- For music albums named Autobiography, see Autobiography (album)
Autobiography (from the Greek auton, 'self', bios, 'life' and graphein, 'write') is biography, the writing of a life story, from the viewpoint of the subject. Biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints; an autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. A name for such a work in Antiquity was an apologia , essentially more self-justification than introspection. John Henry Newman's autobiography is his Apologia pro vita sua. Augustine applied the title Confessions to his autobiographical work (and Jean-Jacques Rousseau took up the same title). The pagan rhetor Libanius framed his life memoir as one of his orations, not the public kind, but the literary kind that would be read aloud in the privacy of one's study.
A memoir is slightly different from an autobiography. Where an autobiography focuses on the "life and times" of the character, a memoir has a narrower, more intimate focus on his or her own memories, feelings and emotions.
For example, the autobiography of an American Civil War general might include sections on the nature of slavery, the origins of the Civil War, and the political career of Abraham Lincoln. But the memoir of a Civil War general would focus on his personal reasons for joining the battle, the effect of the war on his mind and soul, and the joy and fear he felt on the battlefield.
Modern memoirs are often based on old diaries, letters, and photographs.
Until the last 20 years or so, few people without some degree of fame tried to write and publish a memoir. But with the critical and commercial success of such memoirs as "Angela's Ashes" and "The Color of Water ," more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre.