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The best memoirs and biographies of 2023

The rise of Madonna, Barbra Streisand in her own words, plus the stormy relationship of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are among this year’s highlights

F or most writers, a memoir is a once in a lifetime event, but not for the poet and novelist Blake Morrison. Having already written memoirs about his late mother and father, he has turned his attention to his siblings in Two Sisters (Borough). The book details the life of Gill, his younger sister who died in 2019 from heart failure caused by alcohol abuse, alongside his half-sister Josie, the product of his father’s affair with a married neighbour, whose real parentage went unacknowledged for years. Morrison’s account of their struggles is tender, vivid and achingly sad.

O Brother (Canongate) is another brutal and brilliant sibling memoir in which the Kill Your Friends author John Niven recalls the life and death of his charismatic, troubled brother, Gary, who took his own life in 2010. It’s with both humour and pathos that he recalls his and Gary’s early life growing up in Irvine, Ayrshire, their diverging adult trajectories and the “Chernobyl of the soul” felt by Niven and his family after his brother’s suicide.

Cover of O Brother by John Niven

From siblings to parents and grandparents: Before the Light Fades (Virago) by Natasha Walter reveals how the author’s mother, Ruth, took her life at the age of 75, leaving a note that read: “Please be happy for me. It is a logical, positive decision.” Her death inspires Walter to investigate her family’s history of activism, tracing a fascinating path from her German grandfather Georg, who protested against the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s, via her mother’s campaigning – Ruth was a member of the anti-war group Committee of 100, founded by Bertrand Russell – through to her own direct action with Extinction Rebellion.

Cover of Hua Hsu’s Stay True

Having detailed the trauma endured by her Jewish grandparents and their siblings during the second world war in her 2020 memoir House of Glass, Hadley Freeman turns the microscope on herself in Good Girls (4th Estate), detailing an adolescence blown apart by anorexia. The book is both a fearless account of her hospitalisation and eventual recovery and an important study of this most slippery and misunderstood disorder.

The Pulitzer-winning Stay True (Picador) , by New Yorker writer Hua Hsu, is a powerful and beautifully written meditation on guilt, memory and male friendship as the author reflects on the death of his “flagrantly handsome” college friend, Ken, who was murdered in 1998 after leaving a house party. A similarly thoughtful portrait of friendship, Jonathan Rosen’s The Best Minds (Penguin) tells of Michael Laudor, Rosen’s childhood friend with whom he shared a dream of being a writer. In adulthood, Laudor developed schizophrenia, for which he spent time in a psychiatric institution, and, in 1998, committed a shocking murder. In telling Laudor’s story, Rosen paints a bleak picture of how initially hopeful new attitudes towards mental illness fed into a system where those in desperate need of help slipped through the cracks.

In the clear-eyed and courageous How to Say Babylon (4th Estate), the poet Safiya Sinclair documents her traumatic childhood as the daughter of a militant Rastafarian who struck fear into his wife and children and made it clear to Safiya that she should grow into “the humbled wife of a Rastaman. Ordinary and unselfed. Her voice and vices not her own.” In her teens, Sinclair took refuge in poetry and, in defiance of her father, forged her own path. A domineering father also features in Noreen Masud’s lyrical, melancholy A Flat Place (Hamish Hamilton), in which the author travels to some of Britain’s starkest landscapes, including Morecambe Bay, Orford Ness and Orkney, while reflecting on themes of exile, heritage and her troubled childhood in Lahore, Pakistan.

Cover of Wish I Was Here by M John Harrison

Subtitled “an anti-memoir”, Wish I Was Here (Serpent’s Tail) sees the Viriconium author M John Harrison sifting through old notebooks and observing how his character and writing have evolved in a career spanning half a century, all the while rejecting the concept of memoir as another form of fiction. Along with providing snapshots from his life, this delightfully oddball and original book functions as a writing manual in which Harrison reveals his own battles on the page. “The problem of writing,” he says, “is always the problem of who you were, the problem of who to be next.”

A beguiling blend of memoir and biography, the Observer art critic Laura Cumming’s Thunderclap (Chatto & Windus) recalls the life of her father, the Scottish artist James Cumming, and that of Carel Fabritius, the 17th-century Dutch artist who was killed aged 32 in the Delft “thunderclap”, an explosion at a municipal gunpowder magazine that caused the roof of his home to collapse. Wrapped around their stories is the author’s own artistic journey, from her early days in London visiting and revisiting Fabritius’s A View of Delft in the National Gallery. Cumming’s luminous descriptions of individual paintings are worth the price of the book alone.

Wifedom (Penguin), by the former human rights lawyer Anna Funder, similarly weaves together memoir and biography to tell the story of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the first wife of George Orwell who died at the age of 39. Having spent a summer reading Orwell, Funder noticed how little he mentioned Eileen, even though she had joined him on research trips and collaborated with him on works including Nineteen Eighty-Four. And so Funder shifted her attention “from the work to the life, and from the man to the wife”, in the process creating a nuanced portrait of a charismatic, pragmatic woman who, for better or worse, sacrificed her talent for the man she loved.

Cover of Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan

Less a straightforward biography than a series of portraits, Red Memory (Faber), by the Guardian’s former China correspondent Tania Branigan, collates remarkable eyewitness accounts of China’s Cultural Revolution, a decade-long period of upheaval, paranoia and persecution beginning in 1966. Among Branigan’s interviewees is 60-year-old Zhang Hongbing, who, as a teenager, denounced his mother to the Communist party, leading to her arrest and execution. Zhang takes Branigan to her grave where, between sobs, he chastises his mother for failing to teach him about independence of thought.

Cover of Winnie & Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage by Jonny Steinberg

Jonny Steinberg’s richly detailed Winnie & Nelson (William Collins) documents the relationship of the late anti-apartheid activist and first South African president Nelson Mandela and his second wife, the former social worker Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died in 2018. Both fought racism at great personal cost, though, as this insightful biography reveals, they also inflicted immeasurable cruelty on one another.

Mary Gabriel’s Madonna: A Rebel Life (Coronet) chronicles, in enthralling detail, Madonna Louise Ciccone’s path from terrifyingly ambitious trainee dancer to pop colossus, all the while placing her in a wider social and cultural context. This is not just the story of massive sales and reinvention but that of a young woman devastated by the loss of her ultra-religious mother and fearlessly battling patriarchal systems, the conservative right and the Catholic church. Another exhaustive portrait of an era-defining star comes courtesy of its subject. Barbra Streisand’s My Name Is Barbra (Century) clocks in at 992 pages, and charts every step of the winding road from Brooklyn to Hollywood.

Erotic Vagrancy by Roger Lewis

If both those books reveal the hard graft behind fame, Erotic Vagrancy (Riverrun), by Roger Lewis, tells of the excess. A twin biography of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the actors famed for their on-off relationship and lavish lifestyle, the title is borrowed from a furious Vatican statement drafted during the filming of 1963’s Cleopatra in Italy, which accused the pair of “erotic vagrancy”. Lewis’s magnificently entertaining book – a doorstopper at more than 650 pages – brims with outrageous anecdotes attesting to the couple’s obsession with one another and their chaotic and decadent ways (they once hired a yacht for their dogs). Burton and Taylor are seemingly monstrous – infantile, vulgar, narcissistic – but, as depicted here, they are nothing less than mesmerising.

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  • Best books of 2023
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The Best Memoirs of 2023

These ten books explore what it means to be a person..

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The beauty of memoir is its resistance to confinement: We contain multitudes, so our methods of introspection must, too. This year’s best memoirs perfectly showcase such variety. Some are sparse, slippery — whole lives pieced together through fragmented memories, letters to loved ones, recipes, mythology, scripture. Some tease the boundary between truth and fiction. Others elevate straightforward narratives by incorporating political theory, philosophy, and history. The authors of each understand that one’s life — and more significantly, one’s self — can’t be contained in facts. After all, the facts as we remember them aren’t really facts. It’s their openness and experimentation that allow, at once, intimacy and universality, provoking some of our biggest questions: How does a person become who they are? What makes up an identity? What are the stories we tell ourselves, and why do they matter? These books might not spell out the answers for you, but they’ll certainly push you toward them.

10. Hijab Butch Blues , by Lamya H

top 10 autobiography books 2023

NYC-based organizer Lamya H (a pseudonym) has described her memoir as “unapologetically queer and unapologetically Muslim .” What this looks like is a book that isn’t so much grappling with or reconciling two conflicting identities, but rather lovingly examining the ways each has supported and strengthened the other. Lamya provides close, queer readings of the Quran, drawing connections between its stories and her own experiences of persecution as a brown girl growing up in an (unnamed) Arab country with strict colorist hierarchies. Beginning with her study of the prophet Maryam — whose virgin pregnancy and general rejection of men brings a confused 14-year-old Lamya real relief during Quran class — Lamya draws on various religious figures to track her political, spiritual, and sexual coming of age, jumping back and forth in time as she grows from a struggling child into a vital artist and activist.

9. Better Living Through Birding , by Christian Cooper

top 10 autobiography books 2023

On May 25, 2020, birder Christian Cooper was walking the Central Park Ramble when he asked a white woman on the same path to leash her dog. She refused, he started recording, and after both he and his sister posted the video on social media , the whole world saw her call 911 and falsely claim that an African American man was threatening both her and her dog. Cooper quickly found himself at the center of an urgent conversation about weaponized whiteness and police brutality against Black men in the U.S., amplified by another devastating video circulating that same day: George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Many will pick up Cooper’s memoir for his account of the interaction that captured international attention and forever changed his life — and it is a powerful, damning examination — but it is far from the main event. By the time it shows up, Cooper has already given us poignant recollections of growing up Black and gay (and in the closet) in 1970s Long Island, a loving analysis of science fiction, a behind-the-scenes look at the comic-book industry as it broke through to the mainstream, and most significantly, an impassioned ode to and accessible education on recreational birding. (The audiobook comes with interstitial birdsong!) Recalling his time at Harvard, Cooper turns repeatedly to his love of his English classes, and this background comes through in his masterful writing. An already prolific writer in the comic-book space, his memoir marks his first (and hopefully not last) foray into the long-form territory.

8. Love and Sex, Death and Money , by McKenzie Wark

top 10 autobiography books 2023

McKenzie Wark is one of the sharpest, most exciting voices writing at the intersections of capitalism, community, gender, and sex — more broadly, everything in this title — and she is also criminally underread. In her epistolary memoir Love and Sex … , she looks at a lifetime of transitions — journeys not only through her gender, but also politics, art, relationships, and aging — and reflects on all the ways she has become the woman she is today, in letters to the people who helped shape her. Wark’s first letter is, fittingly, directed to her younger self. She acknowledges their infinite possible futures and that, in this way, this younger Wark on the brink of independence is the one most responsible for setting her on the path to this specific future. In theory, it’s a letter to offer clarity, even guidance, to this younger self, but really it’s a means of listening to and learning from her. Her letters to mothers, lovers, and others are as much, if not more, about Wark as they are about the recipients, but that self-reflection doubles as a testament to the recipients’ power. What comes across most strongly is Wark’s belief in ongoing evolution and education, and it’s hard not to leave inspired by that possibility.

7. A Man of Two Faces , by Viet Thanh Nguyen

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir maintains the singular voice of his fiction: audacious, poetic, self-aware. Written in nonlinear second-person stream of consciousness — its disjointedness represented on the page by paragraphs volleying from left to right alignment across the page — A Man of Two Faces recounts his life as a Vietnamese refugee in the U.S. When his family moves from wartime Vietnam to San Jose, California, 4-year-old Nguyen is placed in a different sponsor home than the rest of his family. The separation is brief, but it sets a tone of alienation that continues throughout his life — both from his parents, who left their home in pursuit of safety but landed in a place with its own brand of violence, and from his new home. As he describes his journey into adulthood and academia, Nguyen incorporates literary and cultural criticism, penetrating analyses of political history and propaganda, and poignant insights about memory and trauma.

6. Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere , by Maria Bamford

top 10 autobiography books 2023

It’s safe to say alt-comedian Maria Bamford’s voice isn’t for everyone. Those who get her anti-stand-up stand-up get it and those who don’t, don’t. Her absurdist, meta series Lady Dynamite revealed the work of a woman learning to recognize and love her brilliant weirdness, and in Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult , she channels that weirdness into a disarmingly earnest, more accessible account of both fame and mental illness. Centered on Bamford’s desperate pursuit of belonging, and the many, often questionable places it’s led her — church, the comedy scene, self-actualization conferences, 12-step groups, each of which she puts under the umbrella of the titular “cults” — Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult is egoless, eye-opening, uncomfortable, and laugh-out-loud funny. These are among the best qualities — maybe even prerequisites — of an effective mental-illness memoir, and Bamford’s has earned its keep in the top tier. If you’re thinking of skipping it because you haven’t connected with Bamford’s work before: don’t.

5. In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation , by Isabel Zapata

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In Isabel Zapata’s intimate, entrancing memoir In Vitro , the Mexican poet brazenly breaks what she calls “the first rule of in vitro fertilization”: never talk about it. Originally published in Spanish in 2021, and with original drawings woven throughout, In Vitro is a slim collection of short, discrete pieces. Its fragments not only describe the invasive process and its effects on her mind and body, but also contextualize its lineage, locating the deep-seated draw of motherhood and conception, analyzing the inheritances of womanhood, and speaking directly to her potential child. All together, it becomes something expansive — an insightful personal history but also a brilliant philosophical text about the very nature of sacrifice and autonomy.

4. The Night Parade , by Jami Nakamura Lin

top 10 autobiography books 2023

When Jami Nakamura Lin was 17 years old, she checked herself into a psych ward and was diagnosed bipolar. After years experiencing disorienting periods of rage, the diagnosis offers validation — especially for her historically dismissive parents — but it doesn’t provide the closure that mainstream depictions of mental illness promise. In The Night Parade , intriguingly categorized as a speculative memoir, Lin explains that if a story is good, it “collapses time”; in other words, it has no beginning or end. Chasing this idea, Lin turns to the stories of her Japanese, Taiwanese, and Okinawan heritage, using their demons, spirits, and monsters to challenge ideas of recovery and resituate her feelings of otherness. Intertwined in this pursuit is her grappling with the young death of her father and the birth of her daughter after a traumatic miscarriage. Extensively researched — citing not only folklore but also scholars of history, literary, and mythology — and elevated by her sister Cori Nakamura Lin’s lush illustrations, The Night Parade is both an entirely new perspective on bipolar disorder and a fascinating education in mythology by an expert who so clearly loves the material. It might be Lin’s first book, but it possesses the self-assurance, courage, and mastery of a seasoned writer.

3. Doppelganger , by Naomi Klein

top 10 autobiography books 2023

After the onset of the COVID pandemic, as the U.S. devolved into frenzied factions, sociopolitical analyst Naomi Klein found herself in the middle of her own bewildering drama: A substantial population, especially online, began to either confuse or merge her with Naomi Wolf, a writer who’d gone from feminist intellectual to anti-vaxx conspiracy theorist. Klein’s initial bemusement becomes real concern verging on obsession as she fixates on her sort-of doppelgänger and starts questioning the stability of her identity. Klein becomes entangled in the world of her opposite, tracing the possible pipelines from leftism to alt-right and poking at the cracks in our convictions. Throughout, she nails the uncanniness of our digital existence, the ways constant performance of life both splinters and constrains the self. What happens when we sacrifice our humanity in the pursuit of a cohesive personal brand? And when we’re this far gone, is there any turning back?

2. The Woman in Me , by Britney Spears

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Throughout the yearslong campaign to release Britney Spears from a predatory conservatorship , the lingering conspiracy theories questioning its success , and the ongoing cultural discourse about the ways public scrutiny has harmed her, what has largely been missing is Spears’s own voice. In her highly anticipated memoir, she lays it all out: her upbringing in a family grappling with multiple generations of abuse, the promise and betrayal of stardom, her exploitation and manipulation by loved ones, and the harrowing, dehumanizing realities of her conservatorship . These revelations are tempered by moments of genuine joy she’s found in love, motherhood, and singing, though it’s impossible to read these recollections without anticipating the loss — or at least the complication — of these joys. Most touching are her descriptions of her relationships with her sons; her tone is conversational, but it resonates with deep, undying devotion. It’s an intimate story, and one that forces questions about our treatment of mental illness, the ethics of psychiatric practices, the relationships between public figures and their fans, and the effects of fame — especially on young women. Justice for Britney, forever.

1. Pulling the Chariot of the Sun , by Shane McCrae

top 10 autobiography books 2023

When Shane McCrae was 3 years old, his white maternal grandparents told his Black father they were taking Shane on a camping trip. It wasn’t the first time they’d done so, but this time, they never returned. What followed was a life full of instability, abuse, and manipulation, while his grandparents — including a grandfather who had, more than once, trawled cities for Black men to attack — convinced McCrae his father had abandoned him and that his Blackness was a handicap. It’s clear McCrae is first and foremost a poet; the rhythm of his prose and his hypnotic evocation of sensory memory reveals the way a lifetime of lies affected his grasp on his past. Maybe he can’t trust the facts of his past, but he certainly knows what it felt like, what it looked like. As he excavates and untangles muddied memories, contends with ambivalent feelings about his grandmother and mother, and ultimately comes to terms with their unforgivable robbery of a relationship with both his father and his true, full self, McCrae’s pain bleeds through his words — but so too does a gentle sense of acceptance. We are lucky to bear witness.

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top 10 autobiography books 2023

24 best autobiographies you have to read in 2024

Whether you're a long-time lover of non-fiction or you're new to the world of autobiographies, this is our list of the 24 best autobiographies you've got to read in 2024.

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  • Imogen Hope
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Are you dreaming of a summer holiday? Perhaps you're fantasising of afternoons spent lying on the beach or by the pool — chilly January days just a mere memory... And there's nothing that says holiday quite like a new book.

Autobiographical writing is a skill that is hard to master. Done well, it can give you a behind the scenes peek into the world of your favourite star, or give you an insight into historical events and cultural context that would otherwise be near impossible to understand.

While books can make some of the best gifts for others they also can be a great gift for yourself — especially if you're looking to take a break from the screens that surround us in modern life. We love the experience of going into a bookshop, looking at all the covers and picking out a few new titles. But life can get busy, and it can be tricky to find the time to continue to support your local bookshop. Shopping from a site like Bookshop.org also lets you support independent bookshops from home.

Having said that, reading a physical book isn't the only way to enjoy these amazing stories.

Getting a Kindle can be a great way to carry lots of books round with you if you're travelling, and you can often download books for a much lower cost. Listening to audiobooks is also a great way to stay on top of your reading when you're on the go. Amazon Audible lets you download books onto your phone and listen as you go, and it's also running a 30-day UK free trial right now.

More like this

Here's our list of the best autobiographies that you should read in your lifetime.

Looking for better ways to experience your favourite audiobook? Check out guides to the best wireless earbuds , best AirPod alternatives , and the best smart speakers . For more on audio, take a look at the best DAB radios .

Best autobiographies at a glance:

  • Open, Andre Agassi | £10.99
  • Everything I Know About Love, Dolly Alderton | £10.99
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou | from £4.99
  • Wild Swans, Jung Chang | from £4.49
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion | from £6.99
  • The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher | £10.99
  • The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank | from £9.49
  • All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot | from £9.49
  • This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay | from £5.99
  • Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela | from £6.99
  • I'm Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy | from £11.99
  • Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama | £9.99
  • Becoming, Michelle Obama | from £7.99
  • Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman, Alan Rickman | from £7.50
  • Just Kids, Patti Smith | £12.34
  • Wild, Cheryl Strayed | £8.99
  • Taste, Stanley Tucci | from £1.99
  • Educated, Tara Westover | £10.99
  • I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai | from £8.54
  • Crying In H Mart, Michelle Zauner | £9.99
  • Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry | £20.99
  • The Woman in Me, Britney Spears | £12.50
  • Love, Pamela, Pamela Anderson | from £10.99
  • Finding Me, Viola Davis | from £5.99

Best autobiographies to read in 2024

Open, andre agassi.

Open Andre Agassi

Written in 2009, this is the autobiography of the American former World No.1 tennis player, Andre Agassi. Written in collaboration with JR Moehringer from a collection of hundreds of hours of tapes, this memoir gives top insight into the life of a professional sportsperson.

Agassi's was a career of fierce rivalries and it's fascinating to hear these from the perspective of an insider. Like many high-performing careers, in sport children are singled out for their talent at a young age, and Agassi describes the intensity of training for himself and his fellow tennis players in their collective pursuit of excellence.

This book would make a great present for any tennis fan, and gives an interesting insight into the man behind the nickname 'The Punisher'.

Buy Open by Andre Agassi for £10.99 at Waterstones

Everything I Know About Love, Dolly Alderton

Dolly Alderton Everything I Know About Love

Everything I Know About Love follows Times columnist Dolly Alderton through her early life and 20s. It tackles themes of dating, love, friendship as Alderton comes of age and grows into herself. Dispersed with recipes in the style of Nora Ephron's Heartburn, the book gained a cult following since it was published in 2018 and won a National Book Award (UK) for best autobiography of the year.

Alderton's memoir has also now been turned into a BBC TV show which follows a fictionalised version of Alderton and her friends as they navigate life in London.

Buy Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton for £10.99 at Foyles

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

I know why the caged birds sing Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first of seven autobiographies Angelou wrote about her life. It follows her childhood, beginning when she's just three years old and spanning to when she is 16 — from her time as a child to when she had a child herself. The book follows the young Maya as she and her brother Bailey are moved between family members following the separation of her parents.

Discussing themes of racism, sexual assault and displacement, the expertly crafted narrative is widely taught in schools here and in the US. Written in the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings became an instant classic and is a must-read.

Buy I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou from £4.99 at Amazon

Wild Swans, Jung Chang

Wild Swans Jung Chang

Slightly different from traditional first person autobiographies, in this book Jung Chang tells the stories of three generations of women in her own family — her grandmother, her mother and herself. At a time when China is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, this book provides vital context into the 20th century history of the country.

Through the stories of her grandmother who was given to a warlord as a concubine, and her mother who was a young idealist during the rise of Communism, she captures moments of bravery, fear, and ultimately survival.

The book, which is banned in China, has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide and is as beautifully written as it is educationally fascinating.

Buy Wild Swans by Jung Chang from £4.49 at Amazon

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion

Published in 2005 when it went on to win Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, this book follows Didion in the year after her the death of her husband of nearly 40 years, John Gregory Dunne. In this harrowing depiction of grief, love and loss, Didion turns her personal experience into one that is universally relatable.

Didion and Donne's adopted daughter Quintana fell ill days before his death and was still in hospital when he died. Didion recounts her experience caring for her throughout the book, all while going through her own grief.

While not an easy read, this is an incredibly powerful one.

Buy The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion from £6.99 at Amazon

The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher

The Female Diarist Carrie Fisher

This might be an obvious choice for any Star Wars fan, but we think the appeal of this book stretches far beyond just that. Made up of the diaries Fisher wrote when she was 19 years old and first started playing Princess Leia, the book was released shortly before her death in 2016.

Any peak behind the scenes of such a well-known franchise is bound to be popular, and this examines her experience as a young adult thrust into the world of fame and sex. Unlike her deeply person earlier memoir Wishful Drinking, in which Fisher described her struggles with mental illness, The Princess Diarist is full of bombshell revelations and funny punchlines, making for an enjoyable read.

Buy The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher for £10.99 at Foyles

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank

The title of this book is clever because in so many ways, Anne Frank's diary is just that — the diary of a young girl. But it is also a vital account of history.

Starting on her 13th birthday, Anne writes about her life with her family living in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. Alongside other Jews, Anne and her family go into hiding to escape persecution from the Nazis. She deals with all the feeling teenagers experience growing up, but also grapples with her isolation, lack of freedom, and trying to understand what is happening in the world around her.

Important reading for young people and adults alike, Anne's writing brings home the realities of human suffering levelled upon the Jewish people by the Nazis. Anne's father Otto Frank was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust, and he published his daughter's diary in line with her wishes.

Buy The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank from £9.49 at Bookshop.org

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot

All Creatures great and Small James herriot

This book would make a great gift for the animal lover in your life, or any fan of the great outdoors. In it, James Herriot recounts his experiences as a newly qualified vet working in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s.

The first in his series of memoirs, All Creatures Great and Small finds Herriot in situations where there are high stakes, and more often than not some hilarity (think escaped pigs!). In the years since their first publication, the books have become classics.

If you want more of All Creatures Great and Small, there is also a TV adaptation to get stuck into.

Buy All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot from £8.54 at Bookshop.org

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay

This is Going to Hurt Adam Kay

This autobiography follows Adam Kay through his years as a junior doctor specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology and working within the NHS. It will have you crying of laughter and sorrow as the young doctor finds himself helping people from all walks of life, all while his own personal life falls into disarray.

Kay's debut publication was the bestselling non-fiction title of 2018 in the UK and stayed at the top of the charts for weeks.

This is Going to Hurt was adapted into a limited drama series by the BBC earlier this year starring Ben Whishaw, which used elements of the book to explore wider themes around health and the NHS.

Buy This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay from £5.99 at Amazon

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to freedom Nelson Mandela

This autobiography hardly needs an introduction. It tells the life story of former South African President and antiapartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, covering his childhood, education and the 27 years he spent in prison.

Mandela is internationally praised for overcoming enormous persecution and struggle, rebuilding South Africa's society as President. The film adaptation of his autobiography stars Idris Elba as Mandela, and was released shortly after his death.

The Kindle edition and paperback copy of this book starts from just £6.99.

Buy Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela from 99p at Amazon

I'm Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy

I'm glad my mom died Jannette McCurdy

Jennette McCurdy's memoir has been one of the most talked about books of 2022. A former child star best know for her role on Nickelodeon's iCarly in the USA, McCurdy's memoir describes her experience growing up in the limelight with an abusive parent.

The book's title has, unsurprisingly, been a big talking point, but it addresses an issue faced by many who write about their life experiences — how do you write about your true experience without damaging your relationships? In this frank and often funny book, McCurdy describes the emotional complexity of receiving abuse from someone you love.

Buy I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy from £11.99 at Amazon

Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama

Dreams from my father Barack Obama

Published nearly 15 years before he became President of the United States, Barack Obama's first memoir is a deep exploration into identity and belonging. In this book which begins with him learning about his father's death, Obama explores his own relationship with race as the son of a Black Kenyan father and a white American mother.

Written with his recognisable voice, Obama travels back to Kansas where his mother's family is from (they later moved to Hawaii where Obama spent most of his childhood) before making the journey to Kenya.

This makes an interesting read not only to learn more about the background of a man who holds such an important place in America's history, but also in shedding light on how we all relate to our own parentage and what makes us who we are.

Buy Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama for £9.99 at Waterstones

Becoming, Michelle Obama

Becoming Michelle Obama

America's former First Lady Michelle Obama recounts experiences of her life in this record breaking autobiography, from growing up on the south side of Chicago with her parents and brother, to attending Princeton University and Harvard Law School before returning to Chicago as a qualified lawyer. It was whilst working at a law firm in the city that she met her husband Barack Obama.

Obama uses her elegant story telling to take us along on the incredible journey she went on, as an accomplished lawyer, daughter, wife and mother to becoming First Lady. This is an autobiography that lets you see history from the insider's perspective and is definitely a must read.

Buy Becoming by Michelle Obama from £7.99 at Amazon

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman, Alan Rickman

Madly Deeply the diaries of Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman was much loved for his roles in fan favourite films, such as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. This collection of diary entries, written with the intention of being made public and published after his death, give his witty insights into his day-to-day life but also his take on world events.

The book is filled not only with delightful showbiz gossip, but also with snippets of hidden moments — from his disbelief and grief at the sudden death of actor and friend Natasha Richardson, to the relief he feels that the costume for Severus Snape still fits.

Buy Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman by Alan Rickman from £7.79 at Amazon

Just Kids, Patti Smith

Just Kids Patti Smith

On its release in 2010, Patti Smith's memoir won the US National Book Award for Nonfiction. In many ways it is a love letter to her life long friend, the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. In Just Kids, she recounts their meeting, romance and how they continued to inspire and encourage each other in their artistic pursuits for the rest of their lives.

This story which so vividly depicts life is, however, overshadowed by Mapplethorpe's death. Read for a vivid description of the New York art scene in the late '60s.

Buy Just Kids by Patti Smith for £12.34 at Bookshop.org

Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Wild Cheryl Strayed

In this autobiography, Cheryl Strayed writes about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, from the Mojave Desert in California to Washington State in the Pacific North West. In total, Strayed walks over a thousand miles on her own and in the process, she walked back to herself.

This memoir is beautifully written, moving between stories from the trail to those about Strayed's childhood, her struggles with heroin use and the sudden death of her mother — the main motivation for her walk. Full of suspense, warmth and humour, this book will make you think about your life and your family, and probably make you want to go on a walk.

Wild was adapted into a film in 2014, produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon.

Buy Wild by Cheryl Strayed for £8.99 at Waterstones

Taste, Stanley Tucci

Taste Stanley Tucci

Stanley Tucci has long been beloved for his nuanced and charming acting performances, but in the last few years has gained popularity for his true love — food. Between his CNN series Searching for Italy making us all cross eyed with food envy, and his cookbook The Tucci Table written with wife Felicity Blunt, there's no getting away from the fact that Stanley Tucci is giving Italian food an even better name than it had already.

But there's a good reason for Tucci's renewed love of food and his devotion to these passion projects. He was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2018 which left him unable to eat for several months, and even after he was able to eat again, his sense of taste was changed. In this memoir, he recounts his early relationship with food in his grandparent's kitchen and at his parent's table, and how his relationship with food has shaped all the loves of his life.

We recommend having a bowl of pasta in front of you while you read this!

Buy Taste by Stanley Tucci from £6.99 at Amazon

Calling all bookworms, take a look at the best Kindle deals and the best Audible deals for this month.

Educated, Tara Westover

Educated Tara Westover

This is a frankly astonishing memoir in which Tara Westover recounts how she came from a Mormon fundamentalist background without a birth certificate or any schooling, and ended up studying for her PhD at the University of Cambridge.

Westover gives readers a peak behind the curtain into the lifestyle of a group who do everything they can to stay away from the outside world. She recounts the experience of herself and her siblings as they grew up in an environment where they were often injured and didn't have access to medical help.

The juxtaposition of loving her family and yet needing to escape is acutely described, and she writes so cleverly about the complex subject matter, often admitting that her version of events may not be the correct one. Westover expertly uses her own story to examine themes of religion, love and above all education - and we promise you won't be able to put it down.

Buy Educated by Tara Westover for £10.99 at Foyles

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai

I am Malala Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai's story is undeniably an incredible one. After the Taliban took over in Swat Valley in Pakistan where she was born, Yousafzai was prevented from going to school. Despite being just a child herself, she became outspoken on girls' right to learn and in 2012, she was shot in the head by a masked gunman while on the bus to school.

After the attack Yousafzai moved to the UK with her family. In this autobiography, she describes the importance of female education, starting the Malala Fund, and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. This book will leave you inspired.

Buy I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai from £8.54 at Bookshop.org

Crying In H Mart, Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner is an Asian-American singer-songwriter and guitarist best known as lead of the band Japanese Breakfast. In this memoir, Zauner explores her relationship with her Korean heritage and how her mother's death forced her to reckon with the side of herself she had all but lost.

At the heart of this book about love, loss and grief is food. It acts as a constant dialogue between Zauner and her mother, as well as an enduring connection with her Korean heritage. This makes for a highly emotional and thought-provoking read.

Buy Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner for £9.99 at Waterstones

Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry

matthew perry best autobiographies

Last year, we were saddened by the news that Friends actor Matthew Perry had sadly passed away, his autobiography, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing had become a bestseller the year before.

In Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry takes the reader behind the scenes of the most successful sitcom of all time (Friends), and he opens up about his private struggles with addiction. The book is honest and moving, with plenty of Perry's trademark humour, too.

Buy Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry for £20.99 at Waterstones

The Woman in Me, Britney Spears

britney spears best autobiographies

If the reviews of Britney Spears's autobiography are anything to go by — "The easiest 5 stars I've given" — The Woman in Me is sure to be a hit with Spears fans.

For the first time in a book, Spears is sharing her truth with the world: The Woman in Me tackles themes of fame, motherhood, survival and freedom, and Spears doesn't shy away from speaking about her journey as one of the world's biggest pop stars.

Buy The Woman in Me by Britney Spears for £12.50 at Waterstones

Love, Pamela, Pamela Anderson

pamela anderson best autobiographies

We might think we know Pamela Anderson as the bombshell in Baywatch, Playboy's favourite cover girl, and, more recently, making makeup-free appearances on red carpets – looking beautiful as she does so; she's an icon and an activist, and now we can read all about her in her own words for the first time.

Anderson uses a mixture of poetry and prose to speak about her childhood, career, and how she lost control of her own narrative.

Buy Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson from £10.99 at Amazon

Finding Me, Viola Davis

viola davis best autobiographies

Naturally, we're big Viola Davis fans over on RadioTimes.com — we've loved her in everything from The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes to The Woman King and The Help, so her autobiography Finding Me is right up our street.

In this book, we meet Davis when she's a little girl in an apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island, and we journey with her to her stage career in New York City and beyond.

Buy Finding Me by Viola Davis from £5.99 at Amazon

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Best Biographies » New Biography

The best biographies of 2023: the national book critics circle shortlist, recommended by elizabeth taylor.

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

Winner of the 2023 NBCC biography prize

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

Talented biographers examine the interplay between individual qualities and greater social forces, explains Elizabeth Taylor —chair of the judges for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award for biography. Here, she offers us an overview of their five-book shortlist, including a garlanded account of the life of J. Edgar Hoover and a group biography of post-war female philosophers.

Interview by Cal Flyn , Deputy Editor

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill & Rachael Wiseman

Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill & Rachael Wiseman

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist - Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs

Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs

top 10 autobiography books 2023

1 G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage

2 the grimkés: the legacy of slavery in an american family by kerri k. greenidge, 3 mr. b: george balanchine’s twentieth century by jennifer homans, 4 metaphysical animals: how four women brought philosophy back to life by clare mac cumhaill & rachael wiseman, 5 up from the depths: herman melville, lewis mumford, and rediscovery in dark times by aaron sachs.

It’s a pleasure to have you back , Elizabeth—this time to discuss the National Book Critics Circle’s 2023 biography shortlist. You’ve been chair of the judging panel for a while, so you’re in a great position to tell us whether it has been a good year for biography.

I’m also optimistic about the future.  As the world opens and libraries, archives and places where history happened are becoming more accessible. Figures—or groups—once regarded marginal are now being discovered or reappraised with new evidence and interpretation. Biographies are ambitious in structure and form, and focus beyond the pale, stale, and male.

That comes through in the shortlist, I think. There’s a real range here. I think any reader is bound to find something to appeal to their tastes.

Shaping a shortlist seems quite like arranging a bouquet. A clutch of peony, begonia, or orchid stems…each may be lovely, an exemplar in its own way. We aspire to assemble a glorious arrangement—a quintet of blooms that reflect the wildly varied human experiences represented in the verdant garden of biography.

While our committee resisted the impulse to conform to a particular aesthetic or worldview, it did seem that many biographies were deeply rooted in American soil that required years of research to till. End notes are my guilty pleasure, this year’s finalists provided rich feasts, as one might anticipate from the longest—832 pages!—biography, Beverly Gage’s G-Man .

Let’s talk about G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century first, then, shall we? It is your 2023 winner of the NBCC’s prize for best biography; it also won a Pulitzer Prize . It’s also, and correct me if I’m wrong, the most traditional of the biographies that made the list.

G-Man is traditional in as much as Beverly Gage captures the full sweep of Hoover’s life, cradle to grave: 1895 to 1972. In that way, structurally G-Man sits aside the epics of David McCullough ( Truman , John Adams ) and Ron Chernow ( Grant , Alexander Hamilton ).

Unlike those valorized national leaders, Hoover answered to no voters. The quintessential ‘Government Man,’ a counselor and advisor to eight U.S. presidents , of both political parties, he was one of the most powerful, unelected government officials in history. He reigned over the Federal Bureau of Investigations from 1924 to 1972. Hoover began as a young reformer and—as he accrued power—was simultaneously loathed and admired. Through Hoover, Gage skilfully guides readers through the full arc of 20th-century America, and contends: “We cannot know our own story without understanding his.”

In G-Man , Yale University professor Gage untangles the contradictions in Hoover’s aspirations and cruelty, and locates the paradoxical American story of tensions and anxieties over security, masculinity, and race.

“This year, many biographies were deeply rooted in American soil that required years of research to till”

Hoover lived his entire life in Washington D.C., and Gage entwines his story in the city’s evolution into a global power center and delves deeply into the dark childhood that led him to remain there for college. Critical to understanding Hoover, Gage demonstrates, was his embrace of the Kappa Alpha fraternity; its worldview was informed by Robert E. Lee and the ‘Lost Cause’ of the South , in which racial equality was unacceptable. He shaped the F.B.I. in his image and recruited Kappa Alpha men to the Bureau.

For Hoover, Gage writes, Kappa Alpha was a way to measure character, political sympathies, and, of course, loyalty. One of those men was Clyde Tolson, and Gage documents their trips to nightclubs, the racetrack, vacations, and White House receptions. Hoover did not acknowledge that he and Tolson were a couple, but in the end their separate burial plots were a few yards from one another.

While Hoover feels very much alive on the page, Gage captures the full sweep of American history, chronicling events from the hyper-nationalism of the early part of the century, moving into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., making use of newly unclassified documents. When Hoover’s F.B.I. targeted Nazis and gangsters, there was clarity about good guys and bad guys. But by the mid-century, as the nation began to fracture, he regarded calls for peace and justice as threats to national security. Among the abuses of power committed by Hoover’s F.B.I., for instance, was the wiretapping and harassment of King.

Beyond Hoover’s malfeasance, Gage emphasizes that Hoover was no maverick. He tapped into a dark part of the national psyche and had public opinion on his side. Through Hoover, Americans could see themselves, and, as Gage argues, “what we valued and refused to see.”

A biography like this does make you realize how deeply world events might be impacted or even partially predicted by the family background or the personalities of a small number of key individuals.

You’ve hit on a fascinating question at the heart of biography: the quest to understand the interplay between individual and social forces. A late history professor of mine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, once told me that biography was ‘peopled history.’

We should step through the rest of the books on your 2023 biography shortlist. Let’s start with Kerri K. Greenidge’s The Grimkés: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family , which is the story not only of the Grimké Sisters Sarah and Angelina, two well-known abolitionists, but Black members of their family as well.

I was eager to read The Grimkés as I had admired Greenidge’s earlier biography, Black Radical , about Boston civil rights leader and abolitionist newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter. Greenidge, a professor at Tufts University, brings her unique, perceptive eye to African American civil rights in the North.

Now Greenidge’s The Grimkés sits on my bookshelf next to The Hemingses of Monticello , the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Annette Gordon-Reed who exposed the contradictions of one of the most venerated figures in American history, Thomas Jefferson. In the Grimke family, Greenidge has found a gnarled family tree, deeply rooted in generations of trauma.

Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke have been exalted as brave heroines who defied antebellum Southern piety and headed northward to embrace abolition. Greenridge makes the powerful case that, in clinging to this mythology, a more troubling story is obscured. In the North, as the Grimké sisters lived comfortably and agitated for change, they enjoyed the financial benefits of their slaveholding family in South Carolina.

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After the Civil War, they learned that their brute of a brother had fathered at least two sons with a woman whom he had enslaved. The sisters provided some financial assistance in the education of these two young men, one attended Harvard Law School and the other Princeton Divinity School—and did not let their nephews forget it.

Not only does Greenidge provide a revisionist history of the Grimke sisters, but she also takes account of the full Grimké family and extends their story beyond the 19th century. She delves into the dynamics of racial subordination and how free white men who conceive children — whether from rape or a relationship spanning decades with enslaved women—destroy families. Generations of children are haunted by this history.  Poignantly, Greenidge evokes the life and work of the sisters’ grandniece Angelina (‘Nana’) Weld Grimké , a talented—and troubled—queer playwright and poet, who carried the heavy weight of the generational trauma she inherited.

This sounds like a family saga of the kind you might be more likely to find in fiction.

Yes. While Sarah and Angelina Grimké have been the subject of fiction, their nephews Archibald and Francis and their families deserve a novel of their own!

Let’s turn to Mr B . : George Balanchine’s 20th Century by Jennifer Homans, the story of the noted choreographer. Why did this make your shortlist of the best biographies of 2023?

The perfect match of biographer and subject! A dancer who trained with Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York and is now dance critic for The New Yorker, Homans has written a biography of the man known as ‘the Shakespeare of Dance.’ In felicitous prose, Homans channels the dancer’s experience onto the page, from the body movements that can produce such beauty to the aching tendons and ligaments. Training is transformation, Homan writes, and working with Balanchine was a kind of metamorphosis tangled with pain. She evokes the dances so vividly that one can almost hear the music.

“At the heart of biography is the quest to understand the interplay between individual and social forces”

Homans captures Balanchine in a constant state of reinvention, tracing his life from Czarist Russia to Weimar Berlin , finally making his way to post-war New York where he revitalized the world of ballet by embracing modernish, founding New York City Ballet in 1948. Balanchine was genius whose personal history shape-shifted over the years. Homans grounds Mr. B in more than a hundred interviews, and draws from archives around the world.

Homans captures Balanchine’s charisma and cultural importance, but Mr. B. is no hagiography. Homans grasps the knot of sex and power over women used in his work. He married four times, always to dancers. They were all the same kind of swan-necked, long-waisted, long-limbed women, and although Homans does not write this, his company often sounds more like a cult than art.

And, of course, there is the matter of weight, which Homans dealt with directly, as did Balanchine. He posted a sign: ‘BEFORE YOU GET YOUR PAY—YOU MUST WEIGH.’

I don’t think I’ve ever considered reading a ballet biography before, but it sounds fascinating.

The next book on the NBCC’s 2023 biography shortlist brings us to Oxford, England. This is Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman.

At the outset of World War II , a quartet of young women, Oxford students—Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, and Mary Midgley—were “bored of listening to men talk about books by men about men,” as Mac Cumhaill, a Durham University professor, and Wiseman, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, write. In their marvelous group biography, MacCumhaill and Wiseman vivify how the friendships of these women congealed to bring “philosophy back to life.”

As their male counterparts departed for the front lines, this brilliant group of women came together in their dining halls and shared lodging quarters to challenge the thinking of their male colleagues. In the shadows of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, these friends rejected the logical positivists who favoured empirical scientific questions. They didn’t really create a distinct philosophical approach as much as they shared an interest in the metaphysics of morals.

While today we may recognize the prolific Iris Murdoch more for her fiction—like her Booker-winning novel The Sea, the Sea — others made an enduring mark. For example, I learned that after their Oxford years, Murdoch’s good friend Phillipa Foot was responsible for the classic conundrum of the ‘trolley problem,’ which posed the question of whether one would—or should—willingly kill one person to save five. And beyond philosophy, Mac Cumhaill and Wiseman’s deft sketches of these women sparkle with details of their world, from hot tea and cold shared flats to the lovers and ex-lovers who sometimes shared those flats.

Brilliant. A book that is ostensibly ‘improving’ but which turns out to be absolutely chock-full of gossip sounds perfect to me. Let’s move on to the fourth book on the NBCC’s 2023 biography shortlist, which is Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs.

A biography about writing biography ! Very meta, and very much in the interdisciplinary tradition of American Studies. In his gorgeous braid of cultural history, Cornell University professor Sachs   entwines the lives and work of poet and fiction writer Herman Melville (1819-1891) and the philosopher and literary critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), illuminating their coextending concerns about their worlds in crisis.

While Melville is now firmly ensconced in the American canon, most appreciation and respect for him was posthumous. The 20th-century Melville revival was largely sparked by a now overlooked Mumford, once so prominent that he appeared on a 1936 Time  magazine cover.

Sachs brilliantly provides the connective tissue between Melville and his biographer Mumford so that these writers seem to be in conversation with one another, both deeply affected by their dark times.

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As Mumford grappled with tragedies wrought by World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic and urban decay, Melville had dealt with the bloody Civil War , slavery , and industrialization. In a certain way, this book is about the art of biography itself, two writers wrestling with modernity in a bleak world. In delving into Melville’s angst, Mumford was thrust into great turmoil. Sachs evokes so clearly and painfully this bond that almost did Mumford in, and writes that “Melville, it turns out, was Mumford’s white whale.”

There’s a real sense of range in this shortlist. But do you get a sense of there being certain trends in biography as a genre in 2023?

In many ways, this is a golden era for biography. There are fewer dull but worthy books, more capacious and improvisational ones. More series of short biographies that pack a big punch. We see more group biographies and illustrated biographies. But just as figures and groups once considered marginal are being centered, records that document those lives are vanishing.

The crisis in local news and the homogenization of national and international news will soon be a crisis for biographers and historians. Where would historians be without the ‘slave narratives’ from the Federal Writers Project , or the Federal Theatre Project ? Reconstruction of public events—federal elections, national tragedies, and so on—may be possible, but we lose that wide spectrum of human experience. We need to preserve these artifacts and responses to events as they happen. Biographies are time-consuming labors of love and passion, and are often expensive to produce. We need to ensure that we are generating and saving the emails, the records, the to-do lists of ordinary life.

The affluent among us will always be able to commission histories of their companies or families, but are those the only ones that will endure?

June 30, 2023

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at [email protected]

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor is a co-author of American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley; His Battle for Chicago and the Nation with Adam Cohen, with whom she also cofounded The National Book Review. She has chaired four Pulitzer Prize juries, served as president of the National Book Critics Circle, and presided over the Harold Washington Literary Award selection committee three times. Former Time magazine correspondent in New York and Chicago and long-time literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, she is working on a biography of women in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras for Liveright/W.W. Norton.

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The Best New Biographies of 2023

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CJ Connor is a cozy mystery and romance writer whose main goal in life is to make their dog proud. They are a Pitch Wars alumnus and an Author Mentor Match R9 mentor. Their debut mystery novel BOARD TO DEATH is forthcoming from Kensington Books. Twitter: @cjconnorwrites | cjconnorwrites.com

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Read on to discover nine of the best biographies published within the last year. Included are life stories of singular people, including celebrated artists and significant historical figures, as well as collective biographies.

The books included in this list have all been released as of writing, but biography lovers still have plenty to look forward to before the year is out. A few to keep your eye out for in the coming months:

  • The World According to Joan Didion by Evelyn McDonnell (HarperOne, September 26)
  • Einstein in Time and Space by Samuel Graydon (Scribner, November 14)
  • Overlooked: A Celebration of Remarkable, Underappreciated People Who Broke the Rules and Changed the World by Amisha Padnani (Penguin Random House, November 14).

Without further ado, here are the best biographies of 2023 so far!

Master Slave Husband Wife cover

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo

Ellen and William Craft were a Black married couple who freed themselves from slavery in 1848 by disguising themselves as a traveling white man and an enslaved person. Author Ilyon Woo recounts their thousand-mile journey to seek safety in the North and their escape from the United States in the months following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

The art thief cover

The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel

Written over a period of 11 years with exclusive journalistic access to the subject, author Michael Finkel explores the motivations, heists, and repercussions faced by the notorious and prolific art thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Of special focus is his relationship with his girlfriend and accomplice, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus.

King cover

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

While recently published, King: A Life is already considered to be the most well-researched biography of Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. published in decades. New York Times bestselling journalist Jonathan Eig explores the life and legacy of Dr. King through thousands of historical records, including recently declassified FBI documents.

Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters cover

Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters by Lynnée Denise

This biography is part of the Why Music Matters series from the University of Texas. It reflects on the legendary blues singer’s life through an essay collection in which the author (also an accomplished musician) seeks to recreate the feeling of browsing through a box of records.

Young Queens cover

Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power by Leah Redmond Chang

Historian Leah Redmond Chang’s latest book release focuses on three aristocratic women in Renaissance Europe: Catherine de’ Medici, Elizabeth de Valois, and Mary, Queen of Scots. As a specific focus, she examines the juxtaposition between the immense power they wielded and yet the ways they remained vulnerable to the patriarchal, misogynistic societies in which they existed.

Daughter of the Dragon cover

Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang

Anna May Wong was a 20th-century actress who found great acclaim while still facing discrimination and typecasting as a Chinese woman. University of California professor Yunte Huang explores her life and impact on the American film industry and challenges racist depictions of her in accounts of Hollywood history in this thought-provoking biography.

Twice as hard cover

Twice as Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians, from the Civil War to the 21st Century by Jasmine Brown

Written by Rhodes Scholar and University of Pennsylvania medical student Jasmine Brown, this collective biography shares the experiences and accomplishments of nine Black women physicians in U.S. history — including Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black American woman to earn a medical degree in the 1860s, and Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

Larry McMurtry cover

Larry McMurtry: A Life by Tracy Daugherty

Two years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s death, this biography presents a comprehensive history of Larry McMurtry’s life and legacy as one of the most acclaimed Western writers of all time.

The Kneeling Man cover

The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by Leta McCollough Seletzky

Journalist Leta McCollough Seletzky examines her father, Marrell “Mac” McCollough’s complicated legacy as a Black undercover cop and later a member of the CIA. In particular, she shares his account as a witness of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.

Are you a history buff looking for more recommendations? Try these.

  • Best History Books by Era
  • Books for a More Inclusive Look at American History
  • Fascinating Food History Books

top 10 autobiography books 2023

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Penguin Random House

Biographies and Memoirs To Read in 2023

Pick up new nonfiction about famous figures and inspiring memoirs about ordinary people who have triumphed in the face of obstacles..

I Can't Save You Book Cover Picture

I Can’t Save You

By anthony chin-quee, hardcover $28.00, buy from other retailers:.

Spare Book Cover Picture

by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex

Hardcover $36.00.

Life on Delay Book Cover Picture

Life on Delay

By john hendrickson, paperback $17.00.

Empress of the Nile Book Cover Picture

Empress of the Nile

By lynne olson, paperback $23.00.

Enchantment Book Cover Picture

Enchantment

By katherine may, hardcover $26.00.

What Just Happened Book Cover Picture

What Just Happened

By charles finch.

Glow in the F*cking Dark Book Cover Picture

Glow in the F*cking Dark

By tara schuster, paperback $18.00.

Liliana's Invincible Summer Book Cover Picture

Liliana’s Invincible Summer

By cristina rivera garza, preorder from:.

The Absent Moon Book Cover Picture

The Absent Moon

By luiz schwarcz.

We Should Not Be Friends Book Cover Picture

We Should Not Be Friends

By will schwalbe, paperback $19.00.

The Urgent Life Book Cover Picture

The Urgent Life

By bozoma saint john, hardcover $29.00.

Unscripted Book Cover Picture

by James B Stewart and Rachel Abrams

Paperback $20.00.

Dyscalculia Book Cover Picture

Dyscalculia

By camonghne felix, hardcover $27.00.

Hijab Butch Blues Book Cover Picture

Hijab Butch Blues

Rough Sleepers Book Cover Picture

Rough Sleepers

By tracy kidder, paperback $22.00.

A Few Days Full of Trouble Book Cover Picture

A Few Days Full of Trouble

By reverend wheeler parker, jr. and christopher benson, paperback $18.99.

Good for a Girl Book Cover Picture

Good for a Girl

By lauren fleshman.

The Other Family Doctor Book Cover Picture

The Other Family Doctor

By karen fine.

The Body Liberation Project Book Cover Picture

The Body Liberation Project

By chrissy king.

Undercooked Book Cover Picture

Undercooked

By dan ahdoot.

How Not to Kill Yourself Book Cover Picture

How Not to Kill Yourself

By clancy martin.

George VI and Elizabeth Book Cover Picture

George VI and Elizabeth

By sally bedell smith, paperback $24.00.

Beautiful Trauma Book Cover Picture

Beautiful Trauma

By rebecca fogg.

True West Book Cover Picture

by Robert Greenfield

Hardcover $30.00.

I Swear Book Cover Picture

by Katie Porter

The Forgotten Girls Book Cover Picture

The Forgotten Girls

By monica potts.

Life in Five Senses Book Cover Picture

Life in Five Senses

By gretchen rubin.

Remedies for Sorrow Book Cover Picture

Remedies for Sorrow

By megan nix.

Mott Street Book Cover Picture

Mott Street

By ava chin.

Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You Book Cover Picture

Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You

By lucinda williams, hardcover $28.99.

Winnie and Nelson Book Cover Picture

Winnie and Nelson

By jonny steinberg, hardcover $35.00.

Deliver Me from Nowhere Book Cover Picture

Deliver Me from Nowhere

By warren zanes.

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The Best Memoirs of 2023 (So Far)

The most touching, gripping, moving, and funny personal stories you need to read.

best memoirs

Every item on this page was chosen by an ELLE editor. We may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.

With vacation season looming, here are a few ideas for your summer reading list. This year has been full of funny, fascinating, and evocative memoirs written by both household names and people just introducing themselves to the world. From Geena Rocero’s story of becoming a trans activist in Horse Barbie to Minka Kelly’s account of surviving her childhood in Tell Me Everything , each gives us a deep look into a fascinating life and provides a better understanding of who we are.

Irma: The Education of a Mother's Son

Pageboy: a memoir.

Pageboy is generating headlines but there’s so much more to it. (Not that the Hollywood intel isn’t appreciated.) Since coming out in 2020, Page has been one of the few high profile people speaking about life as a trans man. After over 15 years in the spotlight, Page excavates his memories to introduce himself properly for the first time.

Tell Me Everything: A Memoir

In both celebrity gossip and her star-making role on Friday Night Lights , Kelly has always been the girlfriend. Tell Me Everything gives her the microphone and makes us regret not fully knowing her before. Kelly’s early years were defined by tumult. Her single mother worked as a stripper and led a chaotic life that found them in countless precarious living situations. In a childhood devoid of security, Kelly searched for ways to cope and speaks honestly now about everything from an on-set romance to the pain of pregnancy loss. Tell Me Everything is a gorgeous debut that transcends the celebrity category.

Dyscalculia: A Love Story of Epic Miscalculation

In healing from a very painful breakup, Felix, a celebrated poet and political speechwriter, revisits her experiences with abuse, learning difficulties, and mental health crises through the heartbreaking process of learning how to untangle the threads of pain accrued throughout life. Dyscalculia brilliantly explores the way we understand and deal with pain and how we rate heartbreak on a hierarchy of grief.

Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter

It’s uniquely difficult to explain the maddening frustration and alienation of stuttering and Hendrickson does it beautifully. The stutter he has dealt with since childhood has become an accepted part of his life and his career in journalism. It’s one that enabled him to connect on a deep level with Joe Biden in a 2020 Atlantic piece that marked one of the few times the President has spoken about the way his stutter impacts him as an adult. Life on Delay has powerful resonance for anyone who has ever stuttered and offers others an insight into a remarkably common but under discussed phenomenon.

Horse Barbie: A Memoir

Growing up in the Philippines, Rocero found national fame in the world of beauty pageants. Relocating to the U.S. as a teen meant starting over, building a career as a model while hiding the fact that she was trans. Rocero forged a path for herself where one hadn’t previously existed and in Horse Barbie gives us such a warm and relatable story of strength and spirit.

Love, Pamela: A Memoir of Prose, Poetry, and Truth

There’s so much we never knew about Anderson and Love, Pamela provides a deep look into a woman who is much smarter, kinder, and more creative than she’s ever been given credit for. Those who have followed her for years will love seeing her full story told for the first time while others will benefit from understanding the way the media misrepresented her.

The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival

Those who recognize Saint John as a superstar executive at Netflix, Apple Music, and PepsiCo will be amazed by the level of candor and emotion she brings to her very personal story. While she was building a career as one of the most prominent Black women in business, Saint John quietly dealt with the loss of a child, a separation from her husband, and his death from cancer. Her ability to persevere is incredible and The Urgent Life is a heartbreaking example of how much invisible grief those around us can be carrying.

Stash: My Life in Hiding

We know addiction defines class but do we really? At the peak of her pill use, Cathcart Robbins, now the host of the podcast The Only One in the Room , was a full-time mom married to an entertainment executive and living a high-end Los Angeles lifestyle. She was also dealing with the challenges of being a Black woman in an exceedingly white world. As a recovery story, Stash is both distinct and universal.

Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming

Chin grew up knowing very little about her family’s history or the long path her relatives took from China to New York City. Mott Street came from years of research into her roots that covered the Chinese Exclusion Act and the transcontinental railroad labor and mirrors the history of so many families.

All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me

Bringley has had an unusual view into the art world. In 2008 he left his job at The New Yorker to become a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All the Beauty in the World is his account of over a decade spent working at one of world’s most famous institutions filled with his simple appreciation for wondrous things.

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top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Best Books of 2023

Each week, our editors and critics recommend the most captivating, notable, brilliant, thought-provoking, and talked-about books. Now, as 2023 comes to an end, we’ve chosen a dozen essential reads in nonfiction and a dozen, too, in fiction and poetry.

The Essentials

Fiction & poetry.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Bee Sting

Paul Murray’s fourth novel is about the eeriness of transformative change. Its more than six hundred pages employ a rotating structure: the four members of the Barnes family—twelve-year-old PJ, his sister Cass, and his parents Imelda and Dickie—take turns as narrator. Irony, both caustic and elegiac, flourishes in the knowledge gaps between characters. Again and again, details come back reframed or reanimated by another perspective. It’s hard to resist Murray in his schoolyard mode, wittily choreographing nerds and bullies. The chapters featuring Imelda and Dickie are thornier, more treacherous, and formally more ambitious, using stream of consciousness to invoke the shattering power of grief and lust. Murray is interested in denial and how it ultimately fails to contain our unruly attachments and weird desperation. The catastrophic price of such denial is evident in the book’s frequent allusions to the climate crisis. As the book continues, the Earth’s climate and the apocalyptic climate of the Barnes family appear almost to merge, and what began as a coming-of-age saga pulls in stranger and darker forces.

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top 10 autobiography books 2023

Biography of X

In this intricate, metafictional novel, a recently widowed writer embarks on a biography of her late wife, an enigmatic artist, author, and musician known only as X. As the writer delves deeper into X’s life and work—distinguished by X’s penchant for adopting Cindy Shermanesque personae—Lacey unfolds a startling counter-history, in which the United States has just reunified, having dissolved, after the Second World War, into three states: one liberal, one libertarian, and one theocratic. Throughout, Lacey artfully blends historical anecdotes—X is seen penning songs for David Bowie and attending openings with Richard Serra—into her fictional universe, making uncomfortable connections between X’s fragile world and our own.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Birnam Wood

Mira Bunting is the twenty-nine-year-old founder of Birnam Wood, an activist collective, in New Zealand, that illegally plants gardens on unused land. One day, while trespassing on a large farm, she stumbles upon Robert Lemoine, a billionaire drone manufacturer who offers to finance the group. In fact, Lemoine has his own agenda—he’s purchasing the farm in secret, in order to extract rare-earth minerals that will make him the richest man in history—but this is just the first of the novel’s many sleights of hand. The story, which initially appears to be a study of young, white leftists grappling with the ethics of taking Lemoine’s money, evolves into a shocking tale of deceit, misunderstanding, and violence. Catton, who became the youngest winner of the Booker for her previous novel, “The Luminaries,” wants to revive plot as a literary mode, and her book’s biggest twist is that every choice matters, albeit in ways we might not have anticipated.

The author Eleanor Catton

The Country of the Blind

In this moving memoir, Andrew Leland recounts his journey from sight to blindness, tracing his ever-shifting relationship to his diminishing vision. Suspended between the worlds of blindness and sight—he will soon lose his vision entirely—Leland explores the history and culture of blindness: its intersections with medicine, technology, ableism. He travels to a residential school for the blind, where he dons shades that block his vision, and learns to cook meals and cross streets. One former student tells him, “Until you get profoundly lost, and know it’s within you to get unlost, you’re not trained—until you know it’s not an emergency but a magnificent puzzle.” The book was excerpted on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama

In 2012, a catastrophic traffic collision in Jerusalem left a school bus filled with Palestinian children on fire for more than thirty minutes before emergency workers arrived. In this chronicle of the disaster, Thrall, a Jerusalem-based journalist, follows the father of one of the victims, and examines the response to the crash within the context of modern Palestinian dispossession. He depicts Israel’s “architecture of segregation”—encompassing checkpoints and byzantine transit rules—which needlessly complicated the rescue, leading to a delay that left “small, scorched backpacks” on the asphalt. Thrall’s account is a powerful evocation of a two-tiered society that treats children as potential combatants.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Fear Is Just a Word

In 2010, the Zeta drug cartel seized control of San Fernando, Mexico, ushering in a wave of kidnappings and murders. Its tactics were brutal: it forced its hostages to fight one another, and sometimes dissolved its victims’ bodies in acid. Ahmed, a correspondent for the  Times , retraces the story of Miriam Rodríguez, whose daughter was abducted, in 2014, and later killed. After government officials proved ineffectual, Rodríguez embarked on a search for justice, eventually uncovering the identities of several people complicit in the murder. Tragically, Rodríguez herself failed to escape the violence: she was shot to death for challenging “the primacy of organized crime.”

Books & Fiction

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Book recommendations, fiction, poetry, and dispatches from the world of literature, twice a week.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Fire Weather

In 2016, a wildfire ripped through the oil town of Fort McMurray, in Alberta, hot enough to vaporize toilets and bend a street light in half. It was the most expensive disaster in Canada’s history. This alarming account tracks the destruction, the role of fire in industry in the past hundred and fifty years, and the disregarded alarms about the environment raised by scientists, dating as far back as the eighteen-fifties. “Climate science came of age in tandem with the oil and automotive industries,” Vaillant writes, and their futures are as linked as their pasts. The number of places facing fates similar to Fort McMurray’s is rapidly increasing, even as “our reckoning with industrial CO 2 ” moves painfully slowly.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This kaleidoscopic novel revolves around the real-life trial of a man who, in late-nineteenth-century London, claimed to be the heir to a fortune. Smith relates the impressions of a housekeeper as she observes others’ opinions of the case, which transfixed—and split—the public, and was complicated by the testimony of a formerly enslaved man from Jamaica. The sprawling story is filled with jabs at the hypocrisy of the upper class, characters who doubt institutions, and corollaries of the pugilistic rhetoric of contemporary populism; with characteristic brilliance, Smith makes the many parts of the tale cohere. “Human error and venality are everywhere, churches are imperfect, cruelty is common, power corrupt, the weak go to the wall,” the housekeeper reflects.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This vivid, searching début collection traverses and troubles borders between nations, languages, lovers, the past and the present, the living and the dead; combining reflections on art and history with astute observations of everyday life, Gonzalez contends with the world’s capacity for profound suffering and for near-unbearable beauty in equal measure. Several poems, including “ Failed Essay on Privilege ,” were first published in The New Yorker .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Near the start of “The Guest,” Alex, a sex worker, is booted out of a mansion by Simon, her affluent boyfriend. They appear to be on the ritzy east end of Long Island, though the location is never named. Alex must make a choice: she can return to the city, where she has no friends, no apartment, and a vaguely menacing man on her heels, or she can wait out Simon’s anger, hoping he’ll take her back at his annual Labor Day party, in six days’ time. She chooses the latter. Her only tools are a bag of designer clothes, a mind fogged by painkillers, and a dying phone. But what follows is riveting, a class satire shimmed into the guise of a thriller.  Because Alex is young, pretty, well-dressed, and white, the privileged people she meets believe that she’s one of them. They let her into their parties, their country club, their cars, their homes. Alex, like Cline, is a consummate collector of details, and part of the book’s pleasure is its depiction of the one percent—their meaningless banter, their blandly interchangeable clothes. But Alex is too passive a character for revenge. The book isn’t a caustic takedown of the rich so much as a queasy reminder of their invulnerability.

A photo of people resting by a pool.

I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home

In the nineteenth century, Libby, the proprietress of a rooming house, writes to her dead sister about her new gentleman lodger, who, we come to learn, is a notorious assassin. The frame shifts; it is 2016, and Finn, a teacher, learns that his ex-girlfriend Lily has killed herself. Or has she? He finds her wandering a graveyard, dirt ringing her mouth, not deeply dead but, she says, “death-adjacent.” She asks to be taken to a body farm in Tennessee and used for forensic research; Finn agrees. Thus begins the first of two road trips featuring a corpse. We recognize shades of the Orpheus myth, catch the passing references to Faulkner, but “ I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home ” feels most pointed in its response to an old question in Moore’s own work: what does it mean to come home? A work of determined strangeness and pain, Moore’s new novel is an almost violent kind of achievement, slicing open the conventional notions of narrative itself.

An illustrated portrait of Lorrie Moore. We see her from the shoulder up. She is wearing green, has long brown hair, and is holding a yellow bird in front of her face.

I Love Russia

In 2005, when Kostyuchenko started as an intern at the storied Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta , Vladimir Putin was relatively new to the Presidency and high oil prices were fuelling a consumer boom. But Kostyuchenko was less interested in the Russia hurtling forward than the one left behind, a place—or, rather, a people—defined by trauma and disorientation, hardiness and resolve. A decade and a half later, she spent two weeks living inside a state-run residential facility for people with psychiatric and neurological disorders. The article that emerged from that experience—a wrenching and visceral text whose details almost seem to waft off the page—is the masterwork at the heart of “ I Love Russia ,” a memoir and collection of reportage translated by Bela Shayevich and Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse. In February of 2022, Kostyuchenko crossed into Ukraine, becoming one of an exceedingly small number of Russian journalists who managed to report from the war zone. She filed dispatches on Russia’s occupation and bombardment of Ukraine’s southern cities, bracing accounts laced with a sense of guilt and the utter futility of that guilt. But it was only upon leaving Ukraine that she fell victim to what may have been an act of Russian aggression: a suspected poisoning attempt inside Germany. Kostyuchenko’s writings are also a personal reckoning, an attempt to work through how she missed—or, rather, failed to adequately react to—Russia’s descent into fascism.

Elena Kostyuchenko

Judgment at Tokyo

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, as the Tokyo trial was officially called, lasted longer than the trial in Nuremberg and was on a far grander scale. As Gary J. Bass points out in his exhaustive and fascinating book, the trial had serious consequences that continue to play out in modern Asia. Several Japanese Prime Ministers have believed that Allied propagandists, and the Japanese leftists who parroted them, imposed a “masochistic” view of the past on Japan, and unfairly accused the country of waging an aggressive war and committing worse atrocities than other nations. Placing the trial firmly in the context of colonialism, racial attitudes, the Cold War, and post-colonial Asian politics, Bass argues that Japan’s unresolved issues with the “Tokyo-trial version of history” get to the heart of the country’s greatest dilemma today.

A black-and-white photo of General Hideki Tojo, who is listening as his death sentence is pronounced.

King: A Life

This new addition to the biographical record of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s life presents readers with an alternative to the “de-fanged” version of King that endures in inspirational quotes. Eig’s new sources include the latest batch of files released by the F.B.I., which was surveilling King even more closely than he suspected, and remembrances from King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who recorded her thoughts in the time after his killing. “The portrait that emerges here may trouble some people,” Eig writes—the book recounts a number of King’s affairs, in addition to the allegation, from an F.B.I. report, that King was complicit in a sexual assault. What Eig mostly provides, though, is a sober and intimate portrait of King’s short life, capturing the ferocity of the forces that opposed King: police dogs, bombs, Klansmen, and, above all, segregationists wielding legal and political authority. He also captures King’s sense of theatre, his enormously canny ability to stage confrontations that heightened the contrast between the civil-rights movement and those who wanted to stop it.

Martin Luther King, Jr., walking with schoolchildren.

Lerner, a poet who found a second life as a novelist, has spent nearly twenty years attempting to bridge verse and prose, fiction and experience, dreams and reality. His latest collection, “The Lights,” gently advances this project, flickering between modes and finding insight in a range of symbols: the loss of a family member, the portal of a cell phone, the prospect of  extraterrestrial life. Much of this is about reënchanting poetry itself, which can sometimes seem an outdated, indulgent form, severed from the modern world. But life and art can’t be held apart. Lyric poetry, Lerner writes, might be best understood as “our own / illumination returned to us as alien.”

Human in the middle of a shower of pink rays.

Liliana’s Invincible Summer

In the summer of 1990, Liliana Rivera Garza, a twenty-year-old architecture student in Mexico City, was murdered by her former boyfriend, who suffocated her with a pillow in her apartment. In this book, Liliana’s sister, a celebrated fiction writer and historian, memorializes her younger sister while indicting the “underground and constant” violence of entrenched male hatred for women. The narrative begins with Rivera Garza’s attempt to recover a lost police file, in 2019, and widens to encompass newspaper clippings, photographs, interviews, and Liliana’s letters and notebooks—what Rivera Garza calls “layers of experience that have settled over time,” and which she has the duty to “desediment.” The result is a text that roves between different styles of narration, sometimes verging on the experimental, as she tries to reconstruct the circumstances that led to her sister’s death, to devise a language adequate to her family’s grief, and to rescue memories of a young woman who was, as Liliana’s notes attest, thirsty for life: “I am a seeker. I want to try new things; maybe more pain and loneliness, but I think it would be worth it. I know there is more than these four walls and this sky, annoyingly blue.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Master Slave Husband Wife

In 1848, Ellen and William Craft escaped slavery in Georgia by disguising themselves—the light-skinned Ellen as a sickly white gentleman, William as his slave—and making their way north by train and steamer. Woo’s history draws from a variety of sources, including the Crafts’ own account, to reconstruct a “journey of mutual self-emancipation,” while artfully sketching the background of a nation careering toward civil war. The Crafts’ improbable escape, and their willingness to tell the story afterward on the abolitionist lecture circuit, turned them into a sensation, and Woo argues that they deserve a permanent place in the national consciousness.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Ordinary Notes

Sharpe, a finalist in the nonfiction category for the National Book Awards, has written two hundred and forty-eight notes in which, by layering memoir, criticism, inventory, and scholarship, she traces bright lines around Black lives lived amid the violence of white supremacy. In a glossary that invites close reading, she reminds us that “note” is both a noun (observations, memories, tones) and a verb (attending, marking, remembering). Sharpe’s own noting attends to the everyday. She outlines the precise elegance of her mother’s hands, the piercing vision of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” the transcendence of Savion Glover’s tap dance at Amiri Baraka’s funeral. With rawness and rigor, Sharpe repeatedly strikes blows against the presumed neutrality of whiteness that pervades art, literature, and even historical reckoning. Grief and triumph mingle throughout. “This is a love letter to my mother,” she writes in Note 248, and her incisive work is a paean to the legacies of Black love, care, and tenderness.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Rediscovery of America

This monumental reappraisal of the United States’ history, which won the 2023 National Book Award in nonfiction, spans five centuries—from the Spanish colonial period to the Cold War—and situates Indigenous people at the center of America’s evolution as a modern state. Blackhawk, a professor of history and of American studies, foregrounds the endurance of Native Americans’ autonomy and traditions in the face of their near-eradication. He highlights the complex diplomatic maneuvering and the adaptive capacity that disparate tribes employed as they navigated the encroachment of European settlers, and, later, faced the obscene betrayals—from treaty violations to the seizure of “Indian lands and, most painfully, children”—that defined the federal government’s approach to Native affairs in the wake of the Civil War. As he approaches the present, Blackhawk homes in on movements for Native self-determination, lauding the emergence of a “grammar of Indian politics rooted in cultural pride and sovereignty.” Still, he observes, “Language loss, continued ecological destruction, and innumerable legacies of colonialism endure, making the challenges of Native America among the most enduring.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Roman Stories

Jhumpa Lahiri’s remarkable third collection of short fiction delineates the lives of newcomers to Rome and of those born there, as all find their histories and that of the eternal city entwined. The stories, two of which first appeared in the magazine, describe a relationship to place that can be by turns intoxicating and forbidding.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this spare tale of disorientation and longing, by the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, a man gets stranded on a back road in a forest and wanders deep into the trees. There, he encounters stars, darkness, a shining figure, a barefoot man in a suit, and his parents, who seem to be caught in a dynamic of chastisement and withdrawal. Fosse uses fleeting allusions to a world beyond the reach of the narrator to explore some of humanity’s most elusive pursuits, certainty and inviolability among them. His bracingly clear prose imbues the story’s ambiguities with a profundity both revelatory and familiar. “Everything you experience is real, yes, in a way, yes,” the narrator says, “and you probably understand it too, in a way.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Some People Need Killing

In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines after campaigning on the promise of slaughtering three million drug addicts. In this unflinching account of the ensuing violence, a Filipina trauma journalist narrates six years of the country’s drug war, during which she spent her evenings “in the mechanical absorption of organized killing.” The book, conceived as a record of extrajudicial deaths, interweaves snippets of memoir that chart Evangelista’s personal evolution alongside that of her country under Duterte. In this period, she became “a citizen of a nation I cannot recognize as my own.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Vengeance Is Mine

In this elegantly layered tale of social stratification, NDiaye takes us through a maze of Bordeaux’s alleyways, backstreets, and elegant foyers, until we are dizzy from trying to chart the course of upward mobility. The novel, a story of class conflict embedded within a psychological thriller, begins with a tense office visit. A man walks into the struggling law practice of Maître Susane. His name is Gilles Principaux; he is known throughout Bordeaux as the husband of Marlyne Principaux, a woman in jail for drowning her three small children in a bathtub in the couple’s home in the affluent suburb of Le Bouscat. But Maître Susane knows him—or thinks she does—as the son of a wealthy family who once employed her mother to iron their laundry. Suspense supplies the forward motion of “Vengeance Is Mine.” We are on edge when Maître Susane turns the corners of streets and the corners of her own mind, scared of what she might remember about Gilles, or the boy who might have been Gilles. After she agrees to take Marlyne Principaux’s case, the gaps in her own story start to fill in.

A black-and-white photograph of police officers standing near burning material in France during a day of protests, on January 5, 2019.

“Y/N,” a strange, funny, and at times gorgeous new novel by Esther Yi, explores the consequences of subsuming your entire life in a desire for what may or may not exist. Before the narrator, an American living in Berlin, encounters Moon, the youngest member of a K-pop band with a global following, her idea of transcendence is purely theoretical. When her flatmate drags her to one of the band’s concerts, Moon’s dancing—“fluid, tragic, ancient”—changes everything. After the concert, she discovers a new vocation: writing Moon-themed fan fiction. Following the online convention that allows readers to insert themselves into the story, she calls her protagonist Y/N: “Your Name.” The allure of “Y/N” fanfic is the illusion that your story is written just for you. The catch is that “you” must remain undefined so that anyone can inhabit it. By making it the subject of her novel, Yi transforms an embarrassing gimmick into a philosophical claim, about the way people go through life alone together, each experiencing reality as that which happens strictly to them.

Illustration of woman plunging her face into a bathtub with polaroids of k-pop stars floating in the water around her.

Also Recommended

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Dictionary People

Unlike previous English dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary aimed to document not how words should be used but how they were actually used. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of people copied snippets from their reading onto slips of paper and mailed them to Oxford, where they were sorted and analyzed. This eclectic group, whom Ogilvie portrays with humor and affection, included vicars, murderers, Karl Marx’s daughter, and members of Virginia Woolf’s father’s walking club. When the O.E.D. was published, in 1928, it comprised more than four hundred thousand entries and almost two million quotations—an achievement that was possible only through the work of these “faithful” volunteers.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

How to Build a Boat

In this novel, by a noted poet, a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old named Jamie fixates on building a perpetual-motion machine, imagining that, if he creates one that moves “at the same speed in a continual motion,” as his late mother did in a video of herself swimming, it will connect him to her. He finds an ally in a teacher at his school, who is struggling with infertility and a loveless marriage. A new teacher for the woodshop class becomes a refuge for them both, despite arriving with his own mysterious problems. There is perhaps more than enough tragedy to go around, but Feeney’s prose is beautifully crisp. Jamie imagines that, in one’s final seconds, one’s thoughts may be “made up of the energy of your previous moments. Which is all you can ever have.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Harvey, one of the most consistently surprising contemporary British novelists, becomes something like the cosmic artificer of our era with a novel that imaginatively constructs the day-to-day lives of six astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The author winningly captures the almost unimaginable unworldliness of the situation: six imprisoned professionals are speeding around the world at seventeen and a half thousand miles an hour. When Nell, one of the astronauts, spacewalks outside the station to install a spectrometer, she observes that the Earth below her “doesn’t have the appearance of a solid thing, its surface is fluid and lustrous.” Her feet are dangling above a continent, “her left foot obscuring France, her right foot Germany. Her gloved hand blotting out western China.” Harvey demonstrates how a novelist might capture spectacular strangeness in language adequate to the spectacle and in ways that surpass the more orderly permissions of journalism and nonfictional prose. “Orbital” is the most magical of projects, not least because it’s barely what most people would call a novel but performs the kind of task that only a novel could dare.

Samantha Harvey, photographed by Gabrielle Demczuk.

Time’s Echo

In this work of vast historical scholarship, Eichler, the chief classical-music critic of the Boston Globe , considers music’s ability to function as a vehicle for collective memory. “Sound is too visceral a medium, too penetrating of the senses to be naturalized like stone,” Eichler writes. His argument rests on detailed considerations of four key works—by Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, and Benjamin Britten—composed in the shadow of the Second World War. Two of his subjects address the Holocaust specifically: Schoenberg’s blunt and graphic “A Survivor from Warsaw,” and Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony, which features a setting of a poem memorializing the Nazis’ massacre of Jews in Kyiv, in 1941. Strauss’s “Metamorphosen,” which unfolds as a seamless half-hour lament, is the most inward-looking of the group; Britten’s “War Requiem,” the longest, is a huge cantata of public grieving. Listening with “the ears of a critic and the tools of a historian,” Eichler details the geneses of these works and their receptions, their composers’ wartime experiences, and the wider history of the war to illustrate their capacities as “intensely charged memorials in sound.”

Sheet music using abstract notes and colors.

“ Wrong Way ” is a novel about the self-driving-car business that feels less like a vision of the future than a dispatch from the present. The story is told from the perspective of Teresa, a forty-eight-year-old Massachusetts woman who responds to a vague “Drivers Wanted” Craigslist ad posted by a recruiter on behalf of a Google-ish tech conglomerate called AllOver. At her orientation, she’s shown a video advertising an AllOver driverless electric taxi called the CR. But each CR, it turns out, has a human backup operator stashed inside, hidden from passengers, watching the road on a video screen. With its corporate machinations, creepy secrets, and low-ranking Everywoman protagonist, the novel seems, at first, like a standard-issue techno-thriller. But, just as the CR’s futuristic façade conceals something distinctly less high-tech, “Wrong Way” reveals itself to be something with a much lower heart rate: a leisurely novel of day-in, day-out gig work in the greater Boston area. The most memorable passages are not about self-driving cars but about other humans, and what it means to share a world with them.

Illustration of a couple making out in a car secretly operated both four people.

State of Silence

This timely new book , by the historian Sam Lebovic, considers the influence of the Espionage Act, a hundred-year-old law that still guides the prosecution not only of spies but of whistle-blowers, leakers, negligent bureaucrats, and cyber activists. Because the Espionage Act is so old and the spate of cases against leakers is so recent, one might think that its use in confrontations with the press is new—that an archaic anti-spy law has been repurposed for the information age. In fact, Lebovic shows, speech was a target from the law’s earliest days. He finds it maddening that the act—which he believes cannot possibly mean what it says and still be constitutional—has time and again dodged its day of reckoning with the Supreme Court. Lebovic doesn’t disregard the existence of real espionage or the need to deal with it, but he makes a persuasive case that the Espionage Act is itself unsalvageable.

"SECRET" stamped atop the United States emblem.

The Money Kings

This sweeping history focusses on German Jewish banking families in nineteenth-century New York, whose firms—among them Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers—helped define the modern financial system. Schulman offers a rich account of that system, and of his subjects’ role in shaping it (writing in part, as he says, in order to counter antisemitic falsehoods that have flourished online in recent years). But he anchors his narrative in intimate personal details, creating a compelling portrait of a close-knit Gilded Age aristocracy, which, though its members possessed nearly infinite wealth, was locked out of many of the country’s élite institutions. Schulman doesn’t shy away from the unsavory (such as the fact that, before the Civil War, the Lehmans owned slaves), rendering his subjects with satisfying complexity.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Ed of the title of this memoir, by a pioneer of the New Narrative movement, is Ed Aulerich-Sugai, the author’s ex-lover and longtime friend, who died of aids in 1994. Glück documents how he and Ed, a couple for ten years, beginning in the nineteen-seventies, struggled to reconcile their differing views on monogamy. Now Glück wonders if, in writing about Ed and excerpting portions of his dream journals, he is “stealing his memories”—and wrestles with why he, who relied so much on Ed, should outlive him for so long.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In the spring of 2010, a Wall Street gossip Web site called Dealbreaker obtained a notable PDF: a copy of the “Principles,” a novella-length manifesto written by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. The chaotically designed document included dozens of rules, ranging from short axioms to long-winded anecdotes about Darwinian competition, which Bridgewater employees were reportedly encouraged to read, deploy in their daily lives, and quote from regularly at work. Thirteen years after the Principles became public, the New York Times reporter Rob Copeland has published “The Fund,” an investigation that looks at how Dalio’s precepts worked in practice. The book details Dalio’s rise in the world of high finance, and his increasingly elaborate attempts to codify every aspect of human behavior: employees accused of misdeeds are subjected to public trials, and millions of dollars are thrown at a hubristic software project, at one point called “The Book of the Future.” Drawing from Copeland’s deep sourcing at Bridgewater, “The Fund” offers a vivid snapshot of Dalio’s psyche: the same obsession with systems and rules that helped him conquer the hedge-fund world ultimately distracted him from it.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Prophet Song

This unsettling dystopian novel, which won the 2023 Booker Prize, imagines an Ireland that has fallen into totalitarianism. Its story centers on one family; the father, a union official, is disappeared after being accused of sedition, leading his wife to attempt to get their children out of the country by legal means, and then—once she fails—to resort to underground methods. As Lynch describes the state’s security forces firing on peaceful protesters and banning foreign media, he eschews paragraph breaks, denying the reader respite. The mother mourns the death of normalcy: “She sees how happiness hides in the humdrum, how it abides in the everyday toing and froing,” Lynch writes, “as though it were a note that cannot be heard until it sounds from the past.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Collision of Power

In 2012, Martin Baron, the then fifty-eight-year-old leader of the Boston Globe , was hired as the executive editor of the Washington Post ; Jeff Bezos assumed ownership soon after. “ Collision of Power ” (Flatiron) is Baron’s sober and yet highly indiscreet new memoir about his eight-year tenure at the paper. Although his memoir reveals nearly nothing of his life outside the newsroom, his account brims with small, impolitic detonations, apparently included for the fullness of the record. Baron chronicles how the Post became a target for the Trump Administration, and drew a readership of unprecedented size, and the ways in which old reporting standards strained under the new habits of an always-online age. One of the delights of the book is observing a storied investigative editor plying his craft. In hindsight, Baron’s Post —enterprising, restrained, and deadly accurate—set the standard for news coverage of Trump’s Washington.

Black-and-white photograph of Marty Baron standing in a newsroom wearing a suit.

Treacle Walker

The protagonist of this spare novel, drawn from British folklore and Northern English vernacular, is a boy who lives alone in an old house, reading comic books and collecting birds’ eggs, and whose life is disrupted by the arrival of a rag-and-bone man. The boy forges a friendship with the man, Treacle Walker, who speaks in rhymes and riddles and travels with a magic chest. When the boy visits a doctor for his lazy eye, he discovers that his other eye sees things that don’t exist in the ordinary realm, and he begins to navigate an increasingly blurry boundary between reality and a dreamlike parallel world. The book examines knowledge and blindness, but its central concern is time, and what it means to step beyond its constraints.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Berry Pickers

The ghosts of lost children haunt generations in this lucid and assured début. The novel begins at the deathbed of a man from the Mi’kmaq Nation, who recalls a life transformed by the abduction of his younger sister, from a berry field in Maine, when he was six. His narration twines with that of a woman who grew up in a stable middle-class home but remembers understanding as a child that “my house was not my house.” The story has an inevitability to it, but Peters’s writing can surprise. At one point, the woman thinks of her elders, “We just start to separate from them, like oil from water, a line separating the living and the dying, the living carelessly gathering at the top.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Manuscripts Club

This inviting history brings together an eclectic group of medieval-manuscript lovers. In twelve gossipy chapters, de Hamel imagines discussing all things illuminated with, among others, St. Anselm, the eleventh-century monk and theologian; Belle da Costa Greene, the longtime director of the Morgan Library; and Theodor Mommsen, the German polymath whose transcriptions of classical texts earned him the 1902 Nobel Prize in Literature. Highlighting the sheer unlikeliness of any book lasting for centuries, de Hamel shows how each of his subjects helped to preserve manuscripts for future generations, and finds in their stories hope for the survival of these unique works in the digital age and beyond.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In the nineteen-seventies, the so-called war on crime initiated a trend in extreme sentencing that, for the federal government and sixteen states, included the near-elimination of parole. While showing how parole decisions can be erratic, biased, and insufficiently focussed on the offenders’ rehabilitation, Austen argues that the institution is nevertheless “an essential release valve.” He anchors his reportage with two inmates in their sixties, who have been imprisoned for four decades and are among the last in Illinois to remain eligible for parole. The self-knowledge and resilience of these men gleam against the harsh conditions of prison, and Austen transforms a debate often conducted on the plane of stereotype and fearmongering into a close study of real people in a broken system.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers' Guild

This novel’s relatively conventional premise—an anthropology student moves to a provincial village to conduct research—belies the bizarre fantasia that unfolds in its pages, in which moments across history occur simultaneously. The student mingles with his new neighbors, has cybersex with his girlfriend back in the city, and dallies on his thesis; meanwhile, around him, the turning of the wheel keeps life and death in a constant churn. Énard charts the arcs of his characters in their current, past, and future incarnations—as farmers, murderers, monks, bedbugs, boars, and ash trees. The concept, if esoteric, provides a feast of pathos and pleasure, and a shimmering argument for the interconnectedness of everything.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Holler, Child

In this début short-story collection, a varied group of voices—male and female, young and old, parent and child—grapple with profound disruptions, from infidelity to illness. Among Watkins’s characters are a woman entertaining a string of reporters curious about her son, who was a cult leader, and a recent widow, who confronts her mother for raising her to be “too hard to live soft.” Though all the protagonists appear to chafe against what those they’re closest to expect of them, the stories’ prevailing sentiment is clear: “People need people. That’s heaven.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Nostalgia has broad artistic and political dimensions; it is a matter of cultural consequence. It also never ceases to be a private preoccupation—sometimes a harmless solace and occasionally a dangerous indulgence. Becker delves into volume after academic volume on the subject and finds a remarkable consistency within “the existing literature”: for centuries now, the verdict on nostalgia has been “overwhelmingly pejorative.” He is generally convincing in showing the whole political spectrum’s reluctance to be caught trafficking in any direct invocation of the concept; his prudent book considers the word a reflexive smear and proposes boldly that nostalgia “be struck from the political vocabulary altogether.” But, despite the scorn that electoral politics may profess toward nostalgia, we practice it culturally all the time. “Yesterday” also takes us through endless artistic revivals throughout the past half century, a period during which, as technology frog-marched us into the future, we kept a constant backward glance. The long era we’re in now, Becker suggests, seems not so much postmodern as re-everything.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Night Watch

Opening nearly a decade after the Civil War, this intricately plotted novel takes place at a progressive psychiatric hospital in West Virginia. At the story’s outset, a mute woman and her teen-age daughter are brought to the hospital by an abusive drifter who took over the farm on which they lived; gradually, the book begins to reveal events that took place ten years earlier, imbuing the more recent story line with tragic and surprising meaning. As Phillips shifts between the two periods and among her various characters’ perspectives—most crucially, that of the daughter forced by circumstance to forgo her adolescence and become a kind of matriarch—she examines ideas about identity, rebirth, and lingering trauma.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In the Shadow of Quetzalcoatl

This vibrant biography follows the complex, captivating figure of Zelia Nuttall, a self-taught scholar of ancient Mesoamerica and a pioneer of modern anthropology. Nuttall rose to national fame in 1893, when her decoding of the Aztec calendar stone was featured at the Chicago World’s Fair. She went on to publish prolifically and to become one of the chief collectors of indigenous artifacts for numerous American museums. Her reputation declined in the nineteen-twenties, as anthropology was being codified into an academic discipline. Grindle paints an indelible portrait of a woman both charming and challenging, whose boldness could slip easily into imperiousness, and whose zeal could lead her astray (she was “not above smuggling treasures out of Mexico”).

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Foreign Bodies

This absorbing cultural history of vaccines surveys three centuries of controversy, beginning in England in the seventeen-twenties, with the first smallpox inoculation. For every enlightened champion of them—such as Voltaire, who praised the “strong and solid good sense” of their use—there were countless skeptics, reactionaries, and unscrupulous politicians who resisted them. Religious doctrine, the fear of outsiders, and personal attacks were among the tools these actors used: a central character in the book is Waldemar Haffkine, the creator of the cholera and plague vaccines, whose work administering them to the rural poor in India was cut short in 1902 after colonial officials campaigned to discredit him.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Brooklyn Crime Novel

A half century of Brooklyn history and a bevy of crimes—currency defacement, petty theft, breaking and entering, drug use—feature in this series of loosely linked vignettes, which follow children living in and around the neighborhood of Boerum Hill, from the nineteen-seventies to the present. Though the book is tinted with nostalgia, it’s filled with characters suspicious of idealizing an earlier time. Boerum, the narrator observes, “is a slaveholder name,” and a Black boy called C. thinks that the area’s gentrifiers “want to live neither in the present, nor the future, but in a cleaned-up dream of the past.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

“If you love music, you have to fight for it,” a former  New Yorker  pop-music critic writes in this slim, engaging volume, which recounts his childhood among “celebrity children” at a private school in Brooklyn, and his early obsession with music, which led to his career as a writer and as a band member. Both a memoir and a history, the book touches on race relations in the seventies and the aids epidemic. Haunted by the deaths of his father and his first wife, along with his struggles with mental illness and alcoholism, Frere-Jones excavates his life’s triumphs and failures. As he writes of playing with a band for the first time, “I fail my way into an epiphany.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This essential history details Ulysses S. Grant’s fight to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan during the course of his Presidency. The Klan sprang up largely in response to Black suffrage. After the Civil War, Southern Black men voted in the hundreds of thousands, sending scores of Black candidates to office. The Klan, which Bordewich calls the nation’s “first organized terrorist movement,” targeted Black community leaders, with local and state officials either unwilling or unable to stop it. Grant made the issue federal, dispatching troops to the South and holding trials for suspected Klan members. Though his efforts were later gutted by a series of disastrous Supreme Court decisions, Grant’s victory, Bordewich argues, serves as a potent reminder that “forceful political action can prevail over violent extremism.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro, the father figure of the Impressionists, connected the group’s feuding factions, became an instructor and mentor to the impossible Cézanne, welcomed Georges Seurat and took up his pointillist cause, and even remained (until the Dreyfus Affair) on good terms with the irascible Degas. Pissarro’s observation that winter sun is actually warmer than the summer kind was an insight that moved Monet and Alfred Sisley, and illuminates their art. Only late in his life, though, did he find a subject and an approach toward art-making that brought him to the level of his more illustrious peers. Muhlstein’s biography invites us to head to the museums to look at the work again. She is a sympathetic chronicler of Pissarro’s life, and she understands that, although we may want to lift Monet or Degas up from their circle to see them individually, comparing them with masters past and masters yet to come, Pissarro belongs not only to his time but to his team. Whatever “Impressionism” means is what he means, too.

A painting of a young girl with flowers, by Camille Pissarro

A History of Fake Things on the Internet

Scheirer, a computer scientist, surveys the landscape of Internet fakery and manipulated media. He knows better than most how such technologies could set off a society-wide epistemic meltdown, yet he sees no signs that they are doing so. Doctored videos online delight, taunt, jolt, menace, arouse, and amuse, but they rarely deceive. Seeing the digital-disinformation threat looming, media-forensics experts rushed to develop countermeasures, Scheirer writes. But to hone them, they needed fake images, and, Scheirer shows, they struggled to find any. He sent students hunting for manipulated photos on the Internet. They returned triumphant, bags brimming with fakes. They didn’t find instances of sophisticated deception, though; instead, they found memes. Scheirer reframes our most urgent needs; the manipulations we’ve faced so far haven’t been deceptive so much as expressive. Fact-checking them does not help, because the problem with fakes isn’t the truth they hide. It’s the truth they reveal.

A photo-illustration of a deep fake being made.

Charlie Chaplin vs. America

“You know this fellow is many-sided,” as Chaplin explained the Tramp, his famous silent-film character, “a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo player.” In short, the Tramp was an Everyman, and when he emerged on the scene, his creator became an object of fan hysteria on a par with Rudolph Valentino. Soon after 1940, however, the country turned against him. Eyman’s book is an attempt to explain what happened. The image of Chaplin the man became virtually the inverse of the Tramp’s: oversexed, ungenerous, anti-American. Chaplin’s fall from grace, Eyman says, “eerily foretells the homicidal cultural and political life of the twenty-first century.” His book is lively and entertaining, adding significant detail to the story of Chaplin’s spectacular peripeteia. Eyman is completely sympathetic to Chaplin, and he makes the case that we should be, too.

Charlie Chaplin standing by a large globe in a still from "The Great Dictator."

Let Us Descend

The title of this powerful historical novel is taken from Dante; the descent to which it refers is into the hell of chattel slavery, “this death before death.” Annis, the protagonist, is the child of an enslaved woman who was raped by the owner of the plantation in Carolina where they labor. Her mother secretly passes down ancestral knowledge, teaching Annis to fight and forage as “a way to recall another world.” After an act of resistance, Annis is sold to a slave trader, and during a brutal forced march she discovers the company of spirits, one of whom takes the name of her grandmother, an African warrior. “How am I with none of the people I belong to?” Annis asks. Ultimately, the spirits help her achieve a measure of deliverance from her lonely inferno.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Love of Singular Men

In this novel of queer first love, set in Rio de Janeiro, a middle-aged man, Camilo, obsessively revisits his childhood affair with a teen-age orphan named Cosme, whom his bourgeois family adopted in the nineteen-seventies. The romance between the two boys—Camilo so white as to be “almost green,” Cosme the color of “coffee-with-watered-down-milk”—unfolds against the backdrop of Brazil’s military junta and its legacy of slavery. As Camilo’s family unravels—his father tormented by his work as a doctor for the regime’s torturers, his mother beset by madness—Camilo and Cosme experience the bliss of infatuation, before tragedy occurs, one made all the crueller by the author’s own death by suicide, at the age of twenty-nine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Beyond the Wall

When the victors of the Second World War agreed, in 1945, to build a “decentralized” and “denazified” Germany, they set the stage for the creation of the German Democratic Republic, which was founded in the region formerly administered by Soviet authorities. In this layered history, Hoyer combines analysis of the government’s inner workings and interviews with East Germans. She takes up the state’s surveillance apparatus and its appetite for ideological conformity, but also considers the country’s cultural idiosyncrasies and its generous social safety net, which included a robust child-care system. As she does so, she relates details that lend weight to her conclusion that reunification was “a waymarker in Germany’s quest for unity rather than its happy ending.”

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Naked in the Rideshare

These raucously funny pieces of satire by the youngest-ever writers for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” gleefully dissect so many aspects of Gen Z life—from sex and politics, to memes and Goop—with scalpel-like precision.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In the eighteen-forties, Thomas Smallwood, an educated free Black man, and Charles Torrey, a white abolitionist, began working together to free slaves. From Washington, D.C., they organized escapes and established the network of allies that Smallwood named the Underground Railroad. Through newspaper records and Smallwood’s and Torrey’s writings, Shane paints a vivid picture of the nation’s capital, which was then dominated by pro-slavery institutions, and of the journeys of slaves who fled north. While recognizing Torrey’s legacy, he draws Smallwood into the spotlight, arguing that his contributions were far greater, despite the fact that, as a Black man, he inhabited a more circumscribed and dangerous world.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Mapping the Darkness

This absorbing history traces the science of sleep from its origins in a lab at the University of Chicago in the nineteen-twenties. Its ascent, Miller shows, was influenced by a range of factors, among them Freudianism, the study of blinking, the pressures of capitalism (knowledge about circadian rhythms prompted changes in factories’ production schedules), and the Challenger disaster (sleep-research funding increased after it was revealed that exhaustion helped cause the catastrophe). The book follows a handful of dogged scientists—a First World War refugee, a pioneering psychiatrist who was once her mentor’s test subject—but also examines the impact of the many researchers whose discoveries have helped to make the treatment of sleep disorders a pillar of public health.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This début novel—by an acclaimed Argentinean writer, and first published in 1958—centers on a sixteen-year-old who becomes pregnant after an assault by an older man. Setting the story in the sweltering heat of Argentina’s Pampas, Gallardo re-creates the world of ranchers and missionaries from the perspective of the girl, with her adolescent confusion and private sense of guilt. Gallardo juxtaposes her solitary desperation—she visits a local medicine woman for an abortion, and gallops recklessly on horseback to induce a miscarriage—with the conservative Catholic society that closes ranks against her.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Council of Dolls

In this novel, three Dakhóta girls come of age while wrestling with the destruction of Native traditions. Each girl possesses a doll, which Power imbues with memories and speech, and the dolls help pass stories down through the generations. Cora, in the nineteen-hundreds, and Lillian, in the nineteen-thirties, are both sent to Indian boarding schools, which aim to turn “so-called ‘wild Indians’ into darker versions of white people.” Sissy, their daughter and granddaughter, never endures those horrors, but in the book’s final, metafictional section she has become a novelist, and, through the dolls, resurrects her ancestors’ tales. “Words can undo us or restore us to wholeness,” she says. “I pray that mine will be medicine.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Long Form

The plot of Kate Briggs’s début novel is deceptively bare: Helen and her baby, Rose, live through a day together. Between cries, bounces, park walks, lots of looking, thinking, some panicking, dozing, and a number of cups of tea, Briggs delivers essayistic interludes on how caring for a baby, like reading a novel, upturns the standard experience of time. Briggs foregrounds the improvisational quality of mothering a newborn, the perpetual creativity inherent in Helen’s attempts to catch Rose’s interest and make her comfortable. At first, it might sound like Briggs is trying to question the basics of plot or suspense, but, in fact, “The Long Form” is gripping, with all the satisfactions of more traditional narratives, albeit in unprecedented places. When the fictional doorbell rings after pages and pages of Helen trying to put Rose down, trying to gently drift her into a very necessary morning nap, I almost yelped out “No!” like an action hero sprinting toward a preventable explosion, pathetic hand outstretched—we had worked so hard, and now it was over!

A woman holding a baby with just the baby's feet visible.

Lies and Sorcery

The Italian author Elsa Morante’s longest novel, a scathing, operatic saga of social climbing and doomed romance, was first published in 1948, but a full translation has not been available in English until now. (An abridged English version, which Morante considered a “mutilation,” appeared in 1951 as “House of Liars.”) The book, which follows three generations of tragically deluded women, is animated by Morante’s hatred of the selfishness and superficiality engendered by Italy’s rigid class system. In their masochistic worship of hierarchy, tendency toward idolatry, and susceptibility to kitsch, its characters embody the traits that she believed had enabled Mussolini’s rise.

An illustration of a woman writing with a quill on paper while sitting in the center of a vortex of images.

A Haunting on the Hill

Hand’s novel is, as the book jacket notes, “the first novel authorized to return to the world of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House .” In Hand’s story, four friends come together to rent Hill House in order to spend some time workshopping a play. The narrator, a fortysomething playwright named Holly Sherwin, is hoping to revive her flatlined career; all the participants in her workshop are prone to moments of sharp-elbowed competition and jealousy. Meanwhile, they watch as hares run out of the fireplace and supernatural doorways materialize beside their beds. Hand has a gift for the sensuous, evocative detail, and her descriptions are often simultaneously seductive and spooky. She makes clever thematic use of her own haunting of Jackson’s house, brilliantly capturing the discomfort of being too close to a vulnerable artistic project, the sense of violation that can arise when someone moves too boldly into your creative space.

A haunted house at night with two faces peering out the windows.

The House of Doors

In 1921, the English writer W. Somerset Maugham was the most celebrated author in the world. He published, among many other works, a piece called “The Letter,” a short story based on an actual criminal trial in which the wife of a well-off British planter was accused of murdering her neighbor. Eng’s novel offers an imagined account of how Maugham came to write “The Letter,” and does so by combining novelistic hypothesis with the available biographical record. The novel juggles two central narratives, one from 1910, in which the murder trial and its aftermath are masterfully recounted, and one from 1921, in which Maugham vacations with a man who is his secretary and lover, enjoys the hospitality of his colonial hosts, and prospects for stories. With lyrical generosity, and exquisite reticence, Eng layers narratives of history, fact, fiction, and hearsay. He mimics the patter of Maugham’s own prose, introducing gentle subversion in his subplots of passion and erotic wandering. Eng’s book is full of distinct pleasures, conjuring a delicious set of secrets behind a classic story.

A woman and man sit at a table in front of an ornate door. Around them are four large faces and a tangle of tree branches.

Cross-Stitch

The words “text” and “textile” contain a common Latin root, a teacher tells Mila, the narrator of this skillful début novel about female friendship. Mila and Citlali meet as schoolchildren in Mexico City, and bond over a love of embroidery. For Mila, embroidering is both an aesthetic pursuit and an act of political resistance. Years later, Citlali’s sudden death leads Mila to reflect on their past, and to remember Citlali asking, “Just what have you done for a world that’s falling apart around you? Write?” The novel serves as a response, conjuring Citlali, “like a spell,” into life again.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Vulnerables

In this ruminative novel set during the covid pandemic, the narrator, an intellectual living in New York, lends her apartment to a visiting pulmonologist and moves into one belonging to acquaintances who have decamped to a suburb, leaving behind their pet macaw. Her living arrangement is soon disrupted by the unannounced arrival of the previous bird-sitter, a college student. At first, the two keep to themselves in a largely peaceable coexistence. The narrator’s most unsettling experience takes place outside, when a man taunts her and coughs in her face, an event that underscores her “vulnerable” status. Rather than dwelling in despair, Nunez’s book expands into a meditation on pain and the formation of unusual intimacies.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

During his first failed campaign for President, Mitt Romney acquired a reputation: the “flippin’ Mormon.” He began his career as a pragmatist, a wildly successful businessman who became a moderate governor in Massachusetts. When he took the national stage, though, he appeared stiff and disingenuous, awkwardly contorting his positions to match the Republican Party’s rightward lurch. In a new, intimate biography, Coppins draws on dozens of interviews, as well as hundreds of pages of personal journals and private correspondence, to show how Romney’s ambitions and principles increasingly came into conflict. The throughline is Romney’s faith, which he nurtured even when he was running for President, and which finally led him to a moment of redemption: his decision, in 2020, to be the first Republican senator who voted to impeach Donald Trump.

Black-and-white photograph of Senator Mitt Romney holding his right hand in the air.

The Dimensions of a Cave

This cerebral thriller follows an investigative journalist as he attempts to expose a secret government program developing a lifelike virtual reality. His reporting raises profound questions: Are artificial beings alive? How do ambition and idealism transform each other? And “how, when you’re inside one story, can you see around it?” The character of the journalist takes shape through his relationships—with his girlfriend, a gallerist, who feels that their settled coupledom has run its course, and with a young, high-minded reporter who lacks the journalist’s ironic distance—suggesting that we best affirm our own realness by recognizing the reality of others. Jackson depicts the world as “stranger, wilder, deeper, more open than you’ve been made to know.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Baumgartner

The center of this slender, ruminative novel is Sy Baumgartner, an author and a professor who, at seventy, has been mourning his wife’s sudden death for nearly ten years. As Baumgartner struggles to make sense of this chapter of his life, he starts dating, and he devotes himself to a new book, “a serio-comic, quasi-fictional discourse on the self in relation to other selves.” (Notably, Auster and his protagonist share several traits—both are from Newark and both married translators—and Baumgartner’s mother’s maiden name was Auster.) Auster writes movingly about seeming to recover after great loss: “If you are the one who lives on, you will discover that the amputated part of you, the phantom part of you, can still be a source of profound, unholy pain.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

How to Be Multiple

In her ambitious and vivacious book, de Bres aims to rescue twins from the gothic, from horror movies, and from singleton scrutiny, the better to testify to the experience of twindom from the inside out. She invokes twins from life and legend—the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker; Tweedledum and Tweedledee; her own identical twin and herself—to examine how multiples complicate our notions of personhood, attachment, and agency. Twins have been critical to our understanding of ourselves, she argues; they are present in the founding myths of great cities. Twins have been worshipped, killed at birth, paraded as curiosities. They have been treated as subhuman and superhuman, and seen to personify every possible duality: collaboration and bitter competition, the purest as well as the most morbidly enmeshed forms of love. And they continue to unsettle our notions about where bodies end and begin, and about whether personalities, even fates, are forged or found.

Sue Gallo Baugher and Faye Gallo stand side by side at the Twins Days Festival, in Twinsburg, Ohio, in 1998.

Going Infinite

Almost immediately after the cryptocurrency exchange FTX imploded last November, an agent e-mailed Hollywood buyers to reveal that the writer Michael Lewis just happened to have spent the previous six months hanging around Sam Bankman-Fried. Lewis, famous for his portraits of unlikely, contrarian heroes, has not composed a hagiography—but neither does he portray Bankman-Fried as an antihero. In the first chapter, Bankman-Fried stands up Anna Wintour at the Met Ball. Later, Caroline Ellison, Bankman-Fried’s on-and-off girlfriend, sends him bullet-point memos about her hopes for a real relationship. Lewis’s tone is one of tender beguilement. He isn’t sympathetic, exactly, but he remains defiantly open to evidence of Bankman-Fried’s innocence, despite the fact that most of the world is convinced that he is guilty of one of the greatest financial frauds of all time. The final work—which is stupefyingly pleasurable to read—offers an inside account of FTX’s collapse, and fills in many gaps in a story that has been subjected to an unholy amount of reporting.

Sam Bankman-Fried seen through a window at Manhattan Federal District Court in New York

The Mysteries

Watterson’s return to print, nearly three decades after retiring from producing his wildly beloved comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes,” comes in the form of this “fable for grown-ups,” which he wrote and illustrated in collaboration with the renowned caricaturist John Kascht. The book’s characters, unnamed, are drawn from the misty forever-medieval: knights, wizards, peasants with faces like Leonardo grotesques. The magic of condensation that is characteristic of cartoons is also here, in a story with a quick, fairy-tale beginning: “Long ago, the forest was dark and deep.” It opens in a world in which unseen mysteries are keeping the populace in a state of terror. As people unearth the secrets behind these mysteries, and use their new knowledge to create technological marvels, they become less fearful. Or you might say insufficiently fearful: if “The Mysteries” is a fable, then its moral might be that, when we believe we’ve understood the mysteries, we are misunderstanding; when we think we’ve solved them and have moved on, that error can be our dissolution.

A drawing of Calvin, with Bill Watterson as Hobbes.

The Chapter

In this history, Dames considers the nature of the chapter, a subjective division that nonetheless organizes our understanding of life and literature, giving us a shared metaphoric language, a threshold for signalling transition, a way of counting our thoughts. He walks through the chapter as metaphor, the chapter as historical construct, and finally, in its novelistic form, the chapter “as a way to articulate how the way to experience time is to experience its segmentations.” For Dames, form begets function—and neither is above scrutiny. The book was born of an essay published on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Lumumba Plot

In 1961, Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first Prime Minister, was murdered, brought down by a combination of Congolese politicians and Belgian “advisers,” with the tacit support of the United States and the malign neglect of the United Nations. In this book, Reid, an editor at Foreign Affairs , is interested not only in how external forces arrayed themselves to bring about a calamity but also in how the first leader of the newly decolonized Congo, dealing with a breakaway province and a range of outside players, alienated Belgium and triggered America's Cold War anxieties about Soviet influence. Reid’s account, cool and vivid, leaves no doubt about Lumumba’s humanity and vision, though his portrait of the late Prime Minister avoids the nostalgia that has become a part of his legacy. Most of all, it shows how Congolese independence was never given a chance.

An illustration of Lumumba being detained by soldiers.

On Marriage

Marriage is a vast subject, being an institution that informs our most important social structures—including the tax code and the disposition of intergenerational wealth—while also circumscribing the idiosyncratic goings on within a household. Yet Baum, a British critic and filmmaker, posits that marriage is a surprisingly unexamined subject, at least by professional philosophers, who have left the field to novelists, filmmakers, and other artists. Her nimble new work selects and analyzes artistic renderings of marriage across philosophy, television, and literature—including work by the novelist Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the theorist Slavoj Žižek, and the screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Baum is a master at unpicking clichés. She pushes at the boundaries of marriage as a framework for conceiving of ourselves in relation to others, and she is especially interested in marriages that adapt the institution’s conventional trappings for subversive and playful ends. “The happily married,” Baum concludes, “are the ones who’ve simultaneously killed and reinforced the institution by making it suit themselves.”

Two swans with necks tied in a knot.

The Revolutionary Temper

In the final forty years of the ancien régime, Paris was gripped by drama, involving, among other things, royal affairs, riots over bread prices and ministerial despotism, and public demonstrations of innovations like the hot-air balloon. Darnton, a historian at Harvard, plumbs diaries, news reports, and popular songs to show how these events, combined with Enlightenment ideals, were digested by the city’s robust media culture to fuel a burgeoning sense of citizen sovereignty. By the start of the French Revolution, he writes, these stirrings had crystallized into a “revolutionary temper”: “a conviction that the human condition is malleable, not fixed, and that ordinary people can make history instead of suffering it.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

What the Taliban Told Me

In this memoir, a former linguist for the U.S. military, who monitored suspected Taliban communications in Afghanistan, gathering information that determined the people American soldiers would kill, reflects on his deployment. The book’s arc traces his moral transformation: Fritz recounts how listening to the prosaic conversations of potential enemy combatants rendered him unable to depersonalize them, and therefore unable to perform his job. Essentially, his war chronicle cautions that the urge to make monsters of others creates the risk of slipping into the monstrous ourselves.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The nine stories in Clowes’s graphic novel follow one another without any introduction, guide, or postscript. Centered on the lives of strong female characters, the book intertwines tales of soldiers in the hell of the Vietnam War, a demonic sect of inbred aristocrats, a radio that broadcasts the voice of the dead, and a rags-to-riches story of an influential candlemaker—among others. The comics form a fractal-like chronicle, with threads of conspiracies and end-of-the-world scenarios woven throughout. An overarching narrative seems to become clearer with each reading—but in the style of a David Lynch story, with each reader’s interpretation as varied and as valid as the next.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Two-Parent Privilege

Kearney, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, considers how disparities in marriage can underpin social inequality. She begins by positing that the decline in marriage rates and the corresponding rise in the number of children being raised in single-parent homes “has contributed to the economic insecurity of American families, has widened the gap in opportunities and outcomes for children from different backgrounds, and today poses economic and social challenges that we cannot afford to ignore—but may not be able to reverse.” Having two parents who are married to each other, Kearney argues, provides offspring with economic and social advantages. And by joining their particular strengths, a married couple can give their progeny more than the sum of their parts. She argues for policy changes that would scale up community-based programs that strengthen and increase economic support for low-income families and for a broader cultural push to recognize that when it comes to raising children, no other arrangement works quite as well as matrimony.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Volga Tale

The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was a state located along the Volga River, populated by ethnic Germans whose ancestors had been lured to the region by Catherine the Great. This rich epic depicts its rise and fall through the story of a principled and awkward schoolteacher, whose life intersects with twenty years of social tragedy. Early in the novel, the teacher falls in love, but a horrific incident renders him mute and his lover pregnant. Yakhina charts the brutal decades of Stalin’s collectivization and repression, and creates a moving portrait of the teacher’s profound love for his family, and of Russia’s multiethnic population.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Many generations of the Kurzweil family have sought, through various mediums, to make sense of their collective traumatic past, and in this graphic memoir Amy Kurzweil considers her father’s use of A.I. to create a chatbot that speaks in his own father’s voice and ties it to her quest for self-knowledge. The book was excerpted on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this expansive memoir, a novelist recounts her return to the place where she grew up—a compound in New Jersey, known to her family as “the Farm,” where she was raised by her mother and stepfather in a combined family of ten children. As she revisits the scene of her tumultuous childhood, McPhee writes, memories begin to emerge from “every patch-job and jerry-rigged ‘solution’ from the broken, yet widening, spell of the past.” When a tenant alerts her that overgrown bamboo is interfering with the electricity and plumbing, she embarks upon a series of projects—including tending to the understory of the land’s forest—that lead her to examine the stories that sit behind her own ideas of family and sense of self.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Pandora’s Box

Biskind’s saga about the rise and fall of prestige television explains, in punchy, propulsive prose, how we went from Tony Soprano to Ted Lasso. We meet the three HBO Davids: Chase, Simon, and Milch—the headstrong, high-strung men who reinvented the Mob drama (“The Sopranos”), the crime procedural (“The Wire”), and the Western (“Deadwood”), respectively. The story of these turbulent masterminds and their antihero doubles has been told before, but Biskind has the benefit of having waited to see the other side of Peak TV’s peak. Netflix, he writes, quickly established itself as a purveyor of original series to rival HBO’s. Then legacy studios and Big Tech got in on the game. Now many streamers are launching ad-supported tiers, meaning that they’ll be answerable to the same sponsors that propped up the networks. “Pandora’s Box” posits that golden ages don’t arise from the miraculous congregation of geniuses; the industry’s default setting is for garbage. Occasionally, the incentives change just enough to allow a cascade of innovation, but things inevitably shift back to the norm. The small-screen era of risk-taking and artistic ambition is over, Biskind suggests. But he cannily chronicles its heights.

A TV sun setting behind the Hollywood sign.

A City on Mars

This playful “homesteader’s guide” to space settlement presents a bleak view of the pursuit, arguing that “an Earth with climate change and nuclear war . . . is still a way better place than Mars.” The authors examine the increasingly popular dream of a multi-planetary human race with a skepticism informed by ethical, logistical, and legal anxieties. They warn that the Martian landscape is whipped by “poison storms”; that space exploration without clearer laws could escalate into a “zero-sum scramble” for resources; and that science has barely grazed the unknowns of long-term extraterrestrial habitation.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Pensive Citadel

Brombert went to Yale University as a recipient of the G.I. Bill after serving in the Second World War; his essay collection reflects on decades spent in the academy, in halls fortified not for war but for scholarship. Brombert, who pairs a gravity of human experience with a tender love for regarding it, expounds upon the "paradox of laughter," the allure of existentialism, and the faculty of Baudelaire. One essay, on the slipperiness of time and the layered reappraisals that constitute life and learning, was published on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Roads, those most ubiquitous features of human civilization, are the subject of this perceptive book by an environmental journalist. Roads kill more creatures than any other “environmental ill”; they also bisect migration routes, pollute with noise, and help to facilitate deforestation. Road ecology—a specialty that Goldfarb lauds as “a field whose radical premise asserted that it was possible to perceive our built world through nonhuman eyes”—seeks to understand these dynamics and to propose solutions that actively consider animal lives. Through encounters with practitioners, including a veterinarian who helps track the movements of anteaters across Brazilian highways, Goldfarb charts a path toward a less destructive future.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Body of the Soul

Many of the stories in the new collection by one of Russia’s most famous writers, who now lives in exile in Berlin, deal with life in the Soviet and post-Soviet years, chronicling ordinary people who encounter mystery and bureaucracy. Two of the stories appeared in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Lies of the Land

This piercing, unsentimental new book by the historian Steven Conn scrutinizes wistful talk of “real America.” Conn, who teaches at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, argues that the rural United States is, in fact, highly artificial: its inhabitants are as much creatures of state power and industrial capitalism as their city-dwelling counterparts. Agriculture has become a capital-intensive, high-tech pursuit, belying the “left behind” story of rural life, he argues. Fields resemble factories, where automation reigns and more than two-thirds of the hired workforce is foreign-born. And for the past century, rural spaces have been preferred destinations for military bases, discount retail chains, extractive industries, manufacturing plants, and real-estate developments. Understanding the contemporary cultural “revolt against the city,” Conn writes, will require setting aside myths and grappling with what the rich and the powerful have done to rural spaces and people.

Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, and his dentist, Byron McKeeby, stand by the painting for which they had posed, “American Gothic.”

American Poly

Fifty-one per cent of adults younger than thirty told Pew Research, in 2023, that open marriage was “acceptable,” and twenty per cent of all Americans report experimenting with some form of non-monogamy. “American Poly,” a new book by the historian Christopher M. Gleason, offers some explanations for how this came to be the state of our affairs. (The term “polyamory” is thought to have been coined in 1990, but Gleason backdates to encompass various forms of consensual non-monogamy.) The book does not purport to be a sweeping study of free love in the U.S., a history that would include more on its adoption by socialists, beatniks, and queer liberationists. Instead, “American Poly” focusses more narrowly on the post-nineteen-sixties polyamory movement. Gleason argues, persuasively, that contemporary polyamory as a set of ideas and practices was articulated by the free-love advocates best positioned to survive conservative backlash in the nineteen-eighties: socially liberal fiscal conservatives.

A couple doing different activities with other people.

This Is Salvaged

The narrator of the title story in this collection is an unappreciated artist who beholds a warming planet and wishes to express that the precariousness of life is, among other things, darkly funny. This thesis propels the stories that follow. A teen-age girl avoids processing her brother’s death while working above her favorite eggroll shop at an operation that sells everything from phone sex to gardening magazines. A boy who doesn’t fret about technological advancements that pose a risk of alienation fantasizes about owning a car in a driverless future. The exuberant optimism of Vara’s characters allows the author to approach heavy topics—predatory bosses, globalization, class difference—with levity.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this affecting début novel, a narrator who resembles the author grapples with the death of her mother—her “integral wound”—and with her mother’s disapproval of her lesbianism. She makes a pilgrimage through Russia, carrying her mother’s ashes in an urn to be buried in their home town, in Siberia, but her grief is continually punctured by the bureaucracy of dealing with death. Drawing from Siberian legend and Greek mythology and from modern works by artists like Louise Bourgeois and Annie Leibovitz, Vasyakina meditates on time, womanhood, and sexuality, using the novel to make sense of the parent she has lost. “I feel that she is looking at the world through me,” Vasyakina writes. “I feel her inside me all the time.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Boy from Kyiv

This deft, intimate biography traces the career of Alexei Ratmansky—arguably the preëminent ballet choreographer of our time, currently in residence at New York City Ballet—and examines the tensions between traditionalism and innovation within his field. Born in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), raised in Kyiv, and trained at the Bolshoi, Ratmansky danced with the National Ballet of Ukraine during perestroika. After the Soviet Union’s dissolution, he ventured abroad to join companies in the West before eventually returning to the Bolshoi as its director. His eclectic, erudite œuvre includes a variety of original pieces—narrative, abstract, satirical—and reconstructions of classics, like “The Sleeping Beauty,” that make radical use of century-old dance notation. Harss’s insightful portrait of a prolific creator highlights how Ratmansky’s art reflects the frictions and the liberations of a changing world.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This Country

This moving graphic memoir about buying a (tiny) house and making a home in rural Idaho as an Iranian American beautifully depicts a quest for belonging and the revelation that it rarely comes in the shape or form that one expects.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This Won’t Help

The collection of short humorous fiction addresses how to, if not thrive, at least hang in there while the world burns. (The key: laughing at these incisive pieces of satire.)

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Genius of their Age

Ibn Sina and Biruni, two polymaths born in the late tenth century, were giants of the Islamic Golden Age, producing groundbreaking findings in mathematics, science, and philosophy. Both men were from what is now Uzbekistan, and both drew from Aristotle, but this engaging history uncovers their differences, in temperament and in scholarly approach. Ibn Sina was a bon vivant and an eager public intellectual who reasoned from abstract metaphysical principles, whereas Biruni, a recluse, “moved from the specific to the general.” After a vitriolic exchange early in their careers, the two men apparently never corresponded again. As Starr brings them back into conversation, he illuminates the richness of thought that characterized this “lost Enlightenment.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Black Friend

In this incredibly funny collection of essays, the comedian Ziwe mines anecdotes from her life—such as finding out that her feet were only rated “okay” on the celebrity-feet photo-sharing site wikiFeet—to delve deeply into contemporary culture, and explore what it means to be a Black woman in America, and in the American media landscape.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Our Hideous Progeny

This novel might be called historical science fiction: it takes place in the aftermath of “Frankenstein” and treats that text as if it were a true family history rather than a novel. Its narrator, Mary, is an illegitimate daughter in the Frankenstein clan who grows up hearing stories of family tragedy and later accesses a trunk full of old papers in which her great-uncle, Victor Frankenstein, chronicles an experiment gone hideously awry. Mary inherits her ancestor’s scientific proclivities and boldness. Fascinated by fossils, she undertakes an experiment worthy of Dr. Frankenstein, had he been a paleontologist. Evocatively and compassionately, McGill seeks a way to tell the stories of those “whose tales cannot fit in one book, those poor creatures who remain lost or forgotten,” as one character notes. Monstrousness is framed as something empowering, especially for “women who love women, women who didn’t know they were women at first but know better now, those who thought they were women at first but know better now.”

A photo of Shelley surrounded by leaves, insects, and babies.

Blood in the Machine

In the early eighteen-hundreds, British textile workers waged a rebellion against the automation of their industry, breaking into factories and smashing the machines. In response, the government unleashed regiments of soldiers in what became a kind of slow-burning civil war of factory owners, supported by the state, against a group of workers who called themselves Luddites. Today, the term is used as an insult to describe anyone resistant to technological innovation; it suggests ignoramuses, sticks in the mud, obstacles to progress. But this new book by the journalist and author Brian Merchant argues that Luddism stood not against technology per se but for the rights of workers above the inequitable profitability of machines. The book is a historical reconsideration of the movement and a gripping narrative of political resistance.

Illustration of a phone shattering

The Burning of the World

The big-city fires of the past were sudden, cataclysmic events—boiling rivers, melting buildings—and thus easily mythologized; their origins were occluded by fear and wonder. But the imagery of destruction, retribution, and rebirth could obscure circumstances that were often deeply political, as Scott W. Berg shows in his illuminating new book. In the century and a half since the Chicago fire of 1871, many of the lies surrounding it have proved impervious. If you know anything about the disaster, you probably have a vague recollection that there was a cow involved. Didn’t it kick over a lantern? And wasn’t it somehow Mrs. O’Leary’s fault, whoever she was? But none of that is true. Whatever the spark, there was fuel aplenty in the city at large, Berg writes; the weather was an accelerant, but so were social conditions and political decisions. The Chicago fire turns out to be a rich case study not only in urban history and the sociology of catastrophe but in how people choose to remember their collective past.

The remnants of a building stand behind a road with horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians.

Emperor of Rome

The author of the international best-seller “SPQR” returns with a thematic history of Roman emperors, exploring subjects such as palace dining, funeral processions, and paperwork to illuminate their daily lives, political strategies, and godlike aspirations across two hundred years of rule. The book was excerpted in the magazine .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this suspenseful bildungsroman, Justine, a Catholic schoolgirl living in New Zealand in the nineteen-eighties, searches for a classroom thief, as the school’s suspicions shift from her to her best friend to a glamorous new teacher. Justine’s adolescence is colored by concerns both workaday and personal: a close female friendship, petty teen-age infighting, seizures that disrupt her recall, grief for her recently deceased mother. The novel occasionally jumps forward to 2014, when Justine, now an adult with a daughter of her own, tends to her dementia-stricken father. In these moments, Justine’s girlhood collapses into her present, and she appraises “shimmers in my memory” and revisits the mysteries of her youth.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Man of Two Faces

Nguyen’s memoir dissects his relationship with the United States, the country to which he came as a refugee from Vietnam when he was four years old, and with his parents, who had to create a new life for their family. Both analytical and impassioned, this exploration of the nature of identity is a valuable addition to the literature of diaspora. The book was excerpted by The New Yorker .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

American Visions

This nimble history surveys the “visions” that Americans fashioned for the nation taking shape before them in the “lurching” period of 1800 to 1860. These ideals were expressed through literature, visual art, popular songs, political slogans, religious doctrines, and folk heroes (such as Johnny Appleseed, who, Ayers argues, represented “the American frontier cleansed of dispossession and despoliation”). Ayers anchors his study with familiar figures, but he pays particular attention to lesser-known Black abolitionists and Native Americans. The result is a dynamic portrait of a country in transition.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

I Must Be Dreaming

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the cartoonist Roz Chast—into whose unique and zany mind readers of The New Yorker have peeked, via her instantly recognizable, beloved cartoons—has some weird dreams. Now, fans can see these dreams illustrated, along with an exploration into the history and meaning of dreams as we know them.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Revolutionary Spring

This Cambridge historian’s scrupulous survey takes up the interconnected uprisings that engulfed almost all of Europe in 1848. Arguing that they represent “the only truly European revolution that there has ever been,” Clark follows these revolts’ trajectories, from heady beginnings, when parliaments were convened and new constitutions proliferated, to counter-revolutionary backlashes. Resisting the “stigma of failure” that has tended to lurk over this period, he insists that it was consequential, calling it “the particle collision chamber at the centre of the European nineteenth century. People, groups and ideas flew into it, crashed together, fused or fragmented, and emerged in showers of new entities whose trails can be traced through the decades that followed.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Upstairs Delicatessen

Garner, whose book reviews are a highlight of the  Times  culture pages, serves up a commonplace book composed of literary quotations, advice for living, recipes, and a heaping side order of memoir. The assortment makes it clear that, in his reading and at the table, Garner, like A. J. Liebling before him, is a man of immense appetites. He likes his dishes unpretentious––his yearning for chili dogs is at least as powerful as his love of oysters––and his tastes as a reader range from thrillers centered on hardboiled boozers to “Ulysses,” in which grilled mutton kidneys thrill Leopold Bloom, with their “tang of faintly scented urine.” Garner’s mind––his “upstairs delicatessen”––is generous, excellent company.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Fire in the Canyon

Set in the foothills of California’s gold country, this dread-laden novel follows a family who make their living cultivating grapes for winemaking as they attempt to resume their lives in the wake of a wildfire. After an evacuation, they return to the same land, but their environment—increasingly marred by drought, fire, and high temperatures—presents a cascade of fears: not just death and injury from fire but power outages, dangerous air quality, and smoke that might taint their grapes and thus take away their livelihood. The father’s detailed awareness of the region’s weather produces a sense of looming crisis; he notes how often once unusual events now occur—a set of circumstances that make it “hard not to wonder where the bottom was.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts

In 2002, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., published an annotated edition of “The Bondswoman’s Narrative,” a novel thought to be the first written by an enslaved Black woman. Its author was unknown until Hecimovich, a scholar of Victorian literature, traced the manuscript to Hannah Crafts, a mixed-race captive who was born in 1826. Like her novel’s protagonist, Crafts was likely the offspring of rape, her first captor having been her biological father. As she was passed from one household to the next, she was taught to read and exposed to popular literature; her novel would eventually draw on Dickens’s “Bleak House.” Alongside Crafts’s story, Hecimovich recounts the painstaking process of his research, which included forensic analysis of paper and ink and the creative use of incomplete archives.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Ladies’ Lunch

Segal’s new collection gathers her discursive, wry, and pithy stories about a group of women on New York’s Upper West Side who, for decades, have had a standing appointment for lunch. In these stories, several of which were first published by The New Yorker , the friends face off against the implacable onslaught of time with wit and not a little impatience.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The English Experience

The third in a series of academic satires about Jason Fitger, a hapless Midwestern professor of English, this book finds the divorced failed novelist coerced into chaperoning a group of undergraduates on a winter-break excursion called Experience: England. Fitger harbors “a vague hostility to all things British,” and his sojourn in London is calamitous: he injures himself, bungles his pedagogic responsibilities, and obsesses about his ex-wife’s possible departure for a job in Chicago. The novel’s highlights include the student assignments, many of which are reproduced with their errors intact (“I know my writing needs work but I am not taking it for granite”), and Schumacher’s sympathetic humor, which reveals her characters’ flawed humanity.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Hive and the Honey

In a quietly powerful short-story collection, Paul Yoon creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of the Korean diaspora. In these stories, one of which appeared in the magazine , Yoon’s characters struggle to find a place for themselves in a world where life can be capricious and harsh, but sometimes marked by grace.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

American Gun

Extremely deadly and easily obtainable, the AR-15 has become a political symbol, both among people who believe that such weapons should have no part in civilian life and those who consider owning one a constitutional right. McWhirter and Elinson are business reporters, and “American Gun” is, in part, a book about how an industry strategized to sell a particular type of gun to a particular type of person—usually a man—whom it could convince that AR-15s were an integral part of his identity. One of the most unexpected questions raised by their history of the semi-automatic rifle, which has been used by the perpetrators of many of the worst mass shootings in American history, is the following: What if the edgelord identity embraced by many mass shooters is not the result of alienation or mental illness but instead speaks to a successful marketing push of an industry doing business as usual?

Black and white photo of a flag with an AR-15 rifle on it is seen through the top of a rifle.

Reproduction

This work of autofiction juxtaposes a failed attempt to write a novel about Mary Shelley with harrowing stories of Hall’s pregnancies: debilitating nausea, a late-stage miscarriage, an experience of labor that made her feel as if she had “departed from Earth.” Recalling that Shelley was pregnant when she wrote “Frankenstein,” Hall vividly imagines pregnancy’s effect on the novelist’s body and mind. “What am I? she must have wondered. What kind of creature is this?” The last section, a novella in itself, tells the story of a female scientist who “edits” her own defective embryos, altering their genes to make them viable. Hall’s ultimate insight is resonant: “We are all monsters, stitched together loosely, composed of remnants from other lives, pieces that often don’t seem as though they could plausibly belong to us.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Unsettled

Set in Philadelphia in the nineteen-eighties, this absorbing novel follows a mother and son as they search for a place to live, eventually landing in a derelict family shelter. Mathis’s chapters alternate among several points of view, but she primarily orbits the mother’s consciousness. Everything in her life is unsettled: her grip on reality, her relationship with her son’s father, her childhood home in a dwindling Black town in Alabama, where her estranged mother lives. As she attempts to chart the “real story” of how things went wrong, the novel suggests that her struggles often stem from outside forces—some arising from racial injustices, others from the fragility of memory and inheritance.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This eminently readable tour of Greek philosophy from approximately 650 to 450 B.C. brings the “sea-and-city world” of Heraclitus and Homer to life. Anchoring his study in Iron Age Greece, with its bustling mercantile economy and conflicting embraces of both slavery and personal autonomy, Nicolson traces the emergence of several key philosophical concepts. In the poetry of Sappho, he locates the stirrings of an interior self; in the writings of Xenophanes, the political mind; in the thought of Pythagoras, an immortal soul. Together, he shows, the early Greeks developed intellectual habits, chief among them the use of questioning as the basis of knowing, which laid the groundwork for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and for how we reason today.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The End of Eden

By cataloguing wildlife whose habitats have been thrown into disarray by climate change, Welz, an environmental journalist, details some of the “cascades of chaos” that define our ecological era. In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria decimated the island’s endangered indigenous parrot, the iguaca, killing the last birds able to pass down the species’s language. The depletion of the Pacific Coast’s sunflower sea star has led sea urchins, formerly the starfish’s prey, to begin feeding on seaweed that nearby fish depend on. Welz’s study, which he conceived as an attempt to examine such disruptions “without turning myself to stone,” amounts to a haunting warning.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Wren, the Wren

Three characters from different generations of an Irish family, each of whom possesses a remarkably different voice, are braided together in this lyrical novel. Nell, a young writer, speaks first, her attention flicking between digital flotsam and a consuming, ambiguous relationship. Her protective mother, Carmel, who also had troubled relationships with men, is portrayed in the third person. The legacy of Carmel’s father, Phil, a “not terribly famous” poet who abandoned his family when his wife became ill, looms over them both. A brief glimpse of his perspective as a child shows us an earlier Ireland—one of hardship and natural beauty. Scattered with snatches of Phil’s verse, and keenly attuned to sensory detail, Enright’s narrative of complex family ties brims with life.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

How to Say Babylon

In this remarkable memoir, Sinclair, an award-winning poet, conjures coming of age in Jamaica with her father, a reggae musician who embraced a strict sect of Rastafari and sought to protect his family from the evil and pervasive influence of the West—what Rastafari call Babylon—and coming into her own as a poet, a writer, and a young woman in charge of her own destiny. The book was excerpted in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Civic Bargain

Manville and Ober begin with a simple but persuasive point: that democracy depends not on the creation of constitutions and statutes but on shared understandings among groups. The primal act of healthy democracies is the social bargain, they write, and its product is an idea of citizenship that depends on the coexistence of different kinds of people. The authors trace this idea through the history of democracies, from the Athens of Pericles to the Rome of Cicero, leaping forward, as that history demands, to the slow evolution of British democracy in the seventeenth century and then to the American Revolution and its long aftermath. Throughout the book, Manville and Ober’s model is of civic dialogue rooted in an Aristotelian ideal of “civic friendship.” Citizenship, they suggest, is an escape from clan identity.

A snake wrapped around the Statue of Liberty.

A Flat Place

In this memoir, a Pakistani British literary scholar reflects on her complex post-traumatic stress disorder—arising from an abusive childhood in Lahore—while visiting flatlands across the U.K., such as the fens of eastern England and man-made wastelands on the coast of Suffolk. Much like these landscapes, complex P.T.S.D., which results from prolonged, repeated trauma, doesn’t “offer a significant landmark” to focus on. Where hills and valleys are more commonly evoked as metaphors of struggle and overcoming, Masud sees the vast, stark flatlands as “the place of grief, but also the place of the real.” Between vivid descriptions of their geographical features, Masud confronts her childhood memories, her relationships with others, and the post-colonial histories of both of her homelands.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Live to See the Day

At the outset of this sweeping work of reportage about life in the low-income neighborhood of Kensington, in Philadelphia, a twelve-year-old boy and his friends are huddled around a trash can at school, marvelling at a sheet of paper they have set on fire. This childish stunt leads to the boy’s arrest, jump-starting an adolescence and young adulthood marked by incarceration, teen parenthood, and financial precarity. As Goyal follows the boy, along with two others, through the next decade, he depicts in granular detail the suffocating effects of poverty in a “hypersegregated metropolis,” where “eighteenth-birthday celebrations are not rites of passage but miracles.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Paris Notebooks

This reissued collection of Gallant’s essays and reviews opens with her astute and devastating journals documenting the May, 1968, student uprising in Paris (which appeared first in The New Yorker ) and closes with a review of Georges Simenon’s memoirs from 1985. In between is an incisive and multi-angled view of French society and of literature. The book includes a new introduction by Hermione Lee.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future

With firm but never dogmatic moral conviction, Johnson pays tribute to the writers, the scholars, the poets, and the filmmakers who found the courage to challenge Communist Party propaganda. These dissenters looked beyond the official lies about the past and the present, and decided to document the truth about forbidden topics, including Mao Zedong’s campaigns to massacre putative class enemies. They often paid for their candor with long prison terms, torture, or death. Their conclusions—presented in homemade videos, mimeographed sheets, and underground journals—didn’t reach a wide audience when they appeared. And yet, as Johnson makes clear in his superb, stylishly written book, the value of their legacy is incalculable.

“Lin Zhao Behind Bars” by Hu Jie.

Loved and Missed

Ruth, the central figure of “ Loved and Missed ,” the British writer Susie Boyt’s seventh novel, is a professional caretaker, a schoolteacher whose teen-age students look to her for guidance. Yet Ruth’s pedagogical talents fail her when it comes to her own daughter, Eleanor, who left home at fifteen and suffers from a severe drug addiction. When Eleanor announces that she’s pregnant, it’s a threat of grief compounded—one more life that risks being ruined. At the baby’s christening, Ruth gives Eleanor and her boyfriend four thousand pounds to take her granddaughter, Lily, home with for a week. An unspoken agreement is established: Ruth will raise her granddaughter and Eleanor will visit when she can, which turns out to be infrequently and erratically. It is one of the great charms of the book that Boyt’s descriptions of Ruth and Lily’s quotidian routines are so seductive. Much of the novel depicts, with exquisite detail, the prosaic patterns of Ruth and Lily’s home life. They emerge as people in desperate want—for a daughter, in Ruth’s case; a mother, in Lily’s—who find a way to make do without what they lack.

Illustration of a mother holding her child.

The Glint of Light

This naturalistic novel follows a Black environmental scientist who returns home to Chicago from California for his mother’s funeral and, while there, revives a romance with his white high-school girlfriend. The story is shaped by several cataclysmic events, which suit the novel’s backdrop, in which the Presidency of Barack Obama—the pride of the scientist’s late mother—corresponds with a rise in white nationalism. Though the climate crisis and racially charged incidents routinely oblige the scientist to acknowledge his vulnerability, he is inclined to attribute an impartial agency to death: “Class didn’t matter, age didn’t matter; it came at you with an absolute and indifferent force.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

“The Pole,” the new novel by the South African writer J. M. Coetzee, is a love story that unfolds across a language barrier, and a novel about language that can be told only through a love plot. It describes a romance between Beatriz, a fortysomething socialite in Barcelona, and Witold, a Polish pianist in his seventies who has been flown in from Berlin for a recital. At a dinner after the performance, Beatriz and Witold converse briefly in stilted English, neither’s first choice of language. A week later, he sends her a recording of his playing, along with a flirtatious note “to the angel who watched over me in Barcelona.” She keeps thinking it must be a misunderstanding, something lost in the fault lines opened up between the pair’s native languages. “The Pole” was written in English, but it originally appeared in a Spanish-language translation, with the title “El Polaco.” Coetzee told the Barcelona-based newspaper Crónica Global that the Spanish translation “better reflects my intentions” than the original English does. As we read the book, we are, like Beatriz, left to wonder not only what the words on the page mean but if the writer might have intended to say something else entirely.

Two figures immersed in dots, dancing.

In 2010, Emily Weiss started her own beauty Web site, Into the Gloss. Within five years, Into the Gloss had given rise to a beauty brand, Glossier; within a decade, Glossier was a billion-dollar business. Meltzer, who previously profiled the C.E.O. for Wired and Vanity Fair , calls Weiss “the last girlboss standing.” Meltzer’s book chronicles the way Weiss’s beauty empire leveraged personality and social-media savvy to sell a fantasy of effortless authenticity. If posting to Instagram was a matter of pretending that a camera happened to catch you living a beautiful life, Glossier was the makeup to match.

A hand coming out of a phone, holding shopping bags.

Nobody’s quite sure how pockets were invented. As Carlson writes in her delightfully wide-ranging book, there is no definitive starting point, no recorded epiphanies. Yet the history of pockets over the past five hundred years is the history of attitudes around privacy and decorum, gender and empire, what it means to be cool or simply ready for whatever the day may bring. What's striking is the extent to which women have been denied the privilege of pockets: “Why is it that men’s clothes are full of integrated, sewn-in pockets, while women’s have so few?” Carlson asks. Concealed firearms caused one of the first panics associated with pockets, she writes; a more ambient fear was that pockets, as the poet Howard Nemerov once remarked, “locate close to lust.” Carlson’s winning book depicts the range and relevance of the pocket, which can be a metaphor for abundance or perversion, possession or secrecy—and a way of managing the efficiencies of life.

An X-ray of a variety of objects in pockets.

India's Techade

India has, in the past decade or so, launched a digital revolution—one that started quietly but has recently gone “viral on a scale that is unprecedented,” the journalist and academic Nalin Mehta writes. 1.4 billion Indian citizens now have their own twelve-digit identity number called an Aadhaar—a system that underpins an integrated digital ecology known as “the stack.” It’s a bit like a publicly run app store, where the government sets the rules for developers. Mehta’s book is filled with vivid illustrations of the stack’s impact. There’s Lakshmi, a fifty-eight-year-old widow, who uses her Aadhaar card and thumbprint to access a monthly pension. There are a multitude of small venders—fruit sellers, thatched roadside restaurants—that now take payments via cell-phone-scanned QR codes. Other countries in the Global South are starting to adopt the technology, which some see as the digital equivalent of the Green Revolution.

Handcuffs connected by an ethernet cable.

Music is a vital force in this eclectic poetry collection, which travels between the author’s native Jamaica, his adopted home of New England, and other locales. Dub and reggae inspire and inform Channer’s dense, lushly textured compositions. Contemplating place and displacement, the poems emphasize the palimpsestic, remix-like effect produced by emigration and exile: the memory of a left-behind landscape merging with its current reality, as well as with environments more foreign to the transplant. Elegiac underpinnings give way to lyrical exuberance: as Channer writes in “Redoubt,” a poem set against the ruins of Lee (Scratch) Perry’s famed recording studio, “Suffer was a genre, / keening took into his console / then put out.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Rigor of Angels

In this sprightly intellectual history, Egginton explores the lives of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the writer Jorge Luis Borges, and the physicist Werner Heisenberg in order to plumb some of the most profound questions of physics and philosophy: the limits of knowledge, the structure of space and time, free will. These thinkers’ battles against “metaphysical prejudices” resulted in complementary, if counterintuitive, insights into the nature of reality; though working in different realms, all three concluded that “we are, and ever will be, active participants in the universe we discover.” While detailing his subjects’ theories, Egginton also foregrounds their relationships, suggesting that world-shaping ideas can be inspired by the vagaries of emotional life.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Digital Empires

During the past decade or so, governments around the world have grown impatient with the notion of Internet autarky. A trickle of halfhearted interventions has built into what the legal scholar Anu Bradford calls a “cascade of regulation.” Bradford’s comprehensive and insightful book on global Internet policy details a series of skirmishes—between regulators and companies, and among regulators themselves—whose outcomes will “shape the future ethos of the digital society and define the soul of the digital economy.” She considers the efflorescence of Internet laws as part of a wider struggle for global power in an emerging multipolar world. As she sees it, the disparate strands of lawmaking can be grouped into different regulatory regimes, or competing “digital empires,” with each approach corresponding, broadly, to a different calibration of powers between nation-state and private enterprise.

A topless woman sits in a chair facing away toward a wall

“Nobody knows where I am,” one of the narrators in this collection of stories chants. She is in crisis after discovering evidence of her late mother’s secret past, but the line could plausibly be spoken by any of Alcott’s protagonists, who all find themselves off the map in some sense—pushing against expectations, wrestling with desire, and reckoning with ideas of who they are or should be. One character, learning of her lover’s disturbing history, grapples with the question of whether people can change; another attempts to navigate the ethical compromises of her well-paying job. In supple, self-assured prose, Alcott highlights the ambivalence that can come with intimacy and violence, asking whether love is merely another form of circumscription, and whether brutality can sometimes be an antidote to numbness.

A black and white photo of a crowd of women at a protest

The Women of NOW

Katherine Turk’s new history of the National Organization for Women is nominally a group biography, following three somewhat unexpected now leaders: Patricia Burnett, a former beauty queen turned housewife; Aileen Hernandez, the Brooklyn-born daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who worked in labor and civil-rights activism before becoming now’s second president; and Mary Jean Collins, a union leader from a working-class Catholic background, who led now’s formidable Chicago chapter, and discovered her lesbian identity in the process. But Turk’s true subject is now’s early years. Her account reveals a uniquely ambitious political organization, one that achieved remarkable successes while struggling with divergent feminist visions, competing egos, and insufficient funds.

A crowd of women protesting.

The Caretaker

This immersive novel, set in Appalachia, explores the reverberations of a young man’s decision to elope with a teen-age hotel maid. The only son of a well-to-do family, Jacob is disinherited over the marriage, and soon afterward is conscripted to fight in Korea. He asks a friend, the caretaker of the town graveyard, to look after his wife. The two are shunned—the wife because of the town’s loyalty to her in-laws, the caretaker for the disfigurement he suffered as a result of childhood polio—and form a strong friendship. When news arrives that Jacob has been badly wounded, his parents plot to separate the married couple, but it is the lack of love in the caretaker’s life that shapes the novel most deeply.

A white and grey profile image of a man

The Most Secret Memory of Men

A rollicking literary mystery, “The Most Secret Memory of Men” revolves around the search for a Senegalese author of the nineteen-thirties whose long-lost novel resurfaces in contemporary Paris. The book’s narrator, a young Senegalese writer, is charmingly neurotic, and, having strayed from the “noble path of academia” to become a novelist, completely adrift. When he stumbles upon the writings of T. C. Elimane, the narrator undertakes a months-long quest, trying to find out what happened to the silenced storyteller. An aerobatic feat of narrative invention, Sarr’s book whirls between noir, fairy tale, and satire in its self-reflexive inquiry into the nature of literary legend. Spurning the categories to which African fiction is often relegated, Sarr delivers a demiurgic story of literary self-creation, transforming the sad fate of an author who stopped writing into a galvanizing tale about all that remains to be written.

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, photographed by Nick Helderman.

In 2001, Simmons, a Romanticist by training, became the President of Brown University—and thus the first Black president of an Ivy League institution. Her memoir, which borrows its title from a phrase she and her family use to refer to revisiting their home town of Grapeland, Texas, begins with her youth as one of twelve children born to sharecropper parents. The Simmonses’ straitened circumstances led to her love of the classroom: “a place of brilliant light unlike any our homes afforded.” She dwells on her encouraging teachers, and on the experiences that fuelled her fight against discrimination in higher education.

A black and white photo of a woman sitting down and looking off to the side

Betty Friedan: Magnificent Disrupter

Sixty years after “The Feminine Mystique” ignited the second-wave feminist movement, it is still impossible to mention its author’s name without eliciting strong responses. Most accounts of the second wave feature Betty Friedan’s irascibility, her outbursts, her constant need for reassurance, and her tremendous capacity for cruelty. Shteir’s biography, which is rigorously fair to its subject, features all these, and also gives them context—illustrative bits from Friedan’s life that add reasons, if not excuses, for her behavior. The book demonstrates that Friedan, for all her considerable flaws, was one of those characters whom history responds to and who shape public opinion through the force of their personalities.

A black and white photo of a man sitting at a desk

Cosmic Scholar

The Beat polymath Harry Smith—an eccentric, couch-surfing, bearded bohemian who repaired the holes in his jacket with duct tape and lived on pea soup, mashed bananas, and cigarettes—bears some resemblance to the protagonist of Joseph Mitchell’s masterpiece “Joe Gould’s Secret.” But, whereas Gould’s life’s work turned out not to exist, this biography argues persuasively that Smith’s contributions to art, anthropology, avant-garde film, and, most of all, popular music were profound. Szwed, also the author of an excellent biography of Billie Holiday, shows how the legacy that Smith left behind—including the six-LP “Anthology of American Folk Music,” from 1952—influenced the sensibilities of Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and countless others.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Young Queens

In this triple biography, the dynamics of Renaissance Europe are illustrated through the lives and the politically motivated marriages of Catherine de’ Medici, Elisabeth de Valois, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Catherine, who married into the French royal family, leveraged her maternal qualities to win the right to govern on behalf of her young sons. Her daughter Elisabeth married Philip II of Spain to seal an unsteady peace between their two countries. Mary’s strongest loyalty was to her French relatives—leading her to underestimate a dissatisfied Scottish nobility. In an era of empire-hungry monarchs and religious violence, these women, while fulfilling their obligations as wives and mothers, forged diplomatic connections through family ties.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Anansi’s Gold

For two decades, beginning in the late nineteen-sixties, a Ghanaian man named John Ackah Blay-Miezah carried out an astonishingly successful scam by pretending to have inherited billions of dollars from Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President. Though the inheritance was a fiction, propped up by forged documents and opportunistic coöperators looking to capitalize on political instability, Blay-Miezah swindled his marks out of millions by convincing them that he needed money to access the fund, and used his newfound wealth to become one of the country’s most powerful people. Yeebo, a journalist, skillfully interweaves archival material, F.B.I. records, and interviews to recount the saga of the con man’s career, and to reflect on how lies can be leveraged in the creation of national histories.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Wednesday’s Child

A theme of loss runs through the stories in Yiyun Li’s wise and perspicacious new collection as her characters grapple with the mystery of how we live and how we die. Several of the entries, including the title story, first appeared in the magazine .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Suicide Museum

Salvador Allende’s ascension to the Chilean presidency, in 1970, was short-lived; a Marxist, he challenged private-sector interests and U.S. influence, and his government was violently overthrown in September of 1973. Dorfman, who served in Allende’s government as a “cultural adviser,” revisits this episode—and its implications—in this new novel. The plot centers around an obsessed billionaire seeking to determine the manner of Allende’s death (was he shot during the coup or did he take his own life?) and link it to an effort to awaken people's consciousness about the climate crisis. Dorfman gives his name to the narrator and central character of his novel; a vast array of other people appear under their real names, including a host of Chilean political figures. Fifty years after Allende’s death, Dorfman wrestles with ideas that don’t fit together comfortably, grappling with Allende's legacy in a world whose sense of crisis has been reframed.

Salvador Allende, photographed by Raymond Depardon.

Beyond the Door of No Return

This metafictional historical novel centers on the recollections of an eighteenth-century French botanist, whose voyage to Senegal is irrevocably altered by his fascination with a young woman who has escaped from a slave ship. His account—gleaned from notebooks discovered by his daughter—begins as a travelogue and then transforms into a record of the escapee’s ordeal, which she recounts to the botanist in the course of one long night: a mesmerizing tale of capture, getaway, and revenge. Diop’s novel, which culminates in a terrifying sequence of events, is a testament to fiction’s ability to uncover our self-deceptions, leaving them “as if exposed to the African sun at its zenith.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Unreliable Narrator

In this collection of essays, the comedian explores the history and science of so-called impostor syndrome, and hilariously mines her life as a depressed, anxious, and shy woman in the public eye to talk about what it’s like to constantly set oneself up for failure—and then get back up onstage.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The corrosive logic of one-sided relationships is the subject of this dryly funny polemical novel, told from the perspective of a young woman obsessed with her married lover and his ex-girlfriend. The narrator provokes the lover in various ways, in the hope that he’ll end his other love affairs, despite her being aware of her delusion. Surveilling the ex-girlfriend on Instagram, the narrator reacts to the woman’s expensive purchases, which she broadcasts to a sizable following, with a mixture of loathing and desire. This woman “lives with real life art that I can’t afford and wouldn’t know how to get,” she thinks, “and I put posters up with Blu Tack like I’m still fifteen years old. Like a fan.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Dragon Palace

Spirits, animals, and people cohabit the universe of these eight stories, which capture with quirky insight and deadpan humor the strangeness of human relationships. One of the stories, “ The Kitchen God ,” appeared in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Details

This elliptical novel, narrated by an unnamed woman who is confined to her bed by a high fever, consists of four character studies. During her illness, the woman picks up a book—an edition of Paul Auster’s “New York Trilogy”—inscribed to her by a former lover. Flipping through it brings back vivid recollections of that woman, whose frosty personality “was part of her—and not as deficiency but as tool, a useful little patch of ice.” These reminiscences lead to others: first of a wayward roommate; then of a “hurricane” ex-boyfriend; and finally of the narrator’s traumatized mother. She relates her textured insights into human nature through small moments. “As far as the dead are concerned,” she muses, “all that matters are the details, the degree of density.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Some Unfinished Chaos

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose defined a generation; it was turbulent, brilliant, troubling, troubled. He careened from obscurity to literary acclaim and then into seeming obsolescence, Krystal writes, his fall from grace as compelling as his rise. In this impressionistic biography, Krystal weighs Fitzgerald’s genius against his shortcomings, approaching the altar of an icon with an affectionate agnosticism. The book grew out of a piece that Krystal wrote for the magazine in 2009 .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

24/7 Politics

This near-encyclopedic exploration of the rise of cable news begins with the lead-up to the 1984 Presidential election, when cable executives and lobbyists set out to dismantle the power of network broadcasters and redirect it to themselves. Brownell, a historian, details how the opponents of network broadcasting successfully cast the industry as “elitist” and peddled cable as a democratizing force that would “empower people, politicians, and perspectives.” Her persuasive account argues that cable’s advocates were, in fact, motivated primarily by profit, and that cable television’s Sisyphean pursuit of ratings and revenue ultimately served to cultivate a toxic media—and political—environment.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Word or Two Before I Go

Krystal’s witty and generous essay collection purports to be his last, a dénouement to a long career of writing “sentences that lead to other sentences,” many in the pages of this magazine. In one essay, Krystal recalls getting clocked in the face by Muhammad Ali in 1991 on a bus driving down Interstate 78. In the book’s finale, a short story , an aging man regards his life as a composite of moments stretched and compressed, probing time’s capacity to blunt and to sharpen. In this collection, Krystal sifts through his essays and criticism in kind, mulling the stuff that makes life and literature.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Many of the stories in this powerful collection, by a National Book Award finalist, orbit figures who dwell on the past, unable to accept their “forward movement through the entanglements of time.” There is a woman who is obsessed with the wife of her brother’s killer; a son haunted by his mother as he makes plans to install his father in a nursing home; a man whose budding romance ends after he relates a horrific memory. The wounds that afflict Brinkley’s characters stem from social inequality—police brutality, exploitation in the gig economy, and doctors’ racist dismissals of Black patients—and from such universal vulnerabilities as family discord, heritable illnesses, and our own resistance to change.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Father and Son

Like Edmund Gosse’s memoir of the same name, Raban’s posthumously published final work follows an English father and son whose lives take diverging paths. Raban juxtaposes an account of his rehabilitation after a stroke that occurred in 2011, when he was sixty-eight, with his father’s experiences as an artillery officer in the Second World War. The stories never connect, reflecting the divide between the liberal, literary son, who immigrated to Seattle in 1990, and the conservative father, who became a vicar in the Church of England. The war chapters, which excerpt correspondence between Raban’s parents, are compelling, but it is Raban’s reckoning with his own frailty that carries the emotional weight of the book. “What have I lost?” he asks. “And am I fooling myself?”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Marriage Question

It can be difficult to disinter George Eliot from our reverence, but Clare Carlisle’s eloquent and original book allows us to do just that by examining the scandal and preoccupation of Eliot’s life and work: marriage. Carlisle, a philosopher who has written studies of Spinoza and Kierkegaard, combines an eye for stories with a nose for questions. Her book is based on two related premises: that marriage is a private story, about whose intimacies we can only speculate; and that marriage is also a public story, a constantly adjusted fable. In her account, Eliot’s legally unrecognized but happy marriage to George Henry Lewes is understood as both a private and a public feat. Both narratives differently restrict our access, so the ideal historian will need great tact and an impious curiosity. Carlisle has both.

Two people lying with their faces close to each other with their long hair flowing over an open book

The Philosopher of Palo Alto

As the chief technology officer of Xerox parc, a research company and erstwhile hotbed of Silicon Valley innovation, Mark Weiser believed that screens were an “unhealthy centripetal force.” Instead of drawing people away from the world, devices should be embedded throughout our built environment—in lights, thermostats, roads, and more—enhancing our perception rather than demanding our focus. Weiser’s pioneering ideas, which he refined in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, led to the present-day Internet of Things, but his vision lost out to the surveillance-capitalist imperatives of Big Tech. Tinnell’s profound biography evokes an alternative paradigm, in which technology companies did not seek to monitor and exploit users.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

“My husband marks the start of when my life was worth being archived,” the narrator of this black comedy of modern marriage confesses. Ventura’s protagonist, a forty-year-old English teacher and mother of two whose husband works in finance, is a comically exaggerated cliché whose sole concern is maintaining her husband’s interest: she lies to him about her hair color and pretends to be asleep so he doesn’t see her without makeup. But, as the story progresses, the intensity of her fixation is contrasted with his profound indifference, and her vapid exterior is shown to mask desperate anxieties about class, gender, and power.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Great White Bard

In this lively appraisal, a Shakespeare scholar reckons with her love of the playwright’s works while exploring their role in cultivating “a unique brand of English white superiority.” Karim-Cooper’s attentive readings show how beliefs about race reside in the language of the plays: “Romeo and Juliet” is suffused with metaphors that “elevate whiteness above blackness,” whereas “The Tempest” complicates attempts to describe characters with fixed labels by blurring the boundaries between “beauty and monstrosity” and “civility and barbarity.” Ultimately, as contemporary productions featuring imaginative and diverse casting show, “we all have the right to claim the Bard.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

This wily, gleefully clamorous novel opens in 1972, with the discovery of a skeleton in a well in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, but it largely unfolds three decades prior, with the events that led to the skeleton’s existence. Though the Black, Jewish, and newly arrived immigrant residents of the tumbledown Pottstown neighborhood of Chicken Hill have clashing ideas about America, they band together to protect a deaf Black boy from the state’s clutches. The novel’s down-home cadences cloak its elaborate narrative circuitry, and McBride makes farcical use of the fear of newcomers held by white characters, such as the town’s physician, a Klansman. The Jewish woman who runs the local grocery store feels otherwise, saying, of Chicken Hill, “America is here.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A poet’s intimate, immanent sense of her own mortality casts the world into relief in this remarkable collection, published posthumously. With astonishing formal and emotional clarity, in language at once delicate and bold, Hamilton renders afresh enduring questions of time, love, and literature as measures of our individual and shared lives. Excerpts from the title poem were originally published in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Why the Bible Began

The peculiar thing about the Hebrew Bible is that, as the scholar Jacob L. Wright suggests, it's so much a losers’ tale. The Jews were the great sufferers of the ancient world—persecuted, exiled, catastrophically defeated—and yet the tale of their special selection is the most admired, influential, and permanent of all written texts. Wright’s purpose is to explain, in a new way, how and why this happened. He emphasizes the divisions between the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel, which were warring adversaries, and highlights the ways in which each kingdom’s dominant narratives were constantly being entangled by the Biblical writers. Wright’s often brilliant and persuasive book leads us to see ideological fractures in passages that we thought we knew.

A bible resting on pillars and entangled in vines.

This Is Wildfire

Many of the most destructive wildfires of recent years have jumped from forests or grasslands into com­munities situated in what’s become known as the “wildland-urban inter­face,” or WUI . According to Mott, a Montana­-based jour­nalist, and Angle, a professor at the University of Montana College of Business, we’re putting up more homes than ever before in such “areas ripe for fire”—and it’s a big reason that wildfires are becoming more dangerous. The two have suggestions for individuals who want to reduce the odds that their homes will go up in smoke. But, they acknowledge, these sorts of home­-hardening projects do little to address the larger issue of development in the WUI , which, they say, has become a “cycle” that will be “hard to reverse.”

A fire overtakes a tree in a forest.

Terrace Story

Leichter’s bewitching second novel is all about space, literal and figurative. There’s real estate: Annie and Edward, cash-strapped new parents, reside in a shoebox city apartment. There’s the metaphoric geography of intimacy, too: George and Lydia are trapped in a marriage full of “blind alleys and impasses.” Rosie is in outer space—a futuristic suburb orbiting Earth—because the planet is having some capacity issues. But the key to it all is Stephanie (single, thirtyish, in sales), and her secret superpower: she can make the world bigger with her mind. She raises ceilings, expands cupboards, adds more room to the local playground, and creates new terrain in a national park. Leichter centers her subtle and witty fable on the off-kilter power dynamics of home life, tearing her characters apart and leaving their stories in pieces, encouraging us to peer into the space between the fragments.

An illustration of a door with two people outside on a balcony looking out into a pink, orange gradient.

The expectation for an American novel about an African immigrant is that it will perform a task of translation: here is where I come from, and these are the painful circumstances under which I left. This slim, captivating début starkly rejects the trope. Binyam’s narrator is a middle-aged émigré, who’s returning to his birthplace to visit his sick brother after a quarter century abroad. He’s also a nameless cipher, who speaks of himself like a marionette, in a laconic prose that omits motive, proper nouns, and all but the most skeletal description. He is going to a place that resembles Ethiopia, but the context comes to seem unimportant; the real guesswork concerns his relationship to his homeland. Binyam wrings mordant humor from his encounters with others, slowly revealing a latent cruelty. The book ends with no easy epiphany; instead, it questions the exile’s authority to pronounce upon the place he leaves.

Illustration of a man returning to his birth country.

The Deadline

Lepore, a staff writer and historian, writes about the grand sweep of history and the exigencies of the everyday with equal panache, and has a knack for entwining them in a way that illuminates both. This new collection of essays—most of which were first published in the magazine—considers everything from the equivocations of government commissions to the provocations of the Bratz doll . Lepore, always mindful of “the hold the dead have over the living,” reconstitutes the American experience as human experience, alert to the comedy and sorrows of its surfaces and its depths.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Temple Folk

These nine short stories follow Black American Muslims who drift toward and away from their faith, judge one another for immodesty, wrestle with upended family lore, and reflect with ambivalence on the impact the Nation of Islam has had on their lives. A woman visiting Egypt questions whether to continue wearing the hijab, another enters into a puzzling and intense online romance with a devout Albanian, and another is haunted by visions of her dead father as she prepares his eulogy. Built largely around vignettes, Bilal’s stories depict characters who serve as sensitive guides to matters of apostasy, racial prejudice, and gender roles.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Brave the Wild River

In 1938, two female botanists set out to document the plant life of the Grand Canyon. Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter, undeterred by warnings that the trip would be “a mighty poor place for women,” joined with a river guide and a handful of other boatmen to travel the treacherous Green and Colorado Rivers. Sevigny chronicles the team’s forty-three-day journey, interspersing it with accounts of the adventurers who preceded them, descriptions of plants and wildlife, and the history of Western intervention in an ecosystem long stewarded by Native nations, including the Navajo and the Hualapai. The book also makes the case that Clover and Jotter’s study, conducted shortly after the construction of the Hoover Dam, provides a crucial benchmark in assessing human impact on the environment.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Disruptions

Millhauser is the great eccentric of American fiction; his stories take place, for the most part, neither in the real world nor in one that’s wholly fantastical but someplace in between. At the core of his new collection is a disorienting version of the small-town tale. The residents in his archetypal old town are diligent about mowing and watering, touching up the paint on their shutters. Invariably, though, Millhauser’s characters are seized by a collective restlessness. In one story, a town’s residents become obsessed with the idea of darkness, painting their houses black and putting their babies in black diapers. In another, the town is home to forty-one columns; people go up there to live and almost never come down. One of the longer stories takes place in a community where the inhabitants of a certain neighborhood are just two inches tall. Some work in the homes of their (relatively giant-size) fellow-townspeople, removing lint from clothes and scouring attics for ants. Millhauser describes it all in precise detail, and much as he relishes the magical, he has a soft spot for the hum-drum. His genius is to be able to evoke both so urgently.

An older man with glasses and a mustache towers over the scene of a small suburban town. He is holding a house and a school bus, as if he is constructing the environment himself.

A collection of essays incubated during the covid lockdown and structured around readings of Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud, and Simone Weil, this urgent volume is suffused with loss. Freud’s notion of the death drive, Rose writes, was influenced by the pandemic of his own time, the so-called Spanish flu, which took the life of his daughter Sophie. That pandemic, by some estimates, wiped out more people than the two world wars combined but was itself swiftly wiped from historical memory; Freud himself seldom mentions it. Rose quotes Walter Benjamin’s observation, in his 1936 essay “The Storyteller,” that “there used to be no house, hardly a room, in which someone had not once died.” Like him, she looks askance at the effort to deny the spectacle of dying. “In a pandemic, death cannot be exiled to the outskirts of existence,” she writes. Her meditations on mortality, absence, and plague are haunted and yet strangely energized, full of possibility.

Jacqueline Rose, photographed by Robbie Lawrence.

The Peacock and the Sparrow

This crackling début thriller is narrated by a C.I.A. spy, a self-described “aging threadbare bureaucrat” stationed in Bahrain in the wake of the Arab Spring. The novel begins with a series of bombings targeting Westerners. These are blamed on the Bahraini opposition, but the station chief suggests that the spy’s informant, who has become a friend, was involved. No one is beyond the spy’s cascading suspicions, not even a Bahraini mosaicist with whom he is romantically entangled, and whom he approaches with a caution usually reserved for his work: navigating an affair is “not so different, after all, from the delicate give-and-take dance with an informant, an unending alternation between obeisance and control.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this study of Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian-born composer who immigrated to the U.S. in 1933, Sachs blends fleet-footed biography with an accessible analysis of Schoenberg’s works. Best known for his development of twelve-tone serialism, Schoenberg believed that he would single-handedly restore Germany’s musical dominance over France, Italy, and Russia; the cold reception that his compositions faced left him imagining himself as a “lonely, misunderstood prophet.” Sachs’s interpretations of these works can be emotionally convincing, and, according to him, Schoenberg’s music is, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said about Wagner’s, “better than it sounds,” in part because appreciation often requires repeated listening.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa

Andrew Aziza, the Nigerian teen-ager who is the protagonist of this début novel, describes himself as a “genius poet altar boy who loves blondes.” A Christian who lives in a largely Muslim town, Andy feels ashamed of his preference for the West, which he considers to be a foil to his continent and to his Mama, who reads her Bible slowly and believes in ghosts. This shame is expressed in imaginary conversations with his stillborn brother, his schoolteacher, and the first white girl he meets, with whom he readily falls in love. Animated by a lively voice and a spiritual vision, Buoro’s novel also unfolds a touching critique of the false promise of Western transcendence.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Ferguson Report: An Erasure

This book reimagines the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department following the killing of Michael Brown in 2014; redacting the report word by word, letter by letter, Sealey excavates larger lyric insights about American life from its account of police bias and brutality. An excerpt appeared in the magazine and as an interactive feature on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

My Stupid Intentions

This début novel is narrated by a beech marten named Archy, who is born into a life of hardship: his father dead, his mother barely able—and sometimes failing—to keep the newborn kits alive. Despite its fairy-tale-like feel, the novel is nothing cute. When Archy is lamed in an accident, he is sold to a dealmaking fox, who treats him like a slave before teaching him to read and write. Archy learns about the lives of men, knowledge that prompts a host of religious questions and leads to a restless search for meaning. Life in Archy’s world is a constant fight for survival, and, while Zannoni’s story implies that thinking and instinct may mean different things for animals than they do for us, he provokes the reader to consider just how different their realm truly is.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In the early pages of “Still Born,” which was short-listed for the 2023 International Booker Prize, its narrator, Laura, is a total pill. A Ph.D. student in literature, she is avowedly child-free; being a not-mother is the negative space around which she defines her existence and her ethics, and she is evangelical about her stance. She accurately perceives the irrational structural burdens that Western societies place upon mothers, but she mistakes these burdens for proof that motherhood itself must be an irrational choice. One of the welcome surprises of the novel, however, is how quickly it swerves away from Laura’s anti-natalist campaigning, as if Laura, too, wanted out of her own head and into a broader web of experience. Not having children, Laura believes, insures a woman’s freedom to travel, to be consumed with her studies or vocation, to be alone with her thoughts. “Still Born” posits that not having children also grants an equally important freedom to care for people outside of the legal or blood-borne status of family. You don’t have to be a mother—in fact, maybe you shouldn’t be. But you have to do something for whomever you find in, or near, your nest.

Illustration of a pigeon caring for a cuckoo.

August Wilson

As a child, the author of seminal plays including “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was a bookworm: he learned to read by his fourth birthday, and stood out in kindergarten as “a miniature scholar.” This biography deftly traces his ascent to becoming one of America’s preëminent dramatists, recounting his discovery of the blues (“the wellspring of my art”); his founding of the Black Horizons Theatre, in his home town of Pittsburgh, in 1968; and his careful curation of his persona. Hartigan ably argues that his dramas, many of which pay close attention to ancestral lineages and ideas about inheritance, continue to reveal “fissures in the national culture.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Information Desk

Schiff’s stint manning the information desk at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where workaday banalities unfolded amid a sublime setting, inspired this wide-ranging meditation on hallowed objects, institutional power, and insect behavior, an excerpt of which was published in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

War and Punishment

A young, distinguished, and wholly independent Russian journalist who was forced to flee his country for the West has written a superb account of all that led to Vladimir Putin’s brutal and misbegotten invasion of Ukraine. Zygar became well known as a reporter in Russia with his best-seller, “All the Kremlin’s Men.” Here, through his on-the-ground reporting from Ukraine and Russia, conducted during the past two decades, and an incisive grasp of history, he describes how Putin has willfully distorted the past to serve his purposes. Read in conjunction with works by scholars such as Serhii Plokhy and Timothy Snyder, Zygar’s book provides an ardent, informed understanding of the present.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Last of the Lions

When Jones was drafted into the U.S. Army, in 1953, he refused to sign the paperwork, on the grounds that Black men were not full citizens of the United States. Within a decade, he became a close friend and political adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This striking memoir, anchored on the front lines of the fight for civil rights and ranging far beyond, entwines the social history of a nation with the powerful memories of a life lived at its heart. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Brothers Karamazov

In “The Brothers Karamazov,” published in 1880, and now available in a lively, fast-flowing new translation by Michael Katz (Liveright), Fyodor Dostoyevsky blended the family novel with the whodunnit. The Karamazov brothers and their father Fyodor fit what Dostoyevsky described as “an accidental family,” sons merely by birth, brothers in name only. In this, they resembled Russia, which he saw as a family at war with itself. The novel has a spoken quality that is meant to communicate the unreliability of memory and the fact that people tend to misunderstand one another far more often than they do the opposite. Katz is particularly attentive to this feature of Dostoyevsky’s prose. His is, by my estimation, the voiciest translation of “The Brothers Karamazov” thus far. He writes at the fever pitch of speech, unleashing the speed and the chaos of the original; narrative unfurls at the mad and authentic pace of human emotion. The book is filled with what you might call “accidental chapters,” culled from court transcripts, hagiographies, love letters, toasts, songs, legal and spiritual confessions. The miracle of this cacophonous novel is that somehow it all coheres; its wildly divergent elements are all made, by Dostoyevsky, to belong.

A courtroom filled with men facing a person sitting on a chair.

You, Bleeding Childhood

This collection of short stories from an Italian writer with a cult following delves into the obsessions, anxieties, and detritus of childhood. One of the stories, “ The Soccer Balls of Mr. Kurz ,” appeared in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Migrant Chef

The Mexican chef Eduardo (Lalo) García Guzmán, the subject of this wide-ranging biography, spent his youth as a migrant worker in the United States, where he learned that “the health of the oranges was more important than his own.” Tillman traces Guzmán’s trajectory from deportee to celebrated chef dedicated to local ingredients, terroir, and transparent supply chains. She evokes how even as Guzmán aims “to hint, via an ingredient” or “a geographic term,” at the history embedded in his menus, he is haunted by the inequities of haute cuisine, and by the circumstances that render locally sourced foods a luxury.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The protagonist of this mystery is a young Pakistani Londoner who earns money writing English subtitles for Bollywood films and longs to translate literary classics. When she receives an invitation to the Centre, a secretive language school that produces native-level fluency in ten days, she enrolls, mastering German and Russian before strange dreams and a hushed-up death alert her to something amiss. The novel explores friendship, purpose, and power; it also frames language as intimate and embodied, casting translation as an opportunity for “a repurposing of things once thoughtlessly imbibed.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Most Tolerant Little Town

In 1956, Clinton High School, in Anderson County, Tennessee, became the first Southern high school to be desegregated by court order. Clinton had no history of racial friction, so no one expected trouble. Martin’s striking new book documents how wrong they were. By the end of the school year, pretty much every item in the apparatus of Southern civil-rights resistance had made an appearance in Clinton, from anti-Black slurs and heckling to cross burnings, bombings, and Ku Klux Klan night riders. In October of 1958, the school was destroyed by dynamite. Martin expands upon the existing historical record, interviewing many sources, including most of the twelve Black students who enrolled at Clinton. She is a good storyteller, and, as familiar as the school-desegregation story is, her account illuminates the stark racial divisions in the Jim Crow states and the predominance of segregationist sentiments, even among those who participated in the integration project.

Children on the way to school in Clinton during the period of desegregation.

The novelist Ann Patchett is a connoisseur of ambivalent interpersonal dynamics within closed groups. She is interested in how people, in families and elsewhere, come to terms with painful circumstances; how they press beauty from constraint, assuming artificial or arbitrary roles that then become naturalized, like features of the landscape. “Tom Lake,” Patchett’s ninth and newest novel, is set against the backdrop of the early pandemic, whose claustrophobic intimacy seems almost tailor-made for her interests. In the spring of 2020, Lara is sheltering in place on her family cherry farm with her husband, Joe Nelson, and their three twentysomething daughters, Emily, Maisie, and Nell. With harvesters scarce, the Nelsons have to pick and process their own fruit; to make the time go by faster, Lara tells the girls about her brief youthful career as an actor and her romance with a castmate, Peter Duke, who went on to a wildly successful career in Hollywood. Patchett airs the suggestion that Lara is stranded in the past only to gently put it to rest. “Tom Lake” guides Lara to equanimity and closure, mostly by awakening her to the value of the people around her. The novel’s alchemical transformation of pain into peace feels, at times, overstated. Yet there’s something subversively wise and self-aware about the book’s investment in its own fantasy. Even as Patchett validates Lara’s performance of contentment, she appears to know that behind the artifice lies a more complicated truth.

A portrait of Ann Patchett in front of a cherry orchard.

The Parrot and the Igloo

This history of the idea that human actions are warming the world to cataclysmic effect opens with brief biographies of the inventors who ushered electricity, and its most troubling descendant, fossil-fuel dependency, into the world. The awareness of human-induced warming dawns in 1896 and resurfaces periodically throughout the twentieth century—in 1956, the  Times  imagined an Arctic so hot that it was home to tropical birds, a landscape that gives Lipsky’s book its title—before battles with skeptics and deniers begin in earnest, in the two-thousands. A consensus finally arrives with the release of the fourth I.P.C.C. assessment, in 2007, but this triumph becomes an anticlimax when governments prove unwilling to regulate fossil fuels.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This comic novel, about a year of crisis for an affluent Jewish family, opens with a dinner party at which each guest is served a meal representing a different socioeconomic background. According to the hostess, Deborah, the matriarch, the purpose of this exercise is “to replicate, in a controlled environment, the lottery of birth.” Yet, the control of the family’s own environment becomes a problem after Deborah’s husband, Scott, is caught falsifying data in a clinical trial. Deborah pursues an affair, their daughter becomes reëntangled with a teacher who groomed her in high school, and their son, a premed student who idolized his father, feels increasingly lost. Ridker’s tone remains light even as his characters struggle to correct course. Writing about psychiatry’s new interest in the “transgenerational transmission of trauma” in his medical-school application, the son wonders, “Who knows what else our parents have unwittingly passed on?”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This biting gay millennial comedy of manners takes place at the holiday home of a wealthy lesbian couple, where two younger, less financially secure couples visit them for ten days. As the older couple derive satisfaction from comparing their lives with those of their guests, a connection develops between a member of each of the younger couples, sparking a consequential outburst. While depicting rituals both mundane and vaunted—revisiting “Gossip Girl,” fights followed by hours of “lesbian processing”—the novel also plumbs its characters’ fears of intimacy, failure, and irrelevance.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Ultra-Processed People

In this grim investigation, the British doctor and medical journalist Chris van Tulleken bravely turns himself into a guinea pig to explore the ins and outs of ultra-processed food (U.P.F.)— food made up of substances that you would never find at home. He has in mind all those cereals and snacks and ice creams we see on supermarket shelves with lists of ingredients that are troublingly long. Van Tulleken “wanted this food,” he reports of his U.P.F. diet. “But at the same time, I was no longer enjoying it. Meals took on a uniformity: everything seemed similar, regardless of whether it was sweet or savoury. I was never hungry. But I was also never satisfied.” His account of what happens to our food during its trip to our gut—and the connection that bad food has to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes—is persuasive and scary. Van Tulleken slowly sickens, and the reader sickens along with him.

A mouth surrounded by a variety of foods.

Retrospective

The life of the filmmaker Sergio Cabrera provides the raw material for this searching novel, which charts the Cabrera family’s experiences through particularly turbulent periods of the twentieth century. Cabrera’s father, who became an accomplished dramaturge and actor, fled Fascist Spain as a teen-ager; Cabrera himself, along with his sister and their parents, would leave Colombia decades later, when changing political winds made their Communist sympathies a liability. For part of Cabrera’s adolescence, the family of fervent Marxists lived in Beijing, residing in a plush, cloistered compound reserved exclusively for foreigners. When Cabrera attends a retrospective of his work in Barcelona, in 2016, he reflects on this history, on his family’s resentments, and on how intensely held—if impermanent—political convictions inflect individual lives.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Last Call at Coogan’s

Based on interviews with nearly a hundred subjects, this portrait of a neighborhood bar, which operated in Washington Heights from 1985 to 2020, is also a portrait of a modern American city in microcosm. Originally run by a “combustible trio of Irishmen,” Coogan’s functioned as a safe harbor in a high-crime neighborhood whose central tension was the mutual distrust between the Dominican community and a largely white police force. By the time Coogan’s closed—during the covid pandemic, after narrowly surviving a brush with gentrification—the bar had become a local institution that hosted fund-raisers, wakes, and other community gatherings.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This propulsive biography places the drummer and bandleader Chick Webb at the epicenter of the early Swing Era. Despite the spinal tuberculosis that stunted his height at four feet and ended his life at thirty-four, Webb’s strength on the drums reshaped the jazz rhythm section as he “battled” other bandleaders, such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Crease pays close attention to the details of the recordings of Webb’s band, contextualizing their shifting sound against a backdrop of changing racial dynamics. She also incorporates eloquent testimonies to Webb’s musicianship and generosity from his contemporaries: after their performances, he “would compliment his sidemen’s best solos by singing them, note for note.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Grand Delusion

The author of this critical consideration of four decades of the U.S. government’s dealings in the Middle East has held positions in the State Department and on the National Security Council, across various Administrations. His historical account is embedded with engaging recollections of his work. In 2002, for instance, he was part of a delegation that briefed Tony Blair on the consequences of regime change in Iraq; the conversation, Simon writes, “never advanced beyond” a “pseudoanalytical nonquestion.” The book concludes with his belief that, ultimately, “the United States would have been better off today had it not been so eager to intervene” in the region.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Nothing Special

In Nicole Flattery’s début novel, Mae, a teen-ager from Queens, drops out of high school and ends up in Andy Warhol’s Factory as a typist, transcribing the conversations that will become Warhol’s experimental 1968 novel, “a.” For Mae, the recordings are windows into a new world, one that alternately frightens and excites her. The more she listens to the conversations, the more attuned she becomes to the sadness and desperation coursing through them. Everyone she overhears is working hard to turn themselves into larger-than-life characters, being aged and exhausted by drugs, scrambling for a sense of belonging and security that the Factory promises but can’t provide. Lies abound, as does forced cool; the sense of new lives being discovered sits alongside the sense of lives going to waste and people flailing. Warhol himself almost never appears in the novel, but he is a constant presence nonetheless, the sun god that everyone orbits and whose approving gaze they seek. By approaching the famous artist this way, Flattery manages to cannily anatomize his powers and appeal while simultaneously pushing the man himself almost entirely out of the frame.

Illustration of women in film strips

This incantatory début novel begins in 1978, at a London-area reggae club, where the narrator, a young Jamaican factory worker named Yamaye, meets a furniture-maker with whom she falls in love. Their romance is in full bloom when he is groundlessly accosted by the police, and he dies in custody, at the hands of an officer. This loss spurs Yamaye to seek justice and to attain clarity about a murky aspect of her family. Throughout the story, music salves Yamaye’s wounds; she remembers “dancing in the dark; wet, salty bodies sliding in and out of bleeps and horns and haze; transformed by bassline, a better version of ourselves in the grey light before dawn.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Eight Bears

There are eight living species of bears, on four continents: polar, panda, brown, black, sun, moon, sloth, and spectacled. Gloria Dickie’s timely survey of these eight groups offers a glimpse into two realities: first, bear populations are plummeting in most of the world, and, at the same time, in some parts of North America they’re coming back to places they haven’t been in generations. Since the nineteen-seventies, American bears in the Lower Forty-eight have been on the move, expanding their range. Not too long ago, Dickie writes, a grizzly turned up in Nathan Keane’s back yard, near Loma, Montana. Told that he should have known better than to keep chickens in bear country, Keane said, at first, “Well, we aren’t in bear country.” But then he reconsidered: “Maybe we’re starting to be now.”

The face of a bear is blurred by motion.

Ninth Building

The author’s youth, which unfolded during the Cultural Revolution, supplies the material for this group of fictionalized connected vignettes. Zou conveys sharp childhood recollections: the book’s narrator watches a man whip a landlord’s widow with braided willow branches, and feels that the suicides that take place around the Beijing apartment complex that anchors his world are both alienating and normal. Later, when he is sent away for reëducation, hard labor replaces violin practice, and gradually he and the society around him learn to accept humiliations, heartbreaks, and the arbitrariness of fate. He begins writing with the hope that “by putting them on paper, these past events would release their hold on me.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Thunderclap

This memoir of artistic appreciation is centered largely on seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, but focusses particularly on two artists, one Dutch, one not: Carel Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt’s, and the Scottish painter James Cumming, who was the author’s father. Laura Cumming, an art critic, challenges the common views of Dutch Golden Age art as being merely representational or as depicting symbols that unlock religious or moral meanings. Instead, she examines details in the paintings to illuminate the ways in which the artists shaped what they saw: the wit in a painting of a flower, the dramatic light falling on a bundle of asparagus. Through this kind of close attention, she finds in the art works both a way to grapple with her father’s death and guidance for living “in the here and now.”

An illustration of a closeup of a woman’s face

How to Love Your Daughter

Blum’s thought-provoking and forensic novel traces the relationship between an Israeli mother and her estranged adult daughter, who is now living in Europe. Moving between the present and the past, the novel, which was excerpted in the magazine, reveals the moments when a once close and loving bond may have begun to fracture.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

So to Speak

This formally inventive collection, which includes self-described “American sonnets” and “D.I.Y. sestinas,” explores Blackness against questions of image and inheritance, storytelling and song, with a gimlet eye to the politically pressurized present. Several poems, including “ George Floyd ,” were originally published in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Snow Road Station

At the center of this sensitive novel, set in Ontario in 2008, is Lulu, a middle-aged actress who has returned to the hamlet of her youth for her nephew’s wedding. The town is populated with familiars: her brother, her best friend, a new lover, a new grandniece. Despite experiencing a terrifying sexual assault, Lulu savors the town’s pace of life and decides to stay there, giving up her career and her apartment in Montreal. Hay makes a case for the simplicity of pleasure: “All you have to do,” Lulu thinks, “is put yourself in the way of beauty, put yourself into the incredible swing of it.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This collection of stories, by an acclaimed Chinese novelist, spans continents and centuries, spans continents and centuries in its depictions of displacement. A band of poets seeks shelter after the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan Province in 2008; a Chinese woman who moves to Dublin with her Irish husband recalls their fateful honeymoon in Burma; a construction worker who has never left his home town visits New York City; an eleventh-century scholar attempts to finish his book under a death sentence. With wry humor and occasional earthy surrealism, Yan—who was born in Sichuan and lives in Britain—delicately renders both the linguistic and physical manifestations of longing. As one character reflects, it is both “our nature to forget” and “in our nature to resist forgetting.”

An earlier version of this review misidentified Yan Ge’s English-language début.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Madman’s Will

In 1833, the Virginia congressman John Randolph freed his nearly four hundred slaves while on his deathbed. This detailed history untangles the much publicized legal dispute that ensued, wherein Randolph’s relatives, some of whom argued that he had gone mad, fought against the slaves’ manumission. Randolph left conflicting directives—his last written will bequeathed most of his estate to a relative, but an earlier version emancipated the people he enslaved—and it took thirteen years for a court to uphold his dying wish. May cautions against ascribing honorable motives to Randolph, and stresses that those he freed continued to face prejudice and violence in the North. “Because manumission was just an exercise of the giver’s rights,” he notes, “it changed almost nothing.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Tabula Rasa

McPhee, a staff writer since 1965, has published dozens of books and more than a hundred pieces for the magazine , with some of the most inimitable prose in American letters. In nimble vignettes, this new collection reflects on those ideas which he never committed to print. McPhee writes about a hot summer in Spain, a Dutch merchant vessel, lunch with Thornton Wilder, and the act of not writing. This incisive catalogue of a singular mind is born of a series of ideas written in our pages —and abandoned along the way.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Fires in the Dark

In this loose sequel to a best-selling memoir of bipolar illness, Jamison, a writer and a psychologist, explores the process of prying a mind from disease or despair. Healing, she writes, depends on “harvesting the imagination” and navigating “the balance between remembering and forgetting”; it also, crucially, relies on support. The book comprises portraits of healers, including W. H. R. Rivers, who treated soldiers who suffered from shell shock during the First World War, and Paul Robeson, who found solace in intuition and in the irrational. Ultimately, Jamison emphasizes the importance of recognizing a diversity of sources of fortitude and models of accompaniment.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

After the Funeral and Other Stories

In her fourth collection of stories, Hadley brings her eloquent prose and her psychological acuity to the relationships—between siblings, friends, lovers, parents, and children—that shape us and change us, that call into question our view of ourselves and our place in the world. Several stories from the collection, including the title piece , first appeared in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The British journalist Oliver Franklin-Wallis used to religiously rinse his plastics before depositing them in one of the color-coded rubbish bins that he and his wife kept at their home. Then he decided to find out what was actually happening to his garbage. Disenchantment followed. At a recycling plant, in New Delhi, he found workers feeding shredded junk into an extruder, which pumped out little gray microplastic pellets known as nurdles. He toured another recycling plant, in northern England, where he learned that nearly half the bales of plastic matter it receives can’t be reprocessed because they’re too contaminated. In the end, Franklin-Wallis comes to see plastic recycling as smoke and mirrors. Over the years, he writes, “a kind of playbook” has emerged: a company pledges to insure that the packaging for its products gets recycled. Then, when public pressure eases, it quietly abandons its promise and lobbies against any legislation to restrict the use of single-use plastics. Franklin-Wallis quotes a telling remark from Larry Thomas, the former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry: “If the public thinks recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment.”

An outline of a woman made out of plastic beads and trash

Natural Light

The artist Adam Elsheimer, who was born in Frankfurt in 1578 and died in Rome at the age of thirty-two, left only a small corpus of paintings, all but one executed in oil on copper, and most of them diminutive. (In Rome, he was called “the devil for little things.”) Yet his expertise was revered, not least by his friend Rubens, who worked on a much larger scale, and Elsheimer’s reputation has endured. This study does discerning justice to his achievement. Bell’s focus is not just on Elsheimer’s registering of natural details, as the title suggests, but also on his evocation of the supernatural—never richer than in his final masterpiece, “The Flight Into Egypt,” with its miraculous interfusing of homeliness and immensity.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

I Do Everything I’m Told

Where, in a poem, is “here”? For Fernandes, it could be New York City, where she lives, or Paris, or Vienna, or any one of the twenty cities that she names in the forty-nine poems of her new collection. Poets have long invoked place names as objects of desire. Fernandes, though, uses them to drop pins on a map of attraction, creating a spatial record of erotic life. In one poem, she boards a plane bound for Zurich and promptly falls in love with her seatmate, a stranger to whom, in the poem’s final lines, she cannot help submitting: “Come see me in Vienna, you say. And I do. / Because I believe so much in being led.” At other times, she’s as reckless with love as she is with verse form. (“Don’t take it personally,” she tells a beloved in “Shanghai Sonnet”: “I am young and nothing is sacred yet.”) In the book’s most moving poems, the geographic mode points to places off the map, not to real life but to potential life. For Fernandes, “here” doesn’t simply designate a place; it enacts a wish.

A woman laying on the floor in the middle of a city.

The Lost Sons of Omaha

This anatomy of a killing in 2020, at a Black Lives Matter protest, tries to recover the essences of two men involved, who were “reduced to grotesques” in the distorting landscape of social media. During a struggle, James Scurlock was shot and killed by Jake Gardner, who died by suicide a few months later. Thanks to duelling political narratives and outright disinformation, Scurlock became “a hoodlum who provoked his own death” and Gardner a “bloodthirsty white supremacist.” Sexton marshals a remarkable volume of investigative material to disentangle fact from fiction, even though he fears that, in this moment, we may find it hard to see the genuine tragedy, which arises from “flawed characters caught up in disastrous circumstances.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In “ The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church ,” Swarns sets out the involvement of the Jesuit priests who administered what is now Georgetown University in the institution of slavery—notably, through their sale of two hundred and seventy-two enslaved people, in June, 1838. It was an act that led many of those enslaved to be forcibly removed from Maryland to Louisiana, and many family members to be separated. “The 272” grew out of a series of articles that Swarns wrote while reporting for the Times , where she remains a contributor. Swarns sticks closely to chronology and strives for an objective account, even as she depends on conjecture to join the recorded history of the two hundred and seventy-two to the broader experience of slavery in the Americas. The result is a vivid, pointillistically detailed narrative that foregrounds the people who were enslaved even as it tells the story of the school buildings erected with their labor and the institutions sustained and funded by their sale. “Without the enslaved,” Swarns writes, “the Catholic Church in the United States, as we know it today, would not exist.”

A black-and-white photo of Healy Hall, part of Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C.

The Book of Eve

After a prologue, in which a nun denounces what follows as having been written “to please the Devil,” this novel embarks on a sensuous retelling of the Book of Genesis from Eve’s perspective. According to Eve, Eden “wasn’t desirable, desire didn’t exist there”; “there was no serpent”; and Cain’s offering was “light and joyful” while Abel’s was “unbreathable smoke.” She calls Adam’s idea that earthly life is our punishment for sin a “stupid lie”; for her, the crackling energy of the planet is an inexhaustible pleasure. “Life is good,” Cain says to Adam. “How can you say what Eve has given us is bad?”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A History of Burning

The inciting incident of this epic début novel—spanning four generations, five countries, and nine voices—comes in 1898, when Pirbhai, a thirteen-year-old Gujarati boy, is tricked into indentured servitude and becomes one of many Indians laboring on the East African Railway, in British-ruled Kenya. Pirbhai’s descendants must navigate a complex social and racial hierarchy. Children are born, daughters are married off, and elders are mourned against the backdrop of Pan-Africanism’s rise and the British Empire’s retreat. Oza shows each generation of Pirbhai’s family grappling with what to pass on to the next—a sense of complicity in colonialism; heirlooms and stories from homes long left; anxieties and hopes for the future—and what to let die with them.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Art Thief

From 1994 to 2001, Stéphane Breitwieser stole art at an unprecedented pace: three out of four weekends per year for eight years. He plied his craft during business hours, in museums, galleries, and auction houses, with tourists and docents and security guards milling around. He never wore a mask. He carried no weapons. And he stole some two billion dollars’ worth of art. Michael Finkel wonderfully narrates this odds-defying crime streak, whose trajectory is less rise and fall than crazy and crazier, propelled by suspense and surprises. Breitwieser pulls off his thefts with surprising minimalism. There is no rappelling from roofs, no triggering of fire alarms, no high-tech devices to shut down security systems. His gear consists chiefly of a Swiss Army knife and, weather permitting, an overcoat. In the book’s final chapters—when the dashing antihero grows old and sad—Finkel does not hesitate to bring down the boom, but he is clear and compassionate about the downfall. An outrageous tale, “The Art Thief,” like its title character, has confidence, élan, and a great sense of timing.

Someone in black leaving a room full of frames on the walls.

Winnie and Nelson

Eschewing hagiography, this portrait of the Mandelas’ marriage does justice both to the couple’s political heroism and to the betrayals and the secrets that hounded their union. Nelson emerges as the quieter force, with Winnie essential to his consecration. She could be shockingly cruel, “a monument to the revolution’s underbelly” who would settle personal scores by leveraging “the contagion of violence that besets unstable times,” most notoriously through her “football club,” an assembly of brutal bodyguards. Still, she was a world-class messenger, crucial in bringing Black South Africa’s plight to the international stage. The Mandelas, Steinberg writes, were “throwing themselves into the maelstrom of history, and nobody in a maelstrom is in control of their journey.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Okri, a Booker Prize winner, approaches the potential cataclysm of climate change from many perspectives in this multi-genre collection, which is both a work of lyrical imagination and a warning about the dangers we will face unless we take immediate action. A story from the collection appeared in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Covenant of Water

This novel begins in 1900 in southern India, with the arranged marriage of a twelve-year-old girl to a forty-year-old widowed farmer. Big Ammachi, as she comes to be called, has married into a family with a curse: once every generation, a member drowns. Life unspools across seven decades, during which time Big Ammachi’s loved ones suffer maladies that are treated by practitioners of both traditional and Western medicine. The novel is a searching consideration of the extent to which seemingly contrary approaches to healing can coalesce; for a Swedish doctor who has founded a leprosarium, “medicine is his true priesthood, a ministry of healing the body and the soul of his flock.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Tomorrow Perhaps the Future

This group portrait examines those people—including Jessica Mitford, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Nancy Cunard, Martha Gellhorn, the war photographer Gerda Taro, and the nurse Salaria Kea—whose commitment to anti-Fascism was galvanized by the Spanish Civil War. Watling deploys a wealth of firsthand testimony and archival materials, not in service of a conventional work of history but in an extended consideration of contemporary concerns: What is the line between solidarity and appropriation in joining the struggles of others? How should writers navigate between objectivity and engagement? “The people in this book were imperfect in their commitment,” she writes. Yet they were prepared to “pick a side anyway.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The House Is on Fire

The Richmond Theatre fire of 1811 was, at the time, the deadliest disaster in U.S. history, killing seventy-two. This historical novel examines the event and its aftermath through four figures: the stagehand who accidentally starts the fire; a well-to-do widow in a box seat; an enslaved young woman, attending with her mistress but confined to the colored gallery; and a blacksmith, also enslaved, who rushes to the scene and rescues patrons jumping from windows. The bad behavior of the powerful becomes a theme: the theatre company attempts to pin blame on a fabricated slave revolt, and men in the audience trample their wives in making their escape.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Sullivanians

At its peak, in the mid- to late seventies, the psychoanalytic association known as the Sullivanian Institute had as many as six hundred patient-members clustered in apartment buildings that the group bought or rented on the cheap on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. As Alexander Stille writes in his juicy, fascinating “ The Sullivanians: Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune ,” Sullivanian therapists became “the chief authorities in a patient’s life.” The cult’s founder, Saul Newton, and his top therapists had demoniac control over their patients’ sex lives, social lives, how they earned or spent money, and how they raised—or, usually, didn’t raise—their children. The Sullivanians’ bête noire was the nuclear family, which they identified as the wellspring of all human pathology. Women had to seek permission to get pregnant. While trying to conceive, they would have sex with multiple men, in order to create ambiguity about their child’s biological father. In Stille’s view, “the Sullivanian Institute encapsulates one of the great themes of the twentieth century: the tendency of utopian projects of social liberation to take a totalitarian turn.”

Barbara Antmann standing resolutely outside of building belonging to the eccentric pyschotherapy cult the Sullivanians; her sister is a member of this cult, which is dedicated to destroying ties to the nuclear family.

The Late Americans

This novel follows a group of people in Iowa City, many of them M.F.A. students, and explores the ways that dissonant conditions of class, race, and social circumstances can compromise our freedom to pursue art and our ability to fully understand those we love. Amid financial concerns, artistic frustrations, and the judgments, jealousies, and posturing of their classmates, the characters find solace in moments of shared tenderness that transcend the ever-present threat of alienation. In a workshop, one student suggests that another’s poem may “bend our sympathies,” and Taylor’s novel does something similar: his characters reveal selfish or even violent tendencies, but his multifaceted portrayals show each of them to be as innocent and as flawed as any human.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Instructions for the Drowning

These stories, by a Canadian novelist, poet, and musician who died last year, peer keenly into the penumbra surrounding death. A student, fervent and pious, accosts the great Harry Houdini. A man bench-presses at the gym; the bar slips and compresses his lungs; he struggles, but no one sees. A plastic surgeon begs his aging wife to allow him to smooth her wrinkles. Each story’s frame is precisely sized. Heighton’s stories wrestle with life’s uncontrollable endings and beginnings: birth, tragedy, failed resurrection. His characters grasp at time, even as it slips away—violent, sacred, apocalyptic, mundane.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Stranger in Your Own City

The author, an Iraqi journalist, narrates the American invasion of his country and its aftermath by recounting the lives of a cross-section of Iraqi society, including a Shia man who swaps houses with a Sunni family as sectarianism fractures neighborhoods; a woman doctor working under the Islamic State in Mosul; and a fixer who extorts families whose sons have been detained by security forces, promising to lessen their torture for a fee. Abdul-Ahad is equally caustic about Saddam Hussein, the American occupiers, corrupt Iraqi politicians, and opportunistic religious commanders (“freelance criminal gangsters running their own death squads”). His kaleidoscopic view emphasizes aspects of ordinary Iraqi lives which are lost in the simplistic interpretations of outsiders.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Easily Slip into Another World

“I go back in my memory and I don’t see: I hear,” Threadgill, a Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz musician and composer, writes in this autobiography. As a child, he taught himself to play his mother’s piano, then learned the clarinet, the flute, and the saxophone (his main instrument). Threadgill is an engaging narrator, touching on racism in the Chicago of his youth, his military service in Vietnam—one band performance is interrupted by a Vietcong raid—and his compositional process. The book’s title refers to a state of mind in which he is able to resist the “mess” of conformity and produce an utterance of his own. “Your neurosis and your dream,” he writes, “they go hand in hand.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Lament for Julia

The Budapest-born American writer and philosopher Susan Taubes drowned herself, in 1969, days after the publication of her first novel, the cult classic “Divorcing.” Her suicide, at the age of forty-one, has colored the reception of her work, turning her into an icon of doomed femininity. Recently, however, a reappraisal, based in part on newly discovered works, has been revealing a more complex writer and thinker. In the novella “Lament for Julia,” written a few years before the publication of “Divorcing,” an unnamed voice mourns the disappearance of one Julia Klopps, and narrates glimpses of her life. The drama of work comes as much from the mystery of the voice’s relationship to Julia as it does from Julia’s fate. Taubes’s attempts to get the novel published were unsuccessful, but the work was admired by Samuel Beckett, who wrote to his publisher calling Taubes “an authentic talent.”

A photograph of Susan Taubes.

In Dorothy Tse’s first novel, a lonely middle-aged professor named Q falls in love with Aliss, a life-size mechanical ballerina. “Owlish,” translated from Chinese into a playful and sinuous English by Natascha Bruce, is set in a thinly veiled version of Hong Kong, with echoes of the pro-democracy protests of 2019 and 2020. As demonstrations spread across the city, Q retreats into his fecund and unabashedly filthy fantasy life, installing Aliss in an abandoned church and visiting her for hours on end. Tse uses hallucinatory prose to suggest the reality-warping effects of state censorship and to deliver a cautionary tale about runaway imagination. Activists protest unfree elections and the modifying of history textbooks. One student even climbs a clock tower. But Q, caught up in his own mind, hardly notices. “The world around him,” Tse writes, “seemed to vanish into his blind spot.”

A man and a ballerina on a rocking horse in a snow globe with protest related objects flying around them

V Is For Victory

On becoming President, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced two daunting tasks: to pull the country out of the Depression and, in the face of Nazism’s rise, to overcome U.S. isolationism. Such was his success, this paean to F.D.R. contends, “that, if any one human being is responsible for winning World War II, it is FDR.” Nelson focusses on the ways in which New Deal economics and a nascent war effort went hand in hand, as with the bond-sales programs that financed the “arsenal of democracy” policy, and shows us Roosevelt wrangling generals and manufacturers alike. He sees America’s “industrial genius”—factories producing everyday items were enlisted to make armaments—as central to the defeat of fascism, arguing that American workers were war heroes, too.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The fifth, and reputedly the last, of Ford’s books about the character Frank Bascombe, this novel finds Frank now in his seventies and confronting his son Paul’s devastating illness. After Paul, who has A.L.S. (or “Al’s,” as he jokingly refers to it), participates in an experimental protocol at the Mayo Clinic, Frank picks him up in a rented R.V. and they set out for Mt. Rushmore. A melancholy but banter-filled road trip ensues, in which they survey a swath of Middle America—kitsch stops along the way include the World’s Only Corn Palace, where everything is made of corn—and meet various vividly drawn characters. The startling and poignant conclusion unites father and son through love and grief as they learn to “give life its full due.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Life of One’s Own

Biggs’s absorbing, eccentric memoir wends its way through chapter-length biographies of women authors whose lives asked and answered questions about domesticity, unhappiness, and tradition: Mary Wollstonecraft, George Eliot, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Elena Ferrante. Within their differences (of era, of means, of race), each charged herself with writing while woman, thus renegotiating their relationship to endeavors long considered definitive of womanhood. Their lives supplied Biggs a measure of clarity in mapping a new life for herself. “This book bears the traces of their struggles as well as my own—and some of the things we all found that help,” Biggs writes of her subjects. Their stories, the ones they lived and the ones they invented, are complexly ambivalent. But Biggs has been a resourceful reader, one who finds what will sustain her.

An illustration of two women's heads facing one another, with a pen between them.

The Wounded World

This literary history traces the genesis of W. E. B. Du Bois’s ambitious, unfinished study of the role of Black soldiers in the First World War. Du Bois had called on African Americans to “close ranks” (“ first  your Country,  then  your Rights!”), but his postwar research revealed to him the conflict’s horrors—Black troops denied crucial equipment; Black officers convicted in sham trials—leading him to question the merits of the war and the point of Black soldiers’ sacrifice. Du Bois meticulously documented “a devastating catalog of systemic racial injustice,” Williams writes, while showing “an ability to distill it into concise, lively, accessible prose.” The same goes for this book, which weaves a propulsive narrative from a tangle of facts and forces.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

An Honorable Exit

Vuillard, who specializes in novels tracking historical events, turns his eye to France’s attempts to extricate itself from the First Indochina War, culminating in the disastrous defeat at Dien Bien Phu, in 1954. Vuillard examines not only the battlefield but also company boardrooms and National Assembly watering holes, to capture “how easy it was to be pragmatic and realistic thousands of kilometers away, to draw up a balance sheet and make projections, when you were in no personal danger.” With measured outrage and penetrating irony, he pillories the alternating bluster and euphemism of French decision-makers while emphasizing colonialism’s brutal toll on the Vietnamese.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In a powerful graphic memoir, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Darrin Bell explores how racism—both subtle and blatant—has impacted his life, from childhood to the present. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Samuel Barber

Barber’s music continues to be treasured for its melding of flawless craftsmanship and deep feeling. Barber himself was more complicated, as this fine biography reveals. Born on Philadelphia’s Main Line in 1910, he was an ebullient gay uncle to his extended family, and counted Andy Warhol and Jacqueline Kennedy among his friends. But his personality was tinged with nastiness and melancholia, intensified by alcoholism and by the collapse of his relationship with the composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Pollack’s account of the psychosexual intrigue that engulfed many of the guests at the couple’s Westchester home is startling in its frankness.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Set in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, this novel follows the Aziz siblings—Walter, Lina, and Donnie—after their mother’s commitment to a mental-health institution. “The sadness was always there, an underground cascade,” Lina observes of her mother, whose condition becomes a reflecting pool around which the siblings gather, peering into themselves, and into her. Simpson darts between their points of view, detailing the vicissitudes of their lives. The novel’s strength lies less in dramatic conflict than in small details, which continually highlight questions of care. Lina speaks about “medieval olfactory therapy with flowers” and about the Belgian town of Geel, where patients are integrated into the community—as her mother never was.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

We’re All in This Together...So Make Some Room

The stand-up comedian Tom Papa lays his jokes on the page in this collection of candid essays, addressing universally human topics including getting a car, staying in hotels, and avoiding your family. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The memoirist Claire Dederer’s third book grew out of a viral essay, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?,” that she published in The Paris Review in late 2017, at the height of #MeToo. In thirteen chapters, “Monsters” moves through a catalogue of familiar names associated with both genius and monstrosity. The usual suspects—Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby—all make an appearance, as well as many others, sorted into categories such as “The Genius,” “Drunks,” and “The Silencers and the Silenced.” Early in the book, Dederer confesses that she has fantasized about solving the question of whether to consume the work of a disgraced artist with an online calculator that could “assess the heinousness of the crime versus the greatness of the art and spit out a verdict.” The real question, she eventually decides, is not what “we” do with the monstrous men. “The real question is this: can I love the art but hate the artist?” By the end of “Monsters,” Dederer’s reckoning with the artists whose work has shaped her has become a reckoning with her own potential for monstrousness. Go ahead, she tells us, love what you love. It excuses no one.

Illustrations of the faces of Woody Allen, Pablo Picasso, Michael Jackson, and Roman Polanski being distorted.

Take What You Need

A delicate meditation on art, family, and ugliness, this novel unfolds in chapters that alternate between the perspectives of Jean, an elderly sculptor living in the Alleghenies, and her estranged stepdaughter, Leah, who, after Jean’s death, comes to collect the sculptures that constitute her inheritance. These works, towers of welded scrap metal that Jean calls “manglements,” have a familial aspect: Jean learned to weld from her father, and the metal comes from her cousin’s scrap shop. The characters dwell not only on the difficulties that arise in family life but also on the ways in which such difficulties can’t be separated from love. Jean recalls that, when she read Leah “Little Red Riding Hood,” the child wanted “no confusion about whether I was speaking as the wolf or the grandma.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Some historians have charted history as the linear, progressive working out of some larger design, while others embraced a sine-wave model of civilizational growth and decline. What if world history more resembles a family tree, its vectors hard to trace through cascading tiers, multiplying branches, and an ever-expanding jumble of names? This is the model suggested by Montefiore’s book, a new synthesis that approaches the sweep of world history through the family—or, to be more precise, through families in power. The author energetically fulfills his promise to write a “genuine world history, not unbalanced by excessive focus on Britain and Europe.” In zesty sentences and lively vignettes, he captures the widening global circuits of people, commerce, and culture and offers a monumental survey of dynastic rule: how to get it, how to keep it, how to squander it.

A medieval family tree with portraits of different people on the branches

The Plot to Save South Africa

On Easter weekend, 1993, Chris Hani—an A.N.C. commander seen as Nelson Mandela’s likely successor—was assassinated by two white nationalists. Protests and violence followed, threatening to derail ongoing negotiations to end apartheid. This account re-creates the delicate process by which negotiators—Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa on one side, F. W. de Klerk and Roelf Meyer on the other—struggled to keep the people’s reactions in check and pull the country back from the brink of civil war. Malala also probes the persistent conspiracy theories surrounding Hani’s death. Conceding that these theories may never be proved or disproved, he nonetheless stresses the way that a killing intended to ignite a race war ended up accelerating democratization.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Mozart in Motion

Mozart is one of the composers most mansioned in myth: a prodigy of easy and childlike genius, the story goes. Modern commentary rightly complicates the narrative. In his new book, the English poet Patrick Mackie offers an exemplary biographical approach, nicely balancing the proper spiritual astonishment with the proper cultural curiosity, as he chronicles Mozart’s life through a series of celebrated works. Mackie describes a composer who was eager to please his audiences and who, at the same time, pushed his work into experiment and risk. The author is a sensitive and highly intelligent appraiser of musical form, with a gift for analyzing Mozart’s music as something more than the simple expression of culture and biography.

Portrait of Mozart with a face made up of musical notes

My Father’s Brain

Spanning seven years, this incisive memoir relates the decline of the author’s father, an eminent agricultural scientist, after a dementia diagnosis. Sandeep, a physician, examines the history and science of dementia and the ethics of making decisions on behalf of the cognitively impaired. He is clear-eyed about his and his siblings’ shortcomings and about the social factors that exacerbate the challenges of helping the elderly. These include cultural biases against those perceived as not rational and Western individualism, which discourages intergenerational homes and thereby increases the obstacles to collective caretaking.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Gravity and Center

This volume of sonnets by one of the form’s most distinctive practitioners calibrates tensions between mind and body, nature and culture, self and society, freedom and restraint. Cole eschews fixed metrical and rhyme schemes but retains the sonnet’s essential sense of rigor and compression, the drama that emerges from its “little fractures and leaps and resolutions.” His approach, which bears the influence of French and Japanese lyric traditions, combines a surrealistic idiom with an enigmatic emotional intensity; the poems feel at once delphic and deeply personal, mapping the thin and porous membrane between their author’s inner and outer worlds.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Earth Transformed

Frankopan’s essential epic, a history of climate change and its influence over the rise and fall of civilizations, runs from the dawn of time to the present day. By about two and a half billion years ago, enough oxygen had built up in Earth’s atmosphere to support multicellular life, he writes, and by about five hundred and seventy million years ago the first complex macroscopic organisms had begun to appear. The first primates lived in the trees. Then, Homo sapiens began wandering around the understory. “Like rude house guests who arrive at the last minute, cause havoc and set about destroying the house to which they have been invited, human impact on the natural environment has been substantial and is accelerating to the point that many scientists question the long-term viability of human life,” Frankopan writes. He sketches the limits of human self-preservation and imagines a possibly not too distant future in which we fail to address climate change—and cause our own extinction.

A black and white photograph of a dense forest.

Paved Paradise

Grabar makes a serious case for parking as a grave social problem, but he does so in a way that is consistently entertaining. His book is filled with engaging eccentrics, including the New York “traffic agent” Ana Russi, who once gave out a hundred and thirty-five parking tickets in a day. When cars took the place of horses, Grabar writes, the civil-minded assumption in America was that private developers should be obliged to provide sufficient parking to accompany whatever building they had just built. The resulting system created a permanent logjam, in which huge quantities of urban space were consumed by parking, architects and developers faced burdensome design constraints, and the classic main street became impossible to re-create. Grabar’s anti-parking polemic makes a story out of people, not just propositions, and relates many bits of mordant social history in a good-natured and puckish vein.

Cars cross over numerous highways, as seen from above.

Biting the Hand

In this affecting memoir, a literature professor whose parents emigrated from South Korea writes about her “inheritance” of what Koreans call  han —a culturally specific mixture of rage and shame—as well as the insidious tendency of “racial shame” to separate “people of color from one another.” Lee mixes personal anecdotes, including experiences of racism, with analyses of racially charged historical events, such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots, during which “thousands of Korean-owned businesses were looted and torched.” She argues that white supremacy has been bolstered by a “culture of scarcity,” in which “there’s only a certain amount of bandwidth available in the American consciousness to deal with racial oppression.” Changing this will involve rejecting an entire “racial imaginary” that makes room only for the broad categories of white and nonwhite people.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

When the World Didn’t End

Turner was a member of the Lyman Family cult until she was sent away at the age of eleven. In this absorbing memoir, she scrutinizes her childhood with anthropological curiosity. With the intimacy of one who grew up in a cult and the distance of one who left it, Turner contemplates the nature of shared belief, at once familiar with its extremes and keenly aware of its covert power over many facets of human behavior. The book grew out of the piece “ My Childhood in a Cult ,” which Turner wrote for the magazine in 2019.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Carmageddon

Knowles, a writer for The Economist , takes up the case against cars, analyzing their contributions to destruction of the urban fabric. He argues that America has exported its car addiction to the developing world, where such ill effects are further exacerbated: “A huge amount of economic growth has been squandered, with the extra income that people are earning being spent sitting in traffic on ever-more polluted roads.” Knowles floats possible remedies, but just as quickly pokes holes in them. The electric car, for example, produces more pollution in its construction than its existence justifies, and driverless cars cause too many casualties. Briskly written and well researched, “Carmageddon” is a serious diatribe against cars as agents of social oppression, international inequality, and ecological disaster.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Two women, living centuries apart, scour the Colosseum for plant samples in this lyrical, incisive novel. In 1854, one helps the botanist Richard Deakin (a historical figure) catalogue the amphitheatre’s flora; in 2018, the other assists an academic tracking the changes in its ecosystem since Deakin’s time. The twin narratives mimic field-work notebooks, with headings by family (Vitaceae, Gentianeae, Ambrosiaceae) and vivid illustrations. Gradually, the women’s fragmentary entries come to reveal a changing climate, the invisibility of women’s work, and the perseverance of unofficial histories. As Simpson Smith writes, “the weeds outlive the narrative.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Hungry Ghosts

In this novel, set in rural Trinidad in the nineteen-forties, the disappearance of a wealthy farmer upends carefully tended boundaries of class and identity. The farmer’s wife orders one of his employees, part of a community of indigent laborers on the village outskirts, to take over his duties. This man has always taught his family to be content with the status quo, even though he chafes at the limitations of his own life. But, as those with power make a game of his desire for a more expansive life—for sensual pleasure and land of his own—he finds himself increasingly at risk of forgetting what he has told his son about moths drawn to lamplight: “It is that hope that turns on them and gets them killed.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Actual Malice

During the civil-rights movement, segregationists used coördinated libel lawsuits in state courts to drive Northern media out of the South. It was in this context, in 1964, that the Supreme Court decided New York Times v. Sullivan, a landmark decision that made it harder to win defamation suits against the media. Samantha Barbas, a law professor and historian, unfurls the story of the case, deftly employing archival sources to shed new light on the triumph of press freedom as an outgrowth of the civil-rights struggle. Her book illuminates the effect of libel suits on journalists’ ability to cover the movement, the legal strategies used against those suits, and the impact of the case on the civil-rights movement itself. A heroic narrative in which the litigation helped vanquish segregationists serves to underscore what Barbas calls the “centrality of freedom of speech to democracy.”

An illustration of a reporter's microphone with a snake tail as a handle.

In her graphic novel,Benji Nate takes us to the messy, funny, and at times navel-gazey world of a group of hot, young Internet girls, living under one roof. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Holding the Note

Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor, captures the tempo and timbre of the great musicians of our time: Leonard Cohen’s divine darkness, Bruce Springsteen’s durable swagger, Mavis Staples’s transcendent gospel . This series of profiles, gathered from the magazine, plumbs the lives and legacies of iconic artists and their indelible work: the people who made the music that made us.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Widely regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the past century, Derek Parfit was born to a British missionary family in China, and spent most of his life at an Oxford college whose fellows have no teaching responsibilities to distract them from research. Parfit made contributions to questions about identity, future generations, and freedom, but his central project was to argue for the objective nature of morality. Edmonds’s companionable biography tracks this work while assembling a portrait of how Parfit grew from a young boy with strong moral intuitions to a kind, perfectionistic man who believed that the stakes of his mission were so high that he should devote almost all of his waking hours to it.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Go Back and Get It

On her thirty-eighth birthday, the author of this memoir found a century-old photograph of an enslaved ancestor and embarked on a pilgrimage to uncover hidden branches of her family tree. The book’s title is derived from the West African practice of  sankofa , which is “symbolized by a bird in flight with its head craned backward and an egg in its beak.” In spare, often haunting prose, Ford describes the union between her Black great-great-grandmother and her white great-great-grandfather, the lasting trauma of being raped as a child by a relative, and the lynching of forebears “swinging from trees for the crime of being born Black.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

We the Scientists

Niemann-Pick disease type C is a rare genetic disorder whose sufferers face almost certain death by the age of twenty. In a selection of case histories, this book illuminates the painful tension between the extended time frames of medical research and the life spans of those hoping for a cure. Marcus writes of a woman whose twin girls received an NPC diagnosis as toddlers. When the mother sought permission through the F.D.A.’s compassionate-use program to give the girls an experimental drug, profound ethical issues arose: What if the treatment made the girls worse? Given the rarity of the disease, might a one-off experiment preclude sufficient enrollment in a later clinical trial, countering the common good? Marcus shows how parents, by imparting a sense of urgency to the search for a cure, have helped future generations of children even as they could not save their own.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

A Small Sacrifice for An Enormous Happiness

The fifteen stories in this collection, set variously in America and India, are propelled by familial anxieties. Chakrabarti’s characters—diverse in race, class, sexuality, and religion—reveal themselves through longings: a closeted man dreams of conceiving a child with his lover’s wife; a lonely married woman secretly builds an airplane in her garage. Elsewhere, would-be do-gooders turn exploitative, as in a story that finds an American man making wild financial promises to the son of his longtime guru. These tales eschew neat conclusions, leaving their protagonists suspended, as one opines of life itself, “between unbearable truths—salvation or suffering.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Postcard

In 2003, the French author Anne Berest’s mother went out to gather the mail and found an anonymous postcard: On one side was a photo of the Opéra Garnier; on the other, the names of Jewish family members, who, in 1942, had been deported from France and murdered at Auschwitz. Based in part on her mother’s ensuing research, Berest’s nearly five-hundred-page novel, “ The Postcard ,” fluidly translated by Tina Kover, examines that family history and its present-day reverberations. The first section finds Anne questioning her mother about their family, whose path led from Moscow in 1918, through Latvia and Palestine, and on to France. The story then jumps to Paris in 2018, where Anne’s six-year-old daughter tells her grandmother one day, “They don’t like Jews very much at school.” Berest uses novelistic techniques to give the novel both a detective story’s page-turning urgency and the immediacy of life as it unfolds.

Anne Berest seen in profile.

Smith’s illuminating book documents the rise of online traffic-chasing as a twenty-first-century media norm and the ways in which the new laws of traffic—shaped by social media and their ability to disseminate material at exponential, “viral” rates—unseated old power structures. His story focusses on the rise of two figures: Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed, and Nick Denton, the founder of the online Gawker Media network. The long story that Smith traces, from the open Internet of Peretti’s early high jinks to today’s atomized and factionalized splinternet, is shaped by the demands of business strategy. At BuzzFeed’s height, the traffic rush was a gold rush; by the end of the decade, traffic had become most powerful as a tool to form political identity. Smith’s book highlights how the race for clicks spawned, then strangled, the new media.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In the Orchard

This novel, an examination of motherhood, unfolds in the course of a night and a day. Maisie, weeks after having her fourth child, lies awake breastfeeding and fretting about money. Her hormonal, sleep-deprived thoughts veer from the banal to the profound: “She couldn’t get purchase anywhere, couldn’t get traction on anything.” The next morning, her family makes its annual visit to a local apple orchard. There, a succession of encounters reminds her of the punishing unpredictability of human existence. Maisie’s contemplation of life as “a series of languishments and flourishes, of withering and blooming,” aptly describes this rhapsodic, plotless book, which nevertheless carries a stinging twist at its end.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Camera Girl

Less than a decade before she became the world’s most photographed woman, Jacqueline Bouvier regularly worked behind a camera for the Washington Times-Herald , soliciting opinions from the capital’s ordinary residents and taking their pictures. “Camera Girl,” Carl Sferrazza Anthony’s new biography of the young Jackie, illuminates this portion of her life, making plain that the future First Lady was clever and educable, a woman who preferred her own curricula—books, socializing, and travel—to anything imposed by the schools that she attended. It was in postwar Paris, Anthony writes, that Jackie perfected a knowledge of “how to be ‘on,’ to make an intentional impression, to invent herself into a character.” Her column at the Times-Herald was called “Inquiring Camera Girl,” and her twenty-month run with it is the charming and informative heart of the book, a lively depiction of a young woman who relished every opportunity to regard the world from her own perspective.

Jacqueline Bouvier, photographed by Richard Rutledge.

Shy, the teen-aged namesake of Max Porter’s new novel, is caught between helpless sensitivity and impulsive violence. At fifteen, he spun out of control because his mum gave away his old Hot Wheels toys; not long after, he broke a row of chemistry sets after he couldn’t get an erection with a girl from school. The question animating the novel, Porter’s third, is simple: Will Shy’s inner chaos manifest as childish mischief or something worse? Porter’s gift is his ability to balance a delight in language with precise attention to its mechanics. In “Shy,” he culls from the cramped space of his protagonist’s head about six hours’ worth of mental flotsam, mashing up fonts, registers, characters’ voices, and words themselves to create intricate linguistic effects. The novel ends sentimentally, but, for most of “Shy,” Porter balances social realism and fairy tale in perfect suspension.

A watercolor illustration of a teen-age boy.

Hit Parade of Tears

An icon of Japanese counterculture in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, Suzuki worked as an underground actor, posed for the erotic photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, and penned science-fiction stories, before killing herself at the age of thirty-six. This collection showcases her unique sensibility, which combined a punk aesthetic with a taste for the absurd. Her work—populated by misfits, loners, and femmes fatales alongside extraterrestrial boyfriends, intergalactic animal traffickers, and murderous teen-agers with E.S.P.—wryly blurs the boundary between earthly delinquency and otherworldly phenomena. As one character puts it, “Some wackjobs think they’re living in a science-fiction world.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

On the thirtieth anniversary of the Waco siege, Guinn, an investigative journalist, reconstructs the conflict between David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, and the U.S. Justice Department. In 1992, a box being delivered to a Davidian-owned business broke open and dozens of grenade casings spilled out, prompting a months-long investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The A.T.F. pursued multiple avenues to obtain a warrant, which it got, and eventually decided on a “dynamic entry” of the Branch Davidian compound, Guinn reports. Amid the resulting siege, Koresh, exuding confidence, told a negotiator, “You’re the Goliath, and we’re David.” Of course, whereas the Biblical David had a sling and five smooth stones, the modern Davidians had a .50-calibre sniper rifle that could shoot chunks off car engines. In the end, the F.B.I. raid at Waco resulted in dozens of deaths, including those of more than twenty children. Incorporating interviews with more than a dozen agents who participated in the raid, Guinn chronicles the flames kindled at Waco, the ashes of which are still blowing around.

Silhouette of a tank in front of a burning building.

Waco Rising

Waco, Texas, is best known for a fifty-one-day standoff outside the city in 1993, between a religious sect called the Branch Davidians and the Department of Justice. The siege, which culminated in a fire in the Branch Davidian complex, killed four federal agents and eighty-two civilians. Kevin Cook’s excellent book documents the ways in which the event galvanized the militia movement. Between 1993 and 1995, more than eight hundred militias and Patriot groups formed. Waco, Cook reports, was their rallying cry. A young Alex Jones became obsessed with Waco; it led him to start his Web site Infowars. Jones had a hand in arranging the rally at the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, and, directly afterward, insurgents attacked the U.S. Capitol. Waco helped militias and members of the radical right to see the state as a violent enemy of the people. That view, once marginal, has elbowed its way to the mainstream.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Writers and Missionaries

These probing essays on writers and artists—such as Richard Wright, Edward Said, Jacques Derrida, and Kamel Daoud—reflect Adam Shatz’s abiding interests: the intellectual life of the Francophone and the Arab worlds, leftist politics, and the nature of political art. The book, Shatz’s first, culminates in a memoir that first ran in The New Yorker about cooking. Shatz writes, “The childhood passion that awakened my interest in France, and, by an unexpected and twisted path, led me to my work as a writer.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Impossible People

In this graphic memoir, Julia Wertz charts her long, winding path to sobriety in a way that is honest, funny, and highly relatable. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Set in the nineteen-fifties, this finely etched novel centers on Kit, who spent her early childhood living by the Arkansas River with her white father and Cherokee mother. After her mother died, of tuberculosis, things went awry, and Kit, now eleven, offers a written account “of this whole awful mess,” which has led to her forced enrollment in a Christian boarding school. (Her relatives are “doing the fighting to get me out.”) Kit’s guileless narration betrays a precocious resolve and a dawning realization that lies can have the power of violence. “I am descended from people who survived the Trail of Tears,” she says. “Those that gave up hope and stopped on the road died in the snow.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Skip to the Fun Parts

The cartoonist Dana Maier gets it—getting creative work done is hard, a fact that she draws up in this illustrated guide for procrastinators who want to be productive. Read an excerpt at newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Nothing Stays Put

America’s preëminent late-bloomer poet, Amy Clampitt, published her first book in 1983, when she was sixty-three. This lucid biography tracks her path to eventual fame: her childhood as the bookish eldest daughter of Iowa Quakers; years of obscurity as a West Village bohemian, toiling under the mistaken belief that she was a novelist. Religious conversion (and, later, deconversion), activism, and finding love enriched Clampitt’s life as she crept toward the erudite, lush poetry that dazzled readers. Spiegelman insists that much cannot be known about a poet so resolutely private, though he successfully evokes an artist with a will strong enough to endure decades of false starts.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Still Life with Bones

In this meditative ethnography, a social anthropologist writes about conducting forensic work at mass graves in Guatemala and Argentina, and delicately explores the art, the science, and the sacredness of exhumation in the aftermath of genocide. In forensics, Hagerty writes, “bones shift between people and evidence” and “rattle like dice” as they gradually reveal an individual’s story. She takes us through the histories of legendary forensics teams and resistance groups, relays testimony from family members of individuals who disappeared, and examines the prismatic nature of grief. Throughout the book, just as in forensics, “the ritual and the analytical buzz in electric proximity.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Chain Gang All Stars

This début novel, a caustic satire, takes place in a dystopian United States where prison inmates can attempt to secure their freedom by volunteering to compete in a series of televised death-matches, the so-called Criminal Action Penal Entertainment (or CAPE) program. CAPE participants, known as Links, tour the country in squads known as Chains, fighting in packed arenas and sometimes attaining the status of celebrity. The novel’s protagonist is a former inmate of a private prison named Loretta, who bears the stage name Blood Mother and who, together with her partner, shepherds a chain known as the Angola-Hammond through gruelling marches. Alongside Adjeh-Brenyah’s rich accounts of his characters’ perspectives, the narrative plunges into bloody fight scenes. The result is a stirring reckoning with contemporary American ills, among them mass incarceration and voyeuristic appetites for violence.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Romantic Comedy

Flirting with the tropes of its namesake genre, this playful novel follows Sally, a writer on an “S.N.L.”-like show called “Night Owls,” who falls in love with one of its guest hosts. Their relationship develops via e-mail in the post-grocery-wiping, pre-vaccine days of  COVID -19. When Sally decides to visit her beloved in L.A., their time together in his Topanga mansion requires her to navigate incredulity, insecurity, and an offer that she feels is an “affront to my independence.” The novel is preoccupied with the instinctual nature of self-sabotage, and with the fulfillment that can come from defying ingrained impulses.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

To Anyone Who Ever Asks

The singer-songwriter Connie Converse was a pioneer in the folk scene of mid-century New York but never made it big. She drove off by herself at the age of fifty, never to be heard from again. Fishman describes stumbling upon Converse's prescient music and tracking down her story. The original essay that sparked the book appeared on our site, in 2016.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The great Hungarian writer Magda Szabó’s novel “ The Fawn ,” originally published in 1959 and newly translated by Len Rix, is a chronicle of silence and all that roils beneath it. The book depicts the tumultuous reunion of the bitter and brilliant Eszter Encsy and her childhood playmate, the cherubic Angéla, after a decade apart. Rix’s translation captures the novel’s narrative restraint, the fugitive path it treads between the need to speak and the desire to withhold. Szabó wrote “The Fawn” in secret, during a period of almost a decade when Hungary’s postwar Stalinist regime prohibited her from publishing. Political censorship is one cause of silence in “The Fawn,” but the novel’s true subjects are those silences which fall between people, the failures of intimacy that cut friends and lovers adrift. Szabó understood such silences as a sort of exile, and, in her fiction, she examined the effects, how estrangement from others could also make people strangers to themselves.

A portrait of the Hungarian author Magda Szabó.

We Should Not Be Friends

When Schwalbe, an unathletic theatre kid who spent his free time at Yale volunteering for an aids hotline, met Maxey, a fellow-senior and a celebrated wrestler intent on becoming a Navy seal, he never imagined that they’d be compatible. This delicate memoir tracks their intermittent friendship, from initiation into one of Yale’s secret societies to thirty-five-year college reunion. Gradual revelations from parts of Maxey’s life which Schwalbe missed make for an unexpected page-turner that may inspire readers to reach out to old friends. Schwalbe overcomes the perspectival limitations of memoir-writing by allowing himself access to his friend’s thoughts, notably in rhapsodic contemplations of the sea surrounding the Bahamian island where Maxey ultimately finds purpose.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Künstlers in Paradise

Julian, a directionless young New Yorker, ventures west, to Venice Beach, to help care for his zesty ninety-three-year-old grandmother. When the pandemic descends, he finds himself sequestered indefinitely with her, as she recounts memories of her Anschluss-ruptured Vienna childhood and her family’s subsequent immigration to Hollywood, where she came to know legends including Arthur Schoenberg and Greta Garbo. The novel emphasizes echoes across history but explores intergenerational gaps, too, and—despite handling such weighty subject matter as survivor’s guilt, sexual repression, and the ongoing traumas of racial and religious persecution—maintains a remarkable lightness of tone and of characterization.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this compelling work of memoir and history, Bilger investigates the life of his grandfather, a schoolteacher in Germany’s Black Forest who became a Nazi party chief in occupied France during the Second World War. Exploring the silence and the secrets of both a single man and a society, the book was excerpted in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Best Minds

This engrossing memoir centers on the author’s childhood friend Michael Laudor, who developed schizophrenia and, in his thirties, committed a horrific murder. The pair, both Jewish faculty brats with literary dreams, grew up on the same street in New York’s suburbs—parallels that haunt Rosen as Laudor’s brilliance edges into paranoia. Rosen thoughtfully interweaves this story with an account of changing attitudes toward mental illness. Laudor, before his crime, had become a poster boy for a Foucault-influenced intellectual culture that saw psychosis as a metaphor for liberation. Meanwhile, as Rosen notes, institutions for treating the mentally ill were being dismantled with no provision of adequate replacements.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Small Mercies

Lehane has been wrestling with Boston’s ugly racial legacy since his first novel, “ A Drink Before the War ,” published in 1994. His latest, a tragic vision of Boston’s working-class enclaves set amid the busing protests of 1974, lands like a fist to the solar plexus. Mary Pat Fennessy, the central character, is forty-two, with two husbands in the rearview mirror and a son who died of a heroin overdose. When her beloved daughter goes missing, Mary Pat embarks on a quest to find out what happened—a quest that takes her from the haunts of the local gangsters to the exotic terrain of Harvard Square—turning her world inside out. Her perception of Southie begins to peel away from the neighborhood’s defensive self-image as she reckons with her own racism and the hatred festering all around her. Lehane’s ferocious crime novel captures a tetchy, volatile mixture of working-class pride and shame.

A woman strides forward with determination. Behind her is a school bus with cracked windows, through which we can see the silhouettes of children.

The Blazing World

Healey, a historian at Oxford, writes with pace and fire and an unusually sharp sense of character and humor. Narrating with the eclectic, wide-angle vision of the new social history, he shows that ideas and attitudes, rising from the ground up, can drive social transformation; the petitions and pamphlets which laid the ground for conflict are as important as troops and battlefield terrain. His account allows members of the “lunatic fringe” to speak for themselves; the Levellers, the Ranters, and the Diggers—radicals who cried out in eerily prescient ways for democracy and equality—are in many ways the heroes of the story, though not victorious ones. Seeking to recapture a lost moment when a radically democratic commonwealth seemed possible, Healey demonstrates that ripples on the periphery of our historical vision can be as important as the big waves at the center of it.

A man on stage holding a crown on one hand and a decapitated head on the other.

Six decades ago, Pedro Cuatrecasas, a resident at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, found concrete evidence that the ability to digest lactose might be a genetic condition linked to one’s racial background. More studies over the following decades would draw similar conclusions about the difficulties that many communities of color faced when trying to digest unfermented milk. Despite this consensus, milk retained its reputation as a nutritional bulwark in the United States and elsewhere. In “ Spoiled: The Myth of Milk as Superfood ,” the culinary historian Anne Mendelson questions fresh milk’s hegemonic grip over the American mind. The book charts the gradual spread of “dairying,” from its origins in the prehistoric Near East and Western Asia to its prevalence in northern Europe. Mendelson does not propose forgoing fresh milk altogether. Rather, she seeks to gently put it on a level playing field with its alternatives and open the minds of her readers to the culinary possibilities of dairy beyond American shores.

Illustration of a group of children with large smiles dancing around a large milk carton fountain.

The Cult of Creativity

Franklin posits that “creativity” is a concept invented in America after the Second World War, appearing primarily in two contexts: psychological research and business, each arising semi-independently, but feeding into and reinforcing each other. Humanistic psychologists—attuned to postwar anxieties about alienation and conformity—connected creativity with authenticity and self-expression. The advertising industry—the motor of consumerism—grabbed on to the term to appropriate the glamour and prestige of the artist and confer those attributes on admen and product designers. In the information age, countercultural values turned out to be entirely compatible with consumer capitalism. The difficulties that arose in defining creativity are intrinsic to the concept itself, Franklin argues, and his provocative book unpacks the history of a term whose origins are more recent than we might imagine.

An illustration of a person's upper torso with a colorful and dynamic explosion of shapes in place of their head. Around the perimeter of the shapes is a yellow ruler.

Psychonauts

Long before the hippies, a group of nineteenth-century artists, philosophers, and scientists began taking drugs in order to uncover the secrets of the mind. In “Psychonauts,” the historian Mike Jay argues that these thinkers were unique. Before the group’sexperiments, drugs had been used to self-medicate, or to escape the world, but the psychonauts saw them as an education: a way to access the hidden corners of consciousness. In the process, they upended the notion of objectivity, asserting that drugs needed to be experienced in order to be understood. Jay has written several books on Western drug use, and his study is full of sharp, lively anecdotes: William James inhaling nitrous oxide, Freud’s exploits with cocaine, and Thomas De Quincey’s famous opium trips. For the psychonauts, drugs were a tool not just for science but for self-actualization.

William James wearing a hat and sunglasses.

Benjamin Banneker and Us

The central figure in this memoir-biography is Benjamin Banneker, a Black astronomer who was born in 1731 and became famous for writing almanacs and helping to design Washington, D.C. After learning that she was one of Banneker’s descendants, Webster, a white poet, retraced his and his ancestors’ lives. In the process, she built close relationships with newfound Black cousins, whose relatives have researched Banneker for generations, and are both excited by and wary of her interest in him. One tells her, “You white writers just dip in and visit. You will write this book and then go away, but I am compelled to live here.” Listening to her family and constructing a story together leads Webster to conclude that “ancestry is not an individual acquisition but a collective inheritance, a shared process of awareness.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Spring Rain

“Spring Rain,” the third book in a trilogy, follows Hamer as he becomes too old to work as a gardener anymore. The first book, “ How to Catch a Mole ,” was an account of how Hamer, who worked for many years as a mole catcher—which is surprising not only because the job sounds like it belongs in a Wordsworth poem but also because Hamer has been a vegetarian since childhood, and often had to kill the moles he caught—ceased to be a mole catcher. That book is a double portrait: of the difficult, lonely, and intense domesticity of both moles and Hamer. “ Seed to Dust: Life, Nature, and a Country Garden ” is a year of meditations on his time working in a vast garden owned by an old woman he calls Miss Cashmere. Hamer’s prose proceeds by association and by charismatic detail (“there are golden moles and white moles”), but it also has a strong sense of arc, of change. His mind turns to mortality often in the new book, which could be described as a memoir of a retired gardener turning his own small patch of neglected land back into a garden, or as a memento mori. “Spring Rain” is something of a winter book. “There are two kinds of old people,” Hamer writes. “There are the old people who are in pain and are miserable, and there are the old people who are in pain and are light-hearted. All old people are in pain.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In Memoriam

This consuming and unstintingly romantic début novel begins in 1914, and centers on two teen-age boarding-school students: Ellwood, an aspiring poet, and Gaunt, a moody, half-German pacifist. The young men are taking tentative steps toward romance when Gaunt enlists in the British Army. Ellwood eventually follows, set on reunion, and determined that, “if something dreadful was being done to Gaunt, he wanted it done to him as well.” The story parses the extent to which pursuing forbidden love can feel like risking one’s life. Of his heart, Gaunt thinks, “It was only because he knew he would die that he could be so reckless with it.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Tenacious Beasts

The occasional resurgences of animal populations in an era of mass extinction are the subject of this lively study, by a journalist and professor of environmental philosophy. Despite widespread depredation, some species, from wolves in densely populated Central Europe to beavers in the polluted Potomac to whales in the Gulf of Alaska, have staged dramatic comebacks. Preston focusses much of his reporting on wildlife scientists and Indigenous activists, arguing that these recoveries—and the ecological restorations they engender—demonstrate that the flourishing of other species is “integral to our shared future.” In cases where conditions are right, degraded landscapes can be revitalized through the combination of thoughtful environmental practices and animals’ natural capacities.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Is It Hot in Here (Or Am I Suffering for All Eternity for the Sins I Committed on Earth)?

In this collection of essays, the comedian Zach Zimmerman traces the path from his strict Christian upbringing to his current queer, atheist life in New York City, with much hilarity and self-mockery. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Grann, a staff writer, recounts the journey of a British Navy warship that started off rough—storms, rats, scurvy—and only got rougher. In 1741, the ship’s crew ran aground in South America, and starvation led to cannibalism and other horrors. The book, which was excerpted on newyorker.com, may sound like “Lord of the Flies,” but it is no tale of civilization discarded; even when struggling to survive across the earth from England, the sailors remained obsessed with the rules of the British Empire.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Greek Lessons

This novel, by a winner of the International Booker Prize, follows a woman who mysteriously loses the faculty of speech and begins taking ancient-Greek lessons as a possible remedy. The book was excerpted in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In 2021, just as New York’s restrictions on night life lifted, the media theorist McKenzie Wark was asked to write a book for a series being published by Duke University Press about practices. “Raving,” a monograph about the underground party scene that has exploded over the past several years in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, is the result. The book has some theorizing, a lot of quoting from others, a little ethnography, and some first-person autofiction written in a rapid present-tense clip. Wark, who is trans and in her early sixties, began going to what she describes as “queer and trans-friendly raves in Brooklyn, New York” in 2018, around the same time she started hormone treatment. The book’s charm is in the autofiction, where the reader gets to inhabit Wark’s sense of liberation. In raving, she immerses herself in the cacophonous glory of New York City at night and finds a new way to inhabit her body and connect to its past. It’s an unusually hopeful depiction of late midlife as a phase of discovery.

Pink-and-red interior of a rave space.

The Laughter

The protagonist of this biting novel, set in the days before the 2016 election, is Oliver Harding, a G. K. Chesterton specialist at a liberal-arts college near Seattle. Harding spends his days in misguided pursuit of a Pakistani law professor, who is caring for a nephew who has had a series of run-ins with the French police. Jha slowly reveals the paltriness of Harding’s inner life—his racist suspicions about the nephew, his damaged relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, his near-constant womanizing and reactionary moralizing. As the campus is swept by a wave of student-led anti-racist protests, he discovers far too late that he has been “invited to something, to a nearness and vastness I still don’t understand.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Diary Keepers

Nearly three-quarters of the Dutch Jewish population was murdered in the Holocaust, yet after the Second World War the Netherlands claimed a national memory of unified defiance. In a challenge to this account, Siegal has assembled the wartime diaries of seven Dutch citizens, among them a Jewish journalist, the wife of an S.S. official, and a shopkeeper active in the Resistance. Though diaries may be myopic and self-images fallible—as exemplified in the puffed-up scribblings of a Nazi-sympathizing policeman—it’s clear these diarists saw enough, Siegal writes, to respond to horror. She casts “bearing witness” as an impure but essential act and history as mutable, a story told and understood not by one but by many.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Steady Rollin

A moving memoir, told in a series of vignettes, whisks us along with the author—often by bicycle—from the Bible Belt to Oakland, California, with many colorful pit stops. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Pineapple Street

This engaging début novel centers on a family of wealthy real-estate moguls, the Stocktons, living in the historically preserved “fruit streets” of Brooklyn Heights. The story’s focus alternates among the eldest of the family’s three grown children, who has forsaken her career for motherhood; the youngest, who works off her hangovers with tennis; and the wife of the lone male scion, whose middle-class background stands in contrast to her husband’s upper-crust one. “I know you get all awkward and waspy whenever it comes up,” she tells him. She is unfairly accused by her sisters-in-law of gold-digging, but, in the end, none of the despicable rich we meet are really so despicable; some punches are pulled to maintain the story’s levity.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Courting India

In 1616, when Britain’s first ambassador to India arrived—bearing gifts Das describes as “cheap trash”—his country’s eventual dominion over the latter was far from certain. The Crown was in debt, European competitors were gobbling up pieces of the global spice and textile trade, and England’s understanding of South Asia was “sketchy at best.” During his four-year term, Roe constantly got sick and slowly suffocated in the Western clothing he insisted on wearing in summer. But as Das focusses on the push-and-pull between his prejudice against and fascination with his counterparts, she finds that “Contact and interchange between cultures can happen often almost despite itself.” Ultimately, her study of Roe’s work poses the question of what would have taken place if—as Roe had advocated—England had pursued a policy of peaceful trade rather than violent subjugation.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

By turns melancholy and exuberant, but always fuelled by formal and sonic play, this collection—structured around a sequence of “Skeleton” acrostics, punctuated by a series of “Flesh” interludes—measures the fact of mortality against the pleasures and possibilities of being alive. Several poems were originally published in the magazine .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

There Will Be Fire

In October of 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and nearly all the members of her Cabinet were staying at the Grand Hotel, in Brighton, after attending the annual Conservative Party Conference. In the early hours of October 12, Thatcher was in her room, going over some papers when a bomb went off, causing the hotel’s large chimney stack to collapse. Five people were killed; Thatcher survived. Carroll’s book offers a new and gripping account of the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s attack, which, he writes, “almost wiped out the British government.” As a police procedural, the Brighton case is captivating—involving, among other elements, a cache of weapons hidden in the woods and a tense police pursuit through Glasgow, which Carroll describes vividly. He also outlines the political intrigue and enmity that both preceded the attack and followed it. Decades after the bombing, Caroll’s fast-paced caper thoughtfully depicts an episode in a centuries-old struggle, prompting questions about terrorism, politics as violence, and the value of remembering (or of forgetting).

Two people in formal attire escape the Brighton Grand Hotel attack with a police officer.

A Spell of Good Things

Set in contemporary Nigeria, this novel of radical class divisions examines political and domestic abuse through the stories of Ẹniọlá, a boy from an impoverished family, and Wúràọlá, a wealthy young medical resident who is engaged to the son of an aspiring politician. The lives of Adébáyọ̀’s characters are circumscribed by money and gender: Ẹniọlá is routinely humiliated for his poverty, beaten by his teachers, and even spat on, while Wúràọlá, enmeshed in cultural expectations of marriageability, hides her fiancé’s increasingly violent assaults from her family. A prayerlike refrain echoes through the novel: “God forbid, God forbid bad thing.” But all of Adébáyọ̀’s characters are inexorably drawn into the violence that leaks from profound societal inequities as they journey toward the terrifying moment in which their stories converge.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

White Cat, Black Dog

The stories in Link’s new collection may be billed as “reinvented fairy tales,” but they’re influenced by a vast pool of intertextual allusion that includes superhero movies and Icelandic legends, academic discourse, and the work of Shirley Jackson, Lucy Clifford, and William Shakespeare. One story, “The White Cat’s Divorce,” transposes a French tale to Colorado and replaces a tyrannical king with a Jeff Bezos-esque billionaire. Most, though, are more loosely wrapped around the tales that supposedly inspired them. Throughout the collection, Link suggests that all stories—and not just the ones that end with “happily ever after,” or begin with “Once upon a time”—are boxes too small for what we want them to contain. With a tale of spaceships, robots, and vampires and a story of Shakespearean actors travelling through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Link deploys puns, clever genre work, and metafictional flourishes that infuse the collection with an air of flux and fragility. To read her is to place oneself in the hands of an expert illusionist, entering a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Woman Author surrounded by fairytales.

The Great Reclamation

The reserved, thoughtful protagonist of this novel grows up amid the shifting political regimes of mid-twentieth-century Singapore, where he strives to balance his loyalty to the traditional life of his fishing village with the appeal of the modern future promised by the government. As the novel proceeds from his discovery of islands that appear and disappear under mysterious circumstances to the new government’s creation of “brick buildings that gave the illusion of solidity on what the kampong knew was wet and shifting soil,” it illustrates the unsteadiness of both the physical environment and personal and political allegiances during a time of overwhelming historical change.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In 1959, East Germany asked its writers to spend time in industrial plants—rubbing off their élitism while bringing culture to the working man. Reimann wrote “Siblings” while participating in this initiative, living in a remote town and working at a coal-production plant. The novel, newly translated into English after the uncensored manuscript was found by chance, takes place around 1960. Reimann’s heroine, Elisabeth, a twenty-four-year-old painter, has been leading a circle of worker-painters at a coal factory, but her clash with a hack artist who’s also in residence there will lead to a visit by state security. Meanwhile, she’s trying to dissuade her brother Uli, a young engineer blacklisted for having worked for a professor who defected, from leaving for the West himself. In a disarmingly direct style, alive with dialogue and detail, Reimann connects the contradictions of East Germany with the legacy of the Third Reich, and never whitewashes what it was like to forge a new society out of the devastations of war. A clear-eyed chronicler of life in the G.D.R. and of her own fissured commitments, Reimann brings to life the intoxicating, impossible allure of living your ideals.

A watercolor portrait of writer Brigitte Reimann, with red grid-like buildings in the background.

Picasso the Foreigner

Born in Málaga, Spain, in 1882, Pablo Picasso settled in France in 1904. Cohen-Solal, a cultural historian, draws on dossiers found in French police archives, which include interrogation transcripts, rent receipts, and other material, to document the surveillance to which Picasso was subjected by the authorities, who considered him to be an “intruder.” Her biography illuminates Picasso’s paradoxical situation, in which the institutional forces “obsessed with the idea of a national cultural purity” viewed him with suspicion even as he was idolized by French galleries and critics.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

How Data Happened

Wiggins’s and Jones’s fascinating history of data science begins in the eighteenth century with the entry of the word “statistics” into the English language. Numbers, a century ago, wielded the kind of influence that data wields today, they write; then, during the Second World War, statistics became more mathematical and more predictive—a necessary tool for calculating missile trajectories and cracking codes. The digitization of human knowledge proceeded apace, with libraries turning books first into microfiche and then into bits and bytes. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, commercial, governmental, and academic analysis of data had come to be defined as “data science,” which had been just one tool with which to produce knowledge and became, in many quarters, the only tool. “At its most hubristic, data science is presented as a master discipline, capable of reorienting the sciences, the commercial world, and governance itself,” Wiggins and Jones write. The emergence of a new discipline is thrilling, but the authors carefully note the attendant hazards.

A three-dimensional pattern of books turning into transistor boards.

Spoken Word

This rich hybrid of memoir and history surveys the institutions that have shaped spoken-word poetry for the past five decades, from the Nuyorican Poets Café, in Manhattan, to the Get Me High Lounge, in Chicago, where the poetry slam originated, and the Internet—now perhaps the genre’s predominant venue. Bennett, a poet himself, pays tribute to his literary forebears, such as Miguel Algarín. Bookended with accounts of state-sponsored performances—the author’s own, alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, at the White House, in 2009, and Amanda Gorman’s recitation at President Biden’s Inauguration, in 2021—the book also chronicles the mainstreaming, for better or worse, of a radical tradition.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Look at the Lights, My Love

The winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature here studies the “great human meeting place” of the big-box superstore, keeping a diary of her visits to a mall near Paris and analyzing what it means to confront our desires and those of others in the marketplace. The book was excerpted on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs

Kerry Howley’s “ Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs: A Journey Through the Deep State ” traces an odyssey through the post-9/11 American security state, searching for rhymes and resonance among the lives of its whistle-blowers, accidental truthtellers, targets, and victims—and also the rest of us, tapping at our phones, constantly feeding data onto the Internet, aware that it’s all accumulating somewhere, much of it accessible to the government. To the extent that “Bottoms Up” has a main character, it’s Reality Winner, a one-time National Security Agency contractor who leaked to the press a document about Russian cyberattacks on U.S. election officials and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison. When Reality—as Howley typically refers to her heroine—is on the page, we feel the intimacy of a novel. It’s as if Howley, in profiling her subject with such care, is trying to wash off the sticky, simplifying fiction imposed on her by the government and reveal the human underneath—suggesting how easily anyone could be reduced to a version of themselves they wouldn’t recognize.

Illustration of woman holding a phone in shadow

The man most credited with creating the idiosyncratic variety-show-soap-opera hybrid that is American professional wrestling today is Vince McMahon, the longtime kingpin of World Wrestling Entertainment, or W.W.E. In the past four decades, his company (until 2002 the World Wrestling Federation, or W.W.F.) has made household names of performers such as Macho Man Randy Savage, the Undertaker, and Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson, while helping to warp their pseudo-sport medium into an international entertainment juggernaut. As Abraham Riesman writes in a compelling new biography, “ Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America ,” “If wrestling is an art, one man is both its Michelangelo and its Medici.” Riesman traces parallels between wrestling’s manipulated narratives and the wider cultural substitution of performance for substance which climaxed with the election of Donald Trump. “Vince had proven to the wrestling world what Trump would one day prove to everyone else,” she concludes. ”Nothing was true, and everything was permitted.”

Vince McMahon gets a crowd ready for the main event.

The Kingdom of Prep

Bullock’s new book is a buoyant and persuasive account of how the J. Crew brand’s fluctuating fortunes reflect Americans’ shifting attitudes toward dress, shopping, and identity. When Arthur Cinader started J. Crew, as a mail-order retailer, in 1983, he built a catalogue around tableaux featuring the upper crust at play, horsing around and lounging about, serious yet untroubled. The orders came flooding in. At the center of Bullock’s story is the malleability of prep, which she describes as “the bedrock of straightforward, unfettered, ‘American’ style.” But the book is also a business story. In the nineteen-nineties, the mail-order industry began to stagnate; around 2011, a “retail apocalypse” stymied brick-and-mortar stores. Bullock depicts J. Crew’s survival as the result of individual genius: that of the Cinaders, and, later, Mickey Drexler and Jenna Lyons. “The Kingdom of Prep” captures the viewpoint of the visionaries, and the “competitive, deeply bonded believers” who worked for them.

A collage of preppy people in photos mixed with sewing materials.

Ghosts of the Orphanage

In this investigation of abuse and murder in orphanages in North America and Australia during the mid-twentieth century, Kenneally pursues what she calls “cold cases, twice over”: disappearances of children for whom official records are inaccurate or lacking, the main proof of their existence being the memories of their peers. Building her narrative on circumstantial evidence and the testimonies of survivors, Kenneally portrays an “invisible archipelago” of institutions—most, but not all, run by the Catholic Church—that, while operating independently, shared so many horrifying traits that their violence can only be termed institutionalized. The result is a gripping chronicle of the ways in which those in power ignored, or even encouraged, the ill-treatment of children across borders, cultures, and decades.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Milton Glaser: POP

No art director’s work was more influential than that of Milton Glaser, the co-founder and original design director of New York magazine. But his real achievement lies in what this anthology reveals: a breathtaking empire of imagery that encompassed two decades and was felt in later years. Anyone who came of age in the sixties and seventies will be astonished to discover that so much of the look of the time was specifically the work of Milton Glaser and Push Pin Studios. The Signet Shakespeare series, posters for rock bands, album covers for newly fashionable recordings of Baroque music, nineteenth-century classic novels, the outsides and insides of New York when it was an audacious newcomer—all of it was done in a manner that’s immediately recognizable. Glaser’s Day-Glo, high-low approach combined the blaring-glaring palette of advertising with Beaux-Arts draftsmanship and the dense, geometric ordering of the European avant-garde. The result, as this anthology makes clear, provided a visual vocabulary for an entire era.

Colors radiating from the tip of a pen.

The Absent Moon

The Brazilian writer and publisher Luiz Schwarcz’s brief autobiography “ The Absent Moon: A Memoir of a Short Childhood and a Long Depression ,” translated from Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker, is restrained and full of explicit omissions and yet offers astounding emotional clarity. Schwarcz, the son of a Holocaust survivor, sees his project—or his responsibility—as a double one: to share but not interpret the profound suffering he’s faced in his lifetime with depression and bipolar disorder; and to tell, again without interpretation, what he can of the family story that underlies both his struggles with mental illness and his instinct, or compulsion, toward silence. Schwarcz writes about his illnesses and their effects, which have ranged from obsessive, manic work habits and a tendency to create conflict in his early professional years to intense anxiety and self-harm in middle age, in prose marked by a clarity that comes from total, rigorous precision. “The Absent Moon” ’s rigor is, ultimately, not just a stylistic choice, but an emotional and ethical one. Schwarcz acknowledges the confusion and disorientation inherent to reckoning with historical pain and horror, while also transcending the comforting but—to him—false notion that his depression could be fully explained or understood.

Luiz Schwarcz at his home, in São Paulo.

We Were Once a Family

In 2018, a white woman named Jennifer Hart intentionally drove her S.U.V. off a strip of the Pacific Coast Highway, in northern California, down a hundred-foot drop into the ocean. Inside were Jennifer’s wife, Sarah, and the couple’s six adopted Black children. As later reporting revealed, the Harts were able to adopt and retain custody of the children despite years of mounting evidence of abuse and neglect, including child-protection investigations across three states, and despite the fact that three of the children had family members, in their home state of Texas, who wanted them back. “ We Were Once a Family ,” Roxanna Asgarian’s moving and superbly reported book about the Hart tragedy, brings to light the racial inequities of the child-welfare system, which, as the scholar Dorothy Roberts writes, too often harshly scrutinizes and punishes Black families and children rather than protecting them. A grim truth that emerges from Asgarian’s patient, compassionate reporting is that removing a child from his birth or adoptive home and placing him into the foster-care system is itself a form of trauma.

An illustration of white hands holding a Black mother and her child who reach for each other.

An Autobiography of Skin

In the three narratives that make up this powerful début, Black women from Texas reckon with their complex relationships to their bodies, which are by turns deprived of sex, rendered husk-like after childbirth, and physically battered. One woman finds refuge from a loveless marriage in gambling; another is so undone by news stories of violence against Black people that she endeavors to alter her children’s skin color. In the book’s slow-boil closing tale, the narrator, bereft following a breakup, shares an extrasensory power with her grandmother, who says, “If we were chosen, it was only because we continued to love, despite our pain and disappointments over many lifetimes.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Old God’s Time

In this tragic tale, Barry, a writer of almost Joycean amplitude, excavates the buried tensions at the heart of Irish identity. Tom Kettle is a retired policeman living alone in a Dublin suburb during the mid-nineteen-nineties. After growing up in a Church-sponsored orphanage where the young wards were sexually abused, he has emerged into the normality of middle-class life, but his career forced him into complicity with the system that brutalized him. When the novel begins, Kettle has lost his wife and two adult children, and his career comes back to haunt him when two former colleagues show up with an unsolved case from his past. He is metaphysically divided, adrift between past and present, the imagined and the real. His daughter, Winnie, who died of a heroin overdose, is always dropping in to chat; pages go by before Kettle grasps that he is talking to himself. Kettle remains, in the midst of untold anguish, a “very living man,” intensely receptive to the world and its marvels. Barry’s casually exquisite prose, capable of lyrical expansion but always firmly rooted in the dialect of the tribe, seems to capture them all.

Portrait of Sebastian Barry in front of a house on green hills.

The Dog of the North

“I was used to being the object of anger,” the down-on-her-luck narrator of this vibrant picaresque says. In her mid-thirties, she flees a dead-end job and a failing marriage, embarking on a journey that leads to a confrontation with childhood trauma. En route, she contends with her possibly homicidal grandmother; lives in a van owned by her grandmother’s ailing accountant; searches for her mother and stepfather, who disappeared years earlier; eludes her abusive biological father; and kindles a promising new romance. “I seemed to be trapped in a continual reckoning between present and past,” she notes. McKenzie parlays that reckoning into a vibrant novel that combines slapstick comedy with poignancy.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The protagonist of this novel is a virtual-reality designer who crafts popular “Original Experiences,” which draw on his most disturbing memories: “That way, the whole thing could be forgotten, or at least its potency could be reduced.” But one day the designer begins receiving death threats, and shortly afterward ethical concerns about the technology arise. As the designer seeks to resolve both problems, his world metamorphoses into an augmented reality itself: his wife and daughters, chillingly unknowable, remain nameless for much of the book; their house, under constant renovation, becomes an unfamiliar maze.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

I Am Still with You

Combining memoir and travel writing, Iduma uses personal loss—of close relatives—to reflect on the history of the “faultily amalgamated” country of Nigeria. Rummaging through derelict regional archives and filling lacunae with his relatives’ memories, he attempts to piece together the story of his namesake, an uncle who died in the Biafran War. After the war, this uncle frequently appeared in the dreams of the oldest man in their family, and Iduma draws a parallel with the ghostly unresolved tensions around the conflict, which is not taught in many Nigerian schools. This adroitly crafted work seeks closure for “a generation that has to lift itself from the hushes and gaps of the history of the war.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Poverty, by America

The author’s first book, “Evicted,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, renders a vivid portrait of eight families struggling to stay housed in Milwaukee. In his new book, he offers a bracing argument about how and why the rest of us countenance poverty and are complicit in it. More manifesto than narrative, “Poverty, by America” is urgent and accessible, a slim volume full of revelations—about the misallocation of government aid, with public benefits unduly assisting the affluent—and handily presented statistics and studies. Desmond’s refreshing social criticism eschews the easy and often smug allure of abstraction, in favor of plainspoken practicality. Calling on readers to become “poverty abolitionists,” he proposes a host of solutions, exhibiting varying levels of ambition. “The goal is singular—to end the exploitation of the poor—but the means are many,” he writes. The book is a moral gut punch.

A pile of household items—including mattresses, chairs, and boxes—sits on the sidewalk in front of a house.

The Nature Book

Tom Comitta’s experimental novel is entirely made up of descriptions of the natural world copied from canonical novels and spliced together in strangely mesmerizing combinations. The book feels, at its best, symphonic, both in its structure—four movements, the third of which is the most distinct and the last of which references the first and goes out in a brilliant burst—and in the way language echoes, builds, works its accretive magic. It’s oddly affecting to see other aspects of the natural world, like springtime, approached again and again by different writers, as happens in a section that guides us through the seasons. The joining of different human consciousnesses, different perspectives and syntaxes, creates a strong tension; at times, the effect can verge on prose poetry. “The Nature Book” is occasionally disorienting and alienating. But, in this way, it resembles a wilderness in one of the word’s original senses: a place that is self-willed, a separate, self-sustaining ecosystem with its own imperatives independent of ours.

Illustration of an open book with plants, trees and mountains popping out of its pages.

A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs

This chronicle of the transformations of the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang opens in 2018, on a night when more than twenty members of Hoja’s family were arrested, after she began reporting on the Uyghur internment camps run by the Chinese government. Hoja recounts sweet childhood memories of life in Ürümqi, and the way that locals gradually found themselves to be strangers in their own land, when activities like texting someone overseas or watching Turkish soap operas became excuses for arrest. Descriptions of catastrophe are interspersed with lines of quiet devastation. Hoja’s decision to move to America for her career ripped “a hole” in her family: “the hole would slowly close, like a wound healing over time. But it would knit back together with me on the outside.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

For more than twenty years, the French writer Maylis de Kerangal has been one of our preëminent novelists of work. In “Painting Time,” she studied a group of trompe-l’oeil artists; elsewhere, she’s explored restaurant life (“The Cook”), a heart transplant (“Mend the Living”), and the construction of an ambitious suspension bridge (“Birth of a Bridge”). Her latest book in English translation, “Eastbound,” is the first not to center a vocation, but it does showcase her interest in process, how people accomplish a task during a set period of time. The book follows Aliocha, a twenty-year-old conscript, as he desperately tries to escape the Trans-Siberian railway, which is carrying his regiment to army training. His defection requires violence, foresight, and the help of others, and De Kerangal’s long, racing sentences heighten the suspense, collapsing time and space. By the end, she’s shown how language, when harnessed correctly, can put entire worlds on the page.

Five people of various sizes performing different activities.

Greta, the aimless protagonist of this darkly comic novel, works as a transcriptionist for a sex-and-relationship coach—“Greta liked knowing people’s secrets”—and quickly becomes obsessed with one of her employer’s clients, whom she nicknames Big Swiss. She appreciates Big Swiss’s blunt honesty and her impatience with people “who can’t stop saying the word ‘trauma.’ ” After a chance meeting in a dog park, the two women begin an affair, which causes Greta to question various aspects of her life: her residence in a near-uninhabitable farmhouse, the suicide of her mother when she was thirteen, her own suicidal impulses. Big Swiss, Greta reflects, may have something to teach her “about eradicating self-pity and perhaps replacing it with something productive.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Great Displacement

Roving across the United States, this survey explores the precarious environments in which many Americans now live, places irreversibly altered by floods, fires, hurricanes, and drought. “Managed retreat” is a popular term in climate discourse, but whole communities, from Arizona ranchers to Indigenous tribes in Louisiana, face disaster without any sort of plan. Victims of megafires in California find themselves at the mercy of the state’s housing crunch. Bittle argues that the approaches of both government and the insurance industry are totally inadequate for today’s dilemmas: Where should we build? What should we protect? And what do we owe those who lose everything?

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Real Work

Gopnik, a longtime staff writer, learns to drive, to draw, and to bake bread in a perceptive and personal account considering the elusive nature of mastery, the accumulated practice that yields not just achievement but accomplishment. His interest in the marriage of skill, tradition, artistry, and finesse—what magicians call “ The Real Work "—was born in a piece he wrote for the magazine in 2008, and the book draws from his writing in these pages.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Half Known Life

This travelogue examines spiritual customs from around the world, meditating on the idea of paradise. Iyer visits the mosques of Iran, the insular streets of North Korea, the mountains of Japan, Aboriginal Australia, and Belfast (the “spiritual home of civil war”). Many would-be Edens have, variously, been riven by conflict, divided by religion, and wracked by colonization. Grappling with “a world that seems always to simmer in a state of answerlessness,” Iyer gradually reconciles himself to the contradictions of earthly paradise. “The most beautiful of flowers has its roots in what we regard as muck and filth,” he reflects, contemplating Buddhism’s emblematic lotus. “It’s only grit that makes the radiance possible.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Written World And The Unwritten World

Born a hundred years ago, Calvino was, word for word, the most charming writer to put pen to paper in the twentieth century. His era and his experiments with genre, most memorably in his novel “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” make it natural for readers to think of him as a postmodernist, a master of pastiche, an ironist—to class him with Jorge Luis Borges or the members of the OuLiPo, the French avant-garde literary society to which he belonged. Yet the essays newly collected here remind us how much Calvino loved the craftsmanship of the pre-modern era, worshipping the episodic approach to storytelling of Ariosto, Boccaccio, Cervantes, and Rabelais. These writers, he believed, came closest to the oral telling and retelling of tales, creating an “infinite multiplicity of stories handed down from person to person.” Calvino sought to reclaim the bond between intricate narrative forms and entertainment. In response to a 1985 survey, “Why Do You Write?,” he declared, “I consider that entertaining readers, or at least not boring them, is my first and binding social duty.”

An illustrated portrait of the writer Italo Calvino. Calvino's face becomes an optical illusion, hidden amid fantastical architecture.

The Sun Walks Down

Set in rural Australia in the late nineteenth century, this ambitious novel assembles a band of characters—including a white farmer, an Aboriginal farmhand, and a Swedish painter—who are drawn together by the disappearance, in a dust storm, of a six-year-old boy. McFarlane’s figures emerge in intricate detail, defined by their petty desires, their moral imperfections, and their relationship both to the cataclysm of colonization and to the grandiosity of the landscape and the sun, which, for some, takes on near-divine significance. “There’s no way to describe these skies,” the painter writes to a colleague in Europe. “If I had to try, I would say that they are light shipwrecked by dark.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Iron Curtain

In this acutely observant novel, Goldsworthy has constructed a sharply etched variant of the Yugoslavia where she grew up. The book’s main action begins in 1981. Milena Urbanska, the forceful and self-centered protagonist, is the daughter of the Vice-President of an unnamed Eastern Bloc country. Soon after her boyfriend’s suicide, Milena meets Jason Connor, a young Anglo-Irish poet; she falls for him, and follows him to London, where Jason’s true awfulness gradually begins to reveal itself, with wonderful plausibility. Though “Iron Curtain” is a story about personal, not political, disloyalty, the character drama is thrown into high relief against the author’s shrewd rendering of both East and West.

Vesna Bjelogrlić, photographed by Siân Davey.

Collected Works

Poised at the intersection of life and art, reality and imagination, this novel blends the thrill of mystery with the curiosity and depth of philosophical inquiry. Fifteen years after Cecilia Berg goes missing, her husband, Martin, is haunted by memories of their shared youthful intellectual ambitions, by the artistic struggles of their friend Gustav, and by professional and family worries. Narrated alternately by Martin and his daughter, Rakel, the novel refracts Cecilia’s absence through the literary and artistic concerns of those who remain. Rakel reflects that a picture “is always created at the expense of another picture.” She says, “The Cecilia of Gustav’s paintings pushed another Cecilia out of the frame. . . . And who was she?”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Life on Delay

“Nearly every decision in my life has been shaped by my struggle to speak,” Hendrickson writes in this moving exploration of stuttering. A stutterer since childhood, he spent years in therapy, waiting in vain “for this strange thing to exit my body.” Many stutterers do largely overcome their impediment (including the actress Emily Blunt, whom Hendrickson interviews), but others never do. Why this is so remains a neuroscientific mystery. Hendrickson presents a wealth of fascinating detail (virtually all stutterers, for instance, can sing and recite fluently), but the real draw lies in his account of his personal experiences, which convey something essential about the challenge of being human.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Devil’s Element

There are two sides to the phosphorus problem—one shortage, the other excess. Since the early nineteen-sixties and the start of the Green Revolution, global consumption of phosphorus fertilizers has more than quadrupled. How long the world’s reserves might last, given this trend, is a matter of some debate. Egan, a journalist who for many years reported on the Great Lakes, explains that phosphorus is critical not just to crop yields but also to basic biology; in vertebrates, bones are mostly made up of calcium phosphate, as is tooth enamel. But our dependence on this element—and lavish deployment of it—has also led to agricultural runoff that is creating vast dead zones in our lakes and seas. Egan’s book paints a grim picture, but, as he notes in the book’s earliest pages, it “is not intended to be the last word,” and there’s room in its pages for some hope of averting catastrophe.

Farmland surrounded by green algae water.

Brooklyn's Last Secret

This illustrated tale of a less-than-famous rock band on a summer bus tour is full of poignant details and not-so-definitive best-of lists. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

I Have Some Questions for You

Makkai’s latest novel is being marketed as an irresistible whodunnit. But its deeper project is a critique of true crime, charging the genre on three counts: exploiting real people for entertainment, chasing gore rather than studying systemic problems, and objectifying victims, most of whom are pretty, white, rich, and female. The book’s protagonist is Bodie Kane, a podcast host teaching a two-week course at her old high school. For a class project, one of the students is making a podcast about the murder of Thalia Keith, an old classmate of Kane’s, and the imprisonment of Omar Evans, a Black athletic trainer charged with the crime. The two characters endure in our protagonist’s memory—as does a music teacher, Dennis Bloch, whom she suspects might have been involved in the killing. As Kane revisits this dead-girl story, the book brilliantly interrogates dead-girl stories in general, modelling an approach that avoids fetishizing revelations of harm. In Makkai’s hands, at least, crime writing can be as ethical as it is absorbing.

Rebecca Makkai, photographed by Noah Sheldon.

Evil Flowers

Seemingly mundane occurrences grow increasingly surreal in these razor-sharp stories, none longer than a few pages. An ornithologist dispels the part of her brain that recognizes birds; a visitor to a Tripadvisor forum dedicated to Virginia Woolf’s country house strikes up two Internet friendships; an institution is branded the “Mational Nuseum.” Øyehaug’s dizzyingly inventive fictions are suffused with uncanny observations about the natural world and a pervasive, tongue-in-cheek intertextuality. The title is a Baudelaire reference, and, just before the reader encounters a photograph of the poet’s scowling visage, the narrator imagines him having a prophetic glimpse of her book and thinking, “Evil flowers, my ass.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Three Roads Back

This posthumous treatise on grief, by a biographer of Emerson, Thoreau, and William James, takes these three thinkers as case studies, examining the formative role that loss played in their intellectual development. Using diaries and letters, Richardson details his subjects’ experiences in the wake of loved ones’ untimely deaths, and shows how each, debilitated by sorrow, sought solace and found liberation in nature’s universalities and in the particularities of human experience. The result is an elegant and useful rumination on resilience as a practice, achievable through study, creation, companionship, and deep reflection. As Thoreau asked, “What right have I to grieve, who have not ceased to wonder?”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Much of the world’s cobalt—vital to the batteries that power cell phones, laptops, and much else—comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mined in conditions that this intrepid exposé characterizes as “predation for profit,” carried out at “minimum cost and maximum suffering.” Kara draws from interviews with miners, some as young as ten, whose work puts them at risk of respiratory ailments and heavy-metal poisoning. Parents tell him of children lost when tunnels collapsed. His sympathetic, often enraging account is animated by the idea that the first step in ending such calamities is “advancing the ability of the Congolese people to conduct their own research and  safely  speak for themselves.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Daughter in Exile

In this bildungsroman wrapped in a migrant story, Lola, a pregnant Ghanaian, travels to New York to join her fiancé, an American marine. After he ghosts her, she ends up near Washington, D.C., relying on the generosity of a succession of strangers and friends to navigate the harsh realities of life in the U.S. Her experience of sisterhood and solidarity among women reshapes her understanding of her relationship with her own mother. “In this world, you never know when you’ll be the one in need of help,” one benefactor tells Lola. “Who knows, one day my child might need someone too.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Schulman, a staff writer, takes readers on a fizzy tour through ninety-five years of the Academy Awards’ most fractious moments. From the Hollywood blacklist to Harvey Weinstein’s dirty tricks, from surprise appearances by Sacheen Littlefeather and Snow White to the Slap of 2022, the hand-to-hand combat behind the cyclorama walls comes to light in this deeply reported book, which was excerpted on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This Other Eden

This historical novel takes inspiration from the formation, in the mid-nineteenth century—and, in 1912, the forced eviction—of a mixed-race fishing community on Malaga Island, Maine. Harding’s version is called Apple Island, and he movingly depicts the islanders’ dispossession. He imbues his characters with mythological weight—a world-drowning flood is the island’s foundational story—without losing the texture of their daily lives, which are transformed by a white missionary. Of his presence, one islander observes, “No good ever came of being noticed by mainlanders,” foreshadowing the arrival of eugenicist doctors wielding skull-measuring calipers, a project to remake the island as a tourist destination, and the destruction of the community.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Wife of Bath: A Biography

The garrulous, much widowed Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” has become one of the most beloved characters in English literature. Turner, a medieval-literature professor at Oxford, whose previous book was the first full-scale biography of Chaucer written by a woman, here tells us where the Wife of Bath came from—in terms both of literary precursors and of actual women’s lives in Chaucer’s England—and then, once the character was hatched, where the idea of such a woman has gone in the course of English literature. Turner emphasizes the character’s realness: “The Wife of Bath is the first ordinary woman in English literature. By that I mean the first mercantile, working, sexually active woman—not a virginal princess or queen, not a nun, witch, or sorceress, not a damsel in distress nor a functional servant character, not an allegory.” She is a regular person, who gets up on her horse and reels off eight hundred and twenty-eight lines (her prologue is much longer than any other pilgrim’s) of reminiscence, opinion, and merriment.

The Wife of Bath stands looking at the writer Chaucer, her hands placed firmly on the table at which he is seated writing. A horse looks on from the doorway.

When the News Broke

This carefully detailed historical account presents the 1968 Democratic National Convention, in Chicago, as a critical juncture for the American press. The basic story is familiar: Hubert Humphrey won the nomination despite not having entered a single primary, and the Party’s antiwar forces were defeated at almost every turn while police and the National Guard manhandled demonstrators and cameramen in the streets. But Hendershot, a media historian at M.I.T., takes us through it virtually hour by hour, from the point of view of the news networks. Inspecting assertions made at the time that the news media inflamed the conflict, she weighs the evidence and concludes that broadcasters operated with “tremendous fairness.” Yet she proposes that the convention presents an instructional context for our own moment—it was, she writes, “a tipping point for widespread distrust of the mainstream media.”

A black-and-white photo of two men looking out over an auditorium.

After Sappho

“The first thing we did was change our names. We were going to be Sappho,” Schwartz writes, in the collective voice of her powerful genre-bending début novel. Composed of fragments, the narrative knits together the lives of feminist and lesbian icons of the twentieth century, including Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan, and, most prominently, the Italian writer Lina Poletti, who “was always beckoning us onwards into a future we did not yet know how to live.” Schwartz finds moments of levity amid the women’s struggles, as when Sibilla Aleramo’s 1906 novel, “Una Donna,” about an unhappy wife and mother, baffles male editors with its popularity. “Perhaps there was a new market in boring stories about women, they remarked.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Victory City

In his fifteenth novel, which is part adventure story, part myth, and part cautionary tale, Rushdie imagines a kingdom created almost overnight by a woman who merges with a goddess in fourteenth-century India. The novel was excerpted in the magazine.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Why You'll Never Find the One

In this humorous guide, the cartoonist Sarah Akinterinwa offers advice for diving into the contemporary dating scene, and comics depicting what it’s like in the deep end. Read an excerpt on newyorker.com.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Skull Water

In nineteen-seventies South Korea, Fenkl’s narrator, Insu, the teen-age son of a Korean mother and a German American father, moves between the Westernized world of a U.S. Army base and the more traditional society of his mother’s relatives, finding that he is at once at home and a stranger in each. In Fenkl’s ambitious and expansive novel, part of which originated in the magazine, Insu’s understanding of time and place is transformed by his encounters with his mother’s brother, Big Uncle.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Wandering Mind

In this wry, wonderfully written history, Kreiner reveals that the problem of attention far predates smartphones. The book studies the monks of the fourth through the ninth centuries, whose devotion to God was tested, again and again, by the lure of distraction. (“All I do is eat, sleep, drink, and be negligent,” John of Dalyatha lamented.) Kreiner, a professor at the University of Georgia, narrates the monks’ attempts to focus, which involved restrictions on sleep and sexual urges, on footwear, on socializing, and on the frequency and flavor of meals. The monks’ greatest asset, though, was that they had something to focus on : their faith. For those of us who don’t live in monasteries, a worthy object of attention may be harder to find.

A Venn diagram of two overlapping ovals. In the bottom oval, a monk reading looks upward. In the top oval, a man with a cell phone takes a picture. They are both looking at a butterfly, which flies in the overlapping space between the ovals.

The Sense of Wonder

This playfully self-referential novel examines Asian American identity through the twin lenses of basketball and Korean TV dramas. Won Lee, a point guard for the Knicks, is the only Asian player in the N.B.A. His girlfriend, Carrie Kang, is a TV executive who dreams of producing “a Korean American Korean drama.” When Won leads his team to seven straight victories and becomes a media sensation, Carrie develops a series about a Korean basketball star and a sportswriter. Salesses’s novel, mimicking the melodrama of K-dramas, abounds in reversals—betrayals, infidelities, a cancer diagnosis. Such tropes, and the complex lives they reveal, are used to undermine the “model minority myth” these characters hope to transcend.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The Guest Lecture

Abigail, the narrator of this formally innovative novel, lies awake in a hotel, running through the next day’s lecture, on the economist John Maynard Keynes. Her method of remembering is the loci technique: she envisions herself walking through her house, its rooms corresponding to her talking points. In her mental tour, Abigail is accompanied by a mental version of Keynes who tries to keep her on track, even as she careers off onto tangents, about problems domestic and professional, including a recent denial of tenure and doubts about the originality of her intellectual project. The novel succeeds in interweaving an essayistic impulse with the vulnerabilities attendant on any dark night of the soul.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

The New Life

The principal characters of this début novel are modelled on real Victorian figures: John Addington Symonds, a scholar, poet, and critic, and the pioneering sexologist Havelock Ellis. The book opens in 1894, when the two are preparing to take a grave risk: they set out to collaborate on a book, about the lives of sexual “inverts,” which is bound to occasion scandal. Throughout the novel, the fictional Symonds lives out, in a small way, his vision of the future; what he wants is a sexuality that belongs within a larger picture of the good and the beautiful. Crewe distinguishes himself both as novelist and as historian; his Victorians sound like human beings, not period pieces. More unusually, he has found a style that can accommodate everything from the lofty to the romantic and the shamelessly sexy.

Man in the water with nude male bathers behind him

The Scythian Empire

Often regarded by historians as a collection of savage tribes, the Scythians emerge as a pivotal force of the ancient world in this monumental history. Although the Scythian Empire, spanning the Eurasian Steppe, was indeed geographically diffuse, Beckwith highlights previously unnoticed connections among its far-flung groups, paying particular attention to linguistic data, which show that a surprising number of familiar words and concepts have roots in Scythian. He likewise traces the ways in which elements of Scythian culture shaped later polities, including the Persian Empire, and claims that the Scythians “effectively produced the great shared cultural flowering known as the Classical Age.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Pirate Enlightenment

In this posthumous volume, the late anthropologist and anarchist continues his reëxamination of the Enlightenment by expanding the story of communities that contributed to its thought. His focus is the pirate settlements founded on the east coast of Madagascar at the turn of the eighteenth century. Having conducted field research there and consulted historical sources, Graeber hypothesizes about a loosely organized pirate kingdom created from the intermarriage of pirates and the Malagasy people. Graeber believes that pirates’ social organization was often more egalitarian than popular portrayals suggest: in a refuge far from European courts, radical political experiments were already under way.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

This much anticipated and compellingly artful autobiography depicts the Duke of Sussex’s life in a tight three-act drama, consisting of his occasionally wayward youth, his decade of military service, and his relationship with Meghan Markle, with numerous bombshells sprinkled throughout. The memoir, luridly leaked, is worth reading not just for its headline-generating details but also for its voice and its sometimes surprising wit. Harry’s ghostwriter, J. R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter turned memoirist, has a novelist’s eye for detail and a felicitous familiarity with the British literary canon; elevating Shakespearean flourishes may give readers a shiver of recognition, while descriptions of the patched, starched bed linens at Balmoral hint at the constricting fabric of monarchy. Haunted by the spectres of family tragedy and dysfunction, “Spare” takes aim at the media, the monarchy, and—most of all—the prince’s own flesh and blood.

The royal family.

Forbidden Notebook

Published in Italy in 1952, this intimate, quietly subversive novel is told through the increasingly frantic secret diary entries of a woman named Valeria. Against a backdrop of postwar trauma and deprivation, Valeria struggles with her household’s finances, a romance with her boss, her husband’s professional dissatisfactions, and her grownup children’s love affairs. Confiding these tensions to her diary—the only outlet for expression in her cramped life—she awakens to society’s treatment of working wives and confronts a deep ambivalence toward her husband and children. She concludes that all women, to make sense of their world, “hide a black notebook, a forbidden diary. And they all have to destroy it.”

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Professing Criticism

Guillory, a literature professor best known for his landmark work “Cultural Capital” (1993), traces how criticism evolved from a wide-ranging amateur pursuit, requiring no specialist qualifications, into a profession and a discipline housed within the academy. Professionalization, he argues, secured intellectual autonomy for criticism’s practitioners but did so at the eventual expense of reach and relevance, as the field became ever more minutely specialized and preoccupied by its own procedures and politics than by the literary works under review. With funding for the humanities being slashed and enrollments in English courses dwindling, Guillory writes that the knowledge and pleasure transmitted by literary criticism in the university may become “a luxury that can no longer be afforded.”

tiny books all stacked up to create a scholarly looking building

Wade in the Water

Set in 1982, this immersive début novel is narrated largely by an adolescent girl who lives in an all-Black neighborhood in the fictional town of Ricksville, Mississippi. After a white graduate student moves there to conduct research for a thesis on Black migration and the civil-rights movement, the two begin a cautious friendship. Chapters told from the graduate student’s perspective relate a turbulent personal history that includes a stay in a psychiatric hospital and a father who was a Klansman. Though the novel occasionally becomes didactic, Nkrumah resists giving her two main characters a predictable relationship, and her story uncloaks heroes in marvellously unexpected places.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Still Pictures

The final book by the formidable journalist and longtime staff writer Janet Malcolm is an intimate and elegiac memoir organized around a series of family photographs. Documenting everything from Malcolm’s flight out of Prague before the start of the Second World War to her time at William Shawn’s New Yorker , “Still Pictures” grew out of her 2018 essay “ Six Glimpses of the Past .” An excerpt ran on newyorker.com

top 10 autobiography books 2023

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The Best Books We’ve Read in 2024 So Far

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50 best autobiographies & biographies of all time

Enlightening and inspiring: these are the best autobiographies and biographies of 2023, and all time. .

top 10 autobiography books 2023

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 our edit of the best autobiographies and biographies to read right now.

  • New autobiographies & biographies
  • Inspiring autobiographies & biographies
  • Sports autobiographies & biographies
  • Celebrity autobiographies & biographies
  • Political & historical autobiographies
  • Literary autobiographies & biographies

The best new autobiographies and biographies

Charles iii, by robert hardman.

Book cover for Charles III

Meet the man behind the monarch in this new biography of King Charles III by royal expert and journalist Robert Hardman. Charting Charles III’s extraordinary first year on the throne, a year plighted by sadness and family scandal, Hardman shares insider details on the true nature of the Windsor family feud, and Queen Camilla’s role within the Royal Family. Detailing the highs and lows of royal life in dazzling detail, this new biography of the man who waited his whole life to be King is one of 2024’s must-reads. 

Lisa Marie Presley's memoir

By lisa marie presley.

Book cover for Lisa Marie Presley's memoir

Lisa Marie Presley was never truly understood . . . until now. Before her death in 2023, she’d been working on a raw, riveting, one-of-a-kind memoir for years, recording countless hours of breathtakingly vulnerable tape, which has finally been put on the page by her daughter, Riley Keough.

Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary

By nina stibbe.

Book cover for Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary

Ten years after the publication of the prize-winning  Love, Nina  comes the author’s diary of her return to London in her sixty-first year. After twenty years, Nina Stibbe, accompanied by her dog Peggy, stays with writer Debby Moggach in London for a year. With few obligations, Nina explores the city, reflecting on her past and embracing new experiences. From indulging in banana splits to navigating her son's dating life, this diary captures the essence of a sixty-year-old runaway finding her place as a "proper adult" once and for all.

Beyond the Story

Book cover for Beyond the Story

In honor of BTS's 10th anniversary, this remarkable book serves as the band's inaugural official release, offering a treasure trove of unseen photographs and exclusive content. With Myeongseok Kang's extensive interviews and years of coverage, the vibrant world of K-pop springs to life. As digital pioneers, BTS's online presence has bridged continents, and this volume grants readers instant access to trailers, music videos, and more, providing a comprehensive journey through BTS's defining moments. Complete with a milestone timeline, Beyond the Story stands as a comprehensive archive, encapsulating everything about BTS within its pages.

Queen of Our Times

Book cover for Queen of Our Times

This is the definitive biography of Queen Elizabeth II by one of Britain’s leading royal authorities. With original insights from those who knew her best, interviews with world leaders and access to unseen papers, bestselling author Robert Hardman explores the full, astonishing life of our longest reigning monarch in this compellingly authoritative yet intimate biography.

Finding Hildasay

By christian lewis.

Book cover for Finding Hildasay

After hitting rock bottom having suffered with depression for years, Christian Lewis made an impulsive decision to walk the entire coastline of the UK. Just a few days later he set off with a tent, walking boots and a tenner in his pocket. Finding Hildasay tells us some of this incredible story, including the brutal three months Christian Lewis spent on the uninhabited island of Hildasay in Scotland with no fresh water or food. It was there, where his route was most barren, that he discovered pride and respect for himself. This is not just a story of a remarkable journey, but one of depression, survival and the meaning of home. 

by Carolyn Hays

Book cover for A Girlhood

This moving memoir is an ode to Hays' transgender daughter – a love letter to a child who has always known herself. After a caseworker from the Department of Children and Families knocked on the door to investigate an anonymous complaint about the upbringing of their transgender child, the Hays family moved away from their Republican state. In A Girlhood, Hays tells of the brutal truths of being trans, of the sacrificial nature of motherhood and of the lengths a family will go to shield their youngest from the cruel realities of the world. Hays asks us all to love better, for children everywhere enduring injustice and prejudice.

by Prince Harry

Book cover for Spare

The fastest-selling non-fiction book of all time and packed with revelations, Spare is Prince Harry's story. Twelve-year-old Harry was known as the carefree one; the happy-go-lucky Spare to the more serious Heir until the loss of his mother changed everything. Then, at twenty-one, he joined the British Army, resulting in post-traumatic stress. Amidst this, the Prince also couldn't find love. Then he met Meghan. But from the beginning, Harry and Meghan were preyed upon by the press, subjected to waves of abuse, racism, and lies. For the first time, Prince Harry tells his own story, chronicling his journey with raw, unflinching honesty. 

Is This Ok?

By harriet gibsone.

Book cover for Is This Ok?

Harriet spent much of her young life feeding neuroses and insecurities with obsessive internet searching and indulging in whirlwind ‘parasocial relationships'. But after a diagnosis of early menopause in her late twenties, her relationship with the internet took a darker turn, as her online addictions were thrown into sharp relief by the corporeal realities of illness and motherhood. An outrageously funny, raw and painfully honest account of trying to find connection in the age of the internet,  Is This Ok? is the stunning literary debut from music journalist, Harriet Gibsone. 

Book cover for Stay True

Winner of Pulitzer Prize in Memoir, Stay True  is a deeply moving and intimate memoir about growing up and moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging. When Hua Hsu first meets Ken in a Berkeley dorm room, he hates him. A frat boy with terrible taste in music, Ken seems exactly like everyone else. For Hua, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to – the mainstream. The only thing Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the US for generations, have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them. 

What Are You Doing Here?

By floella benjamin.

Book cover for What Are You Doing Here?

Actress, television presenter, member of the House of Lords – Baroness Floella Benjamin is an inspiration to many. But it hasn't always been easy: in What Are You Doing Here?   she describes her journey to London as part of the Windrush generation, and the daily racism that caused her so much pain as a child. She has gone on to remain true to her values, from breaking down barriers as a Play School presenter to calling for diversity at the BBC and BAFTA to resisting the pressures of typecasting. Sharing the lessons she has learned, imbued with her joy and positivity, this autobiography is the moving testimony of a remarkable woman.

Life's Work

By david milch.

Book cover for Life's Work

Best known for creating smash-hit shows including NYPD Blue and Deadwood, you’d be forgiven for thinking that David Milch had lived a charmed life of luxury and stardom. In this, his new memoir, Milch dispels that myth, shedding light on his extraordinary life in the spotlight. Born in Buffalo New York to a father gripped by drug-addiction, Milch enrolled at Yale Law befire being expelled and finding his true passion for writing. Written following his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2015, in Life’s Work Milch records his joys, sadnesses and struggles with startling clarity and grace. 

Will You Care If I Die?

By nicolas lunabba.

Book cover for Will You Care If I Die?

In a world where children murder children, and where gun violence is the worst in Europe, Nicolas Lunabba's job as a social organizer with Malmö's underclass requires firm boundaries and emotional detachment. But all that changes when he meets Elijah – an unruly teenage boy of mixed heritage whose perilous future reminds Nicolas of his own troubled past amongst the marginalized people who live on the fringes of every society. Written as a letter to Elijah,  Will You Care If I Die?  is a disarmingly direct memoir about social class, race, friendship and unexpected love.

The best inspiring autobiographies and biographies

By yusra mardini.

Book cover for Butterfly

After fleeing her native Syria to the Turkish coast in 2015, Yusra Mardini boarded a small dinghy full of refugees headed for Greece. On the journey, the boat's engine cut out and it started to sink. Yusra, her sister, and two others took to the water to push the overcrowded boat for three and a half hours in open water, saving the lives of those on board. Butterfly is Yusra Mardini's journey from war-torn Damascus to Berlin and from there to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Game. A UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and one of People magazine's 25 Women Changing the World, discover Yusra and her incredible story of resilience and unstoppable spirit.

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. Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, and a Jew second. All of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp. But through his courage and tenacity he still 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. 

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3 lessons to learn from Eddie Jaku

I know why the caged bird sings, by maya angelou.

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. 

I Am Malala

By malala yousafzai.

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. 

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin

By lindsey hilsum.

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 memoirs

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. With 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions and a tsunami of bodily fluids, Kay provides a no-holds-barred account of working on the NHS frontline. Now a major BBC comedy-drama, don't miss this special edition of This Is Going To Hurt including a bonus diary entries and an afterword from the author. 

The Colour of Madness

By samara linton.

Book cover for The Colour of Madness

The Colour of Madness  brings together memoirs, essays, poetry, short fiction and artworks by people of colour who have experienced difficulties with mental health. From experiencing micro-aggressions to bias, and stigma to religious and cultural issues, people of colour have to fight harder than others to be heard and helped. Statistics show that people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK experience poor mental health treatment in comparison to their white counterparts, and are more likely to be held under the Mental Health Act. 

Nothing But The Truth

By the secret barrister.

Book cover for Nothing But The Truth

How do you become a barrister? Why do only 1 per cent of those who study law succeed in joining this mysterious profession? And why might a practising barrister come to feel the need to reveal the lies, secrets, failures and crises at the heart of this world of wigs and gowns? Full of hilarious, shocking and surprising stories,  Nothing But The Truth  tracks the Secret Barrister’s transformation from hang ‘em and flog ‘em, austerity-supporting twenty-something to a campaigning, bestselling, reforming author whose writing in defence of the law is celebrated around the globe.

by Michelle Obama

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. 

Kitchen Confidential

By anthony bourdain.

Book cover for Kitchen Confidential

Regarded as one of the greatest books about food ever written, Kitchen Confidential lays bare the wild tales of the culinary industry. From his lowly position as a dishwasher in Provincetown to cooking at some of the finest restaurants across the world, the much-loved Bourdain translates his sultry, sarcastic and quick-witted personality to paper in this uncensored 'sex, drugs, bad behaviour and haute cuisine' account of life as a professional chef. Bourdain's tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable, as shocking as they are funny.

Everything I Know About Love

By dolly alderton.

Book cover for Everything I Know About Love

Dolly Alderton, perhaps more than any other author, represents the rise of the messy millennial woman – in the very best way possible. Her internationally bestselling memoir gives an unflinching account of the bad dates and squalid flat-shares, the heartaches and humiliations, and most importantly, the unbreakable female friendships that defined her twenties. She weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age. This is a memoir that you'll discuss with loved ones long after the final page. 

The best sports autobiographies and biographies

By chris kamara.

Book cover for Kammy

Presenter, commentator, (sometimes masked) singer, footballer, manager and campaigner, Kammy's action-packed career has made him a bona fide British hero. Kammy had a tough upbringing, faced racism on the terraces during his playing career and has, in recent years, dealt with a rare brain condition – apraxia – that has affected his speech and seen him say goodbye to Sky Sports. With entertaining stories of his playing career from Pompey to Leeds and beyond; his management at Bradford City and Stoke; his crazy travels around the world; of  Soccer Saturday  banter; presenting  Ninja   Warrior ; and the incredible friendships he's made along the way,  Kammy  is an unforgettable ride from one of Britain's best-loved broadcasters.

Alone on the Wall

By alex honnold.

Book cover for Alone on the Wall

In the last forty years, only a handful of climbers have pushed themselves as far, ‘free soloing’ to the absolute limit of human capabilities. Half of them are dead. Although Alex Honnold’s exploits are probably a bit  too  extreme for most of us, the stories behind his incredible climbs are exciting, uplifting and truly awe-inspiring. Alone on the Wall  is a book about the essential truth of being free to pursue your passions and the ability to maintain a singular focus, even in the face of mortal danger. This updated edition contains the account of Alex's El Capitan climb, which is the subject of the Oscar and BAFTA winning documentary,  Free Solo .

On Days Like These

By martin o'neill.

Book cover for On Days Like These

Martin O’Neill has had one of the most incredible careers in football.   With a story spanning over fifty years, Martin tells of his exhilarating highs and painful lows; from the joys of winning trophies, promotion and fighting for World Cups to being harangued by fans, boardroom drama, relegation scraps and being fired. Written with his trademark honesty and humour,  On Days Like These  is one of the most insightful and captivating sports autobiographies and a must-read for any fans of the beautiful game.

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.

With You Every Step, a celebration of friendship by Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield

At home with muhammad ali, by hana yasmeen ali.

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. 

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.

They Don't Teach This

By eniola aluko.

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. 

Touching The Void

By joe simpson.

Book cover for Touching The Void

A million-copy bestseller, Touching The Void recounts Joe Simpson and Simon Yate's near fatal dscent after climbing Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. A few days after reaching the summit of the mountain, Simon staggered into Base Camp, exhausted and frost-bitten, with news that that Joe was dead. What happened to Joe, and how the pair dealt with the psychological traumas that resulted when Simon was forced into the appalling decision to cut the rope, makes not only an epic of survival but a compelling testament of friendship. 

The best celebrity autobiographies and biographies

By adrian edmondson.

Book cover for Berserker!

From brutal schooldays to 80s anarchy, through The Young Ones and beyond, Berserker! is the one-of-a-kind, fascinating memoir from an icon of British comedy, Adrian Edmondson. His star-studded anecdotes and outrageous stories are set to a soundtrack of pop hits, transporting the reader through time and cranking up the nostalgia. But, as one would expect, these stories are also a guaranteed laugh as Ade traces his journey through life and comedy. 

Being Henry

By henry winkler.

Book cover for Being Henry

Brilliant, funny, and widely-regarded as the nicest man in Hollywood, Henry Winkler shares the disheartening truth of his childhood, the difficulties of a life with severe dyslexia and the pressures of a role that takes on a life of its own. Since the glorious era of  Happy Days  fame, Henry has endeared himself to a new generation with roles in such adored shows as  Arrested Development and  Barry , where he’s revealed himself as an actor with immense depth and pathos. But Being Henry  is about so much more than a life in Hollywood and the curse of stardom. It is a meaningful testament to the power of sharing truth and of finding fulfillment within yourself.

Life Lessons

By jay blades.

Book cover for Life Lessons

‘Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.’ Let Jay’s words of wisdom – gleaned from his own triumphs over adversity – help you to find your best path through life. Filled with characteristic warmth and humour, Jay talks about the life lessons that have helped him to find positivity and growth, no matter what he’s found himself facing. Jay shares not only his adventures and escapades but also the way they have shaped his outlook and helped him to live life to the fullest. His insight and advice give you everything you need to be able to reframe your own circumstances and make the best of them.

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.

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. 

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. 

Louis Theroux's favourite true crime & non-fiction books

And away..., by bob mortimer.

Book cover for And Away...

National treasure and beloved entertainer, Bob Mortimer, takes us from his childhood in Middlesborough to working as a solicitor in London in his highly acclaimed autobiography. Mortimer’s life was trundling along happily until suddenly in 2015 he was diagnosed with a heart condition that required immediate surgery and forced him to cancel an upcoming tour. The book covers his numerous misadventures along his path to fame but also reflects on more serious themes, making this both one of the most humorous and poignant celebrity memoirs of recent years. 

by Walter Isaacson

Book cover for Steve Jobs

Based on interviews conducted with Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is filled with lessons about innovation, leadership, and values and has inspired a movie starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen. Isaacson tells the story of the rollercoaster life and searingly intense personality of creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized the tech industry. Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written and put nothing off limits, making this an unflinchingly candid account of one of the key figures of modern history.

Maybe I Don't Belong Here

By david harewood.

Book cover for Maybe I Don't Belong Here

When David Harewood was twenty-three, his acting career began to take flight and he had what he now understands to be a psychotic breakdown. He was physically restrained by six police officers, sedated, then hospitalized and transferred to a locked ward. Only now, thirty years later, has he been able to process what he went through. In this powerful and provocative account of a life lived after psychosis, critically acclaimed actor, David Harewood, uncovers a devastating family history and investigates the very real impact of racism on Black mental health.

Scenes from My Life

By michael k. williams.

Book cover for Scenes from My Life

When Michael K. Williams died on 6 September 2021, he left behind a career as one of the most electrifying actors of his generation. At the time of his death, Williams had nearly finished his memoir, which traces his life in whole, from his childhood and his early years as a dancer to his battles with addiction. Alongside his achievements on screen he was a committed activist who dedicated his life to helping at-risk young people find their voice and carve out their future. Imbued with poignance and raw honesty,  Scenes from My Life  is the story of a performer who gave his all to everything he did – in his own voice, in his own words.

Celebrating the Seasons with the Yorkshire Shepherdess

By amanda owen.

Book cover for Celebrating the Seasons with the Yorkshire Shepherdess

From the rural heart of Swaledale, Yorkshire shepherdess Amanda Owen shares stories of life with a large family and a large herd of sheep, as the year turns from lambing to haymaking to midwinter feeds in the snow. From leaping hares to rare moorland flowers, her beautiful photos help bring the text to life, as do the interspersed recipes for the seasonal meals she feeds her family. Yorkshire curd tart anyone?

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 Alicia Keys's autobiography

The best political and historical autobiographies, the fall of boris johnson, by sebastian payne.

Book cover for The Fall of Boris Johnson

Sebastian Payne, Whitehall Editor for the Financial Times, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the fall of former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. After being touted saviour of the Conservative Party, it took Johnson just three years to resign after a series of scandals. From the blocked suspension of Owen Patterson to Partygate and the Chris Pincher allegations, Payne gives us unparalleled access to those who were in the room when key decisions were made, ultimately culminating in Boris's downfall. This is a gripping and timely look at how power is gained, wielded and lost in Britain today.

by Sung-Yoon Lee

Book cover for The Sister

The Sister , written by Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar and specialist on North Korea, uncovers the truth about Kim Yo Jong and her close bond with Kim Jong Un. In 2022, Kim Yo Jong threatened to nuke South Korea, reminding the world of the dangers posed by her state. But how did the youngest daughter of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, his ‘sweet princess’, become the ruthless chief propagandist, internal administrator and foreign policymaker for her brother’s totalitarian regime? Readable and insightful, this book is an invaluable portrait of a woman who might yet hold the survival of her despotic dynasty in her hands.

Long Walk To Freedom

By nelson mandela.

Book cover for Long Walk To Freedom

Deemed 'essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history' by former US President, Barack Obama, this is the autobiography of one of the world's greatest moral and political leaders, Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for more than 25 years, president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, the Nobel Peace Prize winner's life was nothing short of extraordinary. Long Walk to Freedom vividly tells this story; one of hardship, resilience and ultimate triumph, written with the clarity and eloquence of a born leader. 

The Truths We Hold

By kamala harris.

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. 

The Diary of a Young Girl

By anne frank.

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. 

The best literary autobiographies

A fortunate woman, by polly morland.

Book cover for A Fortunate Woman

Funny, emotional and imbued with great depth, A Fortunate Woman is an exploration of the life of a country doctor in a remote and wild wooded valley in the Forest of Dean. The story was sparked when writer and documentary maker Polly Morland found a photograph of the valley she lives in tucked inside a tattered copy of John Berger’s  A Fortunate Man . Itself an account of the life of a country doctor, the book inspired a woman doctor to follow her vocation in the same remote place. And it is the story of this woman that Polly Morland tells, in this compelling portrait of landscape and community.

Father and Son

By jonathan raban.

Book cover for Father and Son

On 11 June 2011, three days short of his sixty-ninth birthday, Jonathan Raban suffered a stroke which left him unable to use the right side of his body. Learning to use a wheelchair in a rehab facility outside Seattle and resisting the ministrations of the nurses overseeing his recovery, Raban began to reflect upon the measure of his own life in the face of his own mortality. Together with the chronicle of his recovery is the extraordinary story of his parents’ marriage, the early years of which were conducted by letter while his father fought in the Second World War.

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.

I Heard What You Said

By jeffrey boakye.

Book cover for I Heard What You Said

Before Jeffrey Boakye was a black teacher, he was a black student. Which means he has spent a lifetime navigating places of learning that are white by default. Since training to teach, he has often been the only black teacher at school. At times seen as a role model, at others a source of curiosity, Boakye’s is a journey of exploration – from the outside looking in. In the groundbreaking  I Heard What You Said,  he recounts how it feels to be on the margins of the British education system. Thought-provoking, witty and completely unafraid,  I Heard What You Said  is a timely exploration of how we can dismantle racism in the classroom and do better by all our students.

The Reluctant Carer

By the reluctant carer.

Book cover for The Reluctant Carer

The phone rings. Your elderly father has been taken to hospital, and your even older mother is home with nobody to look after her. What do you do? Drop everything and go and help of course. But it's not that straightforward, and your own life starts to fall apart as quickly as their health. Irresistibly funny, unflinching and deeply moving, this is a love letter to family and friends, to carers and to anyone who has ever packed a small bag intent on staying for just a few days. This is a true story of what it really means to be a carer, and of the ties that bind even tighter when you least expect it. 

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top 10 autobiography books 2023

The 10 Best Books of 2023

The staff of The New York Times Book Review choose the year’s standout fiction and nonfiction.

Credit... By Timo Lenzen

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By The New York Times Books Staff

  • Nov. 28, 2023

Every year, starting in the spring, we spend months debating the most exceptional books that pass across our desks: the families we grow to love, the narrative nonfiction that carries us away, the fictional universes we can’t forget. It’s all toward one goal — deciding the best books of the year.

Things can get heated. We spar, we persuade and (above all) we agonize until the very end, when we vote and arrive at 10 books — five fiction and five nonfiction.

We dive more into the list in a special edition of our podcast . And in case you’d like even more variety, don’t miss our list of 100 Notable Books of 2023 , or take a spin through this handy list , which features all the books we’ve christened the best throughout the years.

Here they are, the 10 Best Books of 2023.

The book cover of “The Bee Sting,” by Paul Murray, features the title and author’s name on a blank cream-colored background. The only image on the cover is an illustration of a small bee whose tail spells “a novel.”

The Bee Sting , by Paul Murray

Murray makes his triumphant return with “The Bee Sting,” a tragicomic tale about an Irish family grappling with crises. The Barneses — Dickie, Imelda, Cass and PJ — are a wealthy Irish clan whose fortunes begin to plummet after the 2008 financial crash. But in addition to this shared hardship, all four are dealing with demons of their own: the re-emergence of a long-kept secret, blackmail, the death of a past love, a vexing frenemy, a worrisome internet pen pal and more. The novel threads together the stories of the increasingly isolated Barneses, but the overall tapestry Murray weaves is not one of desolation but of hope. This is a book that showcases one family’s incredible love and resilience even as their world crumbles around them. Read our review .

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Chain-Gang All-Stars , by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

A dystopian satire in which death-row inmates duel on TV for a chance at freedom, Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel — following his 2018 story collection, “ Friday Black ” — pulls the reader into the eager audience, making us complicit with the bloodthirsty fans sitting ringside. “As much as this book made me laugh at these parts of the world I recognized as being mocked, it also made me wish I recognized less of it,” Giri Nathan wrote in his review. “The United States of ‘Chain-Gang All-Stars’ is like ours, if sharpened to absurd points.” Amid a wrenching love story between two top competitors who are forced to choose between each other and freedom, the fight scenes are so well written they demonstrate how easy it might be to accept a world this sick. Read our review .

Eastbound , by Maylis de Kerangal

De Kerangal’s brief, lyrical novel, first published in France in 2012 and newly translated by Jessica Moore, follows a young Russian conscript named Aliocha on a trans-Siberian train packed with other soldiers. The mood is grim. Aliocha, unnerved by his surroundings after a brawl, decides to desert — and in so doing, creates an uneasy alliance with a civilian passenger, a Frenchwoman. Their desolate environment — de Kerangal describes the Siberian landscape as “a world turned inside out like a glove, raw, wild, empty” — only heightens the stakes. “The insecurity of existence across this vastness and on board the train emphasizes the significance of human connection,” our reviewer, Ken Kalfus, wrote. “In a time of war, this connection may bring liberation and salvation.” Read our review .

The Fraud , by Zadie Smith

Based on a celebrated 19th-century criminal trial in which the defendant was accused of impersonating a nobleman, Smith’s novel offers a vast, acute panoply of London and the English countryside, and successfully locates the social controversies of an era in a handful of characters. Chief among them are a widowed Scottish housekeeper who avidly follows the trial and a formerly enslaved Jamaican servant who testifies on behalf of the claimant. Smith is a talented critic as well as a novelist, and — by way of the housekeeper’s employer, a once popular writer and friendly rival of Dickens — she finds ample opportunity to send up the literary culture of the time while reflecting on whose stories are told and whose are overlooked. “As always, it is a pleasure to be in Zadie Smith’s mind, which, as time goes on, is becoming contiguous with London itself,” Karan Mahajan wrote in his review. “Dickens may be dead, but Smith, thankfully, is alive.” Read our review .

North Woods , by Daniel Mason

Mason’s ambitious, kaleidoscopic novel ushers readers over the threshold of a house in the wilds of western Massachusetts and leaves us there for 300 years and almost 400 pages. One after another, in sections interspersed with letters, poems, song lyrics, diary entries, medical case notes, real estate listings, vintage botanical illustrations and assorted ephemera not normally bound into the pages of a novel, we get to know the inhabitants of the place from colonial times to present day. There’s an apple farmer, an abolitionist and a wealthy manufacturer. A pair of beetles. A landscape painter. A ghost. Their lives (and deaths) briefly intersect, but mostly layer over each other in dazzling decoupage. All the while, the natural world looks on — a long-suffering, occasionally destructive presence. Mason is the consummate genial host, inviting you to stay as long as you like and to make of the place what you will. Read our review .

The Best Minds , by Jonathan Rosen

An inch-by-inch, pin-you-to-the-sofa reconstruction of the author’s long friendship with Michael Laudor, who made headlines first as a Yale Law School graduate destigmatizing schizophrenia ; then for stabbing his pregnant girlfriend to death with a kitchen knife, after which he was sent to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. Drawing from clips, court and police records, legal and medical studies, interviews, diaries and Laudor’s feverish writings (including a book proposal of his own), Rosen examines the porous line between brilliance and insanity, the complicated policy questions posed by deinstitutionalization and the ethical obligations of a community. “The Best Minds” is a thoughtfully constructed, deeply sourced indictment of a society that prioritizes profit, quick fixes and happy endings over the long slog of care. Read our review .

Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs , by Kerry Howley

Howley’s account of the national security state and the people entangled in it includes fabulists, truth tellers, combatants, whistle-blowers. At the center is Reality Winner (“her real name, let’s move past it now”), the National Security Agency contractor who was convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information to The Intercept and sentenced to 63 months in prison. Howley’s exploration of privacy and digital surveillance eventually lands her in the badlands of conspiracy theorists and QAnon. It’s an arc that feels both startling and inevitable; of course a journey through the deep state would send her down the rabbit hole. The result is a book that is riveting and darkly funny and, in all senses of the word, unclassifiable. Read our review .

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Fire Weather , by John Vaillant

In 2016, raging wildfires consumed Fort McMurray in the Canadian province of Alberta. In the all-too-timely “Fire Weather,” Vaillant details how the blaze started, how it grew, the damage it wrought — and the perfect storm of factors that led to the catastrophe. We are introduced to firefighters, oil workers, meteorologists and insurance assessors. But the real protagonist here is the fire itself: an unruly and terrifying force with insatiable appetites. This book is both a real-life thriller and a moment-by-moment account of what happened — and why, as the climate changes and humans don’t, it will continue to happen again and again. Read our review .

Master Slave Husband Wife , by Ilyon Woo

In 1848, Ellen and William Craft, an enslaved couple in Georgia, made a daring escape north disguised as a sickly young white planter and his male slave — Ellen as the wealthy scion in a stovepipe hat, dark green glasses and a sling over her right arm to conceal her illiteracy. Improbably, despite close calls and determined slave catchers, the Crafts succeeded in their flight, going on to tour the abolitionist speaker circuit in England and to write a popular account of their journey. Their story, which a leading American abolitionist called “one of the most thrilling in the nation’s annals,” is remarkable enough. But Woo’s immersive rendering, which conjures the Crafts’ escape in novelistic detail, is equally a feat — of research, storytelling, sympathy and insight. Read our review .

Some People Need Killing , by Patricia Evangelista

This powerful book mostly covers the years between 2016 and 2022, when Rodrigo Duterte was president of the Philippines and pursued a murderous campaign of extrajudicial killings — EJKs for short. Such killings became so frequent that journalists like Evangelista, then a reporter for the independent news site Rappler, kept folders on their computers that were organized not by date but by hour of death. Offering the intimate disclosures of memoir and the larger context of Philippine history, Evangelista also pays close attention to language, and not only because she is a writer. Language can be used to communicate, to deny, to threaten, to cajole. It can propagate lies, but it also allows one to speak the truth. Read our review .

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14 celebrity autobiography books you won't want to put down

The must-read celebrity memoirs for 2023.

Celebrity autobiographies

While we love a novel, there's nothing quite like getting stuck into a candid celebrity memoir that reveals the real person behind the persona. From tragic childhood stories to turbulent relationships and their journeys to success, they're sometimes funny, often relatable, and almost always inspire us in some way.

Whether you're interested in the lives of royals like Prince Harry , US celebrities like Britney Spears and Matthew Perry , or  British TV stars like Holly Willoughby , we've found something for everyone.

Trending celebrity autobiographies at a glance

  • Britney Spears - The Woman In Me
  • Matthew Perry - Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing
  • Prince Harry - Spare
  • Jada Pinkett Smith - Worthy
  • Michelle Obama - Becoming

You may also like

How we chose the best celebrity autobiographies.

  • Bestsellers: All of the celebrity memoirs in this edit have been bestsellers on Amazon and many are Amazon Editor's Picks.
  • Trending: We've included all of the most talked about celebrity autobiographies right now.
  • Reading & listening options:  Each book is available in a range of forms, from paperback to Kindle and Audible.

The best celebrity autobiographies to read now

Scroll on for 14 of the best celebrity memoirs that deserve a place on your bookshelf.

Britney book

Britney Spears, The Woman In Me

Britney 's highly-anticipated memoir was released on 24 October, and she's finally speaking in her own words about her heartbreaking personal struggles, from her relationships - most notably with Justin Timberlake - her exploitation by the media, and the conservatorship that ruled her life for 13 years.

Matthew Perry book

Matthew Perry, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing

Friends star Matthew Perry released his memoir last year, less than 12 months before he tragically died in October 2023. It was an instant New York Times bestseller thanks to his very candid account of his addictions, and revelations about what it was really like behind the scenes on one of the biggest TV shows of all time.

spare prince harry book

Prince Harry, Spare

Released in January, Prince Harry's debut book was already a bestseller on pre-orders alone. The candid memoir details his life including the death of his mother Princess Diana and meeting his now wife Meghan Markle . All proceeds from the book go to British charities.

pamela anderson memoir

Pamela Anderson, Love, Pamela

Following 2022's explosive Pam & Tommy mini-series, Pamela Anderson  set the record straight in her own words with her first memoir. Alternating between storytelling and her own poetry, she reveals all from her childhood to her relationships and life in the Playboy Mansion.

paris the memoir

Paris Hilton, Paris: The Memoir

We all know Paris Hilton as a 00s icon - LA's most famous heiress and star of the reality show  The Simple Life,  but as we've since discovered, there's so much more to Hollywood's original It-girl. In her first memoir, Paris details what it was really like for her growing up, from being kidnapped to attend an ‘emotional growth' boarding school and the abuse she suffered there, to how she grew her global empire.

michelle obama becoming

Michelle Obama, Becoming

If you're looking for a truly inspirational read, try  Michelle Obama 's award-winning memoir,  Becoming . Published in 2018 to critical acclaim, it's a deeply personal account of her life growing up in Chicago, her university days and her time spent serving as First Lady of the United States.

Jada Pinkett Smith Worthy Book

Jada Pinkett Smith, Worthy

Actress, singer-songwriter and host of the viral Red Table Talk , Jada Pinkett Smith 's autobiography is as honest and vulnerable as you'd expect. She writes candidly about her childhood in Baltimore, turbulent teen years and unconventional relationship with Will Smith, never shying away from revealing her insecurities or past mistakes.

Reese Witherspoon memoir

Reese Witherspoon, Whiskey in a Teacup

Reese Witherspoon pays homage to her southern heritage in this part memoir part lifestyle guide. It's a collection of personal stories, beauty hacks and party hosting tips, with some of her grandmother Dorothea's best recipes thrown in for good measure.

greenlights

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey released Greenlights  as   an honest account of the lessons he's learnt in life. From his tough childhood in Texas to his pursuit of acting, through his old diaries he writes about his failures and successes and what he's taken from them.

trevor noah born a crime

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

Trevor Noah’s bestselling memoir tells the story of his path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show . Born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, which was at the time punishable by five years in prison, he was mostly kept hidden for the earliest years of his life. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s white rule, Trevor went on to fully embrace the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle to become the star he is today.

Will Smith book

Will Smith, Will

From rap star to A-list Hollywood actor, Will Smith has seen decades of success. Now, with the help of bestselling author Mark Manson, he's written his memoir, which also offers wisdom on how to overcome life's difficulties.

priyanka chopra unfinished

Priyanka Chopra, Unfinished

From growing up in India to winning the global beauty pageants that launched her acting career and becoming one of the most famous women in the world,  Priyanka 's memoir has a lot to pack in. It's honest, funny and a real eye-opener.

reflections final book cover

Holly Willoughby, Reflections

Holly Willoughby's autobiography book explores how to navigate emotionally challenging situations, from body image to burnout, and how to treat yourself with kindness. The TV Star said she's "sharing her truths" and reveals what works for her when life gets tricky. 

vanity fair diaries tina brown

Tina Brown, The Vanity Fair Diaries

If you're interested in celebrity culture and what goes on behind the scenes at a glossy magazine, you'll love this memoir by former  Vanity Fair  editor-in-chief ,  Tina Brown. Based on her personal diaries, she shares everything that went down in New York and Hollywood in the 80s and it's seriously juicy.

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The best sport autobiographies 2023: memoirs from the worlds of football, cricket and more.

  • Calum Trenaman

top 10 autobiography books 2023

Our guide to the best autobiographies, whatever your choice of sport

We live in an era where people want more access to their favourite sportspeople than ever before: interviews before matches, interviews after matches, analysis at the most granular levels. And that’s not to mention the social media presence that many sports clubs contractually require of their stars. For famous sportspeople, autobiographies are almost a guarantee once they do anything noteworthy. The market is flooded with them so we’re here to help narrow down your choices to the cream of the crop.

When a sportsperson has been in the public eye for such a long period of time, an autobiography is a time for them to reveal all, to be vulnerable and to finally open themselves up to their fans in a way they may never have done before.

The chosen autobiographies may not necessarily be from the biggest names in their field, but their stories offer something new and fresh, insightful and interesting, momentous and potentially ground-breaking. Read on for our buying guide and roundup.

Best sport autobiographies: At a glance

  • Best early-career sports autobiography: A Clear Blue Sky by Jonny Bairstow and Duncan Hamilton
  • Best end-of-career sports autobiography: Racing Through the Dark by David Millar in collaboration with Jeremy Whittle
  • Best political sports autobiography: The Rodchenkov Affair by Gregory Rodchenkov

How to choose the best sport autobiography for you

There are so many sports autobiographies to choose from that it can be overwhelming when deciding which to commit to reading. Even more so when one sportsperson may have more than one autobiography. Try asking yourself these questions.

What’s the sport?

This may sound obvious when choosing a sports autobiography to read, but it’s crucial. If the subject of the book is someone considered the best in their field, and you want to find out more about their life and their mindset, that’s excellent. But that may be communicated through the medium of their sport and if you don’t know what they’re talking about, then that insight is going to be lost on you.

Likewise, the inverse is also true. If you consider yourself a serious fan of a particular sport, then you may not gain a lot from reading an autobiography of someone whose career you know intimately or a sport you know thoroughly. It could be a more interesting reading experience if you pick someone from a sport you know little about but that you know has had an incredible life.

How far beyond the sport does it go?

This is also important. Do you want the person to be delving deep into an analysis of a championship victory, taking you through each game and what their role in it was? Or do you want an autobiography in which the sport itself takes a back seat, with more of a focus on the feelings and inner monologue of that person as they traversed various obstacles in their career? Some of those in the former category can be very dry and clinical. But on the other hand, many sports fans are more interested in the tactics and physical aspect of the sport, and might find the mental and emotional side of things too “wishy-washy” for their reading consumption.

At what point in the person’s career was the autobiography written?

Arsene Wenger wrote his autobiography after he had completed his time as Arsenal manager. Sir Alex Ferguson did the same. They were retired and their managerial careers were over. Age also plays a factor, in the style of the autobiography. For example, when a 75-year-old is writing about their life in its entirety after a 55-year career in the sport, a lot of details will be skimmed over.

Many sportspeople write multiple autobiographies, and many may even write multiple memoirs while still playing. That means they can go into much more detail in shorter periods of time in their careers. For instance, at the time of writing, England Test cricket captain Ben Stokes already has two autobiographies, and he still has plenty of years left in his career. What kind of reading experience are you looking for and how deep do you want the person to dive into their own life and career? That will help you decide what you want to read.

The best sport autobiographies you can buy in 2023

1. a clear blue sky by jonny bairstow and duncan hamilton: best early-career sports autobiography.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

England Cricketer Jonny Bairstow’s autobiography partially charts the tricky start to his international career, which began in 2013, up to his maiden Test century in South Africa in 2016.

But what sets this autobiography apart from other cricketing autobiographies, and perhaps what helped win it the Wisden Cricket Book of the Year in 2018, is its deeply personal discussion of his father’s suicide, and the effect it had on Jonny, his sister and their mum.

David Bairstow took his own life when his son was just eight-years old. His sister Becky was seven, and his mother was battling cancer for the first of two times in her life. Early in his professional career, Jonny could come across as prickly and sensitive when potentially vulnerable to the criticism of the cricketing press, but he shows a completely different side of himself here. He admits to feeling like he, Becky and their mum were survivors of a shipwreck in the aftermath of David’s suicide – and that since then they have stuck together through everything.

What makes the story of Bairstow’s life all the more compelling is that it isn’t just blue eyes and red hair that he inherited from his late father, but his cricketing talent too. While not as successful as his son, he had a long and prolific career for Yorkshire and occasionally England. The struggles of Jonny’s early career came across as laden with frustration of an unfulfilled legacy. Since his maiden Test century, Bairstow hasn’t looked back. This wonderful and sensitive autobiography explores the difficulties of establishing his career and the even tougher difficulties of his early life.

Key specs – Length: 320 pages; Publisher: Harper NonFiction; ISBN: 978-0008232696

Image of A CLEAR BLUE SKY: A remarkable memoir about family, loss and the will to overcome

A CLEAR BLUE SKY: A remarkable memoir about family, loss and the will to overcome

2. racing through the dark by david millar with jeremy whittle: best end-of-career sports autobiography.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

David Millar was one of the many professional cyclists of the 90s and 00s to have doped. It was an era of cycling that was so juiced up, that any differentiation between real and fake was lost. It lost generations of fans who consequently turned away from the sport and will likely never return. Millar isn’t an outlier, but he wasn’t famous like Lance Armstrong. And he certainly wasn’t as lucky as Armstrong. Rather than being able to tell the truth from the comfort of a California mansion in his own words, Millar was arrested by the French police in 2004 for doping violations and was later banned by the British Cycling Federation for two years.

Millar’s autobiography is an honest account of how an enthusiastic and potentially naive young professional cyclist falls into the world of doping, having had no intention to cheat his way to the top. Often, those of us outside pro sport can’t fathom why a person would cheat in the field, and we may believe they must have been “evil” from the start. Millar’s contrition and genuine work after returning from his ban to help root out doping from the sport proves he is not one of those people. It’s a fascinating account of how a sport can be taken over by a culture of cheating, and that an individual is often powerless to confront or avoid that culture.

Key specs – Length: 368 pages; Publisher: Orion; ISBN: ‎978-1409120384

Image of Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar

Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar

3. the rodchenkov affair by grigory rodchenkov: best political sports autobiography.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

If you want to learn about contemporary Russia through the lens of sport, and how the country was able to coordinate the largest state-sponsored doping program in the history of professional sport, then this is the autobiography for you.

There’s a case to be made that Grigory Rodchenkov, while not a noteworthy professional sportsperson, had one of the biggest impacts on global sport in the 21st century. His autobiography walks us through the world of Russian sport, dating back well into the Soviet era, and how doping has always been a part of professional sport there. In the Soviet Union, it was individual coaches giving their athletes whatever they thought worked. It wasn’t an unrefined and unorganised system, but during the mid-2000s it became systematic. And Rodchenkov, now a whistleblower living in hiding in the US, was the man behind it.

What is most interesting in Rodchenkov’s autobiography is not necessarily his revelations of secret labs or the Russian secret service’s involvement in doping control at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but his thoughts and feelings as he facilitated it all. He frequently describes life in Russia in Orwellian terms, yet fails to see the role he played in fuelling that nightmare. And while his actions arguably rob professional sport of the thrill of fair competition, he’s remarkably unapologetic: if it wasn’t him, there’d be someone else, and doping is just part of trying to gain an advantage over other competitors. It’s a brilliant autobiography that, while telling the story of doping in Russia, reveals much about the Russian psyche in relation to global sporting politics.

Key specs – Length: 320 pages; Publisher: WH Allen; ISBN: 978-0753553350

Image of The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Russia’s Secret Doping Empire – Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2020

The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Russia’s Secret Doping Empire – Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2020

4. the mamba mentality by kobe bryant: best “coffee table” sports autobiography.

top 10 autobiography books 2023

In this coffee-table-sized book, basketballer Kobe Bryant – who lost his life in a helicopter crash in 2020 – tells of his self-named ‘Mamba Mentality’ on the court.

The book is split into two main sections: process and craft. While it tells lots of Bryant’s life, as with any conventional autobiography, Bryant is more concerned with passing on his wisdom of what ‘greatness’ is and what it takes to get there. When Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance docu-series was released in 2020, the world was given an insight into a man with a deep desire to win and to be the best. Bryant is cut from the same cloth.

Just a brief look over some of his achievements will tell you the scale of his greatness. Five-time NBA champion, 18-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team and an NBA Hall of Famer. He’d probably tell you that those first set of achievements are the only ones that matter. And that says a lot about his mentality.

As with many coffee table books, there is more imagery than words here, displaying brilliant photography from Bryant’s life, and focusing on his storied career with the Los Angeles Lakers. This is not an autobiography just for basketball fans. It’s not even an autobiography just for sports fans. It’s a blueprint for anyone who wants to be at the top of their chosen field from someone who knows exactly what it takes to get there.

Key specs – Length: 208 pages; Publisher: MCD; ISBN: 978-0374201234

5. Addicted by Tony Adams and Ian Ridley: Most candid autobiography

top 10 autobiography books 2023

When you hear the name Tony Adams, you may think of a hard-nosed and dedicated centre back, leading Arsenal’s defence for nearly two decades. And he was a leader in every sense of the word, becoming Arsenal captain at the age of just 21 and winning four league titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups during his 19 years at the club, retiring without ever having left. He is a footballing legend.

Despite all this, Adams may argue that it was his decision to quit drinking and sticking to it that may be his biggest achievement. He admits in his book that, in doing so, it was the first time in his entire life that he had ever asked for help.

Professional football was awash with alcohol during the 1990s, perhaps most of all at Arsenal. This was a Wild West period for football, where there was a lot of money, no social media and no defined sense of professionalism instilled in the game when it came to fitness, dieting and drinking. For Adams to admit he had a problem took a lot of soul searching and courage.

This was before mental health and illness had entered the realm of mainstream health conditions and, as ever, Adams led from the front and was open about his struggles. He is by no means the only England footballer to struggle with alcoholism, but his autobiography will inspire not only those going through similar struggles, but also any sports fans who understand what it means to battle inner demons of any kind.

Key specs – Length: 384 pages; Publisher: HarperCollins; ISBN: 978-0008268749

Image of Addicted

TravelPulse

TravelPulse

Ten of the Best Travel Books of 2023

Posted: December 29, 2023 | Last updated: December 29, 2023

From Central Asia to the Balkans and beyond, the year's best travel books share autobiographical, anthropological, historical and even ecological views on some of the world's most fascinating places. In fact, 2023 seems to be the year for fascination and curiosity: each of these books, whether they deal with the Silk Road or road-tripping while Black in Jim Crow-era America, are written for those who want to learn something about the world around us — how it was, how it is today, and what it might become tomorrow. They're for the travelers who want more than just ticking off a list of attractions on a map: they're for the discoverers, written by discoverers. We hope, as the winter grows colder and a New Year begins, that these books grant inspiration to travel in the year ahead and a new perspective on the world around us, which is far more interconnected than we can ever imagine.

A woman reads a book on the beach.

"Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance," takes travelers on a deep dive analyzing the historical and personal narratives surrounding The Green Book, a travel guide published for African American travelers nearly each year between 1936 to 1967, offering destination guides, destination-based friendly hotels, restaurants and gas stations (such as those owned and operated by African Americans), as well as helpful travel tips and other information. Hall takes us on his own Green Book journey from Detroit to New Orleans, and does a great job of explaining the realities of traveling as a Black person during this period, with anecdotes from travelers he met and spoke with. It's enlightening, emotional and extremely relevant, and is a great read for all travelers.

Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance by Alvin Hall.

One word: enthralling! "Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel" by writer, translator and professor Shahnaz Habib opens a wonderful dialogue about travel: the privilege of travel for people from America and Europe, the differences between passports (they truly do have different levels of power), the impact of Colonialism and travel guides on travel, and their intended audiences — and so much more. It's a book you can begin and forget you're reading, until you're halfway through. She takes you from New York City to Japan to Turkey and beyond. It's as much an autobiography and travelogue as it a discourse on travel, and travel's history as a primarily First World invention.

Airplane Mode by Shahnaz Habib.

Ever wondered about the origin stories of the world's place names? Duncan Madden's "Found in Translation: The Unexpected Origins of Place Names" is the book for you! It's a fascinating take explaining first contact, geography, myths and legends and more, all culminating in how the world got its names. We learn about the origins of Canada, from the Huron-Iriquois word for "village," and the origins of the name Malawi, which means "fire flames," in Chewa, thought to come from the time of the Maravi Empire and refer to either the people, who were skilled iron workers, or the way the sun rises above the scenic Lake Malawi. Madden explains the origins of the names of nearly 70 countries, and it's a great read for curious travelers, history lovers or word nerds.

Found in Translation: The Unexpected Origins of Place Names by Duncan Madden.

While many travel books connect different places together like stacking pearls on a strong, Kapka Kassabova rests in one place: the Mesta river basin in southern Bulgaria, where ancient history lives hand-in-hand with the people who live there — and the plants that they've harvested for medicinal and food purposes for millennia, reminding readers of the connection between nature, time and humanity. Kassabova's book is a narrative of her time spent in the region, what she learns and encounters along the way. Poetic and wistful, it's a fascinating read for anyone who loves history, nature or the Balkans, with all its history both modern and ancient.

Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time by Kapka Kassabova.

Best-selling author Pico Iyer is back with a travel-focused philosophical book: "The Half Known Life: Finding Paradise in a Divided World." Taking us on a journey to Iran, North Korea, Japan and beyond, Iyer considers whether it is possible to find paradise in this less-than-perfect world, taking inspiration and knowledge from different spiritual traditions and visiting the places that were, once, considered an earthly paradise, but have now become areas of conflict. It's considered one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, and is a great, emotional read for travelers searching for that elusive more.

The Half Known Life: Finding Paradise in a Divided World by Pico Iyer.

Explorer and travel writer Leon McCarron takes readers on a journey down the Tigris River in modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq in his book, "Wounded Tigris: a River Journey Through the Cradle of Civilization." An undertaking of epic proportions and significant risk, the journey unfolds through Mesopotamia's ancient history to the region's current crises, including the threat of climate change and human development, which is even now putting the river, and the people who rely upon it, at risk. Armchair adventurers, travelers interested in ecological crises and history lovers will all love this book.

Wounded Tigris by Leon McCarron.

Seidel, an art historian, sketches connections between Arles's ancient past and site of the beginning of the medieval pilgrimage route, the Camino del Santiago, with Vincent Van Gogh's life and the art he produced there in her book, "Vincent's Arles: As It Is and As It Was." The book focuses upon Vincent's life and works, as well as the region's own history, often showcasing Vincent's letters to his brother about the place or his works. It's a love letter to Arles, now renowned by travelers across the globe as a must-visit for any fan of Van Gogh's work, but which has had an interesting history of its own far beyond the artist's short tenure there.

Vincent's Arles: As It Is and as It Was by Linda Seidel.

"Tender Maps: Travels in Search of the Emotions of Place," by Alice Maddicott is a rich and imaginative take on travel: what is it like to truly breathe in a place? To feel connected to it, emotionally and spiritually? To find joy and inspiration in discovery? These are some of the questions Maddicott encounters with us as she tells her story of psychogeometry, bringing us from Nashville to Venice to Tbilisi and beyond. The book is a series of ponderous essays, with each part focusing on a few subjects and destinations.

Tender Maps, by Alice Maddicott.

"Unravelling the Silk Road: Travels and Textiles in Central Asia" is as much an education about the importance of textiles and their subsequent trade around the world, which largely contributed to globalization even in the ancient world, as it is an exploration into the part of the world where the three textile roads can be found: the famous Silk Road, the even older Wool Road and the newer, more devastating Cotton Road, all in located in Central Asia, where east meets west. It's a wonderful and informative book by a man who has spent a decade and a half living in the region.

Unravelling the Silk Road: Travels and Textiles in Central Asia by Chris Aslan.

Traveling across the Himalayas in China, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, Norwegian author Erika Fatland invites us not only to discover the harsh geography of the massive mountain range, but also the diverse, multi-layered peoples who live there, each offering distinct, fascinating histories and cultures of their own that have survived not only the harsh landscape, but also harsh political and religious regimes in her book, "High: A Journey Across the Himalaya, Through Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal and China."

High: A Journey Across the Himalaya, Through Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and China by Erika Fatland.

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  1. The best memoirs and biographies of 2023

    book jackets Best books of 2023 Best books of the year This article is more than 2 months old The best memoirs and biographies of 2023 The rise of Madonna, Barbra Streisand in her...

  2. Best Memoir & Autobiography 2023

    Best Memoir & Autobiography 2023 — Goodreads Choice Awards Nonfiction History & Biography Best Memoir & Autobiography New to Goodreads? Get great book recommendations! Start Now Want to Read Rate it: Open Preview WINNER 132,867 votes The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

  3. The Best Memoirs and Autobiographies of 2023

    The Best Memoirs of 2023 These ten books explore what it means to be a person. By Arianna Rebolini Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk The beauty of memoir is its resistance to confinement:...

  4. Best Biographies & Memoirs of 2023

    Best Books of 2023 QUICK ADD The Art Thief: A True Story of… by Michael Finkel Hardcover $23.80 $28.00 Best Books of 2023 QUICK ADD Sure, I'll Join Your Cult: A… by Maria Bamford Hardcover $26.09 $28.99 Best Books of 2023 QUICK ADD Leslie F*cking Jones (Signed… by Leslie Jones Signed Book $30.00 Best Books of 2023 QUICK ADD

  5. Best Memoir & Autobiography 2023

    Discover the Best Memoir & Autobiography in the 2023 Goodreads Choice Awards, the only major book awards decided by readers.

  6. 24 best autobiographies you have to read in 2024

    Wild Swans, Jung Chang | from £4.49 The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion | from £6.99 The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher | £10.99 The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank | from £9.49 All...

  7. The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics ...

    The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist recommended by Elizabeth Taylor Talented biographers examine the interplay between individual qualities and greater social forces, explains Elizabeth Taylor —chair of the judges for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award for biography.

  8. The Best New Biographies of 2023

    Nonfiction The Best New Biographies of 2023 CJ Connor Sep 21, 2023 This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. 2023 has been an excellent year for biographies, with plenty of well-researched and innovative new releases for fans of the genre to immerse themselves in.

  9. 10 Best Biographies/Memoirs of 2023

    Seventeen is a shocking and eye-opening memoir, written by Joe Gibson. In this revealing book, we're whisked back to 1992. Like every other seventeen-year-old boy, Joe has one eye on his studies, the other on his social life. He's looking ahead to a gap year full of travel and adventure before university.

  10. The best autobiographies to read in 2023

    31 Jan 2023 Nik Rawlinson Discover the back stories of some of the best-known names in showbiz and politics, in their own words Read an autobiography, and you'll feel closer to the subject...

  11. The Best Books of 2023: Biography

    Prince Harry £28.00 £19.99 Hardback 10+ in stock Usually dispatched within 2-3 working days In the most eagerly-awaited memoir of 2023, Prince Harry tells his version of the story about the tragic death of his mother Princess Diana, life within the Royal Family and his marriage to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, with remarkable candour and directness.

  12. Biographies and Memoirs To Read in 2023

    The Must-Read Books of 2023 Popular Books in Spanish Coming Soon Fiction Classics Romance Literary Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction Spanish Language Fiction Nonfiction Biographies & Memoirs

  13. 11 Best New Memoirs of 2023

    Pageboy: A Memoir. Now 50% Off. $15 at Amazon. Pageboy is generating headlines but there's so much more to it. (Not that the Hollywood intel isn't appreciated.) Since coming out in 2020, Page ...

  14. 19 Best New Autobiography Books To Read In 2024

    20 Best New Autobiography Books To Read In 2024 - BookAuthority A list of 20 new autobiography books you should read in 2024, such as Karma, Paris, Finding Me, Gloves Off and Fanny Crosby.

  15. The Best Books of 2023

    by Lorrie Moore (Knopf) Fiction. In the nineteenth century, Libby, the proprietress of a rooming house, writes to her dead sister about her new gentleman lodger, who, we come to learn, is a ...

  16. 50 best autobiographies & biographies of all time

    by Maya Angelou. 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.

  17. Best Memoir & Autobiography 2022

    16,691 votes Want to Read 10,026 votes Want to Read 7,882 votes Want to Read 7,706 votes Want to Read 7,697 votes Want to Read 5,693 votes Want to Read 1,991 votes Want to Read 1,887 votes

  18. The 10 Best Books of 2023

    Fire Weather, by John Vaillant. In 2016, raging wildfires consumed Fort McMurray in the Canadian province of Alberta. In the all-too-timely "Fire Weather," Vaillant details how the blaze ...

  19. Best autobiographies

    15 Slides There's nothing like a real-life read to get your blood pumping. Enter, the best autobiographies. From must-reads like Michelle Obama's Becoming, to Britney's soon-to-be-released The...

  20. 14 best celebrity autobiographies 2023: Matthew Perry, Britney Spears

    14 best celebrity autobiographies 2023: Matthew Perry, Britney Spears, Jada Pinkett Smith & more | HELLO! When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. Read our full...

  21. 20 Best New Biography Books To Read In 2024

    A list of 20 new biography books you should read in 2024, such as LIZ CHENEY, Tupac Shakur, Charlie Munger and Carlos Alcaraz.

  22. The best sport autobiographies 2023: Memoirs from the worlds of

    3. The Rodchenkov Affair by Grigory Rodchenkov: Best political sports autobiography. Price: £8.27 | Buy now from Amazon If you want to learn about contemporary Russia through the lens of sport ...

  23. Ten of the Best Travel Books of 2023

    Ten of the Best Travel Books of 2023. Story by Lacey Pfalz • 1mo. 1 / 11. A woman reads a book on the beach. ©Yumi mini/iStock/Getty Images Plus/iStock/Getty Images Plus. From Central Asia to ...