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The Best Books of 2023: Biography

Posted on 18th October 2023 by Mark Skinner

Providing a unique window into the lives of figures both famous and unknown, the best biographies and memoirs of 2023 convey a wealth of lived experience. Let us guide you through the year's most fascinating autobiographies, candid confessionals and deeply researched slices of life writing.  

Please note that whilst there are a handful of books in this blog written by people in the media spotlight, further memoirs and biographies in this vein can be found in The Best Books of 2023: Entertainment, The Best Books of 2023: Music and The Best Books of 2023: Sport blogs.


The very beginning of this year saw the publication of one of the most explosive (and phenomenally successful) memoirs of all time in Prince Harry's Spare. But this record-breaking volume should not obscure the quality of other autobiographies written in 2023, which include Monica Potts' searing investigation of lost promise in the Ozarks, Chris Broad's unputdownable account of life in the Land of the Rising Sun and Octavia Bright's thrillingly intimate chronicle of addiction and recovery. 

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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.
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Brimming with profound, unique insight and intelligence, A Memoir of My Former Self brings together Hilary Mantel’s finest non-fiction writing, ranging from film reviews to Reith lectures and from her reflections on living in Saudi Arabia to the mythic legacy of Princess Diana.
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Both a heartfelt, poignant tribute to the power of friendship and a searing exploration of poverty and substance abuse in the shadow of the Ozarks, Potts' account of how her talented and ambitious childhood friend became just another depressing statistic is perfect reading for all fans of Educated and Hillbilly Elegy.
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From missile incidents to love hotels, Broad's hilarious and insightful travelogue of Japan is based on his numerous misadventures in the decade since he arrived to teach English.
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Both a wonderfully witty record of the everyday tribulations of the clerical life and a love letter to the Church of England at its best, this sinfully entertaining memoir from the fresh-faced clergyman and author of Priests de la Resistance! truly is a revelation.
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From the author of former Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month House of Glass comes a courageous and unflinching memoir of anorexia, as Freeman takes readers through the psychology and practical effects of the eating disorder in lucid, compelling prose.
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Exploring class, mental health, societal pressures and individual ambition, Strong Female Character is a candid and groundbreaking memoir of neurodiversity, sexism and defying expectations.
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The side-splitting sequel to the bestselling Love, Nina traces the next chapter of Stibbe's life story as she departs for more endearing adventures in the capital.

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From the journalist and author of How to Fail comes a disarmingly honest and perceptive investigation into the nature of friendship, prompted by Day's lockdown reassessment of her need for a large group of companions.
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Chronicling Kate Garraway's ongoing struggle in the wake of her husband Derek Draper's devastating Covid diagnosis, The Strength of Love makes for inspirational and ultimately uplifting reading, as she finds the courage to carry on and rebuild her and her family's lives.
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Using examples from his own life experience, the much-loved poet reflects on trauma and grief with his characteristic insight and candour and discusses how it is possible to find light in even the darkest of situations.
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Filled with courage and hope, the final book from activist and bestselling author Wendy Mitchell is a thoughtful and thoroughly compelling exploration of the final stages of terminal illness and the end of life.
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A searing account of grooming, deceit and innocence lost, Gibson's memoir of the illicit childhood affair he was coerced into by a female teacher lays bare a shocking abuse of trust and power and the collusion of the establishment in keeping it covered up.
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Intelligent, courageous and immensely moving, This Ragged Grace is an electrifying memoir from the author and co-host of the popular Literary Friction podcast that draws from literature and philosophy to deliver a personal story of addiction, loss and recovery.
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Chronicling a turbulent, dysfunctional and frequently hilarious childhood on a Dundee housing estate, this invigorating memoir from the acclaimed poet and musician is a frenzy of sugar addiction, origami, the Osmonds and avoiding other children who want to kick lumps out of him.
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Meditative and moving, the bestselling author of Lullaby and The Country of Others reflects on her life as a Moroccan woman and her career as a writer prompted by a visit to Venice's Punta della Dogana Museum.
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The author of The Turning Point mines his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in this remarkable volume which combines memoir, literary criticism and science writing in a breathtaking melange of both style and substance.
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Renowned actor Timothy West's memoir of his sixty-year marriage to the inimitable Prunella Scales is both a fascinating insight into decades of British theatre and television and a moving, inspirational account of caring for a partner with dementia.
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The renowned playwright and novelist takes stock of his life in his ninetieth year with this spirited and engaging reflection on the people who have shaped his existence.
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Vividly evoking the turbulence of the Cold War and Fidel Castro's regime, this remarkable graphic memoir from one of the world's leading political artists chronicles Rodriguez's harrowing journey from Cuba to Florida through breathtaking art.
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Veering from the laugh-out-loud funny to the powerfully moving, Gibsone's unflinching memoir tracks the author's vexed attempts to find meaningful relationships and connection online.
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In her honest and luminously crafted memoir, poet Amy Key uses Joni Mitchell's seminal album Blue as her guide in navigating experiences of loneliness, desire, diappointment and romantic love.
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Family memoirs bridge the gap between autobiography and biography by drawing out the story of one or more of the author's family members as well as the author's relationship to these highly personal events. The very best examples of family memoirs can, like John Niven's O Brother or Blake Morrison's Two Sisters, shed crucial light on the bonds of family or, in the case of Daniel Finkelstein's Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad tell a far bigger story through the prism of family history.      

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From the author of Kill Your Friends and Straight White Male comes a tender and affecting memoir laced with Niven's trademark jet-black humour, as he chronicles both his own turbulent upbringing and that of his tragic, troubled little brother Gary who took his own life at the age of just 42.
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A heartbreaking, unflinchingly honest account of how addiction can tear families apart, Morrison's unravelling of his troubled sister and half-sister's lives is a tour de force of penetrating and perceptive life writing.
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The respected journalist and political commentator tells the harrowing yet also inspirational story of his parents' suffering at the hands of both Hitler and Stalin in this profoundly important and exquisitely written family memoir.
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Emotionally shattering yet utterly unputdownable, Belim's search to find out what happened to her great-grandfather's brother in 1930s Ukraine is a haunting work of research and revelation.
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Narrated with powerful honesty, Ruskin Park is a captivating and intimate memoir about a childhood shrouded in mystery and the search for an absent father from the popular podcaster and former BBC correspondent.
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Both a genealogical detective story and an immensely powerful study of the nature of morality, Bilger's investigation into his grandfather and Nazi Party member asks searching questions about the extent to which he was guilty of the war crimes he stood accused of.
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Recounted with Caulfield's trademark razor-sharp wit, this moving memoir of sisterhood, individuality and life on the road centres on the author's relationship with her big sister and what happens after a shock cancer diagnosis.
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Meticulously researched and brimming with insight, the best biographies of the year trade in complex and multi-layered subjects. From Walter Isaacson's exhaustive account of notorious tech billionaire Elon Musk to Michael Lewis' recounting of the fall of crypto-king Sam Bankman-Fried, and from Anna Funder's reclamation of Orwell's wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy to Ranulph Fiennes sweeping portrait of T.E. Lawrence, immerse yourself in a series of extraordinary lives.    

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The acclaimed biographer of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein turns his unwavering gaze to restless innovator, disruptor and mogul Elon Musk in this characteristically unputdownable and enlightening study.
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A sequel of sorts to Sissman's magisterial biography of the great literary spymaster, The Secret Life of John le Carré reveals the complexities and contradictions of the iconic writer's private life in fascinating detail.
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The bestselling author of The Big Short and The Premonition spins a breathlessly exciting true story with his characteristic pace and panache as he charts the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of enigmatic crypto-currency entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried.
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A penetrating investigation into the parlous state of the modern Royal Family, Endgame exposes the dysfunction and distrust at the heart of the British monarchy.
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Boasting unprecedented access to the Fleming family archives, Shakespeare's enthralling account of the complex genius behind the James Bond novels also sheds fascinating light on his years at the heart of naval intelligence.
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Tracing the lives and stories of a horde of unlikely contributors to the first Oxford English Dictionary, Ogilvie's endlessly fascinating and highly entertaining volume features madmen and murderers, suffragists and pornographers, vicars and vegetarians.
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Casting light on the neglected Eileen O'Shaughnessy and her marriage to George Orwell, this tour de force of biographical writing from the author of Stasiland doubles as a fitting tribute to the unsung work of women everywhere.
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The renowned explorer and acclaimed author of Shackleton turns his attention to another great adventurer to deliver a fascinating, fully-rounded picture of the British archaeologist, writer and intelligence officer who fought alongside Arab guerrilla forces in the Middle East during WW1.
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Appraising George Eliot's life and career through her twenty-four year affair with a married man, Carlisle's riveting biography of the great Victorian novelist reveals how Eliot's unconventional relationship offered her unparalleled insights into human psychology.
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A revelatory biography of the great Katherine Mansfield that restores the pivotal Modernist writer to her rightful place in the literary pantheon, All Sorts of Lives explores Mansfield's genius through ten key works.
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From Martha Gellhorn to Jessica Mitford, Watling's incisive and exciting group biography interweaves the stories of various female outsiders who resolved to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War.
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Riveting, shocking and deeply evocative of high society New York, Capote's Women focuses on the glamorous swans that the acclaimed writer and raconteur pulled into his orbit only to betray their secrets to millions on the printed page.
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From musicals and plays to relationships and personal quirks, this fascinating biography of Noel Coward sheds new light on the life, career and incredible body of work of this prolific and truly multi-talented man.
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A fascinating insight into the complex marriage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Steinberg's page-turning biography combines the intensely personal with the grandly political, showing how the couple's ideals diverged during the future South African leader's years in prison.
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Christmas at Waterstones

Best Books of 2023

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