No matter how content you are with your own life - and we sincerely hope that you are - there is nothing like peaking into the world of someone else. And, as our best autobiography list proves, some people have lived lives that are far from the mundane.
Here we list some of our favourite autobiographies, mostly from the world of entertainment. The ones that really get under the skin of their subjects - because they are written by the person who knows them the most, themselves.
UPDATE: Autobiographies don't get much more important than Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1969, it has gone on to be just the first part in a seven-book series that charts the poet and civil rights activist's life.
From rock stars that will surely outlive us all to chefs who are achingly truthful about their craft to mystery writers whose lives are more adventurous than the stories they wrote, these are a selection of the best autobiographies of all time.
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen KingBuy now on Amazon
On Writing is everything you could want from a Stephen King book, it just so happens that it’s based on the author himself. It mixes autobiography with essential tips on writing and then ends things with his graphic recollection of his near-death experience of being hit by a van. It shouldn’t work, given its disparate elements, but it really does and it’ll provide plenty of inspiration for those who have ever wanted to put pen to paper.
Key details: King’s hatred of adverbs: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions.” Well, it made us chuckle… loudly.
2. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly By Anthony BourdainBuy now from Amazon
The late, hard-living New Yorker’s deliciously snarky, straight-talking memoir – an extended remix of a New Yorker article titled ‘Don’t Eat Before Reading This’ – explains his passionate relationship with food and, more spicily, the frequently grim reality of working in a top restaurant.
Key details: Never eat fish on a Monday. Don’t order steak well done. And remember that sweating away in that Michelin-starred kitchen are “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts and psychopaths”.
3. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions Of A B-Movie Actor By Bruce CampbellBuy now on Amazon
Jut-jawed Campbell is the star of the Evil Dead trilogy, and supporting turns in all sorts of other cult films and TV shows. This anecdote-stuffed sleeper hit provides a knowing, gossipy peek into Hollywood life from the perspective of a man perpetually working in the independent nooks and low-budget crannies.
Key details: The fake blood-spattered tales from the Evil Dead set. And David Duchovny’s chronic flatulence problem.
4. Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha ChristieBuy now on Amazon
With murder mysteries back in fashion and Agatha Christie gently parodied on the big screen with recent movie See How They Run, it’s a great time to get stuck into her autobiography. The book is great as not only do you get an understanding of the inspiration of her famous characters but it turns out her personal life was just as exciting as any of the plots she came up with for her books.
Key details: Agatha Christie is a big fan of poisoning in her books and it turns out this stems from her time as a nurse in World War 1 as a medicine dispenser.
5. A Moveable Feast By Ernest HemingwayBuy now from Amazon
Published posthumously in 1964, one of Hemingway’s best-loved works recounts his time as an expat in France between the World Wars. Cue much boozing and cerebral, croissant crumb-covered café pow-wows with compadres James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound and, famously, F Scott Fitzgerald. Part-road trip, part-love letter to Paris, part-paean to friendship, all in his famous muscular sentences.
Key details: The big man’s hair-growing contest with Stein, and penis-measuring contest with Fitzgerald.
6. Cash: The Autobiography By Johnny CashBuy now on Amazon
He walked the line. And wrote them, too. The rugged country legend tells his story in world-weary style, from his harsh childhood on a cotton farm to his amphetamine and painkiller addictions, attempted suicide and spiritual awakening. Admirably honest and humbling, it’s as effortlessly badass as the Man In Black was himself.
Key details: The casual chaos of stories including Cash starting a forest fire with a car and nearly getting disembowelled by an ostrich.
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouBuy now from Amazon
The first and most influential of Maya Angelou's seven-instalment biography series is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It recounts the early years of the poet and civil rights activist, from age 3 to 16. Published in 1969, it has gone on to be banned in multiple US states for its content, which includes the harsh realities of rape and racism. It's an important read.
8. Just Kids by Patti SmithBuy now from Amazon
Patti Smith is one of the best poets and lyricists of her generation and this book proves she has an eye for a story, too. This memoir is based on her friendship with renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (he shot the classic picture of Smith that’s on Horses, her debut album). She met him the day she arrived in New York and a story of how they both influenced each other’s art is just superb.
Key details: Patti Smith promised Mapplethorpe the day before he died that she would one day write about their story. 20 years later she did just that.
9. The Kid Stays In The Picture: A Notorious Life By Robert EvansBuy now from Amazon
“Success! Scandal! Sex! Tragedy! Infamy! And that’s just the first chapter…” A better-than-fiction Hollywood memoir from the sadly departed perma tanned bad boy producer of The Godfather and Chinatown. A brilliant raconteur, Evans spins stories of A-list womanising, cocaine use and murder charges.
Key details: In Evans’ short-lived acting days, the cast and crew of The Sun Also Rises – including writer Ernest Hemingway – demanded Evans be fired, but studio exec Darryl F Zanuck said, “The kid stays in the picture.” Evans recalls: “Acting was OK, but I realised what I really wanted was to be the guy who said, ‘The kid stays in the picture.’”
10. Persepolis: The Story Of Childhood by Marjane SatrapiBuy now from Amazon
Given the situation in Iran right now, this graphic novel autobiography by Marjane Satrapi has never been so pertinent. At its heart, Persepolis is a story about childhood, albeit one which witnesses Iran’s move from a Westernised regime, which was implemented by the Shah, to the strict Islamic Revolution. The book offers a brilliant base understanding of what it’s like in a country which undergoes dramatic shifts and the effects this has on everyday people.
Key details: The black-and-white panelling of the graphic novel are simple and stark, something that contrasts with the complex story that’s told.
11. Life By Keith RichardsBuy now on Amazon
He’s done enough hard-living to fell several elephants, but Keef’s still hanging on in there. Seven decades of rock, roll, riffs and recklessness are documented in this disarmingly honest memoir: from his Dartford boyhood and discovery of the blues to the decade that catapulted the Stones from back-room bar band to stadium behemoths – plus his relationships with drink, drugs, Mick Jagger and women.
Key details: Richards’ impish voice is always endearing, even when talking about Jagger’s appendage, but it’s his all-consuming love of music that really shines through.
- These are the best rock star biographies and memoirs