The 10 ultimate must-read autobiographies

While most of us mainly read fiction, autobiographies can give us amazing insight into life stories that we could never have imagined, uncovering either inspiring, surprising or just plain hilarious anecdotes. Here are 10 of the ultimate must-read autobiographies, guaranteed to make you think, cry or burst into laughter…

Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry

This is the first in Stephen Fry’s autobiographical trilogy and, in my opinion, the best. Fry details his turbulent years in boarding school, from which he was eventually expelled for theft. Considering his success now, it’s amazing how much trouble Stephen Fry got into and inspiring to think that such a prolific career is possible following his difficult beginning.

Hons and Rebels – Jessica Mitford

Jessica Mitford was the communist daughter of a famous aristocratic family in the 1930s. One of six sisters, including Nazi sympathisers, Unity and Diana Mitford: this is the story of how she ran away from home, married a fellow communist and escaped to America. Her upbringing is shocking and full of hilarious anecdotes. This book was so inspirational that I wished I disagreed with my family’s political views so that I too could run away from home.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Celebrated poet, Maya Angelou died earlier this year, and her childhood growing up in 1930s Arkansas is immortalised in this, the first in her series of autobiographies. While this book is harrowing at times, it also shows her courage in rising above adversity. Through this and her later books Angelou demonstrated her extraordinary ability to experience more of life than most people.

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

This book is part autobiography, part hilarious feminist mantra. Caitlin Moran describes her bizarre upbringing as one of eight children who never attended school. Despite having no qualifications, Moran managed to become a bestselling author and newspaper columnist. This book is inspiring to anyone who has ever been a woman, known a woman, or wanted to use words to make people laugh.

My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell

This is simply one of the funniest books I have ever read. Gerald Durrell grew up on the island of Corfu, exploring his fascination with the wildlife that surrounded him, while his family created chaos and disaster wherever they went. This book demonstrates that science doesn’t have to be dry, and that real life can be both hilarious and poignant.

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

Angela’s Ashes is not for faint-hearted readers. Frank McCourt grew up in a strict Catholic family in poverty-stricken, 1930s Ireland. Following countless near-death experiences and the loss of three of his siblings, it’s remarkable that McCourt survived to adulthood, let alone wrote one of the most famous memoirs of all-time.

Bossypants – Tina Fey

I don’t read many celebrity autobiographies, but Tina Fey is better than most celebrities. This book explores incidents from her childhood, her rise to fame as the head writer for SNL and behind-the-scenes information from her sitcom 30 Rock. Like all of Fey’s work, this book is hilarious and self-deprecating, showing how hard work can lead to an extremely successful career.

Black Boy – Richard Wright

Richard Wright grew up in Mississippi in the 1910s, and was ostracised both by the racially prejudiced whites and his own family, who did not understand his ambitions of becoming a writer. A poor black boy from the South pursuing a career as a novelist was completely unheard of, which makes Wright’s escape to the North and eventual success all the more inspiring.

Look Back in Hunger – Jo Brand

Jo Brand describes her upbringing in Hastings, her time as a psychiatric nurse and the start of her career as a stand-up comedian. While this autobiography is extremely funny, her nursing career and the hostility she faced when she began stand-up comedy are surprisingly poignant. Rather like Tina Fey, Jo Brand’s story is inspiring as she managed to achieve huge success in a male-dominated industry.

Blankets – Craig Thompson

This autobiography is in the form of an extremely hefty graphic novel. It’s the story of Craig Thompsons’ coming-of-age in an evangelical Christian family, and depicts the first time he fell in love. Thompson’s story is inspirational both because of his escape from oppression and the way that he tells it through beautiful and ambitious illustrations.


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