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    #1

    memoir verses autobiography

    I’ve just finished the memoir Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Bob Wittman. In it, he is careful to point on that it is “only a memoir” and “not an autobiography”, but then goes on to say that, other than changing a few names to protect FBI agents, every effort was made to ensure its veracity by “reviewing transcripts, tapes, videos, new interviews with witnesses”, etc. What is this distinction between memoir and autobiography? Is he undoing its “memoir-ness” by going on to say that it’s basically a work of non-fiction?

    Then, how is this different than the memoir A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, which contained “a number of facts [that] have been altered and incidents [that were] embellished” (source)? Could he have just called it a memoir up-front and skirted the controversy? Isn't this type of writing implicitly a memoir unless "autobiography" is explicitly stated?

  1. JohnParis's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    An autobiography is an account of a person's life written by that person.

    A memoir is a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.

    I could not write an autobiography of my friend Marie François, but I could write a memoir about her years as a film star.

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    #3

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnParis View Post
    An autobiography is an account of a person's life written by that person.

    A memoir is a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.
    But in both of these cases, the work was written by the individual involved, in the first person. With this in mind, how do memoir and autobiography differ? Are autobiographies held to higher standard?

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    #4

    Re: memoir verses autobiography


    "But in both of these cases, the work was written by the individual involved..."
    Not necessarily.

    In the case of an autobiography, the only person on the face of this earth that can write one is the person who is the subject of the autobiography. No one else. Marie François wrote the autobiography of her life in 1995.
    However, Marie François could also have written her memoirs (an autobiography or a written account of one's memory of certain events or people). I believe that the key words here are
    "
    ....account of one's memory of certain events or people." An autobiography would normally cover an entire life and would be more complete. It may contain the contents of her memoirs - or it may not.
    In response to your statement above to which I reply not necessarily, I say this because I - or anyone else - could also write a memoir of Marie François, but neither I nor anyone else could write her autobiography.

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    #5

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    I see, so the difference lies in the breadth of content, as well as the authorship, not the measure/perception of verisimilitude.

    Thanks!
    Last edited by BobSmith; 11-Jan-2012 at 19:06.

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    #6

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    Here's another example. Agatha Christie wrote a very entertaining book about her time in the Middle East, where he husband was working as an archaeologist. I would call that a memoir. Her own knowledge and memories, and perhaps a review of correspondence, notes, or records helped shape it. She also wrote a complete autobiography, from childhood on.
    Last edited by Barb_D; 12-Jan-2012 at 02:50.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    #7

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    You mean archeologist, Barb?

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    #8

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    In the case of an autobiography, the only person on the face of this earth that can write one is the person who is the subject of the autobiography. No one else.
    It's worth pointing out, though, that many so-called autobiographies are actually written by ghostwriters*, when the subject lacks the writing skills to tell his/her own life story.

    * ghostwriter
    ▶noun
    a person employed to write material for another person, who is the named author.
    (WordReference Dictionary)

    Rover

  4. JohnParis's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    Unfortunately, Rover, you're quite correct.
    Perhaps I should have said that the only person who can legally or morally (without properly crediting an editor or coauthor) write an autobiography is the subject himself.
    Many authors hire ghostwriters to write in their name, without giving them proper credit (just money). This shabby behavior has increased recently, particularly among scientific publications. The problem has become so endemic that professional associations have been created to act as watch dogs and alert the scientific community when duplicity has occurred. The problem is particularly troublesome within the pharmaceutical industry where ghostwriters are employed to write entire manuscripts based upon crude results of a clinical trial or epidemiological analysis. New guidelines dictate that stated authors must be real authors, but this requirement is blatantly ignored and any busy researcher can buy himself a perfectly well written manuscript from any number of "healthcare consultants." The practice is despicable, technically illegal and just plain smarmy. Yet, people will do anything for a price (around €8,000 per article; €12,000 if you need it within 2 weeks).
    Ghost writing exists; I just hope my daughter doesn't marry one.

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    #10

    Re: memoir verses autobiography

    I know people who make a lot of money writing MA theses for others.

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