The best autobiographies and biographies

Enlightening and inspiring: these are the best autobiographies and biographies to read this year.

by Sam Book
07/10/2021
5 minutes to read
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Reading an autobiography can offer a unique insight into a world and experience very different from your own – and these real-life stories are even more entertaining, and stranger, than fiction. Take a glimpse into the lives of some of the world's most inspiring and successful celebrities, politicians and sports people and more in these bestselling autobiographies and biographies. 

The best inspiring autobiographies and biographies

Lily's Promise

by Lily Ebert

Book cover for Lily's Promise

This is the moving story of Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert, written with her great-grandson Dov. When Lily was liberated at the end of the Second World War, a Jewish-American soldier handed her a banknote with the words ‘the start to a new life, good luck and happiness!’ written on it. 

Decades later, when Lily was 96, Dov decided to use social media to track down the family of that soldier. Lily finally told her compelling life story to the world, from her happy childhood in Hungary to the deaths of her family members in Auschwitz to her new life in Israel and then London, fulfilling the promise she made to her 16-year-old self to share the horrors of the holocaust with the world – in the hope that such evil would never be seen again.

Hope Not Fear

by Hassan Akkad

Book cover for Hope Not Fear

Hassan Akkad is a filmmaker and photographer who had to flee his home in Damascus and, via unrest, protest and torture, seek asylum in the UK. Here he documented the work of cleaners on a London Covid-19 ward, a project which led the UK government to U-turn on excluding cleaners and porters from the bereavement compensation scheme. Akkad's theme of finding connection through kindness and love has universal resonance, and makes this a truly inspiring read.

Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner

Book cover for Crying in H Mart

This radiant read by singer, songwriter and guitarist Michelle Zauner delves into the experience of being the only Asian-American child at her school in Eugene, Oregon, combined with family struggles and blissful escapes to her grandmother's tiny Seoul apartment. The family bond is the shared love of Korean food, which helped Michelle reclaim her Asian identity in her twenties. A lively, honest, riveting read.

Making It

by Jay Blades

Book cover for Making It

Making It is an inspirational memoir about beating the odds and turning things around even when it all seems hopeless. 

In this book, Jay Blades reflects on strength, weakness and what it means to be a man.He shares the details of his life, from his childhood growing up sheltered and innocent on a council estate in Hackney, to his adolescence when he was introduced to violent racism at secondary school, to being brutalized by police as a teen, to finally becoming a beloved star of the hit primetime show The Repair Shop.

With Jay's positivity, pragmatism and kindness shining through every page, he shows that with care and love, anything can be mended.

Read our interview with Jay here, as he tells us how hard work and 'mistakes' have been the making of him.

The Happiest Man on Earth

by Eddie Jaku

Book cover for The Happiest Man on Earth

A lesson in how happiness can be found in the darkest of times, this is the story of Eddie Jaku, a German Jew who survived seven years at the hands of the Nazis, and through his courage and tenacity came to live life as 'the happiest man on earth'. Published at the author turns one hundred, The Happiest Man on Earth is a heartbreaking but hopeful memoir full of inspiration. 

Read more about The Happiest Man on Earth

Brown Baby

by Nikesh Shukla

Book cover for Brown Baby

In Brown Baby, Nikesh Shukla, author of the bestselling The Good Immigrant, explores themes of racism, feminism, parenting and our shifting ideas of home. This memoir, by turns heartwrenching, hilariously funny and intensely relatable, is dedicated to the author’s two young daughters, and serves as an act of remembrance to the grandmother they never had a chance to meet. Through love, grief, food and fatherhood, Shukla shows how it’s possible to believe in hope.

This is Going to Hurt

by Adam Kay

Book cover for This is Going to Hurt

Offering a unique insight into life as an NHS junior doctor through his diary entries, Adam Kay's bestselling autobiography is equal parts heartwarming and humorous, and oftentimes horrifying too. This special edition of This Is Going To Hurt includes bonus diary entries and an afterword from the author. 

Don’t miss Adam Kay in conversation with Mark Watson. 

A Nurse's Story

by Louise Curtis

Book cover for A Nurse's Story

The story of what a nurse's life is like in a busy A&E unit during the Covid-19 crisis, Louise Curtis' moving memoir is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. As Curtis shares the toll the outbreak has taken on both her A&E department and her wellbeing, you'll be reminded of the enormous sacrifices healthcare professionals have made for all of us this year.  

Adventures Of The Yorkshire Shepherdess

by Amanda Owen

Book cover for Adventures Of The Yorkshire Shepherdess

If you've ever dreamed of packing up and starting a whole new life somewhere new (and who hasn't at least once this year) then Amanda Owen's inspiring autobiography is for you. Charting her life with her husband and nine children on their hill farm in Yorkshire, Amanda shares the family's many escapades with a warmth and humour that will have you dreaming of your own farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales…

The Diary of a Young Girl

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Book cover for The Diary of a Young Girl

No list of inspiring autobiographies would be complete without Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. Charting the thirteen-year-old's time hiding in a 'Secret Annex' with her family to escape Gestapo detection, this book (which was discovered after Anne Frank's death), is a must-read, and a testament to the courage shown by the millions persecuted during the Second World War. 

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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Book cover for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

A favourite book of former president Obama and countless others, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, recounts Angelou’s childhood in the American south in the 1930s. A beautifully written classic, this is the first of Maya Angelou's seven bestselling autobiographies. 

Over the Top

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Book cover for Over the Top

Best known as the ever-positive and effervescent grooming and self-care expert on Netflix's Queer Eye, Jonathan Van Ness has inspired thousands of people to embrace their truth since the hit show debuted in 2018. But for Van Ness, life hasn't been as positive and joyful as the image he radiates, and in his bestselling autobiography Over The Top he shares his raw, unfiltered and unexpected life story. 

I Am Malala

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Book cover for I Am Malala

After speaking out about her right to education almost cost her her life, Malala Yousafzi refused to be silenced. Instead, her amazing story has taken her all over the world. This is the story of Malala and her inspirational family, and of how one person's voice can inspire change across the globe. 

Becoming

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Book cover for Becoming

This bestselling autobiography lifts the lid on the life of one of the most inspiring women of a generation, former first lady Michelle Obama. From her childhood as a gifted young woman in south Chicago to becoming the first black First Lady of the USA, Obama tells the story of her extraordinary life with humour, warmth and honesty. 

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

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Book cover for In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

In her job as a foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin reported from some of the most dangerous places in the world. It was a job that would eventually cost her her life. In this posthumous biography of the award-winning news journalist, Lindsey Hilsum shares the story of one of the most daring and inspirational women of our times with warmth and wit, conveying Colvin's trademark glamour. 

The best sports autobiographies and biographies

Too Many Reasons to Live

by Rob Burrow

Book cover for Too Many Reasons to Live

As a child, Rob Burrow was told he was too small to be a rugby player. Some 500 games for Leeds later, Rob had proved his doubters wrong: he won eight Super League Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups, three World Club Challenges and played for his country in two World Cups. In 2019 though, Rob was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given just two years to live. He went public with the news, determined to fight it all the way. Full of love, bravery and kindness, this is the story of a man who has awed his fans with his positive attitude to life.

Belonging: The Autobiography

by Alun Wyn Jones

Book cover for Belonging: The Autobiography

This is the tale of a lad from Mumbles who became the most capped rugby player of all time. Having watched the 1997 Lions Tour of South Africa in the hall of his school, he ascended the sport to become named the 2021 Lions Captain. This is a stirring story about physical achievement, but also about perthyn, or belonging. Belonging to the team, to the legions of fans, to the great players of the past, and to the country of Wales itself.

My Life and Rugby

by Eddie Jones

Book cover for My Life and Rugby

A legend of the game in the eyes of England Rugby fans, Eddie Jones tells his story for the first time in his bestselling sports autobiography. From his childhood growing up in a working-class area of Sydney all the way to leading England to the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, My Life and Rugby offers an insight into the life and mindset of one of the game's most inspiring and enigmatic coaches.

Read all about Eddie Jones’s career highlights. 

My Life in Football

by Kevin Keegan

Book cover for My Life in Football

Growing up the son of a miner in Doncaster in the 1950s, Kevin Keegan could only dream of representing his country at his favourite sport. From impressing as a young player at Scunthorpe United to scoring in front of The Kop and playing for his country, in My Life in Football the Liverpool and England legend shares how his dream became a reality. This inspiring sports autobiography from one of the legends of the beautiful game is the perfect read for any football fan. 

Listen to Kevin discuss his football career, his favourite modern football player and his most life-changing moments.

They Don't Teach This

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Book cover for They Don't Teach This

In her autobiography, footballer Eni Aluko addresses themes of dual nationality, race and institutional prejudice, success, gender and faith through her own experiences growing up in Britain. Part memoir, part manifesto for change, They Don't Teach This is a must-read book for 2020. 

At Home with Muhammad Ali

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Book cover for At Home with Muhammad Ali

Written by his daughter Ali using material from her father's audio journals, love letters and her treasured family memories, this sports biography offers an intimate portrait of one of boxing's most legendary figures, and one of the most iconic sports personalities of all time. 

The best celebrity autobiographies and biographies

Theroux the Keyhole

by Louis Theroux

Book cover for Theroux the Keyhole

In Theroux the Keyhole Louis takes us into his own home, where Covid kept him from his journalistic penchant of chasing the weird and wonderful world. Instead Louis is struggling to keep up with Joe Wicks, and with his video-game obsessed kids. Meanwhile he muses on podcasting, far-right radicalisation and the power of the pandemic to make us face up to the most important things in life.

A Funny Life

by Michael McIntyre

Book cover for A Funny Life

Comic Michael McIntyre specialises in pin-sharp observational routines that have made him the world's bestselling funny man. But when he turns his gaze to himself and his own family, things get even funnier. This bracingly honest memoir covers the highs, lows and pratfalls of a career in comedy, as Michael climbs the greasy pole of success and desperately attempts to stay up there.

Swan Dive

by Georgina Pazcoguin

Book cover for Swan Dive

As a soloist at the New York City Ballet, Georgina Pazcoguin – known as the Rogue Ballerina – has the riveting inside story of the uber-competitive, rowdy, turbulent and addictive life of a ballet company. From life in small-town Pennsylvania to the cutthroat world of dance in the Big Apple, Pazcoguin tells her story with compelling pace, honesty and plenty of humour. But she also tackles the topic of #MeToo, and tells of the racism, sexual harassment and misogyny that has been part of her own painful rise to the top in ballet.

Me

by Elton John

Book cover for Me

Elton John is one of the most successful singer/songwriters of all time, but success didn't come easily to him. In his bestselling autobiography, he charts his extraordinary life, from the early rejection of his work to the heady heights of international stardom and the challenges that came along with it. With candour and humour, he tells the stories of celebrity friendships with John Lennon, George Michael and Freddie Mercury, and of how he turned his life around and found love with David Furnish. Me is the real story of the man behind the music. 

Read Elton John on life, fate and embracing your bad side.

My Amy

by Tyler James

Book cover for My Amy

Only one person knows what really happened to Amy, other than Amy herself. He is Tyler James, Amy’s best friend from the age of thirteen. They met at stage school as two insecure outsiders, formed an instant connection and lived together from their late teenage years right up until the day she died, aged just twenty-seven. We all think we know what happened to Amy Winehouse, but we don’t. This definitive insider’s story tells us all, finally, the truth.

From Rags to Ricky

by Sid Owen

Book cover for From Rags to Ricky

There's more to Sid Owen than loveable Ricky Butcher, the character he played in EastEnders. This is a sharp and authentic account of growing up with an armed robber father who ended up in prison, going out 'on the rob' and living with his mum and siblings on a north London council estate. Acting offered a way out, and at thirteen Owen was working with Donald Sutherland and Al Pacino. From a future where crime seemed the the only option, Owen has built a career that has seen him rise above deprivation and loss.

Look Again

by David Bailey

Book cover for Look Again

David Bailey looks back on his incredible life in Look Again, his fabulously entertaining celebrity autobiography. From shooting for Vogue during the swinging sixties to his relationships with international starlets and friendships with some of Britain's most iconic figures, this is the story of an East End boy who became one of the country's most successful photographers and had heaps of fun along the way. 

In our exclusive video, David Bailey looks back over his life and incredible career in photography.

More Myself

by Alicia Keys

Book cover for More Myself

Alicia Keys' More Myself is a celebrity autobiography with a difference. After years of playing sold-out arenas and topping the charts, Keys is now stepping back and asking, ‘who am I, really?’ Part memoir, part narrative documentary, More Myself offers an insight into the life and mind of one of the world's most celebrated musicians through her quest for her truth. 

Read an extract from More Myself. 

The Meaning of Mariah Carey

by Mariah Carey

Book cover for The Meaning of Mariah Carey

The global icon and award-winning singer shares the details of her incredible life in her first autobiography, The Meaning of Mariah Carey. From her meteoric rise to fame with a string of hits in the 1990s, to her reinventions, relationships and everything in between, this is Mariah's story, in her own words. 

Walking with Ghosts

by Gabriel Byrne

Book cover for Walking with Ghosts

Walking With Ghosts is the autobiography of Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne. Beginning with his formative years growing up the eldest of six children on the outskirts of Dublin in the 1960s, through to his journey from amateur dramatics groups to Hollywood and Broadway stardom, this poetic memoir is a heartwarming tribute to the Irish childhood that shaped Byrne and his craft. 

Gotta Get Theroux This

by Louis Theroux

Book cover for Gotta Get Theroux This

After three decades reporting on the lives of some of the world's most extreme people, now Louis Theroux is telling his own story. From his socially awkward (his words, not ours) TV debut in 1994, to his journeys across America and his interview with now disgraced Jimmy Saville, Louis looks back on his career with his trademark razor-sharp observation and self-deprecating humour. 

Discover Louis Theroux’s favourite non-fiction books.

I Wanna Be Yours

by John Cooper Clarke

Book cover for I Wanna Be Yours

As wry and funny as the man himself, I Wanna Be Yours is John Cooper Clarke's story, in his own words. In his trademark voice, which is as lyrical as his poetry, and with his brand of slightly sick humour, John shares tales of his performing career and his many remarkable friendships. This autobiography will be loved by both lifelong fans and new readers. 

Listen to John Cooper Clarke talk inspiration, poetry and MC’ing for Chuck Berry.

Tina Turner: My Love Story

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Book cover for Tina Turner: My Love Story

She may be best known as the queen of rock' n' roll, but Tina Turner's life is so much more than her music. From her childhood picking cotton in Tennessee to her remarkable rise to fame and what lay beyond, in My Love Story she shares her extraordinary life, her joys and her struggles – all with heart-felt candour and courage.

The best political autobiographies

Promise Me, Dad

by Joe Biden

Book cover for Promise Me, Dad

Get to know President-Elect Joe Biden through his deeply moving memoir. In Promise Me Dad, Biden charts the year in which his beloved son Beau passed away from the effects of a brain tumour as he fought to balance the twin imperatives of living up to his responsibilities to his country and his responsibilities to his family . Candid about his family's tragic loss and the impact it has had on him as both a man and a politician, this is not only a story of tragedy, but of hope and humanity. 

The Truths We Hold

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Book cover for The Truths We Hold

Born the daughter of immigrants and civil rights activists in California, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris grew up with a strong sense of social justice. In her bestselling memoir The Truths We Hold, she shares how her childhood and the lessons she's learnt in her career as a lawmaker have inspired and shaped the person and politician that she is today, and her manifesto for a fairer future. 

Dreams From My Father

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Book cover for Dreams From My Father

Published fifteen years before he was elected president of the USA, Dreams from My Father offers a unique portrait of Obama as a young man. In this bestselling autobiography, the former president retraces his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, and visits Kenya to confront the truth of his father's life, asking questions about identity, belonging and justice along the way. A must-read book before you pick up Obama's new autobiography, A Promised Land.