Newest Autobiography Reviews

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Revelation Ch:25 - A Letter To The Churches From The 24th Elder by Edward K Micheal

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Edward K Michael has taken the brave step of laying out his spiritual journey for all to see. It is a deeply personal book and he's honest enough - genuine enough - to wonder if he would have taken a different path if he had known then what he knows now, but he's generous enough too to hope that people will find comfort in the supernatural manifestations he has seen. Before you begin reading you will need to accept that the book seems to have been written without editorial intervention: you are hearing the real man speak and what you will read is very close to stream of consciousness. Full review...

The Art of Failing: Notes from the Underdog by Anthony McGowan

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I had not come across Anthony McGowan's work before reading this book, as he mainly writes for Young Adults. I can imagine his books to be engaging and humorous from the clever way he constructs sentences, and the ironic subtlety with which he uses descriptive details. Full review...

Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith

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Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms is part biography and part rallying call for society to tackle the systemic, endemic and debilitating inequality faced by the people of the United Kingdom, particularly in the North. Through reflecting on his own experiences during his childhood, Harry Leslie Smith has painted a frank and uncompromising picture of the grim, appallingly miserable childhood he had to endure due to the poverty faced by his family contrasted with the, shamefully still, grim and miserable lives many people endure today in a country ravaged by cuts, austerity and political turmoil. Full review...

China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-dresser by Michael Bristow

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Having worked for nine years in Bejing as a journalist for the BBC, author Michael Bristow decided to write about Chinese history. Having been learning the local language for several years, Bristow asked his language teacher for guidance - the language teacher, born in the early fifties, offered Bristow a compelling picture of life in Communist China - but added to that, Bristow was greatly surprised to find that his language teacher also enjoyed spending his spare time in ladies clothing. It soon becomes clear that the tale told here is immensely personal - yet also paints a fascinating portrait of one of the world's most intriguing nations. Full review...

A Bientot... by Roger Moore

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The news of the death of Sir Roger Moore in May 2017 came as a great shock: he was one of those people you knew would go on for ever. There was just one small glimmer of light in the sadness - the news that a matter of days before his death he'd delivered the finished manuscript of his book, À bientôt…, to his publishers. Just a few months later a copy landed on my desk and I didn't even bother to look as though I could resist reading it straight away. Full review...

Twelve Times To The Max: One Man's Journey to, and Recollections of, Setting Twelve Verified World Records by Stuart Burrell

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The first of Stuart Burrell's world records, well, the first two, actually, as he's not a man to do things by halves, came about by accident. There had been a plan to raise some money for the Children in Need Charity and quite late on the people who were to have been the main attraction got a better offer and Burrell is not a man to let people down. What could be done to bring people in and raise some money? Most of us would have thought of jumble sales and cake bakes, but Burrell had made a hobby of escapology and idea of a sponsored escape had life breathed into it. On 3 November 2002 he went for the Fastest Handcuff Escape world record and immediately afterwards Most Handcuffs Escaped in One Hour. Both were successful and more than £300 was raised for Children in Need. Full review...

What Language Do I Dream In? by Elena Lappin

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Speaking many languages fluently seems close to a superpower to most of us. Elena Lappin's memoir is about how she came to be at home in five or more languages, and what effect this has on her identity. Her family's history and the emigrations that led to her learning so many languages are caught up with European events. As a child she moved from Russia to Czechoslovakia and from there to Germany. Elena was encouraged by exchange holidays abroad to learn French and English too. Then she chose university in Israel and learnt Hebrew. So just as the rest of us might pick up bits of furniture or books from our various homes, Elena picked up a language every time. A clever member of an intellectual household, with parents who were translators and writers, there never seems to have been great effort involved in acquiring languages, it just happened. Full review...

The French Cashew Tree by Parrain Thorance

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The place isn't given a name, but we can work out that it's in the Caribbean and it's here that Parrain Thorance had an idyllic childhood with his parents, brother and sister until he was eight years old. It was then that his mother died suddenly and the family was broken up: his brother and sister went to live with an aunt and Parrain stayed with his father - but an aunt and uncle moved into the family home. The aunt - his father's sister - was fine, but Parrain and her husband never got on. The easy, generous days of childhood, sitting under the titular French Cashew Tree might still be there superficially, but paradise would never be untainted again. Full review...

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

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

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...