Sunday 8 January 2017

Memoirs, autobiographies, biographies - more leftwing readers' suggestions

I asked for memoirs, autobiographies and biographies with an interest for leftwing readers.

For those interested in Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Dave Harker's book Tressell is the definitive biography.

Phil Piratin "our flag stays red"

Bernadette McAliskey..2 books first really good as written just after she became an mp so hangs on an ellipse...

Eamonn McCann "War and the Irish Town"

Two great biographies by Claire Tomalin: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, which I think was her first biography, and The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.

Too late to get anything in on the left book front. But I agree completely about Primo Levi's If This is a Man and The Truce, the latter very much gives a different account to Soviet army behaviour at the end of WWII (although in no way justifies the horrors). Also Deutscher's life of Stalin. Isaac Babel's short stories of his time in Budyenny's Red Cavalry during the Russian Revolution are semi-autobiographical and give an account of the complexities and difficulties of socialism. His story The Rabbi's Son, about a dying revolutionary, is two pages long if that and utterly breathtaking. It won't leave you. Victor Klemperer's diaries are on a par with Pepys and again give a complex and not unsympathetic story of East Germany post-war but all the diaries must be read. Completely brilliant. All Quiet on the Western Front is partly biographical and unforgettable. Imre Kertesz's Fatelessness. I found his other work unreadable but this was transcendent. Finally Marquez's diaries of his time with Castro.

Keith Richards' surprisingly minimally ghosted autobiography, also 'Mad World' - a biography of Evelyn Waugh that makes you think well of him

Isaac Deutscher's biog of Trotsky, and Michael Foot's of Bevan are two classics every socialist should read.

Gorbals Boy at Oxford,Ralph Glasser's memoir about the drama & turmoil of social mobility.

If This Is a Woman by Sarah Helm (history rather than memoir, but lots of firsthand accounts), If This Is a Man and The Truce by Primo Levi (Levi uomo) and Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi (Levi Cristo).

Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the spirit of the sixties by Mike Marquese

The Olive Grove by Katherine Kizilos retells the stories of her Greek relatives about the partisans in Greece and the subsequent civil war. And So it Goes, Kurt Vonnegut:A Life by Charles J. Shields has sections on the real story behind Slaughterhouse-5 and much else. Already mentioned is the marvellous Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge.

The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. Fascinating story of General Alexandre Dumas, the mixed-race father of the author of the Count of Monte Cristo, who was one of Napoleon's leading military commanders until he was dumped by the Emperor who restored slavery. A really good read.

Bill Ayers "Fugitive Days" and/or "Public Enemy. Confessions of an American Dissident" both by Beacon Press. "Growing Up Underground" by Jane Alpert. Both memoirists are from the American New Left of the 60s.

Memoirs of a Revolutionary Victor Serge

Like a Fiery Elephant Jonathan Coe about BS Johnson

Harry Belafonte's autobiography. The description of raising and then getting cash to the South during the Black voter registration drives in 1963 (I think) is worth it alone. Also his meetings with Martin Luther King. I knew he was a lefties but had no idea how much...also links with Robeson. I think it's called My Song.

The Comrade from Milan, Rossanna Rossanda. Beautifully written memoir of a woman who was an important force in the Italian Communist Party, one of the founders of the Il Manifesto Movement. A lifelong communist.

Jonathan Coe's biography of BS Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant, is a brilliant tour de force, which breaks all the rules of literary biography with great style. I also loved The Last Englishman, Byron Rogers' biography of JL Carr.

Both great books -in writing and in subject - LAFE is extraordinary. Personally (as I've coincidentally just written before seeing this) I think Byron's R S Thomas book just shades it as a truly great book about a truly great man...although I'm currently (re-) reading TLE. Incidentally, only last Saturday I found a signed 1st Edition J L Carr in an Oxfam in Shrewsbury....for £2.49. Result!

It was Coe's biography, bought because I'm a fan of Coe but had never heard of Johnson, that got me into reading Johnson. Very glad I did.

Oliver Postgate (of Bagpuss fame)'s Seeing Things. Not focused on politics but it comes into it and it's lovely (and who doesn't love Bagpuss?)

My favourite genre (the only one that eclipses poetry for me) is biographies. The full set of Benn diaries have their place in the "read more than once" library section, but 25 years after I first read it Leslie Thomas' "This time next week" still makes me think. Like the best friends you have - those who challenge you or always ask "WHY" that sort of thinking. I currently have Raoul Martinez, Francesca’s brother) book "Creating Freedom" next to the bed. All I need now is an early night.

Also- Glen Retief's The Jack Bank, which is his memoir of growing up during apartheid in South Africa. It's a beautiful read. He grew up in Kruger National Park and was part of LGBT and anti-aparthied lobby groups in the 80's and 90's, and was part of the group that successfully lobbied for sexual orientation to be included in the Constitution of South Africa. The Jack Bank won the Lambda literary prize too. I don't read loads of autobiography but it was like reading a novel- just lovely.

Joe Jacobs - Out of the Ghetto - a very raw and amazingly detailed of growing up in the East End becoming a communist who doesn't quite toe the line.

Tony Benn diaries. Francis Wheen's biography of Karl Marx Che Guevara's Bolivian Duary and the motorcycle diaries, Gerry Adams Before the Dawn. Pablo Neruda's Memoirs.

Alex Haley on Malcolm X, Joe Klein on Woody Guthrie and I'm really enjoying Elvis Costello's auto at the moment.

Not very left, but David Attenborough's autobiography reaffirmed my admiration for the man.

John Maclean by Nan Milton; Under the Wire by Bill Ash; Red Shelly by Paul Foot; Tony Benn's diaries; to name a few

The socialist feminism of Angela Carter much in evidence in the recent biography of her by Edmund Gordon

Neruda's beautiful memoir, the title of which I forget

Tony Benn Diaries. and (just about) Alex Haley's Roots.

Now I can say Woodie Guthrie's Bound for Glory. Also loved Harry Leslie Smith's, Laurie Lee's, Road to Nab End.

No fan of the author but Tristram hunt on Engels isn't too bad

I'm not a well read man, but Clive James's auto biogs made me laugh and cry, mostly laugh

My father was a freedom fighter by Ramey Barour; Free Born John by Pauline Gregg; Mayakovsky by Bengt Jangfeldt; Good Morning Brothers by Jack Dash

Autobiogs by lynne Segal, Michele Roberts and Sheila Rowbotham

Jack Lindsay's autobiography also his biographies of Wm Morris, Turner, Gainsborough, Courbet

Dusty by Karen Bartlett, Being Red, Howard Fast, I Am Malala, Sarah Churchwell's Careless People about F Scott Fitzgerald, Orwell D.J Taylor, Paul Robeson Here I Stand.

Eleanor Marx by Rachel Holmes

Haven't read that but the two volume biog by Yvonne Kapp is brilliant.

The Road to Nab End by William Woodruff/

Malcolm X's autobiography is my favourite.

Living My Life, by Emma Goldman.

Charlie Chaplin's autobiography

Alan Bennett

Simone de Beauvoir "The Prime of Life"

"My life is over" by Ima Gonna

Red Rosa Kate Evans Graphic biography.

Citizen Tom Paine by Howard Fast

Currently reading Daniel Bensaid Impatient Life

Journey Through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff

The Laurie Lee books Cider with Rosie etc

Interesting Times Eric Hobsbawm

Tony Cliff A revolutionary life by Ian Birchall

The Railway Man. Raymond Williams

The Grass Arena by John Healy

Different Every Time - Marcus O'Dair's biography of Robert Wyatt

Borstal Boy, Harpo Marx, Sergio Vieira de Melo, Ernie O'Malley

Tom Paine: A Political Life, by John Keane

In My Mother's House, Kim Chernin

Mary and Bryan Talbot The Red Virgin

Smiling in Slow Motion by Derek Jarman

Tigers Revenge by Claude Balls

Union Dues by John Sayles

My Last Sigh by Luis Bunuel my favourite.

Stephen Gilbert Jeremy Corbyn - Accidental Hero

Harry's Last Stand, Harry Leslie Smith

Edna O'brien's semi autobiographical novels gave a voice to the marginalised Irish women of 1960's Ireland tackling issues of gender, inequality, sexual taboos and the Catholic mentality in Irish society. Then, Down By The River, based on a real life case of a 14 year old rape victim and her struggle to get an abortion, a scathing attack on John Paul 2nd's Evangelium Vitae, she never holds back!

William Soutar's "Diaries of a dying man" is incredibly powerful and much more uplifting than it sounds.

C17th:" Memoirs of the life of Colonel Hutchinson [by his wife Lucy]; "A Turbulent, Seditious & Fractious People - John Bunyan and his church [Christopher Hill]; "Free-Born John" [Biography of John Lilburne, by Pauline Gregg]. C18th: "Tom Paine - a political life" [John Keane]; 'Cochrane the Dauntless" [biography of an C18th radical parliamentarian, on whom 'Master and Commander' was based, by David Cordingley]; Jacob Bronowski's wonderful 'William Blake and the Age of Revolution'; "Voltaire Almighty" [Roger Pearson]; "Robespierre - a revolutionary life " [Peter McPhee]; "John Wilkes" [Arthur H Cash]; Charles James Fox- [David Powell] and "Fox' [Stanley Ayling]; Richard Ingrams ' biography of Cobbett; Red Shelley" [Paul Foot- a bit irritating in parts, but still a good read]...

C19th: William Morris [Phillip Henderson]; Shaw - various, including the one by Colin Wilson; Eleanor Marx [Yvonne Kapp]; "Daughters of Erin" [Elizabeth Coxhead - strays over the border into the C20th]; "The Laughter of Triumph- William Hone and the fight for the free press"[ Ben Wilson]. That's enough for now. Time for dinner...

Add to the list CLR James 'The Black Jacobins'

I'll try this again. Nehrus letters to his 10 year old daughter Indira (Ghandi) are beautiful. Reflections on peace, justice and respect written with a profound respect for her intelligence. A must ...

Not sure if it's left particularly... but the biography of Otto Frank is particularly important reading. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an unromantic view of the Jewish persecution.

Red Square, the autobiography of an unconventional revolutionary by William Ash. I worked with Bill at the BBC. He was an extraordinarily modest man, who appears to have been the model for Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Bill was Canadian fighter pilot who joined the Royal Airforce to fight fascism. He spent much of the rest of his life doing the same.

Julian Cope's autobiography "Head On" is fab. Another engaging and enthusiastically written autobiography is "Crazy From the Heat" by David Lee Roth.

Arthur c Young, travels in France, great documentary piece on France on the eve of the French Revolution. Very perceptive.

The valley - Richard Benson. Astonishing and moving history of 100 years in the life of a south Yorkshire mining family. Just brilliant.

Autobiography of Arthur Ransome. Beautifully written and as well as a first hand view of the Russian Revolution there's Kropotkin and Nansen.

Trotsky - My Life

"Stalin Ate My Homework" Alexei Sayle's autobiography.

"Bird Lives!: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker" by Ross Russell is a fine biography.

The Rebel Girl by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Because a White Man'll Never Do It by Kevin Gilbert. 
My Place by Sally Morgan. Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas (autobiographical novel). 
The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny. 
Don't Take Your Love to Town by Ruby Langford. 
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir. 
The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp. 
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. 
And second those who put Trotsky My Life - just brilliant.
 Jonathan Neale's The Cutlass and the Lash brilliantly brings to life life on and off ship in the 1700s. Finally, Lynne Beaton’s magnificent Shifting Horizons charts the political and personal development of two Notts miners' wives during the Great Strike of 84-85.

Love and capital about the marxs is really moving but not sentimental

Claud cockburn's autobiog

Women and the Weimar Republic by Helen Boak

God's Englishman by Christopher Hill

Edward Carpenter by Sheila Rowbotham

Street Fighting Years by Tariq Ali

Maxim Gorky My Universities

Words, Sartre

'A Sense of Freedom' by Jimmy Boyle

Edward Said's memoir 'Out of Place'

Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience- Vera Brittain of course.

The Black Jacobins, CLR James

Bertolt Brecht Journals

Love the autobiographies of Victor Serge and Gorky.

Chris Mullin, it was - he who wrote the novel, 'A Very British Coup',

David Macey's biography of Franz Fanon

Bad Blood by Lorna Sage. An excellent memoir about the destructive possibilities of families.

Grass Arena , John Healy

R.S. Thomas - The Man Who Went Into the West by Byron Rogers.

A Soldier’s Song: True Stories from the Falklands by Ken Lukowiak

Juan Goytisolo, Marks of Identy. Nominally fiction but brilliant analysis of socialist experience of Franco's Spain.

Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times, on Lessing and Brecht.

Roger Casement, The Congo Report. And the Black Diaries.

The General's Son by Miko Peled- a story of a slow awakening....

'True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist' by Breyten Breytenbach

Kropotkin's In Russian and French Prisons, Yashka by Maria Botchkareva and Don Levine.

Sheila Rowbotham's autobiography, Deutscher on Trotsky

Leaving Alexandria, by Richard Holloway. Great inspiration for being good to other people.

Allen Klein - Woody Guthrie: A Life. Terrific.

Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar

Rural Rides...Cobbett

Dennis Skinner's autobiography is a good read.

The Tamarisk Tree, Dora Russell.

The Road to Wigan Pier

'Granny Made Me An Anarchist', by Stuart Christie

The Real Fidel Castro by Leycester Coltman

'The reluctant escapologist ' by Mike Bradwell