' also gives a new life and direction to the mysteries of Rennes le Chateau, the small French village, made famous by the Da Vinci Code and the Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. Linking the two places through sacred geometry to the mountain of Canigou. Full review...

Gone by Min Kym

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Gone is a fascinating peephole into the world of solo musicians and their instruments. When Min Kym's 300 year old Stradivarius violin was stolen in 2010, the newspapers were eager to tell the story; this memoir is Kym's side of it, from her early childhood and education at the Purcell School (their youngest ever pupil) to the recovery of the Strad and beyond. Full review...

Coming Clean by Cathryn Kemp

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When Cathryn develops acute pancreatitis it leaves her in intense pain. With no obvious cure, she is prescribed strong painkillers to manage the painful flare ups. Yet still she bounces in and out of hospital, from one 'expert' to another, undergoes needless operations when Consultants say I know there's no evidence for this, but we may as well try it…the list goes on. As time passes, the pain remains but is joined by a new friend: a dangerous addiction to painkillers, prescribed at many times above the usual dose and soon to have a damaging effect on her health. Full review...

Who I Am by Charlotte Rampling, Christophe Bataille and William Hobson (translator)

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I'll drop all pretence of plot summary, and set the stall out, just as this book does. Here's a quote from page one – Who I Am: not a biography. With the name of one of cinema's most esteemed actresses on the front, you might assume it to be an autobiography for a start, but before that quote we'll already have been disabused of that thought, for apart from a couple of quotes the first six and a half pages of the book is addressed to Charlotte Rampling, and not apparently by her. There are gnomic paragraphs and lyrics here, in italics that suggest they are direct quotes, leaving the rest of the text here to be both a collaborative look at the star's background, and a musing perusal of the nature of creating the book in the first place. And that stall I was setting out certainly doesn't have the right number of legs if I don't mention this book can be read in well under an hour. Full review...

Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn

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'My intuition from the day I first picked up a hammer was that making things with a commitment to quality would lead to a good life,' Peter Korn writes. As an aimless, free-spirited University of Pennsylvania student, he moved to Nantucket Island to earn the rest of his college credits through independent study and happened to be offered a carpentry job. That arbitrary job choice at the age of twenty would come to define the rest of his career. Manual labour was all new to him, but 'from the start there was a mind/body wholeness to carpentry that put it way ahead of what I imagined office work to be.' Full review...

Quicksand by Henning Mankell

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How do you judge a book? Not by its cover, we're told. In my case, often by the number of turned down corners or post-it-note-marked pages by the time I've finished reading it. Sometimes, by whether I worry about leaving its characters to fend for themselves while I take a break…or by how much of it stays with me afterwards or for how long. In this case, it doesn't matter. However, I judge Quicksand the judgement comes up the same. This collection of vignettes from an ageing, possibly dying, writer looking back on his own life is as powerful as it is simple, as easy to read as it is impossible to forget. Full review...

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy by Sue Klebold

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Sue Klebold's son Dylan was one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Her book opens on 20 April 1999, the day of the shootings. Klebold remembers the confusion and dread she and her husband and older son felt when they learned something was happening at Columbine. Early on they were told Dylan was a suspect, and before long they also knew he was dead, but they didn't know how he was involved or how he died. From the start, though, it was clear that there would be fallout: one of the first things they had to do, before they even cremated their son, was have a clandestine meeting with a lawyer. In the months that followed, they were essentially in hiding in their own hometown. Full review...

Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

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At first glance, Saroo Brierley seems to be a normal, well adjusted Australian man. He has a job, a girlfriend, a good social life and a supportive family, but his life could have turned out very differently. Saroo was born in India, where his single mother had to work hard to feed him and his three siblings. The children lived an almost feral existence, disappearing for days, exploring the local area for food and job opportunities. One fateful day, young Saroo begged his older brother Guddu to take him along on an adventure. The thrill soon turned to fear when the pair became separated and Saroo found himself trapped on a moving train. After a long journey, the train finally pulled into Kolkata station, leaving the five-year-old child alone and terrified. Soon he was found by the authorities and adopted by a family in Australia, where he spent most of his life trying to piece together his fragmented memories of his origins. Full review...

No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator)

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It was one of the greatest prison breaks of all time, during one of the worst totalitarian tragedies of the 20th Century. Xu Hongci was an ordinary medical student when he was incarcerated under Mao's regime and forced to spend years of his youth in some of China's most brutal labour camps. Three times he tried to escape. And three times he failed. But, determined, he eventually broke free, travelling the length of China, across the Gobi desert, and into Mongolia. Full review...

In Search of Sundance, Nessie...and Paradise by Simon Bennett

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Books are personal. There are three things that signal good books to me: how I feel while reading them and in the enforced spaces between reading them, the degree to which I bore everyone around me for ages afterwards by quoting them and talking about them, and whether I remember how, when and where I first read them. That last criterion can only be judged later, but on the first two In Search of Sundance… definitely qualifies. Full review...

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

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No you haven't stumbled into a music review from the 1970s, I'm talking about The Boss's autobiography. Lots of books have been written about Springsteen by folk who knew him, worked with him and by others who have only read the cuttings. Over the last seven years he has been going about – not putting the record straight, exactly – but telling it from his own perspective. As he puts it: Writing about yourself is a funny business. By his own admission, it isn't the whole truth, discretion holds him back but in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I've tried to do this. Full review...

Krysia: A Polish Girl's Stolen Childhood During World War II by Krystyna Mihulka and Krystyna Poray Goddu

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Most of us would think of Polish children suffering in World War Two because of the Nazi death camps – they and their families suffering through countless round-ups, ghettoization, and transport to the end of the line, where they might by hint or dint survive to tell the horrid tale. But most of us would think of such Polish children as Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This book opens the eyes up in a most vivid fashion to those who were not Jewish. They did not get resettled in the Nazi Lebensraum, but were sent miles away to the East. Krysia's family were split up, partly due to her father being a Polish reservist when the Nazis invaded, and then courtesy of Stalin, who had signed a pact with Hitler dividing the country between the two states, before they turned bitter enemies. Krysia's family, living in the eastern city of Lwow, were packed up and sent – in the stereotypical cattle train – east. And east, and east – right the way across the continent to rural Kazakhstan, and a communal farm in the middle of anonymous desert, deep in Communist Soviet lands. Proof, if proof were needed, that that horrendous war still carries narratives that will be new to us… Full review...

Becoming Reverend: A diary by Matt Woodcock

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Matt Woodcock is enjoying life: successful journalist, happily married and a new dream home bought and heavily mortgaged. The only cloud on the horizon is their struggle to have children but they have faith in the IVF treatment as it's early days yet. Then comes the funny turn Matt has on the way to a story one day. This takes him by surprise but the resulting clergy collar comes as a total shock. He's a normal bloke who always thought of himself as more pint than piety believing in a God who's happy for him to remain in the pews. Errrrm… whoops! Full review...

My Brain Is Out Of Control by Patrick Mbaya

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Dr Patrick Mbaya was enjoying life as a consultant psychiatrist, husband and father. His career was going well and he enjoyed making ill people better. His marriage was solid and fulfilling and his two children were exploring their potential, often through the uplifting power of music. Life was good. But then... Full review...

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy by Sue Klebold

4star.jpg Autobiography

Sue Klebold's son Dylan was one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Her book opens on 20 April 1999, the day of the shootings. Klebold remembers the confusion and dread she and her husband and older son felt when they learned something was happening at Columbine. Early on they were told Dylan was a suspect, and before long they also knew he was dead, but they didn't know how he was involved or how he died. From the start, though, it was clear that there would be fallout: one of the first things they had to do, before they even cremated their son, was have a clandestine meeting with a lawyer. In the months that followed, they were essentially in hiding in their own hometown. Full review...

A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939-45 by Astrid Lindgren

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Before she became a world famous author, Astrid Lindgren worked as a secretary, and as a wife and mother. She kept a diary, and throughout the war maintained her own personal record of world events, commenting on political situations as well as her own day to day activities and struggles. She writes in a fresh and candid manner, and her observations are both personal and astute. Full review...