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A man's memory is bound to be a distortion of his past in accordance with his present interests, and the most faithful autobiography is likely to mirror less what a man was than what he has become.
Fawn M. Brodie

An autobiography (from the Greek, αὐτός-autos self + βίος-bios life + γράφειν-graphein to write) is a book about the life of a person, self-authored by that person.


  • All fiction may be autobiography, but all autobiography is of course fiction.
    • Shirley Abbott, quoted in Mickey Pearlman, Listen to Their Voices (1993), ch. 12.
  • Every autobiography is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.
    • W. H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand (1962), pt. 3, "Hic et Ille", sect. b
  • Reminiscences, even extensive ones, do not always amount to an autobiography. [...] For even if months and years appear here, it is in the form they have in the moment of recollection. This strange form—it may be called fleeting or eternal—is in neither case the stuff that life is made of.
    • Walter Benjamin, A Berlin Chronicle (1932–, unfinished), in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings – vol. 2, pt. 2: 1931-1934, ed. Michael William Jennings, Harvard University Press, 2005, p. 612.
  • A man's memory is bound to be a distortion of his past in accordance with his present interests, and the most faithful autobiography is likely to mirror less what a man was than what he has become.
  • Autobiographies tell more lies than all but the most self-indulgent fiction.
    • A. S. Byatt, Sugar and Other Stories (1987), "On the Day That E. M. Forster Died".
  • An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.
  • I don't think anybody should write his autobiography until after he's dead.
    • Samuel Goldwyn, quoted in Arthur Marx, Goldwyn: The Man Behind the Myth (1976), prologue.
  • An autobiography is only 'a sort of life' – it may contain less errors of fact than a biography, but it is of necessity even more selective: it begins later and it ends prematurely.
  • Autobiography is now as common as adultery and hardly less reprehensible.
  • I think that some of our truths are things that are not dealt with in standard autobiography. I think that dreams are very important to women-and important to everybody's psyche-and to have access to those dreams is a great power. Also visions that we have about what we might do, also prayers-that's another "silent, secret" kind of thing. I think part of what we have to do is figure out a new kind of autobiography that can tell the truth about dreams and visions and prayers. I find that absolutely necessary for our mental and political health. I think the standard autobiography is about exterior things, like when you were born and what you participate in-big historical events that you publicly participate in-and those kinds of autobiographies ignore the rich, personal inner life. I feel that it's a mission for me to invent a new autobiographical form that truly tells the inner life of women, and I do think it's especially important for minority people, because we're always on the brink of disappearing. (1990)
    • 1990 interview in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston edited by Paul Skenazy and Tera Martin (1998)
  • It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity; therefore, I shall be short. It may be thought an instance of vanity that I pretend at all to write my life; but this Narrative shall contain little more than the History of my Writings; as, indeed, almost all my life has been spent in literary pursuits and occupations. The first success of most of my writing was not such as to be an object of vanity.
  • Nothing is more difficult than writing an autobiography. What should be emphasized? Just what is of general interest? It is advisable, above all, to write honestly and dispense with any of the conventional introductory protestations of modesty. For if one is called upon to tell about one's life so as to make the events that made it what it became useful to the general public, it can mean only that one must have already wrought something positive in life, accomplished a task that people recognize. Accordingly it is a matter of forgetting that one is writing about oneself, of making an effort to abjure one's ego so as to give an account, as objectively as possible, of one's life in the making and of one's accomplishments.
  • Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.
    • George Orwell, "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali" (1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 3, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 1968.
  • I write fiction and I'm told it's autobiography, I write autobiography and I'm told it's fiction, so since I'm so dim and they're so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn't.
  • A dog cannot relate his autobiography; however eloquently he may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were honest but poor.
  • While it is nice to describe a beautiful rose in full bloom, it would be incomplete without a description of everything—right from its roots, the stem, the manure and nutrients that have sustained it, the fresh and dried leaves as also the thorns, in order to conceptualize the beauty of that rose in all its dimensions. Likewise, for a human being’s biography, he needs to be presented ‘as is’ and not ‘as should be’—from head to toe, nothing more, nothing less, as transparent and true to reality as one can be. Everything that can be said or unsaid, that is embarrassing or praiseworthy has to be documented without inhibitions and fears. Of course given the social and political situation that I am writing these in, despite my will, some of the details are being suppressed a little. Also, it would be a breach of trust to reveal confidential details of renowned people whom I have had the good fortune of meeting and interacting with closely in my life. Still, I hold a promise that I have revealed all that needs to be revealed, with the least of colours and bias from my side.
    • V. D. Savarkar, quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • Autobiographies ought to begin with Chapter Two.
  • Don't give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can't express them. Don't analyse yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.
  • Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.
  • I have always hated biography, and more especially, autobiography. If biography, the writer invariably finds it necessary to plaster the subject with praises, flattery, and adulation and to invest him with all the Christian graces. If autobiography, the same plan is followed, but the writer apologizes for it.
  • I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering, which, however, is, no doubt, the true explanation of their popularity, as the English public always feels perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity is talking to it.

See also

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