Truly great biographies are marked by their commitment to honesty and to telling the whole story (not just the juicy bits).
They astonish their readers by putting it all out there with wit, verve, and occasionally even a bit of glamour.
The books we’ve picked out as our top ten biographies for 2017 do all of that and way more, and they are as complicated and fascinating as the people they’re written about. You won’t be disappointed if you pick up one of these...
In the early hours of a February morning in 2012, Dana Vulin was the victim of a hideous, unprovoked attack. A woman who’d been stalking and harassing her for weeks incorrectly and baselessly thinking Dana was having an affair with her estranged husband burst into her apartment, doused her with methylated spirits and set her alight.
Dana’s fight began that day. She had to fight for survival, to battle against the third-degree burns that had consumed her body. She had to fight to regain her identity, being the faceless ‘girl behind the mask’ for years and with her scars rendering her almost unrecognisable. And she had to fight for justice, to see her attacker convicted and sentenced for this gruesome crime.
Despite the damage that the fire caused, Dana’s spirit and sheer determination were not and cannot be destroyed. Showing that she is stronger than hate, stronger than fear, she has fought blood, tears and unimaginable pain to be where she is today. And now she wants to pass on to others the thing that sustained her through her darkest hours: hope.
Worth Fighting For is a powerful and moving story of this amazing woman’s battle for survival against unbelievable evil and pain.
As a child, Lily Bailey knew she was bad. By the age of 13, she had killed someone with a thought, spread untold disease and ogled the bodies of other children.
Only by performing an exhausting series of secret routines could she correct her wrongdoing. But it was never enough. She had a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. From child to teenager to young woman, OCD had ruled Lily's life, sending a bright, vital mind spinning into a downward vortex. Until she learnt a fundamental philosophical lesson.
Raw and funny, heart-breaking and uplifting, Because We Are Bad reveals with humour, grace and searing honesty what it's like to live with an almost intolerable burden of obsession.
'Because We Are Bad is an intense heart-rending roller coaster of a book . . . the most engaging and well-written account of mental health experiences I have read.' - Huffington Post UK
'I had made it! All my dreams had come true. I had an operating fridge, I was doing brilliantly, and I had written the memoir to prove it. I even had online haters. I had conquered life at 30 and nothing was ever going to go wrong again!'
It was all going so well for Rosie Waterland. Until it wasn't.
Until, shockingly, something awful happened and Rosie went into agonising free fall.
Until late one evening she found herself in a hospital emergency bed, trembling and hooked to a drip. Over the course of that long, painful night, she kept thinking about how ironic it was, that right in the middle of writing a book about lies, she'd ended up telling the most significant lie of all.
A raw, beautiful, sad, shocking - and very, very funny - memoir of all the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.
It felt like it did not count. Like we were unfinished. Incomplete. There was always a gap at the table, room to set places for others. Visitors were few and far between. Mostly, there was only me.
Only is a memoir of an unconventional childhood that explores what it means to be an Only Child as both child and adult. Also what it means to be the daughter of two people damaged by trauma and tragedy, particularly a domineering and explosive father. Secrets are revealed and differences settled.
Caroline Baum's moving and gripping memoir is for everyone who has felt they are the fulcrum of a seesaw, the focus of all eyes and expectations, torn between love and fear, obedience and rebellion, duty and the longing to escape. It is also for anyone who has felt the burden of trying to be a Good Daughter what that means and why it is so hard. Revelatory, lyrical and unflinching.
I Am, I Am, I Am is Sunday Times bestseller and Costa Novel-Award winner Maggie O'Farrell's electric and shocking memoir of the near death experiences that have punctuated her life; it will appeal to readers of Cheryl Strayed's Wild or Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking.
A childhood illness she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. A terrifying encounter on a remote path. A mismanaged labour in an understaffed hospital.
This is a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal to us a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It is a book to make you question yourself: what would you do if your life was in danger? How would you react? And what would you stand to lose?
I Am, I Am, I Am is a book you will finish newly conscious of your own vulnerability, and determined to make every heartbeat count.
I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.
In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as "wildly undisciplined," Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care.
In Hunger, she explores her past-including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life-and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.
With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved-in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.