What’s the Difference Between a Biography and an Autobiography?

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There are so many fascinating people in the world and throughout history. Books invite us into the life of someone worth knowing. There are two types of books that tell the story of someone’s life: biographies and autobiographies. Biographies and autobiographies are forms of nonfiction. This means that they contain real, factual information. They do not include stories or made-up scenarios. They’re meant to be informative.  

 

Both forms of writing highlight the life, work, and views of a real person. The subject of the book is usually someone who has made an impact on society and is considered famous. These people include athletes, celebrities, and business leaders. Although there are some core similarities, there are many important differences between biographies and autobiographies as well. Most notably, the level of objectivity and factual content is different. The language style and perspectives also differ. Let’s look closer at the difference between a biography and an autobiography!

 

Difference Between a Biography and an Autobiography: Biographies

 

Point of view

Someone other than the subject of the book writes biographies. It is written in the third-person, which means the author refers to the subject with their name or with ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’. Since a biography is an account of a person’s life written by someone else, it is considered to be a secondary source. Point of view is the main difference between a biography and an autobiography.

A biography may take several years to complete because of all the research required. This is especially true if the person has recently died, and the author must rely on other people to provide interviews. For example, Walter Isaacson, who wrote a biography on Steve Jobs, had to piece together information from the accounts of over 100 people who knew the subject.  

 

Degree of objectivity

A biography tends to be more objective than an autobiography. Biography writers typically gather information through a journalistic research project. This normally includes reviewing records of events and interviews with the subject of the book or people connected to the subject. 

 

Timeline

Biographies usually cover the entire life of the subject. This is especially true if the subject has died. If they are still living, the book may cover a large portion of that person’s life.  

 

Authorized vs Unauthorized 

A biography should have trustable sources so that there is nothing fictional within the book. When it comes to biographies, it’s important to note whether it is authorized or unauthorized. This has to do with the subject’s participation in the book. Did the subject allow the author to interview them? If so, the biography is considered authorized. If, on the other hand, the subject is not involved in the research of the book, it is considered an unauthorized biography.

  

Unauthorized 

When the book is unauthorized there is a chance it contains nonfactual information. Anyone can write a biography on a famous person so long as they don’t violate privacy rights. People like celebrities and high-profile politicians can be hard to gain access to which is why many biographies are written without cooperation from the subject. However, another reason the book may not have approval from the subject is that the author is writing a negative portrayal of the subject. They’re often gossipy and promise to “spill the beans”. Some of these end up on the New York Times Bestsellers List. They’re also controversial and can lead to legal troubles for the author. Some people view unauthorized accounts as less reliable. If the biography is about a historical figure or someone who died long ago, it wouldn’t be considered unauthorized.

 

Authorized 

Authorized biographies are more likely to be based on facts because the subject is providing information. Sometimes it is the subject’s idea to have the book written in the first place. In these cases, the subject may seek out a reputable author to write their story.

 

  

Autobiographies

 

Point of View

The subject of the book writes the autobiography, meaning the author and the subject are the same. The author writes in the first person point of view. This means they refer to the subject with ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’. A first-person account gives the reader first-hand opinions, thoughts, and feelings from the subject. Knowing this will help them easily spot the difference between a biography and an autobiography.

An autobiography is considered a primary source because it is a first-hand account of a person’s life in its original form without interpretation or commentary from other writers. However, this doesn’t always mean the subject/author wrote the book without help from anyone else. Because the subject is not a professional writer, a collaborator often joins to help the author tell the most factual story possible.

 

Degree of objectivity 

In an autobiography, the author’s memory is the primary source. Good autobiographies leave the reader feeling like they know the author personally. This is because the book includes details that only the author knows, as well as their thoughts and feelings. 

 

Timeline 

Autobiographies tend to focus on a certain period of time when a notable event occurred. The chronology is organized but may not specify exact dates. The timeline may veer off track if appropriate. For instance, the author may start from the present day and include flashbacks. They may even organize events thematically rather than chronologically. 

 

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