The best music autobiographies for Christmas

Sound reads from Cash to Chopin
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The Independent Culture

Autobiography is, by definition, an egocentric endeavour and U2byU2 (HarperCollins, £30) exemplifies the genre. A large-format book in the style of the Beatles Anthology, it's chock-full of pictures (Bono wears his wraparound shades in the bath) and heavy on text, each member of the band telling his story. In 2003, Viking published Kurt Cobain's diaries with due solemnity. Now his widow, Courtney Love, lets us read hers in Dirty Blonde (Picador, £20), a facsimile scrapbook of doodles, photos, school reports, Post-Its and letters.

Punk's late frontman, Joe Strummer, comes under the clear-eyed scrutiny of Chris Salewicz in Redemption Song (HarperCollins, £20). The Clash made Strummer an icon and early death bestowed a kind of sainthood - much like Johnny Cash. Indeed, the two men recorded Strummer's "Redemption Song". Yet according to Michael Streissguth in Johnny Cash: The Biography (Da Capo, £15.99), the Man in Black never was truly redeemed, walking the line with difficulty almost until death. Written with the help of the Cash family, this is an honest account that sets Cash's achievements in the context of his troubled life.

Cash is writ large in Country Music: The Complete Visual History (Dorling Kindersley, £25): authoritative, evocative, it chronicles the changing face of a music "from the soul of America" which, at its best, is far more profound than its image suggsts. Far from Nashville, at the Brill Building on 1650 Broadway, a different kind of talent was honed. Always Magic in the Air by Ken Emerson (Fourth Estate, £15) takes us back to the days when the likes of Leiber and Stoller or Bacharach and David huddled in their cubicles turning out perfect miniatures: "On Broadway", "Stand by me', "Walk on by"...

As Mozart's 250th anniversary draws to a close, two paperbacks make ideal stocking-fillers. In Mozart's Women (Pan, £7.99), conductor Jane Glover shows how the composer's love of women and his understanding of their voices influenced his writing. We hear from Mozart himself in a new translation of A Life in Letters (Penguin, £14.99), beginning with those from his father. It seems Leopold could be as vulgar as his allegedly Tourettic son.

Mozart features in Naxos Books' Life & Music series of composer biographies: Mozart and Beethoven, both by Jeremy Siepmann; Chopin by Jeremy Nicholas; and Mahler by Stephen Johnson. Each includes two CDs with music from the Naxos catalogue, plus listening notes. Unique and unintimidating, they provide a worthwhile starting point for readers drawn in by Classic FM, and excellent value at £16.99 a pop.

Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music (Faber, £25) by the esteemed David Brown is a magnificent distillation of years of scholarship that wears its erudition lightly: scholarly, yet approachable. In his centenary year, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered by the equally distinguished Elizabeth Wilson (Faber, £20) draws on sources not available when the book first appeared in 1994 to bring a sharper perspective and wider focus to this 20th-century giant.

Finally, a book that crosses all boundaries by a man who recognises none - 94-year-old broadcaster and oral historian Studs Terkel. And They All Sang (Granta, £15.99) comprises interviews with some of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century, from Pete Seeger to Louis Armstrong, Aaron Copland to Leornard Bernstein, Segovia to Marian Anderson. Like Lady Thatcher, Anderson talks in the first-person plural - but, as the first black singer at the Met, she's entitled,

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