Our list of the best autobiographies features incredible stories from everyday people, household names, and celebrated icons, from survivors of war to glamorous Hollywood stars—so there's something for everyone.
And as the age-old saying goes; the truth is often stranger than fiction, why is why it's no surprise that tales about people's real lives continue to fascinate us, whether they are stories we can identify with or lives that are wildly different to our own. To read a good autobiography is to relish the company of an extraordinary person and their story; to journey with them through their triumphs and failures, mistakes and recoveries, their life lessons, and their personal and hard-won truths.
And while the best romance books, the best historical fiction books, and the best science fiction books provide wonderful escapism, the best autobiographies can teach us valuable real-life lessons, and inspire us in a way no fictional character can. So, here’s to the candor, the intimacy, the humility, warmth and above all, humor that these storytellers share, whose experiences and words can enlighten and encourage us all.
The best autobiographies and memoirs
Our picks of the best autobiographies and memoirs will take you on unbelievable real-life journeys—with tales from a road trip around Britain, teachings on how to spot a psychopath, secrets from the lives of the rich and famous, and experiences of every human emotion, be it love or loss, through the eyes of those willing to share it. So get out your best eReader, download your favorite, and dive in...
1. The Storyteller by Dave Grohl
If there’s one musician that everyone seems to love, it’s Dave Grohl. Why? Because not only is he a talented musician, played drums for Nirvana and founded Foo Fighters, he’s a really nice guy - the kind who makes you feel like you’re his best friend, even in a full stadium. As he regales us with tales of what it was like to grow up as a kid from Springfield, Virginia, how he loves his mum, is fiercely proud of his kids, and what it’s like to play at the Academy Awards, he does it with warmth, humor and authenticity. It’s clear how much Grohl enjoyed re-living these experiences, and this is a great read!
Read it because… For music lovers, he is one of the most beloved and respected musicians in the industry - and if you didn’t already love him, you will after reading this
A line we love: "And there is no love like a mother’s love. It is life’s greatest song. We are all indebted to the women who have given us life. For without them there would be no music."
2. You’ve Got To Laugh by Alison Hammond
Discover the loves, losses and sizzling gossip of one of Britain’s best-loved TV personalities, Alison Hammond. Adored across the nation for her infectious laugh and hilarious interviews with celebrities, Alison maps her incredible journey from small-time TV appearances to her current dream job as a presenter on This Morning. It’s an inspiring, fun and delightful read about appreciating the positive in any situation and making the most of every moment.
Read it because... Packed with moments of pure comedy gold, this book will remind you to always see the bright side of life as much as you can
A line we love: "I always say a day is wasted without laughter..."
3. Watching Neighbours Twice a Day by Josh Widdicombe
Growing up in a remote rural home where the door was never locked, Josh Widdicombe lived and breathed the television programs he watched as a child. In his beautifully crafted memoir, he revives the memory of iconic 90s shows and celebrates a time when watching the television was a shared experience for all the family. Written with warmth and wisdom, it’s the perfect dose of nostalgia for a bygone era.
Read it because... From family favorites like Mr Blobby to the irresistible drama of Big Brother and Neighbours, Josh Widdicombe explores the glory days of television through side-splitting personal anecdotes.
A line we love: "This is a book about growing up in the '90s told through the thing that mattered most to me, the television programmes I watched."
4. My Unapologetic Diaries by Joan Collins
Writing a diary has been a lifelong habit for Dame Joan Collins. She wrote on paper as a child, but later came home from parties and recounted events into a dictaphone. My Unapologetic Diaries is a glimpse into her glittering world between 1989-2006. Since her Hollywood starlet days, she's rubbed shoulders with any big name worth knowing and her spilling of the beans, with ‘NO apologies’, is riveting. One of the best books to gift someone for Christmas.
Read it because… Dame Joan Collins does not hold back in these diaries—a great look behind-the-scenes of her life.
A line we love: "At one point I flirtatiously asked Matt (Lauer), ‘Do you know what the girls in the make-up room call you?’ The newscaster quickly pre-empted my feeble attempt at gay repartee and yelled, Stud-Muffin!’ I said to her frostily, ‘Who’s doing this interview, him or you?’ They all laughed but it was irritating. It’s difficult enough doing interviews without having other people push in on it."
5. Forever Young by Hayley Mills
Mention films like The Parent Trap and Whistle Down the Wind to women of a certain age and the name Hayley Mills will crop up. The child star was hugely popular in the 1960s and won an Oscar at the age of just 14. But what was it really like to be so successful, so young? In this gripping memoir, packed with photos, Mills talks honestly about the highs and lows of her teenage career.
Read it because… Not only is Hayley Mills a legend, she is a lovely kind person who has led an extraordinary life and has wonderful stories to tell (a date with a Beatle, no less). This honest and warm book is a joy to read - like having a conversation with a childhood friend.
A line we love: "Because nobody can tell you you're worthy of being loved if you don't believe it yourself."
6. And Away… by Bob Mortimer
Humble, genuine and very, very funny, Bob Mortimer may just be bordering on national treasure status—and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person. From his very early days leading quite an unremarkable life—although he lost Dad at a young age—to training as a solicitor and then a chance meeting with a certain Vic Reeves, Bob’s conversational tone exudes warmth and humour as he reflects on his life. It is perhaps surprising that Bob struggles with shyness, but maybe not so surprising that he is remarkably funny, caring, compassionate and values his friendships. For anyone who has ever watched Would I Lie To You? will contest, a lot of Bob’s real-life stories are at times hard to believe—but true they are.
Read it because… From one of Britain’s funniest comedians, this is a humorous and well-written account of his life with some candid moments.
A line we love: "He looked up at me from the carpet. His head was huge. He was literally one-third head."
7. A Walk From The Wild Edge by Jake Tyler
Determined to take back control of his life after a spiral into depression saw him come dangerously close to suicide, Maldon-born Jake Tyler donned his walking boots and set off on a 3,000-mile walk around the British mainland. This is his story of what happened, who he met, and how he battled back against those desperate feelings. An inspiring ode to nature and humanity.
Read it because… It’s important for your emotional well-being and to take some time for yourself to explore and celebrate the stunning UK landscape.
A line we love: "Once life becomes manageable, it stops being so overwhelming. And there’s one thing that’s certain; no one fantasizes about driving full speed away from a life they’re enjoying."
8. The Psychopath by Mary T Thomson
In 2007, Mary T Thomson published her first memoir, The Bigamist, to wide acclaim. She had discovered the previous year that her husband was a bigamist, a con man, and a sex offender, but her story did not end there. After struggling to come to terms with what this man had done, Edinburgh-based Mary T Thomson decided to dig further into his life…and lies. The Psychopath is the result, and it’s an astonishing book and one of the best autobiographies out there.
Read it because… It’s open and honest, and offers such personal insight that may help others
A line we love: "So I decided that this was a golden opportunity to teach them never to let the world beat them down and always rise up again no matter what happens to you."
9. Many Different Kinds Of Love by Michael Rosen
As it had for many before him, poet Michael Rosen’s battle against Covid-19 started with a persistent cough and fever. Within a short time he was in hospital, then intensive care, and then in a coma. As Michael fought on, the nurses looking after him wrote messages of hope in his patient diary, and when he miraculously recovered, they were there to help him back on his feet again. As soon as he was able, Michael wrote about his experience, blending poetry, prose and the words of his caregivers to create this love letter to life and the NHS. One of the best books of 2021—and the most poignant.
Read it because… It'll restore your faith in humanity and remind you what a wonderful man Michael Rosen is
A line we love: "My ‘day job’ is a Speech and Language therapist so of course we all think you’re an absolute legend. Thank you for your tireless work to foster children’s love of reading. Keep fighting Michael!"
10. Tales From The Farm By The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen
When you have a husband, nine children, a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, a plethora of dogs, and an extremely bolshy chicken called Linda, you are guaranteed never to have a dull moment—a fact that quickly becomes clear as soon as you begin reading this latest entertaining collection of columns written by Our Yorkshire Farm star Amanda Owen. Charting an eventful two years that has seen a pandemic, a flood, and a dramatic New Year’s Eve arrival, this is a joyful – and at times truly eye-opening read.
Read it because… It’s a lovely comforting read capturing the joys of Amanda’s colorful life and is sure to lift your spirits.
A line we love: "There was, of course, the usual bleating, mooing and barking in the distance and above, the lapwings whirled and tweeted, but it was peaceful enough hat we could watch a vole scurrying about among the rough grass."
11. The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn
In 2018, moving memoir and bestseller The Salt Path captured the imagination of many thousands of readers. The story followed Raynor and her husband Moth, who suffers from a debilitating illness. Following the release of the book, one of its many readers decided to give the couple at the heart of that book a piece of land. This is the insightful and life-affirming story of what happened next. A truly touching book that will have you reflecting on the many emotions that follow a traumatic event, and a great book club book that will spark many conversations.
Read it because… Raynor is a beautiful storyteller and despite the heartfelt difficult moments you are left with a wonderful feeling of hope
A line we love: "I think it seems to be a bit of a mid-life theme. Lots of us find we have to go back to the beginning of our life in order to start again. Back to where we grew up, or where we were happiest. To a time before things went wrong. I see it like pressing the reset button."
12. The Madness Of Grief by Richard Coles
In his role as a Reverend, Richard Coles has become well-acquainted with death. But when his husband David died suddenly in 2019 at the age of just 43, the impact was colossal. Having talked openly about his grief on his social media channels, the Rev Coles has now penned this moving memoir about the ups and downs he’s still dealing with, the “sadmin” involved when someone passes away, and those poignant moments of loneliness where he simply wants to tear down the world. Will you cry? Almost certainly. But you will be left with something beautiful too.
Read it because… It’s honest and brave—and though heartbreaking, it has light moments where Richard’s humor shows through. For anyone dealing with grief, it’s a reassuring read from someone who understands.
A line we love: "I love being at sea, a discovery of middle age, and the loneliness of fresh widowhood is palliated by the pleasure of being alone on deck looking towards the horizon, when the restless ripple and froth of the sea’s surface resolves into a dark steely blue."
13. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
Subtitled 'Seventeen Brushes With Death', the clue to the subject matter of this extraordinary memoir by prize-winning author Maggie O’Farrell is very much in the name. As with everything O’Farrell writes, her story captivates from the opening paragraph and continues in enthralling form as it takes the reader on a journey of her near-death experiences, from a childhood she was never expected to survive to a terrifying encounter on a remote pathway and a disastrous labor. Every page is a treat, each story a lesson and the book is bursting with heart and wisdom.
Read it because… It invites you to think about your own life and feel grateful just to be alive—a unique memoir that is, of course, beautifully written.
A line we love: "We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall."
14. All Dogs Great And Small by Graeme Hall
The host of TV show Dogs Behaving Badly has worked with over 5,000 pups in his career—a feat that has rightly seen him earn the nickname The Dogfather. In this brilliantly fun book, which is part memoir, part instruction manual for dog owners, Graeme shares some of his most pivotal canine encounters, including with a meek Great Dane and a shouty Labrador, and explains how he helped each animal and its owner overcome their issues. A perfect read for the pooch lovers in your life.
Read it because… If you like watching Graeme on TV, this book will not disappoint as he gives advice in his usual down-to-earth and humorous manner—and you’ll learn more about the man himself!
A line we love: "Some advice I was given, from someone I really respected, before I started, was that it’s not the letters after your name that matter most; it’s the number of dogs that have been through your hands."
15. We All Know How This Ends by Anna Lyons & Louise Winter
End-of-life doula Anna Lyons and funeral director Louise are the co-authors of this memoir exploring life for two women dealing with death on a day-to-day basis. By sharing stories that are heartbreaking and tragic but often uplifting and inspiring, they encourage the reader to look at death in a different way, not as a subject to be shut away in a drawer and never discussed but an inevitability to be accepted and even embraced. Honest, moving and thought-provoking, there is much in this book that warrants a closer look.
Read it because… Although death is a difficult subject, this is a practical and encouraging book that may just help guide you through the choices you or a loved one have to make.
A line we love: "Working with death and dying doesn’t make these things easier when it’s someone I love. What it has done is teach me about life and living."
16. Finding My Father by Deborah Tannen
New York Times bestselling author Deborah Tannen began recording her father’s life story long before she became a renowned novelist, her promise to him being that she would one day write his memoir. Beginning with his vivid recollections of a childhood spent in the Hasidic community of Warsaw and subsequent move to New York in 1920, before charting his intrepid career trajectory from prison guard to lawyer to congressman, the story touches on family, forbidden love, and one man’s fierce determination to make his mark on the world.
Read it because… It’s a captivating and refreshingly honest story about a man, his daughter, and the bond between them.
A line we love: "I say to him in my mind, You’re no longer alive, but I’m still thinking about your feelings. I’m trying to understand what they were, and how they shaped your life—and mine."
17. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Dr. Paul Kalanithi was 36 and reaching the end of his neurosurgeon residency when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In only a few devastating minutes, he went from being a doctor who saved lives to a patient-facing his own death. In the last 22 months of his life, Dr. Kalanithi wrote this memoir, musing on his feelings, his legacy, and everything in between. Poignant and life-affirming, it’s a devastating must-read.
Read it because… The wisdom to be learnt from Paul’s experience is important, questioning what makes life meaningful enough to go on living.
A line we love: "And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realised, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated."
18. The Secret Life Of Dorothy Soames by Justine Cowen
Growing up in affluent San Francisco, Justine Cowen found her mother’s frequent outbursts of temper difficult to live with, and the fractious nature of their relationship spurred her decision to move away as soon as she was able. Only after her mother died did Justine find herself poking into her past—a quest that led her on an extraordinary journey to the Foundling Hospital in London, where an abandoned and abused child dreamed of escape while German bombers circled overhead. Engrossing, emotional, and engaging, this is a can’t-look-away memoir that deserves to be read by all.
Read it because… This is a well-researched picture of place and time that almost reads like fiction. As the author delves into her mother’s past she begins to understand how her mother’s time at the Foundling Hospital had a profound effect upon her, and ultimately their relationship.
A line we love: "I’m grateful and proud that despite my bad parenting you managed to become a remarkable person."
19. The Happiest Man On Earth by Eddie Jaku
Eddie Jaku grew up in Germany and was proud of his country and Jewish heritage. That all changed one day in 1938 when he was snatched, beaten, and sent to a concentration camp. Eddie endured seven years of unimaginable horrors that saw him lose everything…except his life, and having survived, he made a promise to himself that he would smile every day. This memoir, published as Eddie turns 100, is the story of a remarkable life told by a man with an indomitable spirit. A genuine shot of the brightest light in what has been a very dark year and a timely reminder that happiness can always be found. One of those books everyone should read at least once.
Read it because… There are so many lessons of hope and inspiration to take heart from, this is a true love letter to life.
A line we love: "Where there is life there is hope."
Isabelle Broom is the author of eight escapist fiction novels. She won the Romantic Novelist’s Association Best Contemporary Romance Novel award in 2019 and The Great British Write Off short story competition in 2015, with her winning entry, The Wedding Speech, later being adapted into a short film.
Following a degree in Media Arts from the University of West London, she spent an eventful summer working in a bar on a Greek island, became an avid traveller, and vowed to one day write stories set in all her favourite locations around the world. Before this dream became a reality, Isabelle spent a gloriously fun 11 years working at heat magazine,
As well as heading off on adventures abroad—a pastime she now gets to call ‘research’—Isabelle is lucky enough to write book reviews and travel features on a freelance basis. To find out more about her novels—and her mildly chaotic Suffolk-based life—you can visit isabellebroom.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@isabelle_broom) or search for Isabelle Broom Author on Facebook.
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