Lives in print

by Andy Youings December 02, 2016

Lives in print

Millions of people keep journals to record their hopes, fears and ambitions alongside the more humdrum details of their lives. Most are never read by anyone but the author, they are private works written for personal pleasure or a little bit of therapy. But some, either by accident or by design have been transformed from confidential accounts into international best sellers. Here is our pick of some of the most iconic journals and diaries of all time.


The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank, is arguably the world’s most famous diary selling around 18 million copies, in 52 editions and published in over 50 languages. In it Frank tells the struggle of living as an in-hiding Jew in Amsterdam during the Second World War. As she wrote in her diary, ‘I want to go on living even after my death!’ and indeed she has achieved that with her diary, which has made her story known the world over and helps remind people of an atrocity that should never be allowed to happen again.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

A fascinating read, ‘The Diary of Samuel Pepys’ by Samuel Pepys tells the tale of his life focusing on his time with the British government and the Royal Navy. His diary has become a piece of historical evidence as a first-hand account of pivotal events such as Dutch War, the Great Plague, and the Fire of London. As well as recording public and historic events Pepys details his personal experiences, it is an incredible window into life in the 17th century.

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Plath’s recorded her personal and literary struggles in her journals. A captivating read, it is widely credited with raising awareness of mental health issues and depression. The diary displays her wavering relationship with her mother, her fickle relationship with husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes, and her own personal battle with depression. Plath’s diary is a best seller and a must read for fans of her poetry.

A Writer’s Diary, Virginia Woolf
The journal is made up of extracts from Woolf’s diaries, an avid diarist she kept from 36 up until her death in 1941, they contain the exercises and inspiration behind her writing. Woolf’s husband released passages of her diaries, selecting only passages which remembered her as the beloved author the public knew her as. On the pages of her journal we read of Woolf’s triumphs, anguish and her incredible creative vision.  

Kurt Cobain: Journals

Discovered after his death, legendary musician and lead singer of the band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain’s journals are full of his lyrics, drawings and his plans for the band. They offer a glimpse into the mind of an artist whose music became the soundtrack of a generation. They are funny, provocative and give the reader a unique insight into man who has become an icon. 

Captain Scott’s Diary

This is the gripping account of adventurer Robert Falcon Scott doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1910-12. It was intended as a mission of scientific discovery and the diary includes accounts of the scientific experiments conducted and specimens they collected. But it was also a race against Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen and a battle against the elements. Tragically Scott was beaten to the pole by Amundsen and defeated by the harsh conditions. It is powerfully moving story of great stamina, bravery and the strength of the human spirit.

Writing Home, Alan Bennett

From one of Britain’s best known playwrights, Writing Home is a funny and moving collection of letters and diary entries. The book includes Bennett’s account of the ‘The Lady in the Van’, the homeless and eccentric Miss Sheppard who lived in a van Bennett’s driveway and garden, which is now a film starring Maggie Smith. It is a super entertaining and intelligent read from one our great literary talents.


Think about what readers fifty, a hundred or five hundred years from now might discover from reading your diary. Often it is the personal observations captured by a diarist that are most revealing. The things we take for granted, the small details which make up our lives are the most telling about who we are and the time we live in. So get writing!

Andy Youings
Andy Youings


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