So you’re ready to write an autobiography! Congratulations; this can be a gratifying personal project. And just like any creative endeavor, it’s a great idea to start by getting inspired.
In this article, we’re sharing 15 stellar autobiography examples to get your wheels turning. We’ll also share some need-to-know info on the different types of autobiographies and autobiography layouts, and we’ll leave you with a list of catchy ways to start your book. Let’s get going!
In this article, we'll explore:
What are the different types of autobiographies?
As it turns out, there are many different ways to write a book about yourself. You can go the traditional autobiography route, which is a chronological account of your entire life. Or you can write a memoir, which zeroes in on specific themes or time periods in your life.
If you’d like, your autobiography can be composed of individual personal essays, or you can blend your autobiography with literary techniques to create a piece of creative nonfiction.
There are graphic autobiographies that use comics or other combinations of images and text to illustrate your life story, or you can simply publish an edited version of your journal or diary.
You can write a travelog that documents your life through your adventures, or you can even blend elements of your life with made-up stories to create autobiographical fiction.
When it comes to sharing your life story, there are few rules!
How can I lay out my autobiography?
Did you know there are multiple ways you can structure your autobiography? The most common is to put it in chronological order. But you can also lay out your book in reverse chronological order, or even jump around in time.
Here are a few other layouts to consider:
- Thematic or topical. As you outline your autobiography, pay attention to themes that emerge. You can lay out your autobiography by central ideas, rather than by time.
- Flashback and flash-forward. This nonlinear approach can be a great way to create some excitement and intrigue in your life story.
- Cyclical structure. Is there one event that you feel defined your life story? Why not try circling back to it throughout your book? This can be an interesting way to demonstrate how your perspective changed with time.
If you need a little more help laying out your biography, we have free book templates to help you.
Autobiographies to inspire your own
Ready to get your creative juices flowing? Here are some examples of autobiography to add to your reading list.
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
One of the best-known autobiographies, The Diary of a Young Girl is an excellent example of a journal-style layout. Featuring the story of a young girl who is hiding during the Holocaust, aspiring writers will find inspiration in Frank’s raw emotions and candor.
- Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
A favorite of Steve Jobs, this autobiography details the author’s spiritual journey through yoga and meditation. It’s a wonderful example of how to blend the recounting of events with spiritual insights and philosophical teachings.
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
The former South African president wrote this stunning autobiography about his struggle against apartheid, his imprisonment, and his presidency. Aspiring autobiography writers who want to write a book about social change should read this one.
- The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi
In his autobiography, Gandhi explores his philosophy of nonviolent resistance through his political and spiritual journey. Writers will appreciate this book for the way it weaves stories of personal growth into a larger narrative of social change.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
One of several autobiographical works by Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings explores her coming-of-age amidst racism and a traumatic childhood. Writers should read this not only to hear Angelou’s powerful story but also to be inspired by her vivid language.
- The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller
Keller details her remarkable life as a deaf and blind person, sharing intimate details about her education and advocacy work. Aspiring writers will benefit from reading Keller’s sensory-rich language, since she has the unique experience of navigating the world through touch.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
This autobiography, written in collaboration with journalist Alex Haley, tracks Malcolm X from his youth through his adulthood as a prominent activist in the civil rights movement. Read this one to learn tips and tricks for writing about your personal evolution.
- The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow
Darrow shares his experiences as a civil libertarian and prominent American Lawyer in this enlightening autobiography. Writers should read this one to learn how to build a persuasive argument in their book.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
South African comedian, television host, and political commentator Trevor Noah wrote this autobiography detailing his upbringing during apartheid in South Africa. This is a must-read for writers who are looking to infuse humor into their autobiographies—even when writing about heavy subjects.
- I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
In her autobiography, Yousafzia recounts her tumultuous and sometimes terrifying journey advocating for equal education for girls. If you want to write your own autobiography, read this one first to learn how to bring an authentic voice to your narrative.
- The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Boom’s autobiography shares the harrowing story of her family’s efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Writers should read this to witness the way Boom weaves a historical narrative into her own life story.
- Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
Renowned mystery writer Agatha Christie took time away from her suspenseful novels to write a book about herself. If you plan to write an autobiography, read Christie’s first to learn how to build a sense of intrigue.
- Chronicles: Volume 1 by Bob Dylan
If you’re an artist writing your autobiography, you’ll be inspired by Dylan’s. It shares his unique perspective on the creative process in music and literature and delves into what it means to maintain your artistic vision.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This well-known autobiography may make you cry, but it’s well worth the read. Written by a surgeon as he faces a terminal illness, it’s a must-read for any author exploring themes of mortality in their writing.
- Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
This autobiography by the former U.S. president is a great read for anyone aspiring to write an autobiography that intertwines their personal story with a larger societal and political narrative.
What is a catchy autobiography introduction?
Sometimes the hardest part of a new project is getting started. If you’re ready to begin writing your autobiography and need a good opener, here are some angles to consider:
- Start by describing a childhood dream and how it influenced your journey
- Open with a letter to your younger self
- Share a formative childhood memory
- Start with a thought-provoking question you’ll answer as your book progresses
- Talk about an object that’s meaningful to you and tie it to a larger story about your life
With so much inspiration and so many wonderful resources, there’s never been a better time to write your autobiography. If, after reading a few books on this list, you’re not sure where to start with yours—let us help! Just sign up for a book consultation to get started.