The Book of Life, ed Eve Claxton

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The Independent Culture

Ranging from the words of St Augustine describing his childhood ("I cast about limbs and voice, making the few and feeble signs I could") to the thoughts of the British archaeologist and writer Margaret Murray, who waited until she was 100 to write about herself ("At my age I stand, as it were, on a high peak alone. I have no contemporaries with whom I can exchange memories or views"), this compendium of autobiographical writing is compelling.

Harpo Marx describes what he thinks comprises a real education, Casanova explains the joys of self-sufficiency and relates some of his night-time pranks that didn't take place in bedrooms, and the film director Akira Kurosawa confesses to being short-tempered and obstinate.

It's often interesting hearing people who have become very famous commentate on their own lives, and some of the characters here are very well known. Freud's reflections on being Jewish ("I found I was expected to feel myself inferior and an alien because I was a Jew. I refused absolutely to do the first of these things") and Margaret Thatcher's on her time at Downing Street, are certainly worth reading.