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The Best Autobiographies You Should Read

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 9th 2018
Reading about someone else's life
The autobiography. For some people, there is nothing worse than sitting down to read the self-aggrandisement of a person who is famous in their own little part of the universe and wants the world to (a) worship them, (b) feel sorry for them, (c) remember them, or, most commonly, (d) a little bit of all 3.

I am an avid reader. And I have read some right dross in my time – coming up to 50 years of age – across many genres of writing. And, I am sad to say, that dross includes a deal of my own printed work. My only published novel is not what I would consider brilliant (I've written 50 and the only one to be published is, really, one of the worst… go figure!). Sorry, got lost in my own world of… well, me. My bad.

Anyway, while I tend to write in the speculative fiction and humour spheres, I read across a vast variety of different sorts of books. And I find that I quite enjoy biographies, reading about famous people or people who did remarkable things. Like everything else, they can be hit or miss, but a good biography is always a thought-provoking read. However, on the other hand, I tend to find autobiographies more miss than hit.

Some are really just "look at me" type of books. Some are dull; I mean, how can someone have such a great life and then write a book that makes you wish for the Vanilla Ice autobiography (or not… I'm serious – don't read that one). And in some, the author tries to cram in so much that even an exciting life is just rushed over too quickly.

So - Question: What is the best autobiography you have written?

To start you off, here are 5 of my own personal favourites:

Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius (2011)

Wow. I mean… wow. Martin Pistorius is not a familiar name to many people. He hasn't done anything that would make him famous – no albums, movies, countries governed or anything like that. No. What he did was survive.

One day he was a normal child, the next he was trapped in a body that would not respond. His mind and brain were fully functional and he knew what was going on around him, but to all intents and purposes, he was suddenly rendered a vegetable. And he tells the story of being trapped in an unresponsive body. The sexual and physical abuse, the being ignored, the depression and terror – it is all there as stark as it is possible to be.

And then a new occupational therapist took notice of him and through her patience and kindness, he was drawn out of his internal prison to become a "free" man. He is now married and has even given a TED lecture about his experiences. But the book is a book of hope and strength and well worth your time.

Have A Nice Day by Mick Foley (1999)

Mick Foley is known by a certain section of the public. Be it as Mick Foley, Cactus Jack, Mankind or any other names, he is a professional wrestler who became known for performing some of the riskiest stunts in the history of the sport, and his body went through the damage in a state of regular deterioration.

Have a Nice Day is the first of his autobiographies, written without a ghost-writer and as honest as it is possible to be. It is funny and sad at the same time; the things that professional wrestlers used to have to go through in the days of the territories were done because these men loved the sport and what they did. And Foley tells it all. The characters of the time, the people he met, the things he did – it is all there and more.

As someone who has stepped foot in the squared circle himself, I can only thank goodness that in Australia we did not have to go through the miles of driving, the hours of performing for nothing, and yet at the same time I think we suffered for it. Even for a non-wrestling fan, this is entertaining and a fascinating look at a world most of us don't know a thing about.

You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead by Marieke Hardy (2011)
Marieke Hardy, You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead, book, cover
Cover (Allen & Unwin)

I first became aware of Marieke Hardy through ABC-TV's First Tuesday Book Club, where I found myself agreeing with about 90% of her critiques. Then I found out that she was one of the writers of Laid, a mini-series that I feel was the last original thing made by Australian TV. While discussing this with a work colleague, I was informed that she had written an autobiography and that it was very good. So, I got hold of it and – what do you know? – it is very good!

The events of her life mirror quite a few from my own, and I'm guessing that's why I enjoyed it so much. And I really enjoyed the 'right of reply' she gave to some of the other people she wrote about. But the thing that stands out most for me is that she doesn't look back on her life with a sense of regret. This is a celebration, not a mournful dirge.

If I ever do something worth writing an autobiography about, I hope that Hardy's is the one I come closest to emulating.

The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco by John Birmingham (1997)

The sequel to He Died With A Felafel In His Hands, I actually prefer this one to its predecessor. This is about the adventures of Birmingham living in a share house and all that it entails, with characters from the first book and a bunch of new ones. But this one follows a slightly more story-based structure than the first.

And it is hilarious. This is a life I could not relate to based on my own experiences, but I found myself wanting to have lived it. The way it is written transports you there. I know that is the goal of all books, but in this case, I could picture everything in my mind.

In 2010 it was converted into a stage production which I have not seen. But if it sticks true to the book, then it will be worthwhile having a look.

The Autobiography by Eric Clapton (2007)
Eric Clapton, autobiography, book, cover
Cover (Goodreads)

As some people may have guessed from many of my posts, I am a music fan. Unfortunately, very few music books strike me as worthwhile. And then there's this one. Brutally honest. Brutally. This book is a warts and all look at the life of a man regarded by many (myself included) as one of the very greatest rock guitarists of all time.

Yes, at times it is depressing, starting from his youth when he was raised by his grandparents – who he thought were his parents – while the woman he thought was his sister turned out to be his mother. And from there it does not let up. Through his addictions and break-ups and extra-marital affairs and everything else, to the highs of Cream and his solo career and the music and the concerts – nothing is left out.

Clapton is not known for his self-promotion, and this book is a part of that. He tells his story with amazing candour, and yet also with a celebratory eye. This is his life, and he lived it and he got him to where he is today. It is a tough read, don't get me wrong, but it is worth it. The best music autobiography I have read, bar none.

And those are my five.

What are your favourites?
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Why? Because autobiographies can be incredible.
Where: Everywhere
Your Comment
I'd like to add Jimmy Barnes' Working Class Man
and working Class Boy.
by May Cross (score: 3|7816) 921 days ago
Try your local Library steve
by May Cross (score: 3|7816) 915 days ago
I would love to read and see these but can't afford the book and the film is not showing in my area. One day, though, definitely.
by Steven G (score: 2|726) 920 days ago
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