In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin is a book about Colvin’s life as a war correspondent – from her childhood in New York to her death in the Syrian war in 2012. This biography chronicles how she lived her entire life dedicated to journalism. This book is not so much about dealing with the Assad regime, but more about the often fascinating experiences of a war reporter at the front.

Colvin was known for her daring. She lost an eye to shrapnel while on duty in Sri Lanka in 2001. Since then, she wore an eye patch that contributed to her legend-making.

Her biography was written after her death by journalist Lindsey Hilsum and is based primarily on Colvin’s journal, which she has kept for over 40 years since she was a teenager. It gives the book an authenticity and depth that differs from the usual retrospective and reminiscence – or even the exclusion of certain topics – in biographies.

It is not uncommon for war correspondents to write diaries or autobiographies. But what makes this book special is that almost half of it is dedicated to Colvin’s day-to-day life outside of conflict zones. It exposes the tensions and disconnects between her career and personal life.

It tells how she has tried to balance her job and career goals with her family, husbands and friends. It raises the question of whether certain sacrifices are necessary and what can or cannot be taken for granted.

The book describes how Colvin sees her family and partners, how she has different priorities at different stages of her life from her twenties to her fifties, and asks how far it is possible to build a life beyond her feverish devotion to her work . This biography is ideal for quiet reflection and to deal with yourself.

After reading all the books I’ve written about over the past few weeks, I don’t feel it necessary to compare one’s life to that of the authors, or to emphasize that we’re luckier or more privileged. But when one is in prison or life is in chaos and turmoil, one can at least read and empathize with the experiences of those who have walked similar paths before us and find a little more understanding and empathy in them.

The biographies or anthologies I recommend are not the most popular or most discussed books – but they are the books I have read in 2021 that have given me the most food for thought about my own public work and identity. May we learn together to face the future without overdoing it or being overwhelmed by sadness. As we face an uncertain future, I wish we could all be brave.

Joshua Wong writes this column in rotation with Glacier Kwong. The two young activists from Hong Kong are fighting against the growing influence of China in their homeland.