Lose yourself in the intricacies of somebody else’s life with these compelling stories.

Biography and memoir are the under-sung heroes of our bookshelves. We read to escape; we read to be amused; we read to learn. Too often, though, we assume that novels are the only answer. Trust us: absorbing the lives of others can be just as valuable.

Here, we’ve rounded up the greatest memoirs and biographies of the year.

Omelette: Food, Love, Chaos And Other Conversations

Jessie Ware

Fans of Jessie Ware’s music – and the podcast Table Manners that she hosts with her mother – will love her brand-new food memoir. This elegant tome contains her witty musings on the people she’s met, the food she eats and the things she thinks matter most. Few people know that she was briefly a journalist and she sure has a way with words. Yotam Ottolenghi says: ‘Jessie’s life seems to have seamlessly brought her forth on a magic carpet of food, peppered by lots and lots of laughs. Her stories are a joy to read, although probably not as much fun as they are to live. Deliciously entertaining.’ Buy it here.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries

Simon Heffer

Journalist and historian Simon Heffer brings customary flair to his edit of the diaries of Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon. The Conservative politician – who hailed originally from Chicago and rose through spectacularly through the highest echelons of British society – kept deliciously colourful journals throughout the 1920s to the 1950s. The Guardian says: ‘Channon’s chief virtue as a writer is his abiding awareness that dullness is the worst sin of all, and for this reason [these diaries are] among the most glittering and enjoyable ever written.’ Hitler? Wallis and Edward? The Queen Mother? Marcel Proust? Chips had something to say about everybody. Buy it here.

The Adventures Of Miss Barbara Pym

Paula Byrne

You don’t need to have read Barbara Pym’s brilliant 1950s novels to enjoy this gently illuminating biography. (But do, because she is so great that Philip Larkin described her as the Jane Austen of the 20th-century.) Chosen as Radio 4’s Book of the Week when it was published in the spring, it takes an entertaining look at Pym’s life, loves and literary endeavours. Buy it here.

Philip: The Final Portrait

Gyles Brandreth

This fully revised and updated version of a biography first published in 2004 was rushed out onto the shelves after The Duke of Edinburgh’s death in April. For an accurate depiction of the Queen’s beloved consort, you need look no further: the author greatly admired his subject and had known him for 40 years. The Times calls it ‘an intimate and affectionate read’. Buy it here.

The Beauty Of Living Twice

Sharon Stone

She was among the biggest Hollywood stars of the nineties, unforgettable in her roles in Basic Instinct and Casino. Then, in 2001, the 41-year-old was hospitalised with a massive stroke. This triumphant, heart-warming, utterly frank book – which Stone wrote herself – chronicles the attempts she has made to rebuild her life and health ever since. It also describes with utmost honesty the collapse of her career and marriages. Now 63, she says: ‘You have to be unapologetic in the way that you approach this type of truth.’ Buy it here.

Fall: The Mystery Of Robert Maxwell

John Preston

Robert Maxwell, the press baron, has pretty much always been fascinating. His death in 1991, when he fatally fell from his yacht, only made him more so. The official inquest ruled that he died of a heart attack combined with accidental drowning; many believe he jumped or was pushed. The waters remain very murky. Be warned: this detailed account of his life may well give rise to an abiding obsession with the unlikeable but intriguing fraudster. The Evening Standard says it “reads like a gripping novel which happens to be true”. Buy it here.

The Power Of Hope

Kate Garraway

We all have a Covid-19 story to tell – but most of ours aren’t as agonising and raw as this one by the Good Morning Britain host, Kate Garraway. In March last year, her husband Derek Draper contracted the virus and was put into a medically induced coma. She was told he might not survive. He was in hospital for a year, now requires round-the-clock care and is thought to be the UK’s longest-fighting Covid patient. The family’s battle is by no means over; their future is uncertain; they live in undimmed hope. Tissues and untold admiration at the ready. Buy it here.

By Becky Ladenburg
June 2021

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.