An autobiography, from the Greek αὐτός autos "self", βίος bios "life" and γράφειν graphein "to write",, is a biography written by the predicate or composed conjointly with a collaborative writer (styled "as told to" or "with"). The term was first used by the poet Robert Southey in 1809 in the English periodical Quarterly Review, but the form goes back to antiquity. Biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints; an autobiography however may be based entirely on the writer's memory. Closely associated with autobiography (and sometimes difficult to precisely distinguish from it) is the form of memoir.
Augustine (354–430) applied the title Confessions to his autobiographical work, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the same title in the 18th century, initiating the chain of confessional and sometimes racy and highly self-critical, autobiographies of the Romantic era and beyond.
Zāhir ud-Dīn Mohammad Bābur,who founded the Mughal dynasty of South Asia kept a journal Bāburnāma (Chagatai/; literally: "Book of Babur" or "Letters of Babur") which was written between 1493 and 1529.
One of the first great autobiographies of the Renaissance is that of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), written between 1556 and 1558, and entitled by him simply Vita (Italian: Life). He declares at the start: 'No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty'. These criteria for autobiography generally persisted until recent times, and most serious autobiographies of the next three hundred years conformed to them.
Another autobiography of the period is De vita propria, by the Italian physician and astrologer Gerolamo Cardano (1574).
The earliest known autobiography in English is the early 15th-century Booke of Margery Kempe, describing among other things her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visit to Rome. The book remained in manuscript and was not published until 1936.
With the rise of education, cheap newspapers and cheap printing, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop, and the beneficiaries of this were not slow to cash in on this by producing autobiographies. It became the expectation — rather than the exception — that those in the public eye should write about themselves — not only writers such as Charles Dickens (who also incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels) and Anthony Trollope, but politicians (e.g. Henry Brooks Adams), philosophers (e.g. John Stuart Mill), churchmen such as Cardinal Newman, and entertainers such as P. T. Barnum. Increasingly, in accordance with romantic taste, these accounts also began to deal, amongst other topics, with aspects of childhood and upbringing — far removed from the principles of 'Cellinian' autobiography.
So-called "autobiographies", generally written by a ghostwriter, are routinely published on the lives of modern professional athletes and media celebrities—and to a lesser extent about politicians. Some celebrities, such as Naomi Campbell, admit to not having read their "autobiographies."
Until recent years, few people without some genuine claim to fame wrote or published autobiographies for the general public. But with the critical and commercial success in the United States of such memoirs as Angela's Ashes and The Color of Water more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre. This trend has also encouraged fake autobiographies, particularly those associated with 'misery lit' , where the writer has allegedly suffered from dysfunctional family, social problems or political repression.
an autobiography is a written piece that the person has written about themself.
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