I have just finished reading Charles Darwin’s autobiography. He became one of the most famous men of all time by writing The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, which outlined the current theory of evolution by natural selection. He spent his entire life from age 33 onward in his home working on his many publications, due to a mysterious illness that could not be cured or even identified. (This is the background information you’ve been asking for, Oma.) However well he wrote these books, he didn’t do a very good job on writing his autobiography. What would I do differently in my autobiography?
Darwin does a fairly decent job in the first two chapters, which tell the story of his childhood. He relates how he was a very ordinary boy in school; in fact the only remarkable thing about him was his passion for collecting, especially beetles. He even stuffed one in his mouth while attending Cambridge University because he had no other place to put it. He immediately realized the horrible decision he had made. Darwin agreed with many others that the lectures that were given were low quality and boring. He stated that reading was a much better way to learn. Eventually, under pressure from his father, he consented to training as a clergyman.
But something else happened. A friend suggested that he join a voyage on the ship Beagle, to be the crew’s naturalist. This voyage turned out to be incredibly important. It started his road to fame, and gave him the basis for his most famous works.
He does much worse from this point on. After became homebound, he basically said “This is the end, unless you want to read about my books.” Of course many people want to know about his books, so they read on. It is just page after page of books that he wrote, and why he thinks each one is special. He devotes a whole page to his book on barnacles. Barnacles! When he finally gets to Origin of species, he does tell how he waited and waited and waited to do it, and then his hand was forced by another naturalist. But when he gets to the Descent of Man, possibly his greatest work, he spends one sentence on it. One sentence.
Darwin’s son omitted a good chunk on his marriage and family, so it is possible that we are missing a piece of the story. But Darwin’s biggest problem was that he could not identify what was relevant. He left out many important things, and replaced them with events which may have been important to him, but seem trivial today.
So I would focus on answering the “So what” question, and making sure that every detail matters in my autobiography.