Sex, drugs, rock n' roll...and lots of other stuff, too. Here are the best life stories in print
We love a good biography – or autobiography for that matter. Whether you’re in the mood for a dollop of drama, a slice of adventure, a sizzling love story or just a cracking good read, there’s nothing quite like delving into someone else’s life for sheer escapism.
Tales of hardship, humour, disasters and triumphs, what matters is that they’re told with a page-turning pace and and as much attention to detail as the best novel.
And if you thought a biography was just a biography oh, well, you can just think again. There’s the official biography: that means the writer had the subject’s blessing, and access to all their personal papers, letters, photos, best friends for loving quotes and so on. Kind of good, yes, but it also means the celeb in question usually has a pretty strict control over what goes in – so they may try to (how do we put this?) shape how they’re viewed by their loving public. Then there’s the unofficial bio, which is a sort of smash and grab on the famous bod’s life – just get every morsel you can, from any source and try and publish. Unless they try and sue in which case, good luck. These are the books in which you’ll find disgruntled friends interviewed, waiters that came across the celeb for a week in the summer of 1993 when they frequented their restaurant and exes. Oh those exes.
Then there are the autobiographies, where celebs decide to reveal e-v-e-r-y-l-i-t-t-l-e-d-e-t-a-i-l about themselves as though it all had an amazing impact on who they became, like where they sat in class and their favourite post-school snack, leaving us frantically flicking through the pages to find the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
Here’s a selection of our favourites. Some are here because of the amazing stories they tell, some because the photos are awesome, all because their subjects are incredible in some way or another. Enjoy.
Khloé's battle with her body has been well documented in the press and we can't deny it, she's certainly showed us how to bounce back from a break up. Here she gives us the lowdown on how to achieve positivity in life and wellbeing.
When it comes to the dreaded gym sesh, you could do worse than choose this for an inspirational health kick. Khloé comes across as quite endearing and relatable as she talks about low self-esteem and heartbreak.
An insight in to the life of iconic supermodel, from her time spent in front of the camera to behind the scenes as a wife and mother. And, there's a whole lotta' images, some Cindy's own and some by top photographers such as Richard Avedon, to drool over.
Great for anyone fascinated by the modelling industry, as Cindy looks back over the past few decades, discussing what she's learnt along the way. She also touches on personal experiences relating to motherhood and past relationships.
For Queen B fans, this is a must-have. J. Randy tells the story of how a young girl with a passion for singing and unrivalled determination made it to where she is today, notwithstanding the struggles encountered along the way included.
Beyoncé is renowned for keeping her cards close to her chest, with little of her day-to-day private life making it in to the media - well, when you compare it to that of the Kardashians - so this makes for a rather captivating 512 page read.
As lead singer of the 80s' phenomenon that was The Pretenders, this is the story of how one young girl went from small-town Ohio ordinariness to worldwide extraordinariness. The stories come thick and fast, which is no surprise considering her cohorts included Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, Bowie and Ray Davies from the Kinks (whom she had a relationship and daughter with).
Definitely worth a read. Rock n roll as it was meant to be lived - fast, dirty and on the edge. By her own admission, Hynde is lucky to still be alive. Recently in the news for her comments about rape and blame, Hynde has an uncompromising view on life. 'If you don't want my opinion, don't ask for it,' she recently said. Brace yourselves.
Imagine you're 21, your life more or less mapped out, then war breaks loose. In 1914, that happened to Vera Brittain. She was a student at Oxford and decided to suspend her studies and enrol as a volunteer nurse. This is the amazing story of her own personal (numerous) losses while she cared for soldiers both in England and on the Western Front. First published in 1933, this memoir is a modern classic and is a beautiful, personal account of what war can do.
Oh, yes - but be prepared to blub. Despite the fact it's written without heaps of sentimentality, the tragedies Vera suffers throughout the war are heart-wrenching. Trivia: her daughter is the respected politician Shirley Williams. Try and get a copy that includes her preface, which is a real tribute to an amazing mother.
The rise of an East End boy from humble beginnings to the heady world of high fashion, this compelling biography is the best fashion tome we've read in a long time. The people closest to him have given Wilson their blessing, and because of this the book is more than just an exercise in fashion PR. It's the tale of a passionate fashion genius who battled with demons - often in private.
Another one to have you reaching for the tissues, especially as we know the tragic ending that saw McQueen taking his own life aged just 40. Beautifully written with a real insight, this book helps to give him the place he deserves in fashion.
The first in six volumes of autobiography, written by the world-famous Angelou, this tells of her harsh childhood in 1930s deep south. You won't be surprised to hear there's plenty of discrimination and poverty documented here, but also prepare yourself for a joyous, celebratory view of life that's infectious. The lyrical prose is an added bonus.
It's worth the harrowing detail for the optimism and the sheer determination to make something of herself. In her own words: 'I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it's like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again.' We hear you, Maya.
Trust us. If you only read one literary bio this is the one. The man was a demon - a ridiculously hard-working powerhouse who simply didn't stop writing until he dropped down dead of a stroke at just 58 years old. But he wasn't just an amazing literary force. He was also a campaigner for the rights of destitute women, genuinely cared about the plight of the poor and put his money where his mouth was by giving money throughout his life to good causes. All this and he still had time to be a cheating husband. Yes, yes - of course it was just too good to be true! Dammit.
Tomalin's biography does a great job in looking at how those around Dickens are affected by his behavior, namely the women in his life (she later went on to write The Invisible Woman, the story of his young mistress Nelly Ternan). This book is compulsive and a bit like immersing yourself in a Victorian soap. Sort of EastEnders meets the poorhouse.
Go on - have a guess. This is the woman who more or less invented our obsession with selfies - and it's a big glossy album she's dedicated to herself and her art. It's basically her best selfie pictures that show us an 'insight' into the conundrum that is Kim. Not that she's a conundrum of course but you get the idea. Some have compared her to Marilyn (hmmm, ooookay). But she is the Queen of Social Media and for that we take our hat off to her.
It won't change your life, in fact it might make you feel a bit sick. But you won't be able to stop yourself looking and you will hate yourself a little afterwards. Buy it for a friend then pore over it yourself. You mustn't keep it in your house. That way madness lies.
This is a pick and mix of personal stories, funny rants on sex, love and friendship as well as some heartfelt and useful life advice. The Golden Globe-winner and BFF to Tina Fey riffs on her view of life. Consider it half a memoir and half a sort of advice column. We want her to ditch Tina and be our best friend.
Absolutely. The reason we love this so much is because she managed to get across so much sound advice/ thoughts on what it means to be a girl/ woman in such an entertaining way. We love a funny feminist and Poehler is one of the best. (Now will you be our friend, Amy?)
The title says it all. Malala's courage is known worldwide when, at the age of 15 and living in her native Pakistan, she was shot in the head because she wanted to go to school. Flown to a Birmingham hospital for life-saving surgery, her subsequent courage has made her a role model for women and girls alike. Her determination to get an education are amazing - despite threats, she'd walk to school with pens and books hidden under her clothes.
Honest and wise, it's an amazing tale of a girl thrust into the limelight and making the most of it, by standing up for female rights to education. Read it. Now.
Widely regarded by fans as the definitive book about the '50s sex goddess - and there have been so many. Spoto, a well-respected biographer who scratches deep beneath the veneer of his subjects, has access to many of Marilyn's photos, letters and documents. He also manages to interview some of her true friends, who paint a picture that isn't quite as 'tragic-little-girl' as history would have us believe.
Yep, worth your time. It's more the story of her life, rather than her death - unlike many bios of famous 'tragic' stars that seem to view every incident through a prism of tragedy. Only criticism: the Kennedy link is sort of skimmed over. If it's an in-depth study of conspiracy theories you're after, try The Murder Of Marilyn Monroe, by Jay Margolis and Richard Buskin.
You know? Jay Z was poor and now he's rich. Very rich. Oh, and by the way, he's rich. And successful. (Did we mention he has a lot of money?) And just in case you don't understand, let's spell it out in the title, too. Yes the man is a titan/myth/mogul/empire/insert suitably macho word here to denote power and money, but enough already. Despite the fact that the writer got interviews with childhood friends, this book is about Jay Z as a business rather than the man himself.
If you want to know how someone builds themselves up from nothing by maximizing every opportunity, this is a great book. If you want to know what goes on between him and Beyoncé, not so much.