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The Boston GlobeRollyson is a lively and opinionated and knowledgeable writer, with much to impart.
— Sven Birkerts
Carl Rollyson's Biography: A User's Guide is an informative and entertaining text for those interested in biography. No aspect of the genre, from A to Z, goes uncovered: issues around authorized and unauthorized biography, censorship, libel, fair use, public domain (referred to as "PD" by publishers and editors), and a great deal more-including examples drawn from published biographies, as well as general and specific assessments of the biographer's art. Mr. Rollyson demonstrates that biography has more dimensions than are generally gleaned from book reviews and academic discourse. In a lively and provocative style, he argues with other biographers and critics, avoiding the polite and vague tones of many reference books on the subject.
This book makes a notable contribution to a rare genre—the literature on biography.
Biographer Rollyson (English, Baruch Coll.; Rebecca West: A Life) provides an unusual mix of expertise and first-person anecdotes in 100 brief essays on various aspects of biography. Organized alphabetically by topic, the essays cover subjects ranging from "fair use" to "living figures" and include such prominent biographers as the late Richard Ellmann. The topical strategy may help readers who think, much like a biographer, in terms of categories, thus suiting Rollyson's work for writers and students. However, the organization also obscures some content, e.g., a detailed examination of John F. Kennedy biographies dominates the essay "Definitive Biography," yet it is only through the index that readers can find linked material on Kennedy. Rollyson maintains an informal writing style even for narrating academic questions, as in the essay "Libel," wherein he discusses legal constraints regarding the use of unpublished material. The popularity of biographies has recently encouraged in-depth discussion about the genre's development in both scholarship and journalism, evident in Nigel Hamilton's Biography: An Annotated Historyand David Burton's Animating History: The Biographical Pulse. An optional purchase for academic and large public libraries.