Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote Confessions, the first Western autobiography ever written, around 400. Portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century.

An autobiography (from the Greek, αὐτός-autos self + βίος-bios life + γράφειν-graphein to write) is a self-written account of the life of oneself. The word "autobiography" was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical The Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as "pedantic". However, its next recorded use was in its present sense, by Robert Southey in 1809.[1] Despite only being named early in the nineteenth century, first-person autobiographical writing originates in antiquity. Roy Pascal differentiates autobiography from the periodic self-reflective mode of journal or diary writing by noting that "[autobiography] is a review of a life from a particular moment in time, while the diary, however reflective it may be, moves through a series of moments in time".[2] Autobiography thus takes stock of the autobiographer's life from the moment of composition. While biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints, autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. The memoir form is closely associated with autobiography but it tends, as Pascal claims, to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer's review of his or her life.[2]

See also: List of autobiographies and Category:Autobiographies for examples.



Autobiographical works are by nature subjective. The inability—or unwillingness—of the author to accurately recall memories has in certain cases resulted in misleading or incorrect information. Some sociologists and psychologists have noted that autobiography offers the author the ability to recreate history.

Spiritual autobiography

Spiritual autobiography is an account of an author's struggle or journey towards God, followed by conversion a religious conversion, often interrupted by moments of regression. The author re-frames his or her life as a demonstration of divine intention through encounters with the Divine. The earliest example of a spiritual autobiography is Augustine's Confessions though the tradition has expanded to include other religious traditions in works such as Zahid Rohari's An Autobiography and Black Elk Speaks. The spiritual autobiography works as an endorsement of his or her religion.


A memoir is slightly different in character from an autobiography. While an autobiography typically focuses on the "life and times" of the writer, a memoir has a narrower, more intimate focus on his or her own memories, feelings and emotions. Memoirs have often been written by politicians or military leaders as a way to record and publish an account of their public exploits. One early example is that of Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, also known as Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. In the work, Caesar describes the battles that took place during the nine years that he spent fighting local armies in the Gallic Wars. His second memoir, Commentarii de Bello Civili (or Commentary on the Civil War) is an account of the events that took place between 49 and 48 BC in the civil war against Gnaeus Pompeius and the Senate.

Leonor López de Córdoba (1362–1420) wrote what is supposed to be the first autobiography in Spanish. The English Civil War (1642–1651) provoked a number of examples of this genre, including works by Sir Edmund Ludlow and Sir John Reresby. French examples from the same period include the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1614–1679) and the Duc de Saint-Simon.

Fictional autobiography

The term "fictional autobiography" signifies novels about a fictional character written as though the character were writing their own autobiography, meaning that the character is the first-person narrator and that the novel addresses both internal and external experiences of the character. Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders is an early example. Charles Dickens' David Copperfield is another such classic, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a well-known modern example of fictional autobiography. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is yet another example of fictional autobiography, as noted on the front page of the original version. The term may also apply to works of fiction purporting to be autobiographies of real characters, e.g., Robert Nye's Memoirs of Lord Byron.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Outobiografie
Alemannisch: Autobiografie
العربية: ترجمة ذاتية
asturianu: Autobiografía
azərbaycanca: Avtobioqrafiya
Bân-lâm-gú: Chū-toān
беларуская: Аўтабіяграфія
български: Автобиография
bosanski: Autobiografija
brezhoneg: Emvuhezskrid
català: Autobiografia
čeština: Autobiografie
Cymraeg: Hunangofiant
Deutsch: Autobiografie
Ελληνικά: Αυτοβιογραφία
español: Autobiografía
Esperanto: Aŭtobiografio
euskara: Autobiografia
français: Autobiographie
Gàidhlig: Fèin-eachdraidh
ગુજરાતી: આત્મકથા
한국어: 자서전
हिन्दी: आत्मकथा
hrvatski: Autobiografija
Bahasa Indonesia: Autobiografi
interlingua: Autobiographia
íslenska: Sjálfsævisaga
italiano: Autobiografia
Кыргызча: Автобиография
latviešu: Autobiogrāfija
Lëtzebuergesch: Autobiographie
lietuvių: Autobiografija
македонски: Автобиографија
മലയാളം: ആത്മകഥ
Bahasa Melayu: Autobiografi
Nederlands: Autobiografie
日本語: 自伝
norsk nynorsk: Sjølvbiografi
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਸਵੈਜੀਵਨੀ
português: Autobiografia
română: Autobiografie
Simple English: Autobiography
slovenčina: Autobiografia
slovenščina: Avtobiografija
српски / srpski: Аутобиографија
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Autobiografija
தமிழ்: சுயசரிதை
татарча/tatarça: Тәрҗемәи хәл
Türkçe: Otobiyografi
українська: Автобіографія
اردو: خود نوشت
Tiếng Việt: Tự truyện
中文: 自传