The Book of Life: A compendium of the Best Autobiographical and Memoir Writing.
Eve Claxton.

This lively and engrossing compendium of autobiographical and memoir writing, allows the reader to gain an insight into the minds of a whole host of public figures from Quentin Crisp and Katherine Hepburn to Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali.

Written in a chronological style, the near 500-page collection quite literally takes us on the journey of a lifetime, reflecting the full range of emotions we experience from childhood innocence and teenage angst, to mid-life crisis to old-age contentment (here's hoping!).

As a genre too, the collection reflects the history of memoir writing from St Augustine in the fourth century to modern times, and showcases the musings of some of the world's greatest writers, artists, poets, scientists, showmen, statesmen and superstars.

As reading matter, this is enjoyable although there is a tendency to skip to the more modern, well-known figures.

Claxton's reading of the best and worst of the genre ensures that the usual 'run-of-the-mill' writing that overshadows the genre is eradicated here. Indeed, where else could you find solace in Roald Dahl's love of the sweet shop and Roy Hattersley's childhood experiences in Sheffield, alongside Katherine Hepburn's first break into the world of cinema.

James Cleary