What are the different types of autobiographies?

We have already covered the autobiography sub-genre as a whole in our blog ‘Planning an autobiography: tips on getting started’, where we differentiate between autobiographies and biographies and outline the preparation taken when in the planning stage.

But the differentiation does not end there. There are actually 6 types of autobiography that you can choose depending upon the central approach and theme of the book. The 6 types of autobiography include:

Full autobiography

A full autobiography usually revolves around a complete life story, the whole journey from birth to the present day. Authors will use this form of writing to give insight into their lives, allow readers to experience the “real you” and give inside, exclusive information.

An example of this is My Booky Book by Russell Brand.

Memoir

Memoirs are differentiated from full autobiographies due to the fact that they focus on a specific place or time, and are written from the first-person point of view. This type is limited in comparison, due to the focused nature of the writing.

A renowned memoir from recent years is Becoming by Michelle Obama, detailing her life up to the point where she became the First Lady of the United States. This memoir also made it into our list of ‘6 timeless autobiographies worth reading’.

Personal essay

Similarly to memoirs, personal essays also focus on a specific lesson of importance from the writer’s life experiences. Also written in first-person perspective, personal essays are not a long form of writing in most cases and follow a typical essay five paragraph format seen in academic essays.

A famous example of a personal essay is Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell. Published in 1936, this essay documents Orwell’s time working as a policeman in Burma where he once was instructed to shoot a rampaging elephant. The essay is described by Buzzfeed as ‘a condemnation of imperialism – and his own selfish desire to not be implicated by it’.

Confession

Confessional writing, whether real or fictitious, reveals often intimate and hidden details of the subject’s life. The earliest recorded example of the genre was Confessions of St. Augustine (c. AD 400).

Psychological illness

Many autobiographies highlight the hardship that the subject has endured in order to present a contrast to their success, but will often have airbrushed details in order to maintain the image of the subject. Conversely, some autobiographies detailing psychological illness do not pull any punches and are brutally honest due to the subject matter.

Overcoming adversity

A popular topic for autobiographies, overcoming adversity stories are shared to inspire others in similar situations who can relate to the struggle. They say truth is stranger than fiction and some adversity stories seem abnormal to be reality.

Readers enjoy stories of adversity, which is why this autobiographical approach is so popular and successful. An example of a story involving adversity is the 1965 book The Autobiography of Malcom X.

Religious/Spiritual

Religious stories consist of a compilation of experiences showing the subject’s connection to God. Typically, this type of writing will show the contrast between the subject’s life before and after their spiritual salvation and how finding God has helped them improve their life.

The current spiritual leader of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama’s book My Spiritual Journey is a great example for those looking for books on this topic.

My Story Told are happy to help with any of the above autobiographical forms. Your personally selected writer will be there every step of the way to help with planning your book and ensuring the right questions are asked to get the best content. If you’re wondering how it all works, click here for more details.

An autobiography is a book written about an individual by the individual themselves. Though many may employ the services of a professional writer and editor to ensure the book’s content is grammatically correct, the essence of the book comes from the words of the individual about whom the book has been written, and they will have final say over its content. You can be assured then, that when reading an autobiography, as opposed to a biography (written about an individual by someone else entirely), that the subject of the book is telling you what they want you to know about themselves.

Over history, the genre of the autobiography has involved stories from people with a variety of backgrounds, including political figures, historical figures, entertainment stars and sportspeople. Whether you are reading about a success story within business or the life story of your favourite athlete, autobiographies allow the reader to share the experiences with the writer and hear it from their own personal perspective.

In this piece, we take a look at just a few of the most famous, bestselling and critically revered autobiographies that have ever been written.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Written by Franklin himself (as all real autobiographies must be) in 1791, the book tells the story of Franklin’s life and success “for the benefit of his posterity”. It documents his own rise from obscurity and poverty to eminence and wealth while also outlining his struggles along the way, which can be relatable to the reader even in the modern age.

Franklin went on to become one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and was a vital component of the group responsible for The Declaration of Independence.

Anne Frank: The Diary of Anne Frank

A famous name, and one of the most famous autobiographies of all time, The Diary of Anne Frank was written during the Nazi occupation of Germany, starting in 1942 on Anne’s 13th Birthday and ends suddenly on 1 August 1944. During this period, Jewish citizens were forced to go into hiding as a result of Hitler and the Nazi Party’s treatment of Jews in Europe, and Anne documents the struggle she and her family endured.

The overall message of the importance of freedom in our society is at the forefront of this book, andit will stand the test of time as a vitally important historical document and lesson from history. Freedom is just as important today as it was then, and this book is a timeless classic.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama’s autobiography has become one of the bestselling autobiographies of all time, selling over 10 million copies worldwide. Released in 2018, the 426-page memoir centres on her childhood, relationship with former US President Barack Obama and life inside the White House.

A New York Times review of this book described Becoming as “refined and forthright, gracefully written and at times laugh-out-loud funny”, and is definitely a good choice for those interested in American culture.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Similarly to the Diary of Anne Frank, Long Walk to Freedom focuses on the idea of freedom and Nelson Mendela’s fight for equality. Mandela was involved in the efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa during the 70s and sacrificed much of his life in prison in order to do so.

A great moral figure of our time, Mandela’s lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa, and worldwide, won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. He was the first black candidate to do so – a truly inspirational story to be enjoyed by all.

Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant

The late Kobe Bryant is considered one of the greatest competitors that the sporting world has ever seen. His ability to focus on the task at hand is unmatched by most and he chalked it down to “Mamba Mentality”, a term coined by Bryant that is based on five pillars – passion, obsession, relentlessness, resiliency, and fearlessness.

Released in 2018, this book is an inspirational blueprint to success, whether in the sporting industry or not, and its overall ethos is to “do more than the next guy”. Once again suitable for budding sportspeople of all ages, or those looking for motivational help.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Though not strictly an autobiography, as Steve Jobs was written by renowned biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs authorised the book, and worked with Isaacson in its production with over forty interviews carried out over a two year period.

The late Apple founder Steve Jobs’ life and approach to invention and entrepreneurship are cleverly detailed by Isaacson, giving insights into his methods as well as personal and previously unknown details about him.

“The attention to detail is astounding, and this is an encyclopedic record of Job’s life right up to his battle against cancer and death … a fitting legacy to a flawed genius” – Evening Standard

If reading any of these brilliant autobiographies gets you thinking about writing your own life story, get in touch and we can help you every step of the way.