Part of his essay:
What do we expect from a memoir? Gossip, certainly; revelations and characters, yes; wit, please; a whiff of nostalgia, perhaps. Inevitably, there will be lies, vanity and betrayal: that's part of the frisson. Probably the one quality I look for in the author of a great autobiography is that he or she should be as merciless on themselves as on their adversaries. The great memoirist should face themselves in the mirror with an unflinching gaze.Read about the other books on McCrum's list.
The poster-boy of the self-pitiless autobiography is John Osborne in A Better Class of Person and Almost A Gentleman. Yes, he eviscerated Nellie, his poor old mum, and Jill Bennett ("Adolf"), an ex-wife, but he flayed himself, too. Osborne was a true artist and did not, to paraphrase Auden, confuse art with magic, as some try to do. For Osborne, art was a mirror whose proper effect was disenchantment. Searing honesty was Osborne's calling card.