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The Best Books of 2020: Biography

Posted on 18th November 2020 by Mark Skinner

A great biography or memoir gives the reader a window into a unique human story and this year we have been spoilt for penetrating and compelling life writing. Craig Brown managed to achieve the impossible in finding something new and revelatory to say about the Beatles, Raynor Winn followed up the bestselling The Salt Path with a book which was arguably even better and firebrand journalist Barbara Amiel delivered exactly the kind of scandalous memoir that everybody hoped she would. Elsewhere, Kate Summerscale chronicled one woman's experience of haunting in inter-war Britain, Clover Stroud exploded the myths of motherhood and national treasure Captain Tom Moore gifted the world an incredible, heartwarming autobiography to soothe the soul.


 

Life Stories

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From the battlefields of Burma to the final astonishing lap of his garden as a centenarian to raise money for the NHS, this is the story of an incredible life of service from Captain Tom Moore.
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An ever-controversial and divisive figure, the trailblazing journalist Barbara Amiel has lived a life of operatic scale, and Friends and Enemies does a magnificently caustic job of detailing her high profile lovers, dramatic feuds and whirlwind existence.
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A fascinating snapshot of the royal family during wartime, Alathea Fitzalan Howard’s diaries chronicle a close friendship with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret with candour and grace.
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Fuelled by his obsession with Oscar Wilde, Rupert Everett maps his extraordinary journey around Europe and into the past, whilst painting another fascinating self-portrait with novelistic skill.
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£16.99
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In this enticing mix of memoir, fashion history and social commentary, Alexandra Shulman explores the fascinating language of clothes and how we use the contents of our wardrobe to empower and transform ourselves.

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America’s premier essayist documents the formative years of her activist engagement in a typically eloquent and impassioned memoir-cum-polemic.
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Confessional Memoir

£14.99
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Continuing the inspirational story of The Salt Path, Winn's tender sequel recounts what happened when her and Moth's odyssey came to an end.
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The final work from the award winning and inspirational journalist, Motherwell interrogates the psychological inheritance that we receive from our parents and how close family ties can prevent us from achieving cherished goals.

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Told with immense emotional depth, Davies’s memoir is an arresting and devastatingly honest account of childhood trauma, the quest for belonging, and the complex role of humour in overcoming adversity.
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Through the lens of one family, Broom deftly maps a century’s worth of racial and economical inequality, as well as the immense cultural richness of her native city, New Orleans.
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Featuring a landscape that is as much a lead character as the book’s author, Calidas’s first-hand account of collapse and redemption on a remote Hebridean island is a tribute to human perseverance and the healing qualities of nature.
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From Devon hedges to Downing Street dinners, Swire’s straight-talking, opinionated and frequently hilarious book reveals what it is like to be a politician’s spouse in modern Britain.
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Merging true crime investigation with wrenching autobiography, Memorial Drive is American poet laureate Trethewey’s account of racism, murder and the unshakeable bond between a mother and daughter.
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A parent of five children aged one to seventeen, Stroud has plenty of wisdom and insight to offer women at all stages of their journey through parenting, and this beautiful, refreshingly honest account of all aspects of motherhood is required reading on a provocative topic.
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Charting his 30-year battle for justice for his mother who was seriously injured in a police raid, Lee Lawrence’s powerful memoir is a call to action against police cover-ups and the systematic racism underpinning many of Britain’s vital institutions.
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An engrossing piece of literary detective work, House of Glass details the lives of Hadley Freeman’s grandmother and her siblings across the globe and through a turbulent twentieth century.
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Waterstones’ own Martin Latham, manager of the Canterbury shop for three decades, discusses literature, publishing and bookselling through the prism of his own astonishing experiences in the trade.
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The story of the extraordinary brood of an ordinary Nottingham family, House of Music is a joyous celebration of the musical talents of the Kanneh-Mason family which also serves as a window into issues of race and class in twenty-first century Britain.
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Biography

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Having produced one of the sharpest biographies of the last decade in Ma’am Darling, Craig Brown returns with a dynamic, revisionist look at The Beatles and their legacy, fifty years after the band split up.
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From the author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher comes the chilling true story of a woman and the phantasms that tormented her, as Europe teetered on the brink of war.
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£30.00
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One of our foremost biographers documents the remarkably eventful life of one of our most celebrated playwrights in a typically comprehensive and insightful volume.
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Showing how the events in Dickens’s life galvanized his novels, Wilson paints a fascinating, nuanced portrait of the man who shaped our very idea of the nineteenth-century.
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£35.00
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The concluding volume of William Feaver’s electrifying life of Lucian Freud finds the great painter at the peak of his powers, surrounded by an incredible cast of famous faces and desperately striving for artistic perfection.
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Drawing on a wealth of fresh material, Clark’s revisionist biography of the iconic poet is perceptive life-writing at its finest and refuses to paint Plath as a figure preordained for a tragic end.
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Swafford’s masterful biography of one of the best-loved composers of the Western canon moves away from the myths that have shrouded Mozart’s life for centuries to create a rounded portrait of a cultural icon.
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As lively and compelling as any of Greene’s masterful novels, Russian Roulette recounts the extraordinary, tangled life of a literary master with tremendous assurance and vigour.
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