Top Ten Autobiographies 2014

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Autobiographies sometimes seem to be dominated by sportsmen with an axe to grind and a pension to fund. Our top ten for 2014 are rather more engaging, with the occasional big name, but far more from people who simply have a very good story to tell.

Life on Air by David Attenborough

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I was one of the generation who grew up when David Attenborough was a giant among presenters of wildlife programmes on television, and anything with his name attached was a must-watch. At the time, I had no idea that he was also one of the pivotal characters in the development of broadcasting, having been controller of BBC2 and director of programming for BBC TV for several years. These days, he is probably best remembered for writing and presenting the nine ‘Life’ series, a comprehensive survey of all life on the planet. Full review...

Call the Vet: Farmers, Dramas and Disasters - My First Year as a Country Vet by Anna Birch

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Newly-qualified vet Anna arrives in the sleepy coastal village of Ebbourne filled with dreams of following in the footsteps of her hero, James Herriot as she starts her new role working in a rural mixed practice. She will be treating farm animals, as well as smaller pets, in a friendly community in a stunning location. However, Anna barely has time to settle in before being thrown headlong into the thick of things with two tricky calvings to deal with and plenty of muck, blood and gore. Oh yes Mum, it’s a glamorous job... she laments. Full review...

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

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When Kelly leaves the USA for a life-changing trip around the world, her goal is not to end up working as a nanny in suburban Sydney. And her goal is definitely not to turn into her mother in the process. She doesn't realise it at the time, but as this memoir shows, there are worse things that could happen. Full review...

A Tour of Bones: Facing Fear and Looking for Life by Denise Inge

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American-born Dr Denise Inge was an expert on seventeenth-century mystic poet Thomas Traherne, mother to two daughters, and wife to an Anglican clergyman. Her husband's appointment as Bishop of Worcester saw them move to a townhouse adjacent to Worcester Cathedral – and attached to a charnel house. Whatever to do with a basement full of bones? An even more pressing question was what to do with her fear of the death they represented, especially when Inge was diagnosed with inoperable sarcoma late in the writing process. Full review...

A Little Piece of England: A tale of self-sufficiency by John Jackson

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Here at Bookbag we're great fans of John Jackson. We loved his Tales for Great Grandchildren and Brahma Dreaming: Legends from Hindu Mythology so it was something of a treat to meet the author on his own ground, so to speak. Originally published as A Bucket of Nuts and a Herring Net: The Birth of a Spare-Time Farm this is actually Jackson's first book and thirty-five years later we're delighted that it's been republished in hardback complete with the original black-and-white illustrations by Val Biro. Full review...

Sorcerers and Orange Peel by Ian Mathie

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I can't understand why Ian Mathie isn't a more celebrated writer and commentator on African cultural affairs. I've never yet heard him on radio, re-telling episodes from his memorable life. Our loss. Africa is moving forward, but to understand the Africa of today we need to pay attention to its recent past as well as its early colonial history. Ian's unassuming witness of African tribes as they slowly emerged into the world of the 1970’s is unparalleled for its authenticity and depth of experience. This recent memoir is his best constructed yet; a seriously informative tale for anyone who wants to know about the real Africa beneath the surface of today’s mobile phones and pre-loved designer jeans. Full review...

My Outdoor Life by Ray Mears

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Sometimes, a seemingly insignificant incident in one's youth can have far-reaching and profound consequences. Life is punctuated with pivotal moments that can completely alter a course of events. Ray Mears recalls such an incident when aged six, he opened an encyclopaedia and saw a picture of cavemen for the first time. A few months later, the same volume was sitting on the edge his desk, when suddenly, it started to slide. Mears reached out to grab it:

'…I was left holding a single page from within it...the one with the image of the cavemen...that picture awakened something within me that has defined my whole life. I firmly believe it was the spark that ignited my passion for the natural world around me.' Full review...

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

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Joanna Rakoff was twenty three when she took a job as assistant to a literary agent in New York. She'd not long left graduate school (and her 'college boyfriend') and her dream was to become a poet. The job was for experience and for income - her parents were somewhat dismissive of the position, pointing out that it was what used to be called a secretary - but there was a bonus which Rakoff had not anticipated, or even appreciated when she first heard of it. The agency might be stuck in the past - with Dictaphones and typewriters rather than computers - but its main client was J D Salinger. Rakoff knew the name - obviously - but she had never read one of his books. Full review...

Play It Again: An Amateur Against The Impossible by Alan Rusbridger

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I’ve maintained for a long time that I’ll read anything, if it’s well-enough written. So it was with this fascinating memoir, even though it’s a year in the life of an amateur pianist, and I don’t play the piano – or indeed a note of music. I couldn’t even have placed the name Alan Rusbridger in his professional role before I read the book. A quick browse through the first couple of pages on Amazon revealed that the author could indeed tell a clear story: it is his stock-in-trade as Editor of the Guardian. And the book duly held me through a messy, interrupted week of bedtime reading. Full review...

The Last Escaper by Peter Tunstall

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The Last Escaper opens differently to many of the great escape biographies that were released soon after the war as it is told some 70 years later. Peter Tunstall was an RAF pilot who was shot down and spent many years as a Prisoner Of War across occupied Europe, including in Colditz. He lived through the war, but also lived through many decades of peace. Will these years of the relative quiet life lesson the tales of bravery and dare doing of the war? Of course not! Full review...

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