Books of the Year: The best biography and memoirs of 2015 from Sue Perkins to Diana Athill

'Spectacles' by Sue Perkins (Penguin, £20) is the celebrity memoir of the year

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The Independent Culture

The biographies of several people in one, Xinran’s Buy Me the Sky (Rider, £20) is a fascinating insight into the generations of “lone shoots” who have resulted from China’s one-child policy.

It looks at the young people so spoilt and over protected that they don’t know how to shop or cook and the parents who lived for their treasured ones, only to be left devastated when they moved away. The policy is now being phased out, making this an even more precious historical document of a unique era

Meanwhile, two memoirs by British grandes dames offer wisdom, humour and insight from our inter-war generation.

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 My History, by Antonia Fraser (W&N, £9.99) starts with her childhood with aristocratic and political parents and ends with the publication of her first book, while in Alive, Alive Oh! (Granta, £12.99), Diana Athill says she was too lazy to become a communist, and points out that the 1950s were not nearly as dreary as we youngsters assume.

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“Words are so damned important now that we’re living on paper again,” wrote Iris Murdoch in 1946. Goodness knows what she’d think of having a Twitter account, with thousands of followers, but thanks to Living on Paper (Chatto & Windus, £25) we do have her letters, many of them unpublished until now, to remind us of her wit.

From one Oxbridge bluestocking to another, Spectacles by Sue Perkins (Penguin, £20) is the celebrity memoir of the year; she doesn’t spill any Bake Off secrets but she is surprisingly open about her own life, her career, and her grief at infertility.

Gloria Steinem, meanwhile, weaves other people’s stories into her own in her brilliant, warm and challenging My Life on the Road (Oneworld, £14.99). And Peter Stanford’s new study of Judas: The Troubling History of the Renegade Apostle (Hodder & Stoughton, £20) deserves to be at least as successful as his 1996 biography of The Devil.

The prize for “most miles travelled in pursuit of a biographical subject” goes to Bee Rowlatt for In Search of Mary: the Mother of All  Journeys (Alma Books, £12.99), in which Rowlatt and child follow in Mary Wollstonecraft’s footsteps across Scandinavia. An excellent exploration of the rights and roles of women, two centuries apart.

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