The best memoirs of lost childhood

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had a passion for history since childhood and a fascination with the lives of the people who lived it, be they Roman legionaries, crusaders, or lost Arctic explorers. I see my life as a thread woven through the web of history and Lands of Lost Content is an attempt to trace that tangled thread through my lost childhood to the characters and events that shaped me and my world. For me, the best memoirs examine the fragments of childhood as a way of understanding some deep passion or of recapturing some unremembered world. I have lived by writing other people’s stories, now it’s my turn. I hope you enjoy my journey.


I wrote...

Lands of Lost Content: A Memoir

By John Wilson,

Book cover of Lands of Lost Content: A Memoir

What is my book about?

My love of history began with Imperial India and fabulous sunlit tales of earthquakes, rebellion, and crocodile hunting told around a hissing gas fireplace while cold Scottish rain drummed outside. Then I added my own history—troubled teenage years in gang-ridden Paisley, fieldwork in war-torn Rhodesia—but I have never lost sight of the other characters whose existence in some unexpected ways have moulded who I am—a Scottish woman doctor in Russia in 1917, a monk seeking the ends of the earth to rest St. Andrews’ bones. 

This is the tale of how a painfully shy, lonely kid wandered through the byways of history, both personal and general, and grew into an award-winning author and storyteller. It’s an ongoing process, but Lands of Lost Content is the story so far.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

This book resonates strongly with me as it is partly set in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) when I was there as a young, naive geologist. But it is much more than that. It is a child’s view of a dysfunctional family struggling amidst the chaos of civil war and the changes that independence brings. Yet, despite her mother’s alcoholism and the trials of getting by in a radically changing society, Fuller never loses a child’s perspective and the story is laced with beauty and humour—there are places for tears and belly laughs.

By Alexandra Fuller,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by author Anne Enright.

Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book award, a story of civil war and a family's unbreakable bond.

How you see a country depends on whether you are driving through it, or live in it. How you see a country depends on whether or not you can leave it, if you have to.

As the daughter of white settlers in war-torn 1970s Rhodesia, Alexandra Fuller remembers a time when a schoolgirl was as likely to carry a shotgun as a satchel. This is her story - of a civil war, of a quixotic battle…


Book cover of Angela's Ashes

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

Like Fuller’s book, Angela’s Ashes describes a harsh childhood in a lost world, in this case the slums of Limerick in Ireland in the 1930s and 40s. It is altogether a grimmer book, although leavened with wry Irish wit and vivid descriptions of the people and places. The book is beautifully written, but McCourt has been criticized for overdoing the misery and fictionalizing incidents, which raises the question of where to draw the line between fact and fiction in memoirs when you often only have imperfect memories to draw on. I was occasionally shocked when I managed to research an incident from my childhood in Lands of Lost Content only to discover that my fondly believed family story was wildly inaccurate.

By Frank McCourt,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Angela's Ashes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author recounts his childhood in Depression-era Brooklyn as the child of Irish immigrants who decide to return to worse poverty in Ireland when his infant sister dies.


Book cover of Cider with Rosie

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

In stark contrast to the gloom of depression-era Limerick, Cider with Rosie is a paean to the idyllic lost world of rural England at approximately the same time. Lee was a poet and his prose sings as he describes his family, “a sprawling, cumbersome, countrified brood” and the old people of the village, “…white-whiskered, gaitered, booted and bonneted, ancient-tongued last of their world.” Growing up in the west of Scotland, I knew nothing of Lee’s world and lived a young city life radically different from his, and yet his writing and imagery drew me so far in that I missed his world as if it had been my own. If I have given a moment of that feeling to readers of Lands of Lost Content then I have succeeded.

By Laurie Lee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Cider with Rosie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A re-issue of the evocative and nostalgic account of Lee's country childhood in a secluded Cotswold valley. Lee describes a vanished rural world of village schools and church outings but also touches on the darker side of village life as it comes into contact with murder, rape, suicide and depression.


Book cover of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

This was a difficult pick because it’s not an easy read and, like Angela’s Ashes, has been surrounded by controversy over some incidents. Nevertheless, it is an immensely powerful book based upon the real experiences of a child soldier. Beah has lost two childhoods. The first was 12 years of happy, RAP obsessed kid growing up in rural Sierra Leone. From this, he is ripped by his country’s civil war and forced, through intimidation, violence, and drugs to become a child soldier and commit horrendous acts. Eventually, he is rescued by UNICEF, rehabilitated, and regains his humanity. Several of my novels—Flames of the Tiger, Four Steps to Death—examine young people caught up in war, but a long way gone goes much farther in examining and explaining how children can be dreadfully manipulated and turned into unemotional killing machines.

By Ishmael Beah,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Long Way Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this…


Book cover of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

As a corollary of my fascination with the cultural watershed of the First World War, I am drawn to the world that was destroyed in the mud of Flanders. From our removal in time, it is impossible to view that vanished world other than through the lens of the horrors that came after and destroyed it, making it difficult to access other than through history books. Some memoirs of the First World War (eg. Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth), devote significant space to the pre-war days but very few look exclusively at that time. Sassoon’s book does, although he hides his memoir behind changed names (even the author is called George Sherston), and claims of novelization. Despite this, it is a clear picture of a certain class in England prior to 1914 presented as a lament for a lost age.

By Siegfried Sassoon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first volume in Siegfried Sassoon’s beloved trilogy, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston, with a new introduction by celebrated historian Paul Fussell

A highly decorated English soldier and an acclaimed poet and novelist, Siegfried Sassoon won fame for his trilogy of fictionalized autobiographies that wonderfully capture the vanishing idylls of Edwardian England and the brutal realities of war.

In this first novel of the semiautobiographical George Sherston trilogy, Sassoon wonderfully captures the vanishing idylls of the Edwardian English countryside. Never out of print since its original publication in 1928, when it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Sassoon's…


You might also like...

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in childhood, poverty, and Sierra Leone?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about childhood, poverty, and Sierra Leone.

Childhood Explore 191 books about childhood
Poverty Explore 91 books about poverty
Sierra Leone Explore 10 books about Sierra Leone