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What Is an Autobiography?

By Devon Pryor
Updated May 23, 2024
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Simply put, an autobiography is the story of a person’s life as written by that individual. That said, many people think that their lives should be written about, but lack the writing talent to tackle this project alone. For that reason, many books are co-written with the help of someone other than the subject, or are narrated by the subject to a writer. Co-written, or collaborative autobiographies may begin with the phrase, “as told to.”

Whether or not the subject is the individual who actually writes the words of his or her story, most autobiographies are told from a first person point of view. This differs from a biography, which is clearly acknowledged as being written by a person other than the subject. As a result, the autobiographer usually ventures beyond dates and facts, personalizing the story rather than simply retelling the events of his or her life.

A more subjective style of book is known as a memoir. Rather than providing facts about an entire life, a memoir may only tell the story of a finite span of time within the subject’s life, and will usually focus more on the individual’s memories, feelings, and experiences. These are not event or fact-driven stories, but rather musings or expressions of the inner emotions of the subject. Memoirs may also combine historical fact with memories of the autobiographer. This particular kind of memoir is often called an eyewitness account, a term that encompasses slave narratives and Holocaust memoirs, for example.


Noteworthy examples of memoir-styled autobiographies include those of St. Augustine and Jean Jacques Rousseau. In some cases, memoirs are written by political figures in order to offer a personal account on some event in history in which they were involved. Such an example of a political figure using the memoir genre might be Mein Kampf, by Adolph Hilter. Memoirs written by political figures are often aimed at gaining notoriety or justifying actions.

Celebrities and sports figures are likely to write these books as well, since their lives are in the public eye, and are often of widespread public interest. These are often known as ad hoc autobiographies, and are usually designed to elicit and/or exploit notoriety. This type of book, although written in a first person point of view, is usually written by a ghostwriter.

Another form is a fictional-autobiography, a story written from the point of view of a fictional character. In other words, an author assumes the voice of a fictional character when writing that character’s own biography. The story itself is fictitious, but it is written as though it happened to the character.

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Discussion Comments
By anon41566 — On Aug 16, 2009

should a person who writes his autubiography deal with all the privacies of his life?

By jennifers — On Sep 29, 2008

Although autobiographies are interesting, to get the real version (or as close to real as you can get, anyway) of someone's life, you should really get a biography written by someone else because it will generally be more truthful.

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