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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.
Honest of heart and exhilarating in spirit, Isabel Allende’s The Soul of a Woman is an inspirational account of the writer’s lifelong feminism. Interweaving autobiography with astute commentary, it presents a stunning tapestry of a life lived fighting inequality in all its forms as it seeks to light the way for a better world. “When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, I am not exaggerating,” Allende begins this stirring memoir, referring to seeing her father leave her mother “with two toddlers in diapers and a newborn baby” when she was three, compelling them to move to live with her grandparents. It was here that Allende’s “anger against machismo started” as a result of realising that her mother and the housemaids were subordinates without voice or resources. The contrast made between the stoniness of patriarchy (an aggressively imposed system that “grants dominion and privileges to the male gender” and “punishes those who defy it”) and feminism’s ocean-fluid nature is sublime. Feminism “moves in waves, currents, tides, and sometimes in storms. Like the ocean, feminism, never stays quiet.” An ocean metaphor might also be applied to this book - it undulates beautifully as Allende recounts her life through feminist lens. The tone is invigorating, and charmingly familiar too, with interjected “by the way” digressions, as if in the company of a wise and passionate friend. And, like the kind of friend who brings joy to any gathering, Allende ends this book with a bright beam of optimism. While aware that inequalities have never been deeper (“we can’t continue in a civilisation based on unbridled greed and violence”), she believes that this is a time for reflection, a time to ponder what kind of world we want to live in following the brutality of a global pandemic. For Allende, that’s a world in which “peace, empathy, decency, truth, and compassion prevail.”
Doctors Get Cancer Too is the 18-month diary of a cancer patient who is also a GP. Dr Philippa Kaye was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 39. In her book, she gives a personal, honest insight into her cancer scans, surgeries and chemotherapy, from diagnosis to recovery. She writes about how each stage felt and looked, the decisions she had to make and the impact it had on her and her family’s daily life, using humour to cushion the graphic details. Her GP role meant she understood the medical side of being a cancer patient, but the practical side was a steep learning curve for her, now seeing everything from the patient’s chair instead. She includes copies of the ‘just in case’ letters she wrote to her three young children, packing list for a hospital stay and home post-op tips. Her diaries weren’t originally written to be published. But by bravely sharing her thoughts, emotions and experiences in such a public manner, she hopes to provide some support, reassurance and comfort to other cancer patients – and to also highlight that bowel cancer can affect people at any age.
Jews Don’t Count is a book for people who consider themselves on the right side of history. People fighting the good fight against homophobia, disablism, transphobia and, particularly, racism. People, possibly, like you. It is the comedian and writer David Baddiel’s contention that one type of racism has been left out of this fight. In his unique combination of close reasoning, polemic, personal experience and jokes, Baddiel argues that those who think of themselves as on the right side of history have often ignored the history of anti-Semitism. He outlines why and how, in a time of intensely heightened awareness of minorities, Jews don’t count as a real minority: and why they should.
An interesting and thought-provoking step into a world most of us won’t have an understanding of. Michael Emmett grew up with a career criminal for a father and joined the family business of organised crime. With links to the Kray Twins, drugs, sex, and violence he lived the high life before being sentenced to 12 years in prison after a huge drugs smuggling conviction. In prison he joined an Alpha Prayer Group, and after leaving began to turn his life around, he is now committed to helping prisoners and ex-offenders. Together with journalist Harriet Compston, he has written the story of his life of crime and consequently finding Christian faith. I think that it is important to try to reach for an understanding of the difficulties faced by children and young adults when immersed in crime from the moment they are born. This is a story that is simply told with verve and colour, though the violence and criminality sits uneasily alongside the glitz and glamour. The author uses the word ‘naughty’ to describe his criminality on several occasions, as though he is talking to the child that was. Sins of Fathers is a fascinating, eye-opening and convincing memoir from a man who is still dealing with his past.
This book shares Peter’s journey through contracting Meningitis. Having experienced this awful illness through a close family member, I really wanted to read this book. Peter speaks of his illness, his hospital stay and recovery in a very insightful out way. He goes into very interesting detail, explaining how he felt, the terrible side effects of his Meningitis and his gradual recovery. The journey is interesting, heart-breaking, and funny in places too. Peter also includes many of the doctor’s notes, so you also follow his experience from another perspective. The notes are easy to read and are not peppered with lots of medical terminology, something which I have experienced in other such books. I am so glad that Peter felt the need to share his journey and I am even more glad that I read this book. Gail Phillips, A LoveReading Ambassador
February 2011 Non-Fiction Book of the Month. Ten centuries' worth of French historical 'facts' bite the dust as Stephen Clarke looks at what has really been going on since 1066... It's a light-hearted but impeccably researched account of all our great fallings-out. With Clarke's trademark humour and lightness of touch that will be remembered with fondness from A Year in the Merde and Talk to the Snail, among others this is a brilliant take on the history of our near neighbour.
As well as perfecting your stiff upper lip, the thoroughly English person might also want to get a bit out of their comfort zone in achieving their 102 English Things to Do. How about (after having a nice tea) a spot of rioting or, braving the weather, (cue the Shipping Forecast) try bottle-kicking or cheese-rolling. There are, I hasten to add, some far gentler things to try, apologising and saying please and thankyou a lot doesn’t take much effort and we can all fail to learn another language and eat fish and chips very easily. However, punting or climbing Scafell Pike are, at my age, a bit unlikely so I shall content myself with savouring an English apple but I absolutely refusing to do the very last challenge, boiling vegetables for as long as it takes to lose flavour, texture and colour – I mean to say - that’s just going too far. Like for Like Reading Watching the English: The Hidden Roles of English Behaviour, Kate Fox How to be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils, George Mikes
This work presents an intimate history of Shakespeare, following him through a single year that changed not only his fortunes, but the course of literature. How did Shakespeare go from being a talented poet and playwright to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived? In this one exhilarating year, we follow what he reads and writes, what he saw, and who he worked with as he invests in the new Globe theatre and creates four of his most famous plays - Henry V , Julius Caesar , As You Like It , and, most remarkably, Hamlet.
In 1966 England won the World Cup at Wembley. Sir Bobby Charlton, England's greatest ever player, was there on the pitch. Now, fifty years on, Sir Bobby looks back on the most glorious moment of his life and England's greatest sporting achievement. In 1966 he takes us through the build-up to the tournament and to the final itself, describing what he saw, what he heard, and what he felt. He explains what it was like to be part of Sir Alf Ramsey's team, gives us his personal memories of his teammates, the matches, the atmosphere; the emotion of being carried on the wave of a nation's euphoria and how it felt to go toe-to-toe with some of the foremost footballers to ever play the game.
The heartfelt and uplifting story of how a project to scatter 60 Postcards in memory of her mother helped a young girl come to terms with her loss. On 11 February 2012 Rachael Chadwick lost her Mother to cancer, just sixteen days after first being diagnosed, and her world shattered right in front of her. Utterly fed up of the milestones and reminders, in December of that year she decided she would do something different and created a project based around her Mum's approaching 60th Birthday. Desperate to spread the word about the wonderful person she had lost, Rachael had the brainwave of leaving notes around a city in her memory. Deciding she would take it a step further she wondered what would happen if she could ask people to respond to her? Full of hope and energy she hand-wrote sixty postcards, each with her email address at the bottom asking the finder to get in touch. But one question remained, where should she go? Knowing how much she longed to visit Paris, the last gift that Rachael's mum had given her was Eurostar vouchers, and so it seemed fitting that this would be her chosen city. So off she went with a group of friends to celebrate, discover, and to scatter her memories. Filling their time in Paris with sight-seeing, food and drink, laughter, and of course postcards. When Rachael returned to her London home, she desperately tried to switch off, switch off from the wondering (and hoping) whether she might actually hear from a postcard finder. And then, they started flowing in…
The heartfelt and uplifting story of how a project to scatter 60 Postcards in memory of her mother helped a young girl come to terms with her loss. On 11 February 2012 Rachael Chadwick lost her Mother to cancer, just sixteen days after first being diagnosed, and her world shattered right in front of her. Utterly fed up of the milestones and reminders, in December of that year she decided she would do something different and created a project based around her Mum's approaching 60th Birthday. Desperate to spread the word about the wonderful person she had lost, Rachael had the brainwave of leaving notes around a city in her memory. Deciding she would take it a step further she wondered what would happen if she could ask people to respond to her? Full of hope and energy she hand-wrote sixty postcards, each with her email address at the bottom asking the finder to get in touch. But one question remained, where should she go? Knowing how much she longed to visit Paris, the last gift that Rachael's mum had given her was Eurostar vouchers, and so it seemed fitting that this would be her chosen city. So off she went with a group of friends to celebrate, discover, and to scatter her memories. Filling their time in Paris with sight-seeing, food and drink, laughter, and of course postcards.
Hardly a week goes by without Dickie Bird visiting a county or Test match arena where he can keep up to date with all that is happening in the cricket world, while at the same time taking the opportunity to reflect, in the company of old friends and acquaintances, on his own colorful contribution to the sport that lasted for over half a century. Dickie remains the most famous umpire of them all and is still highly respected throughout the world. A lovable eccentric with a joyful sense of fun, he has decided, as he approaches his eightieth birthday, to recall the highlights of his life in cricket, while also providing an illuminating insight into what he has been up to since his retirement.
Frustrated by a dead end job, fed up with renting in London and the loathsome daily commute and, to cap it all, failing to make it as a stand-up comedian, Tommy Barnes was at breaking point. But he didn’t break - instead he made himself redundant and took off to France with girlfriend Rose to pursue his dream of brewing beer.
A sharply amusing and captivating memoir based on the attempt of the author to make a new life in France. Tommy Barnes and his girlfriend escape the 9-5 of the UK after being made redundant. Surrounded by animals, friendly locals, and stunning countryside, Tommy struggles to start a micro-brewery in the heart of the Loire Valley. The author is more than happy to poke fun at himself, he is also incredibly honest. His writing ensured I didn’t feel too badly as I chortled, smirked and raised my eyebrows as he somewhat stumbles through life. Rather stealing the show is Burt the dog, described by Tommy as squat, surly and defiant, Burt makes it his life mission to cause chaos wherever he is. I also just have to mention the gorgeous cover, which most definitely called out to me. ‘A Beer in the Loire’ is an engaging, ever so entertaining read, oh, and there are several recipes for beer too, how fabulous!
Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 22 October 2009. Shappi Khorsandi gives a warm, humorous and slightly scary view of her childhood growing up in England as exiles from Iran in the 1970’s and 80’s. Well written and highly enjoyable this is an entertaining read.
Gary Barlow is one of the most successful British musicians and songwriters of all time, but 15 years ago, as he himself admits, he hit rock bottom - he was out of shape, out of work, depressed. Food for him had become an addiction, a means not only of comfort but almost of self-medication as he grappled with the cruel twists of fate of musical stardom. In 2003, as he struggled with the disappointment of an underperforming solo career alongside the tireless media taunts, Gary turned to food. Relentlessly. In the space of nine years he had been on 20 diets in the hopes of a resolution to all his woes. After asking the doctor what the 'cure' for obesity was, it sunk in that he was the only one who could take control of his health. Gary describes this realisation and the task that lay ahead - 'it was like being at the foot of a massive mountain'. So how did he go from an obese, out-of-work and depressed pop icon to a superstar of music and TV and an accomplished musical songwriter and producer who is full of vitality, fitter, happier and more successful than ever before? What happened? In his extraordinarily honest memoir, A Better Me, Gary tells of his journey back to professional success and mental and physical health. From reforming Take That to critical and commercial acclaim and reigniting his own legendary songwriting career; to overcoming his weight problems and crippling obsession with food; to TV judging panel stardom on The X Factor and Let It Shine and at last finding balance in both his personal and professional lives. A Better Me is a remarkably frank memoir of Gary's life as he battled with weight, stress, fitness and depression and staged one of the most thrilling professional comebacks in years. In his warm, witty and authentic voice, he recounts his story with compelling insight, captivating honesty and a human side that people rarely see. Here is one of the UK's most beloved pop stars, open, honest and raw and as we've never seen him before.
Gary Barlow is one of the most successful British musicians and songwriters of all time, but fifteen years ago, as he himself admits, he hit rock bottom - he was out of shape, out of work and depressed. Faced with an underperforming solo career, tireless media taunts and the other cruel twists of fate, Gary turned to food. For nine years, he struggled with his weight and went on every diet imaginable before eventually asking a doctor what the 'cure' for obesity was. That was when he realised that he would have to change his life dramatically. So how did he go from an obese, out-of-work pop star to becoming a hugely successful superstar of music and TV, as well an accomplished musical songwriter and producer who is full of vitality, fitter, happier and more successful than ever before? In this extraordinarily honest memoir, Gary tells of his journey back to professional success, as well as mental and physical health. A Better Me is a remarkably frank account of Gary's life as he battled with his demons, endured personal tragedy, and staged one of the most thrilling professional comebacks in decades. In his warm, witty and authentic voice, Gary recounts his story with compelling insight, captivating sincerity and a human side that people rarely see. From returning with a critically and commercially successful Take That and reigniting his own legendary songwriting career, going beyond recorded music to forge success on TV with The X Factor and Let It Shine, to overcoming his weight problems and crippling obsession with food, this is the story of how Gary found balance in both his personal and professional life. Here is one of the UK's most beloved pop stars, more open, honest and raw than ever before.
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.