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Biography


A biography is a record of a person’s life. Written in third person, biographies generally span a subject’s lifetime, from birth to death, and include major events in his or her public and private life. Biographies may delve into a person’s psychology and explore their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual lives.

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A biography is a record of a person’s life. Written in third person, biographies generally span a subject’s lifetime, from birth to death, and include major events in his or her public and private life. Biographies may delve into a person’s psychology and explore their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual lives.

The biography is one of the oldest forms of literature. Since ancient times, writers have recorded the lives of great leaders and warriors. Some early biographies were viewed as a form of historical record, others took on fantastical elements and grew into cultural epics. Notable ancient biographies include Plato’s Apology, which records a portion of the life of Socrates, and the Gospels of the Christian bible, which present four biographies of Jesus Christ. As the centuries progressed, the biography as a style of literary importance waxed and waned. In 1791, James Boswell reshaped the image of the biography with his Life of Samuel Johnson, a two-volume tome that recounted his own interactions with Johnson in exhaustive detail. As the influence of Romanticism and later psychoanalysis intersected with the world of literature, biographies continued to become more detailed in their explorations of the subject’s emotional and psychological experiences.

Although biographies and autobiographies are categorized as nonfiction, they are not necessarily devoid of bias. Biographers may portray their subjects in various lights depending on their relationship to and opinion regarding the subject. Shakespeare’s historical plays, for example, purport to be historical accounts of British kings (Richards, and Henrys), but the portrayal of each king is clearly influenced by Shakespeare’s own opinion, literary artistry, and awareness of his audience.

Today biographies make up a stable portion of yearly publications. Some take the form of plays, such as The Miracle Worker depicting the life of Helen Keller; others have been successfully adapted into films, like the 2014 film adaptation of Louis Zamperini’s biography Unbroken. Whether they are read or watched, biographies continue to fascinate and inform their modern audience.


Literature in the Biography Genre

  • The Miracle Worker by William Gibson
  • Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
  • Apology by Plato
  • The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert
  • Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker by Lynn Haney
  • John Adams by David McCullough
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Cyrus the Great by Xenophon
  • Hurricane: The Life of Rubin Carter, Fighter by James S. Hirsch
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

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