As David Cameron tells all, a guide to the best political memoirs


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To coincide with publication of For the Record, a round-up of the best career reckonings by politicians

Ken Clarke did it over late-night brandies and cigars. Tony Blair needed someone standing over him to make him knuckle down. David Cameron reportedly shut himself away in an excruciatingly tasteful shepherd’s hut to write For the Record. But grinding out a political memoir shouldn’t be an entirely painless process – the best involve an honest reckoning with mistakes as well as the inevitable recital of triumphs.

Some of the most interesting recent political autobiographies come from those who might have led their parties but never did, and thus are less obsessed with creating legacies. Alan Johnson’s extraordinary trilogy, starting with This Boy and ending with The Long and Winding Road, revealed a natural writer with a remarkable life story to tell (orphaned at 13, he was raised by his older sister ...

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith review – memories of the magic and the mundane


This post is by Fiona Sturges from Books | The Guardian


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From looming political crisis to a leaky flat – a troubled year in the life of a great American punk poet

At the start of 2016, Patti Smith’s friend the producer, manager and rock critic Sandy Pearlman was hospitalised after suffering a brain haemorrhage. She first met him in 1971 when he attended one of her performances during which she read poetry against a backdrop of feedback, courtesy of guitarist Lenny Kaye. Pearlman approached Smith after the show and suggested she front a rock band, but, as she recalls in her new memoir: “I just laughed and told him I had a good job working in a bookstore.” Later she took his advice and went on to make the landmark punk album Horses. Their friendship endured, leading her and Kaye to his bedside nearly 50 years later as he lay in a coma. “We stood on either side of ...

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden review – the whistleblower’s memoir


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The call of duty and a patriotic pedigree are given priority in Snowden’s account of his motivations – and he warns of dangers ahead

Towards the end of Edward Snowden’s memoir, he hands the narrative to his partner, Lindsay Mills, in the form of the diary she was keeping at the time he was “outing” himself as a whistleblower intent on revealing the most cherished secrets, and rampant ambitions, of the American and British spy agencies. “Ed, what have you done?” she wrote. “How can you come back from this?”

Permanent Record is Snowden’s attempt to answer these questions by doing something he finds discomforting and antithetical: breaching his own privacy, opening up what he calls the “empty zone that lies beyond the reach of the state”.

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For the Record: signs of trouble before David Cameron book hits shelves


This post is by Ben Quinn and Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Preorders appear sluggish and some shops in remain-voting areas say they won’t stock memoir

It is the fruit of three years’ work, at least some of which is presumed to have taken place inside a £25,000 shepherd’s hut.

The much-anticipated publication next week of For the Record, David Cameron’s 752-page book promising a candid account of his time in politics, is expected to be the moment a man widely blamed for Britain’s greatest postwar crisis will make a concerted bid for control of his tainted legacy.

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Turkish author jailed for life nominated for £50,000 book award


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Assembled from notes, Ahmet Altan’s I Will Never See the World Again is up for Baillie Gifford prize alongside Guardian and Observer journalists Amelia Gentleman and Laura Cumming

Three years almost to the day since the Turkish author Ahmet Altan was first jailed in the wake of the country’s failed coup, he has been longlisted for the £50,000 Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction for his prison memoir, I Will Never See the World Again.

First imprisoned in 2016, Altan received a life sentence in 2018 for sending out subliminal messages in favour of a coup” on television and attempting to overthrow the government. PEN America has called his imprisonment “a horrific assault on freedom of expression” and authors including JM Coetzee and AS Byatt have demanded his release in an open letter saying that his “crime is not supporting a coup but the effectiveness of his criticism of the ...

Top 10 culinary memoirs


This post is by Isabel Vincent from Books | The Guardian


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Going beyond lists of ingredients, these books recall the various ways in which food nourishes our most intimate lives

When I was writing about the dinners I had with my elderly friend Edward, I made a decision early on not to include any recipes. Edward, an accomplished cook, rarely wrote down any instructions for, say, his oysters Rockefeller or chicken paillard. While the food we ate was certainly important, the book was not meant to be a cookbook, but instead a memoir about the nature of friendship.

In this pursuit, I was inspired by a rich literature of culinary writing in which food is a central motif, but is held together by the story of its preparation and the fellowship that comes from sharing a meal. So many writers – from MFK Fisher, who wrote lyrically about the pleasures of dining alone, to New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who documented ...

Hunt the Banker: The Confessions of a Russian Ex-Oligarch by Alexander Lebedev – review


This post is by Luke Harding from Books | The Guardian


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Lebedev refrains from criticising Russia’s elite in the story of his rise from the KGB to billionaire owner of London’s Evening Standard

In January 2009 I had lunch in Moscow with the oligarch Alexander Lebedev. There were reports that Lebedev wanted to buy London’s loss-making Evening Standard newspaper and that negotiations had broken down. Over pasta with octopus, Lebedev told me talks with Lord Rothermere were going well. “I’m buying the Standard on Thursday,” he added nonchalantly.

It was, by any standards, a pretty decent scoop. The story wrote itself: former Russian spy who spent the 1980s at the Soviet embassy in London becomes British media mogul. Or as one headline put it: “I’m from the KGB! Give me your papers!” A year later, Lebedev acquired the Independent titles and launched the mini i, his son, Evgeny, installed as gentleman proprietor.

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Samantha Power: ‘To fall flat in such a public way and to have no job … I was a wandering person’


This post is by Julian Borger from Books | The Guardian


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The former US ambassador to the UN on facing childhood demons, Obama’s failure in Syria and why she regrets calling Hillary Clinton a monster

Harvard Square in high summer is crisscrossed with tourists, but inside the university all is serene. Those academics who stay behind to work can enjoy the empty seminar rooms, loose deadlines and short queues at the cafeteria.

Samantha Power used to dread such periods of calm. The former US ambassador to the United Nations, and foreign policy and human rights adviser to Barack Obama, was afflicted for most of her adult life with intense anxiety attacks that left her unable to catch her breath, as well as inexplicable but excruciating back pain. She called them “lungers” – a term coined by a former boyfriend who witnessed her struggling to draw air into her lungs.

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Newcastle bookseller bans Michael Owen memoir over slights to city


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Huge sports book retailer based in city says Reboot’s account of sour relationship with the city’s team has made it the first book they will ban

A sports bookshop in Newcastle upon Tyne has announced that it will not stock Michael Owen’s new memoir Reboot, after early extracts revealed the footballer’s reluctance to move from Real Madrid to Newcastle United in 2005, writing: “I don’t need to justify myself to fucking Newcastle fans.”

Newcastle-based The Back Page, which describes itself as the largest stockist of sports books in the world, said that Reboot is “the first book we have ever totally refused to stock”.

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My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay review – a searing chronicle


This post is by Michael Donkor from Books | The Guardian


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The care system’s brutal attack on a black child’s sense of self worth is targeted in the poet’s frank recollections of life in children’s homes

Early on in this affecting memoir, Sissay recalls the authors and books that fired his imagination when he was young. CS Lewis was a kind of “rock star”. In 2019, Lemn Sissay MBE is something of a literary luminary himself. His poetry and plays are lauded. He is chancellor of Manchester University. He was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics. He was recently awarded the PEN Pinter prize and has appeared on Desert Island Discs. But glittering as these garlands might be, his early life was anything but golden. It’s a painful narrative that underpins much of his creative output and is emotively reframed in My Name Is Why.

Just after he was born in 1967, Sissay and his mother – a young ...

Going Home by Raja Shehadeh review – rich, sad reflections from Ramallah


This post is by Alex Preston from Books | The Guardian


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Palestine’s greatest prose writer reflects on hope and disillusion in his home city 50 years after the Israeli invasion

Ramallah, in the heart of the West Bank, is only a few miles north of Jerusalem, its nose pressed up against the dashes of Palestine’s borders on the maps, official markers of the city’s – and the country’s – provisional nature. It is a place of scarcely 30,000 inhabitants, historically a Christian city (although now the majority are Muslim) and also one of cold winters and carefully tended gardens, chosen by the PLO as its de facto headquarters following the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995. It is, above all, a city of authors, home to Palestine’s greatest poet, the late Mahmoud Darwish, and the man we can now recognise as its greatest prose writer, Raja Shehadeh.

Shehadeh won the Orwell prize for his 2007 book Palestinian Walks and published ...

Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell review – fancy-free and 60


This post is by Viv Groskop from Books | The Guardian


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The Sex and the City author’s reflections on midlife dating and female friendships are surprisingly revealing

As Carrie Bradshaw might ask: “Is it possible to look at the modern world through the lens of Sex and the City, a TV show based on a newspaper column about single life that first aired in 1998? Or are we just kidding ourselves?” Bushnell’s premise here is to ask what there is left for women like her – newly single in their 50s – in terms of dating and sex. It’s meant to be a reboot: Carrie (the columnist played by Sarah Jessica Parker), 20 years on, only the real-life version.

Except it’s not. This book is not quite what it seems. And that turns out to be a pleasant surprise. It’s Candace Bushnell’s meditation on what happens when life takes a wrong turn for her and her group of ...

Top 10 true crime books


This post is by Duncan Campbell from Books | The Guardian


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The Guardian’s former crime correspondent recommends the best writing by and about criminals and cops, villains and victims

In recent years “true crime”, in the form of television documentaries and podcasts, has become very fashionable. But there has always been a small niche for true crime books, sometimes tucked – rather guiltily – below the much larger crime fiction sections in bookshops and libraries. I have about 400 such volumes – the memoirs of criminals, detectives, crime reporters and the explorations and investigations carried out by authors and academics over the last 150 or so years – many of which I have been using while working on Underworld, which is a history of the last century and a half of organised – and disorganised – crime in Britain.

What is striking is how much things have changed in the last couple of decades, in that many of those involved in ...

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton co-write The Book of Gutsy Women


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Their book profiles more than 100 path-breaking women down the centuries, from a 17th-century radical nun to Greta Thunberg

Hillary Clinton is set to publish a new book about the women who have inspired her, from Mary Beard to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – “leaders with the courage to stand up to the status quo, ask hard questions, and get the job done”.

After publishing her memoir about the 2016 presidential election campaign, What Happened, Clinton teamed up with her daughter Chelsea to write The Book of Gutsy Women, due out in October from Simon & Schuster. “If history shows one thing, it’s that the world needs gutsy women,” the Clintons say. “So in the moments when the long haul seems awfully long, we hope you will draw strength from these stories. We do.”

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I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder review – indecently entertaining


This post is by Kate Kellaway from Books | The Guardian


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Actor and columnist Samadder’s memoir unspools his difficult life with lightness and warmly absurd humour

This is one of the most eccentric and uplifting memoirs I have ever read. It ought to be excruciating – Rhik Samadder writes about his variously devastating experiences: sexual abuse, eating disorders, self-harming and depression (this is only the abbreviated list). But if you wanted proof that writing can rise above what it describes, this is it. The book is a buoy on troubled water (not at all the same as a bridge over it). It is indecently entertaining: there are moments when one feels guilty for enjoying the writing so much. Samadder is not making light of his difficult life but is being light about it, which is a sort of victory.

The first time I came across him was in 2006. I was reviewing Rona Munro’s The Indian Boy, an RSC show ...

Edward Snowden memoir to reveal whistleblower’s secrets


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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In Permanent Record, the former spy will recount how his mass surveillance work eventually led him to make the biggest leak in history

After multiple books and films about his decision to leak the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history, whistleblower Edward Snowden is set to tell his side of the story in a memoir, Permanent Record.

Related: Edward Snowden: 'The people are still powerless, but now they're aware'

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A Half Baked Idea by Olivia Potts review – from crown court to creme caramel


This post is by PD Smith from Books | The Guardian


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A rookie barrister whose mother dies finds solace in a career switch, becoming a patisserie chef

Olivia Potts was overwhelmed by grief when her mother died unexpectedly at the age of 54: “My mother was my best friend. After she died, I felt so fucking lonely.” A 25-year-old barrister, Potts had only just passed her bar exams and was working at a criminal law chambers in London, and hoping to be offered tenancy. Within days of her mother’s death, “Miss Potts of Counsel” was back in court, dressed in horse-hair wig and black gown. But by burying her pain it became the foundation of her identity, transforming her into “Grief Girl” and changing the course of her life.

Her mother, father and maternal grandfather were all solicitors: “law is in my blood”. Potts had worked hard and loved being able to say she was a barrister: “I looked great ...

Top 10 books about Baltimore


This post is by Laura Lippman from Books | The Guardian


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Anne Tyler is indelibly tied to the city, but authors as contrasting as Frederick Douglass and John Waters have shown some of its different faces

When I began writing novels set in my home town of Baltimore, the living writer most identified with the city was Anne Tyler. More than two decades later, that’s still true. Yet Tyler’s books are not about Baltimore per se. The city is her backdrop, not her subject. Tyler would be one of the great American novelists wherever she lived.

She gets Baltimore right, of course, because she’s Anne Tyler. The question, as always with any Baltimore-based story, is which Baltimore? It’s a city of contradictions, as open to interpretation and variation as the best jazz standards.

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Livingstone’s London by Ken Livingstone review – what contribution did he make?


This post is by Owen Hatherley from Books | The Guardian


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Score settling, fury directed at Boris Johnson, and newts … but the former mayor’s account offers no deep thinking about his impact on today’s London

Ken Livingstone, the figure who was until recently probably the most successful leftwing politician in Britain since Aneurin Bevan, enjoys his retirement by appearing on talk radio, getting himself suspended from the Labour party due to offensive historical speculation, and writing oddly charming books. In Livingstone’s London, the former mayor and leader of the Greater London Council, who has (through the GLC and Greater London Authority) spent more time in charge of the capital than anyone else, gives a cosy and mildly eccentric account of the city he has shaped more than any other living politician.

Of Livingstone’s many books, this one shows the least influence of ghostwriters, and his resignation from Labour means he clearly feels no pressure to maintain a ...

‘One must find the strength to resist’: Primo Levi’s warning to history


This post is by Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian


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The clarity and moral force of If This Is a Man’s witness to nazism’s crimes against humanity is as urgent as ever

Philip Roth once called Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and The Truce – usually published as one volume – “one of the century’s truly necessary books”. If you’ve read Levi, the only quibble you could make with Roth is that he’s too restrictive in only referring to the 20th century. It’s impossible to imagine a time when the two won’t be essential, both because of what they describe and the clarity and moral force of Levi’s writing. Reading him is not a passive process. It isn’t just that he makes us see and understand the terrible crimes that he himself saw in Monowitz-Buna. It’s that in doing so, he also makes us witnesses, passing us knowledge that gives us a moral and practical responsibility. We too ...