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Autobiography vs biography

Photo of typewriter - credit to Suzy Hazelwood

What is an autobiography? 

What is a biography?

What's the difference between biography vs autobiography?

Memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies are all forms of non-fiction that explore an individual’s life.

But what’s the difference? Let’s explore.

What is a biography?

A biography is a non-fiction written account of someone else’s life. It’s typically written by a third person, in third-person tense. It covers the subject’s life events, accomplishments, and personal traits. They’re typically comprehensive, but could focus on a particular period or aspect of the person’s life. They’re usually written about public figures or famous people from history. Author’s don’t necessarily need permission or endorsement to write a biography about someone.

Biographies are meant to be accurate and objective, and are based on research and interviews with people who knew the subject. Unlike memoir, the author obviously did not experience the events firsthand – at least not all of them!

As biographer Walter Isaacson said, "A good biography should be like a detective story that tells you not only what people did, but also what they thought and why they did it." Walter Isaacson is one of the world’s most successful biographers, having written extensive biographies on many of the world’s most well-known people.

Here are five of the best-known biographies:

  • "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
  • "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow
  • "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" by Ashlee Vance
  • "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris
  • "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff.


Autobiographies are also non-fiction historical accounts of a subject's life. In this case, though, the biography is written by the subject of the book.

Autobiographers obviously have the benefit of having experienced the events in the book first hand, whereas biographers need to research to find content. This can be direct research with the subject, or indirect research based on interviews, articles, and other ways to source information about the subject.

Anaïs Nin said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” We love that quote!

Here are some autobiography examples:

  • "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela
  • "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  • "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
  • "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" by Benjamin Franklin
  • "An Autobiography" by Mahatma Gandhi.


Autobiographies and biographies are both non-fiction accounts of a person's life. They're both usually complete in covering the author's whole life (as opposed to only focusing on a portion), and usually factual in nature. They also usually flow quite chronologically.


The main difference is that autobiographies are biographies about the self. The author is the subject of the book.

So what does No Story Lost do?

Interestingly, we produce a product that has elements of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs!

Like memoir, we capture feelings of our storytellers and reflect on their emotions.

Like autobiography, the books are usually comprehensive and accurate, and told by the person in the book – our storyteller! Our books are usually written in the first person.

Like a biography, there’s some writing done by a third party (that's us!).

One thing to note, though, is our product is not a ghost-written memoir. We don’t re-write, interpret, or add narrative. The words in the book are the words of our storyteller – though we'll tidy up errors, pauses, and repetition so that the book reads beautifully.

Click here to learn more about our life story projects.


Definition of autobiography: an account of a person's life written by that person.

Definition of biography: an account of someone's life written by someone else.

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Biography vs Memoir

Biography vs Memoir

Memoir picture Courtesy of Suzy Hazelwood

Memoir vs Autobiography

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