The Best Memoirs & Autobiographies Of 2021

Celebrity memoirs tend to dominate bestseller charts at this time of year. If you want to give a Christmas gift that really resonates – or just find something rewarding to curl up with yourself – we’ve sorted the wheat from the chaff. From high achievers revealing the secrets to their success to professional writers grappling with life-defining modern issues, these are our favourite memoirs and autobiographies of 2021.

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All In by Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is a sporting icon and pioneering activist. Life magazine once named her one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century, but two decades into the 21st century, she is still as relevant as ever. Since winning 20 Wimbledon tennis titles in the 1960s and 70s, she has fought even harder to uphold three principles: equality, empowerment and access. In the face of sexism, eating disorders and financial problems, she’s been an indefatigable campaigner. All In tells King’s story in full, while serving up insights on leadership, business, activism, sports, politics, marriage equality, parenting, sexuality and love.

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My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life by Georgia Pritchett

Ever since the monsters first appeared under her childhood bed, Georgia Pritchett has been struggling with anxiety. An award-winning comedy writer who’s worked on everything from Miranda to The Thick Of It, she appears to be winning the battle. That said, her memoir takes you behind the scenes to reveal the hard-won wisdom she’s acquired along the way. “My mess is a bit of a life,” is what she blurted out to her doctor when she eventually sought help. That same GP suggested she start writing things down as a way to process her feelings – and the result is this ultimately joyful book about not just surviving anxiety, but sometimes thriving as a result of it.

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Cult Following by Bexy Cameron

Bexy Cameron grew up in the Children of God cult and experienced her first exorcism aged nine. When she turned 10, she had to stay silent for an entire year. At 15, she escaped and now, at 38, she’s written a memoir all about her bizarre and traumatic childhood. The dark events of her early years eventually led her to take a trip across America, where she embedded in other religious cults to live with children like herself. Along the way, she met meth cooks, monks and people preparing for the end of the world. Finally, at the end of her remarkable journey, she was ready to confront her parents. Cameron’s story is a gripping one – so much so, actors Dakota Johnson and Riley Keough are already at work on a small-screen adaptation.

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Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner is best known as American indie musician Japanese Breakfast. That might change after this unflinching, powerful book about growing up mixed-race, losing her mother and forging her own identity. Family, food, grief and endurance are the buzzwords here, as Zauner proves herself to be more than just a songwriter. With humour and heart, she tells of growing up the only Asian-American kid at her school in Oregon; of struggling with her mother's high expectations of her; and of treasured months spent in her grandmother's tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over plates of food. When she moves to the east coast for college, starts gigging and meets her future husband, Zauner’s ‘Koreanness’ begins to feel ever more distant. Then, her mother’s illness forces a reckoning with her identity – and a desire to reclaim the gifts of taste, language and history she gave her.

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The Beauty Of Living Twice by Sharon Stone

A-list actor and model Sharon Stone suffered a massive stroke at 43. It cost her not just her health, but also her family, fame and fortune. In The Beauty of Living Twice, she chronicles her efforts to rebuild her life, and the slow road back to wellness. In candid detail, she also discusses pivotal roles, life-changing friendships, her worst disappointments and greatest accomplishments, as well as the trauma and violence she has encountered at different stages of her life. Finally, she describes the strength and meaning she’s found in her children, and in her humanitarian efforts. This book is testament to female strength and resilience – and proof that it’s never too late to speak out.

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Taste by Stanley Tucci

Last year, as Covid swirled outside, people found comfort and joy in Stanley Tucci’s video of him making a negroni for his wife. Men and women alike swooned over his gently drawled instructions and easy bar technique. Now, the actor and food obsessive has published the story of his life in and out of the kitchen. Before he became a household name with The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games, he grew up in an Italian-American family that spent every night around the kitchen table. He shared those meals in The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table, but Taste takes readers beyond the recipes and into the stories behind them – from filming foodie movies Big Night and Julie & Julia to falling in love over dinner.

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The Audacity by Katherine Ryan

Superstar comedian Katherine Ryan dropped her first book in September. In it, the star of The Duchess, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Taskmaster explains her journey from naive ex-Hooters waitress fresh from Canada to small-screen megastar, with chapters covering ‘How to Potty Train Your Baby at 10 Months’, ‘How to Cut Off Your Racist Aunties’, ‘How to Marry Your High School Boyfriend’ and ‘How to Co-Parent when you're a Single Mum’. The Audacity combines Katherine's keen ear for the perfect line with the warmth, compassion and wisdom that defines her life both on and off stage.

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Misfits by Michaela Coel

From the brilliant mind behind TV sensations I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum, this book is a passionate declaration against fitting in. Three years ago, Michaela Coel delivered a MacTaggart Lecture that touched a lot of people with its striking revelations about race, class and gender. Building on this landmark speech, Misfits uses powerful allegories and anecdotes to immerse readers in Coel’s world – from her East London upbringing to her discovery of theatre and love for storytelling. With inspiring insight and wit, she tells of her reckoning with trauma and transformation into a champion for herself, inclusivity and radical honesty. In telling her story, Coel invites us to reflect on our own.

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Some Body To Love by Alexandra Heminsley

This brave memoir covers everything Heminsley has experienced since her then-husband revealed he was going to transition. A powerful treatise on pain and love, this is an honest, moving and authentic examination of the end of a relationship, and the way our lives can fracture and recover from sudden, seismic shifts. Heminsley’s writing is sharply resonant – you don’t have to share her experiences to be struck by her observations about letting go with love, and how we can find strength in self-love too. Fans of Glennon Doyle’s seminal Untamed will adore this.

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The Troubles With Us by Alix O’Neill

Alix O’Neill grew up on the Falls Road in 1990s Belfast. Burnt-out buses blocking the route to school, the police mistaking her father for a leading terrorist – she saw it all. Not that she and her friends paid too much attention to the volatile political situation around them. They were too preoccupied with the three Bs: booze, boys and Boyzone. As O’Neill makes big plans to get out of the city and escape her mother’s eccentric family, she begins to understand the troubled history of her home and the strength of its women. Comparisons with Derry Girls are inevitable and nothing less than this hilarious, moving account of life in Northern Ireland deserves.

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My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

You know Emily Ratajkowski the model, actress, activist and entrepreneur. Now, meet Emily Ratajkowski the writer. Her first book is a deeply honest investigation of what it means to be a woman and a commodity. Rocketing to world fame at the age of 21, Ratajkowski sparked both praise and criticism when she stripped off for Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ music video. The subsequent evolution in her thinking about society’s perception of women is the subject of this book. The essays in My Body use moments from Ratajkowski's life to investigate society's fetishisation of girls and female beauty, its obsession with and contempt for women's sexuality, the perverse dynamics of the fashion and film industries, and the grey area between consent and abuse. A fascinating read.

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Hear Me Out by Sarah Harding

This courageous memoir was Sarah Harding’s first and only book. The Girls Aloud singer died earlier this year, a few months before her 40th birthday. Her band is one of the UK’s biggest-selling girl groups of all time and Hear Me Out reveals what it took to sell 8 million records. It also covers Sarah’s early years, touring the clubs and pubs of the north-west in search of fame, her forays into acting, and her battle with breast cancer. In between the big events and the partying, there are quieter moments too, as Harding reveals her love of good books and roast dinners with friends.

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If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair by Anya Hindmarch

2021 was the year that businesswoman, mother of five and SL favourite Anya Hindmarch revealed the secrets of her success. As Anya told us herself, “I just wanted to write about everything that’s helped me in my 53 years – big things, little things, silly things.” If In Doubt is where you’ll find practical tips and quick fixes, alongside deeper observations about confidence and creativity. Anya also passes on the best of the advice she has received along the way to achieving global recognition as an entrepreneur.

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Dreams From My Mother by Dame Elizabeth Anionwu

Last year, Dame Elizabeth Anionwu was named one of the 100 greatest Black Britons in 2020. In 2021, she told the story of her remarkable life. Raised by nuns until she was 11 and reunited with her mother – who had had an affair with a Nigerian student while at Cambridge – Dame Elizabeth went on to become a ground-breaking nurse. Now retired, she continues to advocate for underserved communities, most recently drawing attention to the devasting impact of Covid on Black and Asian Britons. Her book is an inspiring tale of how she forged her own identity in the face of adversity, then used her achievements and understanding to help others.

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After The Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth

Emma Jane Unsworth is the acclaimed author of novels such as Animals and Hungry, The Stars And Everything. This year she turned her attention inwards to write After The Storm: Postnatal Depression & The Utter Weirdness Of New Motherhood. Brave and funny, it reveals how the birth of her son turned her life upside down in so many unexpected ways. Unsworth dives into some of the lesser-discussed mental and physical trials of being a mum – from botched stitches and bleeding nipples to anger and shame. The upshot is an important, warm-hearted book that shines a new light on some serious issues.

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