Newest Autobiography Reviews

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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

5star.jpg Autobiography

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

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

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

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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...

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...

My Son's Not Rainman: One Man, One Autistic Boy, A Million Adventures by John Williams

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In 2012, stand-up comedian John Williams was encouraged by his work colleagues to write a show charting his experiences as the parent of an autistic boy. After registering the domain name: My Son's Not Rainman, he also decided to write a blog to share his funny anecdotes and experiences. After a shaky start (I had a handful of followers. Three of them were my brothers), the blog eventually went viral as it increased in popularity with parents who felt a connection with John and 'The Boy'. This book fills in some of the gaps in the story, starting with 'The Boy's' early childhood and ending, appropriately, on his thirteenth birthday, when he suddenly became 'The Teen'. Full review...

Wild and Precious Life by Deborah Ziegler

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You probably remember the case of Brittany Maynard; it was much in the news in the latter half of 2014. Diagnosed with a massive brain tumour at age 29, Brittany chose to move from her home in California to Oregon so that she could take drugs to end her life at a time of her choosing using that state's Death with Dignity Act. She and her family appeared in documentaries and national news media and gave official testimony to raise awareness about the cause of assisted dying for the terminally ill. A film about her story is also in the works. Full review...

Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934-1995 by Iris Murdoch, Avril Horner and Anne Rowe

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This collection of Iris Murdoch's most interesting and revealing letters gives us a living portrait of one of the twentieth century's greatest writers and thinkers. They show her mind at work - seeing Murdoch grappling with philosophical questions, feeling anguish when a book fails to come together, and uncovering Murdoch's famed personal life, in all its intriguing complexity. They also show the 'real life material' that fed into her fiction - and above all we see her life - blazing, brave, and brilliant in this collection of letters. Full review...

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

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In her memoir, actress, comedian and activist Magda Szubanski describes her journey of self-discovery from a suburban childhood as an immigrant child, haunted by the demons of her father's espionage activities in wartime Poland and by her secret awareness of her sexuality, to the complex dramas of adulthood and her need to find out the truth about herself and her family. With courage and compassion she addresses her own frailties and fears, and asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on. Full review...

I Me Mine by George Harrison

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This sumptuous volume was first published in 1980 as a rather heftily-priced limited edition of 2,000 copies, each signed by the former Beatle. It now appears with a revised introduction by his widow Olivia, including brief references to their years together. What we have here is not a book of memoirs in the conventional sense. George Harrison was the man whose first solo album, excluding two rather experimental records of electronic music and film soundtrack not really aimed at a mainstream audience, was a lavish boxed set including three long-playing records, one consisting of extended musical jamming sessions with friends. If you're expecting a tidy set of chapters telling his story as he recalls it from childhood to the date he laid down his pen (or powered his laptop off, or whatever the 1980 equivalent was) - this is not it. Full review...

Grey is the Colour of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya

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In April 1983 Irina Ratushinskaya was convicted of 'agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or wrecking the Soviet Regime'. She had dared to defend human rights and to ask questions of the Soviet system via her writing in general and poetry in particular. The penalty that came with the conviction was 7 years in a labour camp followed by 5 years in internal exile. In In the Beginning, her first autobiography, Irina touches on that time of her life. Now, Grey is the Colour of Hope goes back to look at it in detail. Full review...

In the Beginning by Irina Ratushinskaya

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Irina Ratushinskaya was born in the Ukraine of 1954 to an engineer and a teacher. Irina's very early childhood is innocent, having been sheltered by a loving extended family from the harsher side of Soviet life. However, when Irina starts school she begins to realise that doing the right thing is often frowned on and tainted by an illogical regime. Early on she realises she has a choice: be a good Soviet citizen or be true to her own sense of justice. The choice – and living with its repercussions – form Irina's existence from that point onwards for Ratushinskaya the poet, the writer, the dissident, the prisoner. Full review...

Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg

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With the scenes from war torn Syria brought to our screens every night, 'Notes from the blockade' is a timely book. It is the remarkable story of Lydia Ginzburg's survival during the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War 2. With beautiful prose full of Russian melancholy and pragmatism, it details daily life in the besieged city. I have to confess that I found this to be one of the most moving books that it has ever been my pleasure to read. Pleasure may be a strange choice of words to describe a book recounting horrifying events, but it came from the lyrical quality of the writing. Ginzburg's prose is simply beautiful. Her descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life, as it descends into the abyss, are the most human I have encountered. It is this that leaves its mark long after the final page is turned. Full review...

Toby and Sox: The Heartwarming Tale of a Little Boy With Autism and a Dog in a Million by Vikki Turner

5star.jpg Autobiography

Sometimes I found myself holding him on my knee, quietly crying above his huddled little body – so quietly he wouldn't be able to tell – just hoping that I could physically hold all the broken pieces together and somehow make everything OK.

Vikki Turner is a busy mum of four, and for her, family is everything. Her first two children gave her no cause for concern, hitting their developmental milestones right on cue and behaving beautifully when in public. When Toby came along, she naturally expected things to be the same, but it soon became apparent that there was something different about him. Toby had a fear of bright lights and insisted on wearing sunglasses wherever he went. Sounds bothered him, so he constantly wore earphones to block out the outside world. Earphones in, sunglasses on and hood up, Toby had created his own 'bubble' in which he could feel safe. Full review...

The World is Elsewhere by Chris McIvor

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As a Country Director, Chris McIvor has worked for a number of years at Save the Children. 'The World is Elsewhere' covers his time there and, his journeys across a number of countries. It is a beautiful mix of autobiography and travel. It also captures his philosophical thoughts on international aid. He reflects on both the good and the bad with a very easy, conversational writing style that makes the book truly captivating. I read from cover to cover in a single sitting, unusual for a reviewer. Such was the draw as he laid himself bare. Full review...

My Life from the Beginning by Violet Prater

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Violet Prater is 83 and she's decided to tell us her story. She knows that there are grammar and spelling errors, but she wants to tell the story her way without any interference from an editor. I can understand that and I recognise the honesty behind her words. Her story's important because it illustrates that child abuse can extend beyond beatings and sexual abuse. Full review...

Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson

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Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and a little out of place: as the only child on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, the sole clinically depressed member of a cheerleading squad, a valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and an adult the world still remembers as a little girl. Tackling everything from how she first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being cute enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman's journey from accidental fame to relative obscurity, but also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Full review...

Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon

3.5star.jpg Entertainment

Picking up this book immediately makes you wonder what exactly you make of John Lydon, the man who became notorious in the late 1970s as 'Johnny Rotten' of the Sex Pistols. Was he the iconoclast who if some of the tabloids were to be believed was about to destroy western civilization almost single-handed? Had he really come to destroy, or merely to use the showbusiness system and end up becoming part of what he had set out to fight, or both – or what? Full review...

In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age by Nev Schulman

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Nev (it's pronounced Neev) is a man who knows about the darker side of online dating. Known for his documentary Catfish – a film which showed an online flirtation going sour, Nev then began making a tv show of the same name, travelling America to offer advice to those in online relationships, and possibly being catfished (which means being lured into a relationship by someone adopting a fictional online persona). Now the go-to expert in online relationships for millenials, a generation who have never known a world without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other online places where interactions can form. Here, he takes his investigation to the page – exploring relationships in the era of social media, delving deeply into the complexities of dating in a digital age, and continuing the dialogue his show has begun about how we interact with each other online – as well as sharing insights from his own story. Full review...

Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself by Julie Barton

3.5star.jpg Autobiography

It was 1996 and Julie Barton was twenty-two years old and one year into her job in publishing in New York when she collapsed on the kitchen floor of her apartment in Manhattan. She was severely depressed, an illness provoked, on the face of it, but the end of a destructive romantic relationship - or was it the end? Will kept coming back, in the early hours of the morning, sleeping with her, then leaving again. When Julie collapsed all she could think to do was to ring her mother who drove from Ohio to New York and took her home. Despite the best intentions of her parents and therapists, Julie seemed unable to break out of the depression, until she finally made just one positive decision - to adopt a Golden Retriever puppy whom she called Bunker Hill. Full review...

Spectacles by Sue Perkins

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A dash of drama, a sprinkling of gossip and a smattering of laugh-out-loud funny make for the best sort of memoir. Full review...

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

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I wasn't sure what to expect when I asked for this book to review. It claims on the front cover to be not exactly a memoir, and it isn't. Yet, also, it kind of is. In fact, I would struggle to describe or decipher exactly what it is. It is so unlike any book I've ever read before. Full review...

Forestry Flavours of the Month: The Changing Face of World Forestry by Alastair Fraser

4.5star.jpg Business and Finance

Alastair Fraser's experience of forestry spans more than five decades and having the benefit of the long view he's ideally placed to consider the changes which have occurred over the course of his career. He also has the ability, not as common as it ought to be amongst professionals, of being able to look at what he does both from the point of view of the business and the people who work in it and are affected by it. There's a lack of tunnel vision too: he sees what's happening in forestry both in the narrow focus and where it sits globally so far as economics and politics are concerned. Full review...

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

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Meet the Durrells, a quintessentially eccentric English Family. We have Larry, the lazy and pompous eldest; Leslie, who loves hunting and the outdoors; Margo, a sulky teenage girl at the mercy of her hormones; Mother, who seems unflappable, even in the most extreme situations; Roger the loyal family dog and finally Gerry, who is 10 years old and has an obsession with the natural world. “My Family and Other Animals” is Gerry's story of what happened when the family decided to uproot to escape the drab monotony of England for the sunnier climes of Corfu. Full review...

The Perfect Stranger by P J Kavanagh

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The Perfect Stranger was originally published in 1966, this edition 50 years on hasn't lost any of its charm or appeal. Intended as a memorial, '...made out of bits and pieces lying around me, bits of myself, all I had to bring her. Or rather it's part of it', in the foreward added to the 1991 edition Kavanagh is appalled that his book should have been so widely categorised as an autobiography and states that if he had known that would happen he would have stopped writing at once. To me this attitude is an early indication to the personality and character of Kavanagh. His journey highlights how disaffected, withdrawn, and isolated he is from the world around him, with an arrogance and cynicism that goes beyond the petulance of his teenage years. Full review...

Paralian: Not Just Transgender by Liam Klenk

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

Paralian is an Ancient Greek word, meaning one who lives by the sea. Here, we follow the author's journey through life, narrated by his relationship to water – the river he grew up near, the oceans he crosses, and the water that later becomes his place of work. A tumultuous journey, we follow the author in his quest to find authentic self and happiness, against an incredible array of adversities. At five months old, Liam was adopted from an orphanage – and thus began a journey to conquer childhood disability, issues with parents, marriages, divorces, and gender dysphoria. Full review...

Miracle: The extraordinary dog that refused to die by Amanda Leask

4star.jpg Autobiography

Amanda Leask has been obsessed with dogs all her life and it's been an obsession which needs the world and a lot of it's attitudes to dogs to change for the better. She's not daunted by the obstacles: she's simply determined to do all that she possibly can to make the world a better place for dogs. Amanda lives with her husband Tobias, son Kyle and more than twenty rescue and sled dogs near Inverness. Very nice, you're probably thinking. Wouldn't we all like to have that sort of lifestyle? But hold on a minute. Full review...

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

At the age of thirty six Paul Kalanithi seemed to have a glittering career - and life - ahead of him. He had degrees in English literature, human biology and history and philosophy of science and medicine from Stanford and Cambridge universities, as well as the American Academy of Neurological Surgery's top award for research. His reflections on medicine had been published in the New York Times. The Washington Post as well as the Paris Review Daily. It had been hinted, as he came to the end of ten years training to be a neurosurgeon, that he'd have the pick of the jobs on offer. There was just one nagging problem. Well there was more than one. He had severe back pain and he knew that he was unwell. He had stage four (terminal) lung cancer. Full review...

Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley

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Edith Morley was born in Bayswater in 1875 and wasn't overly keen on being a girl, although she found the late Victorian conventions restrictive rather than repressive. Her descriptions of the life which young women (or even women of any age) were expected to lead is exceptional in the way that it shows the tedium and the limitations. She had one great good fortune in that her father (a surgeon-dentist) and well-read mother believed in the benefits of a good education for boys and girls. After spending two years in Germany as part of her education she went on to get an 'equivalent' degree from Oxford University (which is all that was available to women at the time) and then to become the first female professor in England in 1908, at Reading University. Full review...