We all love a good story, and a true-life story makes for a much better read. We have gathered the best autobiographies and biographies of 2017 for you. Be inspired by the journeys of ordinary people, achieving the extraordinary.
The mysterious title immediately draws you in. Learn about 99 writers, mostly English-speaking, who were famous about 50 years ago but now no one remembers them. Their stories will draw you in and make you want to hunt down their books. Learn about Pierre Boulle, an engineer turned author, writing Planet of the Apes and Bridge Over the River Kwai. Or Pamela Branch, writing her second novel in 1951, The Lion in the Cellar. She included an intriguing character – a drunken bartender, who has a phantom marmoset perched on his shoulder. It’s the perfect gift for bibliophiles! If you’re bored with all the popular authors, read this book to discover some hidden gems from yesteryear.
#2 Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Stephen Westaby
This book will keep you on the edge of your seat, rooting for the patients on the table, hovering between life and death. Stephen recalls 35 years of working with hearts needing mending at Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital. When there were no suitable donor organs available, he challenged death by transplanting special artificial hearts to give desperate patients a second chance. He’s famous for saying “bugger protocol” and doing whatever it took to keep his patients alive. He also renamed medical directors “the Stasi”. Stephen’s memoir will give you a new appreciation for the behind the scenes of the medical world.
Having one brush with death is terrifying, having multiple ones throughout your life definitely changes your perspective on life. Maggie’s stories will sound almost made up, but this is her life story. Recounting her experiences will give you a bigger sense of the fragility of life. As a 45-year-old woman, in good health, she has an immense gratefulness for still being alive. Maggie battled encephalitis as an eight-year-old girl. Next, as teenager she had a close call with a creepy stranger on a hilltop, later discovering that he was in fact a murderer who preyed on another girl. And as an adult she lived through the experience of a being stuck in an aeroplane plummeting to earth. Her stories will make you more aware of the fine balance between living oblivious of death around the corner and unexpectedly having your flame snuffed out.
Eric Ravilious was a British artist, living from 1903 to 1942. His forward-thinking artworks of England’s southern landscapes bought a modernist sensibility to the art world. Eric mainly created woodcuts and watercolours. His group of arty friends included Peggy Angus, Enid Marx, Percy Horton, and Edward Bawden. He gathered great artistic minds around him at the Royal Academy in the 1920’s. Under the watchful eye of Paul Nash, this group of talented young artists were tutored to challenge the gap between art and design. They created functional art including beautiful book jackets, patterned papers and fabrics, as well as illustrations. The book includes images of their stunning creations.
Princess Margaret is described as “a nightclub burlesque of her sister” by Craig. The two sisters had very different approaches to life. The princess enjoyed smoking and challenging the polite society she was surrounded by. The book includes tales of the princess acting rude at a royal dinner party, snapping at servants, and making a cruel comment to a stranger without first finding out why the man was walking a bit strangely. Craig is a satirist and his style breaks away from the typical biographical form. He adds little counterfactual sections such as the princess marrying Jeremy Thorpe, a Liberal party leader. Or the moment the princess sulked because she had to deliver the Christmas broadcast. The series of little cameo moments will show you a different side of living as a royal.
Reading an autobiography is a way of placing yourself in the shoes of someone else for a moment. It challenges you to think outside of your own world perspective, in turn examining your own life in the process as well. Roxane, a black American woman of Haitian descent, weighed 260kg at her heaviest. She describes what it feels like in such a body – constantly feeling breathlessness, uncomfortable, and dealing with chafing. She had to deal with people staring at her appalled and throwing jeering sneers in her direction. Why did she let herself become so excessively overweight? Roxane was gang-raped when she was 12 years old. Her reaction to the horrifying incident, was to make herself as unattractive as possible, almost creating an invisible and invulnerable shield against the male gaze. This brutally honest book talks about the Fat Acceptance Movement and describes other little incidents in the everyday life of an obese person, like waitresses assuming that she was longing for the clammy touch of strangers.
This book originally dates back to being published in Russia in the 1980’s. But the authorities did not appreciate the explicit details it shared. It has been restored to its original glory, as well as expanded, translated into English by Richard Pevear. The republication comes a century after the Russian Revolution. Svetlana specifically deals with “The Great Patriotic War”, lasting from 1939 to 1945. Read testimonies of Soviet women who rushed to the battlefield to serve in various roles – from nurses, to snipers. The women rolled up their sleeves to assist against the fascists invasion. Svetlana is a Nobel literature prize-winner and this brilliantly insightful book showcases her writing talent in its full glory.
What happens when a classics professor and his elderly father participate in the same undergraduate class on Homer? Daniel, with his Bronx background, is highly opinionated on the so-called Greek heroes. According to him Telemachus was a sissy who constantly cried, while Odysseus was busy cheating on his wife. But the class sets the scene for another complicated story. It was the catalyst for Daniel to evaluate his own volatile relationship with his father. The two men undertake their own Mediterranean-themed journey, facing issues in their relationship.
#9 The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist by Marcus Rediker
This book is a great micro-history of one small (literally, he was only about four-foot tall) man’s actions against the majority. Marcus explores how this feisty little man challenged those around him to reassess their world perspective. Benjamin Lay was a 18th-century British-born Quaker living in Philadelphia. He pointed out to his fellow sect members that they were being hypocrites, preaching about the principle of brotherly equality, but then keeping slaves. Marcus recalls how he made his point, loud and clear, going so far as to throw a pig bladder filled with blood at his fellow religionists. According to Marcus, this man was most likely the most radical human being of the 18th century, challenging the American society to rethink their values.
It was the big-spending, no-taste Reagan years. And Tina offers you a glimpse at what it was really like on the inside of one of America’s most popular fashion magazines. As editor of Vanity Fair magazine, she had seen it all. The British journalist offers readers the inside scoop, recalling memorable moments and people she rubbed shoulders with in New York City. Quite a few of the people she talks about, have passed away. This gives her the opportunity to be brutally honest about who they were. A few she mentions, are still alive and well. Most likely a few feathers were ruffled with the publication of this book.