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Recommended Reading: November-December: Memoires

Highline College's librarians recommend materials from the library collection on a wide variety of topics.

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

Title Image - Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

What is the Difference?

Biography: "the life story of a person written by someone else."

  Example:  Martin Luther King Jr. by Marshall Frady

Autobiography: "a book about a person's life, written by that person"

  Example:  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Franklin, Benjamin

Memoir: "a book or other piece of writing based on the writer's personal knowledge of famous people, places, or events.”

  Example:  This Child will be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Qoman President  by Johnson-Sirleaf, Ellen

(Definitions from the Cambridge Dictionary)


What Makes Them Worth Reading

 BIO Award Winner Marshall on What Makes a Gripping Biography

The Short Take - 3 Elements

1. Accuracy is number one.  I’m not going to trust a biographer’s account unless I’m certain she’s got the facts straight. There are many ways to demonstrate you’ve done your homework, both in the text itself and by giving useful source notes. 

2. Spontaneity, in biography, is a sense you pick up from the writer’s style. I like to feel directly addressed by the writer, as if the biographer is speaking to me. There are many ways this can be done — perhaps by letting the reader in on the documents and interviews you’ve sifted through to shape your account and reach your conclusions. Or maybe just a fresh, you-are-there way of telling the life story. 

3. Mystery really comes down to plot. Every life moves from birth to death. But how does this particular life take shape?  Where does it lead?  The biographer must find a narrative arc that’s both accurate and compelling — that keeps readers wondering what will happen next, even if they already know the outcome.


What Makes a Good Biography?
Biographies about the lives of important historical figures, celebrities, or artistic luminaries are a massive undertaking. The writer must address the issue of how to make this person accessible to readers without reducing their work to a simple story. The best biographies strike this balance perfectly."



Noted Biographies




Titles in the Highline Library