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In their own words or from the pen of a biographer, the lives of others hold a magnetic intrigue. Indulge your curiosity here… Read and find out more about the lives of well-known figures. Want more inspiration? Head to our 'Best Autobiographies Ever' blog post filled with recommendations from our bookish friends.
"What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” Native is described as ‘a hymn of love to his native land’. It’s an apt description for a wonderful book. Native transports the reader to a place and a way of life where Patrick Laurie, although thoroughly occupied running his farm in Galloway, makes the time, to stand, to stare, and to share with us the sights, sounds, smells and richness of his way of life. From the cry of a lonesome curlew through to the incredible ruggedness of his Galloway cattle, from the warmth of Summer sun to the life-threatening weather of deepest winter, we learn what it is like to live a truly rural life. It’s not easy. The hours are long and the remuneration is minimal, but the rewards – for those who appreciate them – are immense. A poignant and thought-provoking read, I loved it.
Wing Commander Frank Brock OBE was a daredevil adventurer who made a unique contribution to the British war effort during World War I. Gunpowder and Glory tells the story, not just of Frank Brock, but of the family business he was born into. Brock is a name synonymous with fireworks and November 5th. Brock himself was an inventor who is one of very few people to have been commissioned in all three of our armed services. He designed weapons that included the incendiary device that brought an end to Zeppelin domination of British skies. This book has all the ingredients for an explosive and entertaining yarn. It doesn’t disappoint. A fascinating and well-researched read, not just for military enthusiasts but for anybody interested in fireworks, and the workings of a successful family business.
Beginning with the author’s great, great grandmother Tory, who lived in Somerset “over 100 years before Edna brought me into the world,” Hold On Edna! recounts the remarkable story of Aneira “Nye” Thomas, the first baby to be delivered by the NHS. From learning that the “birth of the NHS received scant coverage” and was initially distrusted, to the author’s rousing reading of Michael Rosen’s “These are the Hands” poem at the NHS 70th anniversary event, this moving memoir is an absorbing mix of punch-packing family drama, and a powerful personal testament to Britain’s crowning achievement. Throughout, the author casts an edifying light on working class social history through her family story. For Tory and thousands like her, death was very much part of daily life. If you’re in a workhouse, struggling to feed your children, paying a “quack” to heal you in sickness was out of the question. It was Tory’s death that brought her widow and six children to South Wales to seek work in the pits. While further hardship followed, it was fortuitous that the author’s mother, Edna, left Wales to find work at the same time as her future father. Employed at the same London hospital, they fell in love but money troubles, mouths to feed and the outbreak of WWII brought them back to Wales. Through these same hard years, the couple’s compatriot Aneurin “Nye” Bevan had been devising a transformative plan for public health, leading to a Parliament bill “that would offer a state-wide health service" that was “to be free at the point of need; available to everyone, regardless of wealth or social standing.” And since “the man responsible for all this grew up not too far away,” Edna’s seventh child was movingly chosen to be the first child delivered by the NHS. Ready to give birth before the allotted time, Edna “held on… and then she pushed. I came barrelling into the world at a minute past midnight, the first baby to be born on the NHS”. A triumphant moment for a family who knew the toughest of times, and a triumph of transformative socialist policy.
Who were you before the world told you who to be? Part inspiration, part memoir, Untamed explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet the expectations of the world, and instead dare to listen to and trust in the voice deep inside us. From the beloved New York Times bestselling author, speaker and activist Glennon Doyle. For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There. She. Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high but soon she realised they had come to her from within. This was the voice she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions and social conditioning. Glennon decided to let go of the world's expectations of her and reclaim her true untamed self. Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanising wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is also the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honour our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts. Untamed shows us how to be brave. And, as Glennon insists, 'The braver we are, the luckier we get.'
A magical, thoughtful, and gloriously wonderful little book. Cat Women would make a perfect gift, either for yourself, or someone else (and it really doesn’t have to be restricted to women who love cats, this is an engaging read full stop). Described as “an exploration of feline friendships and lingering superstitions” Alice Maddicott introduces us to cats and their role with humans through history before presenting second-hand photos and examining the relationship between the women and cats in the pictures. It is fascinating to view the suspicion that women with cats, particularly lone women, have come under over the years, ‘crazy cat lady’ and ‘witch’ are two of the more obvious labels. Alice Maddicott looks at the second-hand (orphan) photos with an almost forensic yet beautifully whimsical eye. She spotted things that my first glance had completely missed, her thoughts take a breezy wander, yet she really sees the woman, and in particular, the cat in each picture. Opening up into the most readable and heartfelt book, Cat Women has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book as it is all rather intriguing and absolutely delightful.
In 1957, five members of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club set out to reach the peak of Haramosh, a previously unclimbed mountain in the Karkoram range that extends from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. Karkoram is the second highest mountain range in the world, exceeded only by the nearby Himalaya. It’s highest peak, K2, is well known to mountaineers, perhaps less so to those of us not so well versed in that world. The Last Blue Mountain is the story of this ascent, and of the tragedy that unfolded. It is a tale not of success or failure, but of human spirit and the determination to survive. Originally published in 1959, this re-publication now contains an enlightening foreword by writer Ed Douglas, former editor of the Alpine Journal. Two of the four OUMC climbers died on Haramosh. A third was killed descending the Weisshorn in 1963. Tony Streather, the final member of the team, died in 2018 at the age of ninety-two. The opportunity to speak with these men is gone but, thanks to the excellent writing and research of Ralph Barker, the chance to learn from them and to live their story is not. As I reached the end of The Last Blue Mountain and closed the final page I confess I said a silent thanks. It was not just to the late Ralph Barker for writing this excellent book, but to Tony Streather and his fellow climbers, who are the kind of men who inspire us and whose tales of bravery and resilience will continue to enthral for generations to come.
Radiant with an infectious enthusiasm for life, Scottish writer Iain Maloney has created a playful, powerful page-turner in The Only Gaijin in the Village, a brilliant blend of memoir and travel writing at its most edifyingly entertaining. Maloney’s post-uni TEFL work led him to fall in love with Japan and his future wife Minori. After moving to Scotland, the couple chose to return to Japan as a result of “racist and elitist” Tory government immigration rules that made it near impossible for them to live together in the UK. “I have embraced exile. I am home,” he says of living in Japan, first in a city, before he and Minori relocate to a rural environment. Fiercely funny, the author’s voice is akin to being regaled by a witty friend’s pub anecdotes, with observations moving between lyrical eulogies to nature’s beauty and outright hilarity, such as when he describes a wild typhoon as a “blowy bastard”. From deciphering the codes of Japanese rural culture, to navigating trials of the natural world (including snakes, centipedes and behemoth bees), Maloney takes everything in his stride with an exhilarating can-do spirit. “Humans can get used to anything”, he blithely - and sagely - remarks. Maloney comically covers cultural culinary differences when he describes encountering whale bacon and flame-grilled snakes, but true to form counterbalancing comes when he mentions haggis in the same context. There are similarly entertaining accounts of his farming endeavors, from uncovering digging myths the hard way (“Where is this ground made of tofu that’s easier to dig than a Miles Davies solo?”), to his superb description of growing peas that possess “a smell and taste so evocative Proust could have bored the arse off half of France for decades”. Honest, amusing, humble and informative, with prescient political underpinnings (“every immigrant story is also an emigrant story. This is what the Right want us to forget. They want us to believe it’s all about them coming here, not about them leaving there...the term ‘expat’ is encoded racsim”), I can’t praise this highly enough.
Unorthodox is the bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author. As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent-minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.
A fascinating, almost hard to believe life of a pilot. In a meandering, conversational tone, Mike recalls a number of dramatic events occurring during his career as a pilot. I like the narrative voice, it felt like I was listening to Mike share an anecdote over dinner. I found that the story delivers enough information to keep you curious, while hopping through several interlocking events. I would say that this is a book that you need to dedicate your full concentration to, distracted reading could leave you a little confused about the changes in direction. I think that this applies in particular to the start of the book, there's a great deal of "we'll get to that in a second" which, although amusing, did leave me feeling slightly adrift. The author writes with self-deprecating humour and this larger-than-life tale told with Mike’s incredulity puts you at ease with the narrator while making the events (as unbelievable as they seem) more plausible and enjoyable to read. There’s a lot of technical detail throughout (with threats of a test at the end), and I think that anyone who knows about, or enjoys learning about planes would get extra enjoyment from this book. The main plot, without giving anything away, is action-packed, with some events akin to a scene in an action movie. I think Never Answer To A Whistle is a fascinating autobiography which gave me new insight into the life of an executive pilot, although I’d guess that not every pilot has had quite the same exciting career as Michael Howard. I would recommend this book.
The beautiful collection of personal letters from the No.1 bestselling author and podcast host of Happy Mum Happy Baby Letters on Motherhood is a collection of heartfelt and deeply personal letters written by Giovanna to her three young sons Buzz, Buddy and Max, husband, Tom, and the family and friends who have inspired and supported her to become the mother that she is today. In this beautiful book she shares the funny and moving personal tales of her own family life whilst also talking about the deeper universal truths of parenting - coping with mum guilt, finding a work/family life balance, positive body image, rediscovering a sense of identity, and a parent's hopes, fears and expectations for their child's future. Honest, heartwarming and hilarious, her own experiences of motherhood and the lessons she has learned along the way will resonate with parents everywhere.
This is not a new book but a specially adapted version of Adam Kay's bestseller This is Going to Hurt for Quick Reads. These short books are perfect for adults who are discovering reading for pleasure for the first time. Welcome to the life of a junior doctor. You work 97 hours a week. You make life and death decisions. You are often covered in blood (or worse) from head to toe. And the hospital parking meter earns more money than you do. Adam Kay's diary was written in secret after long days, sleepless nights and missed weekends. It is funny, moving and sometimes shocking. This is everything you wanted to know - and more than a few things you didn't - about life on and off the hospital ward.
Documenting horrific experiences of child abuse, violent misogyny and racism, the unflinching truths of this memoir might make for harrowing reading, but it’s delivered in engaging prose and underpinned by a spirit of resistance propelled by the author’s desire to educate herself. Eliska was born in Slovakia to a thirteen-year-old Romani prostitute and a twenty-three-year-old German whose friends paid for her mother as a birthday present. For Eliska home was never where the heart was. Rather, it was “where I was shaken awake by my drunk Ma’s dirty foot getting tangled in my matted hair”, and worse. Though a racist brute, her father – who’s described as being “as dirty-dicked as my conception implies” - insists she attends school, with her visits to him in Germany opening a life-changing window on the world. As a result, she’s thrilled when her mother sends her to England. Filled with dreams of becoming literate, the reality is that thirteen-year-old Eliska was trafficked. Though life in England initially sees her become a “beaten shadow of myself”, even longing “for the decay of my home”, Eliska somehow survives and takes herself through university, despite the most brutal of attacks, and against the most awful odds. In her poignant, timely epilogue, the author raises the issue of rising anti-immigrant attitudes in contemporary Britain and reiterates the central tenet of her affecting memoir: she was saved by an irrepressible desire to educate herself, and “nothing will break me”.
There are people who just read biographies, interested only in the details of the lives of real people. There are others, like us, who enjoy dipping a toe, every now and then, into the deep inviting waters of the biography pool, to see first-hand the experiences of a person, past or present, who captures our imagination or pique’s our interest. From the First Man on the Moon to the latest winner of a jungle-based reality TV programme; sport-star to leading politician; religious leader to Arctic explorer, the choice is vast!
Want more inspiration? Head to our 'Best Autobiographies Ever' blog post filled with recommendations from our bookish friends.