Biography: A User's Guide

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 92%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (24) from $1.99   
  • New (9) from $3.27   
  • Used (15) from $1.99   


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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The Boston Globe
Rollyson is a lively and opinionated and knowledgeable writer, with much to impart.
— Sven Birkerts
Ann Waldron
Carl Rollyson knows more about biographies than anyone else in the world. His independent mind, his experience, and his voracious reading have equipped him to produce amazing insights into the reading—and writing—of biographies. A unique book.
Mary S. Millar
Wide ranging and provocative, Carl Rollyson's guide takes an intrepid journey through the many ramifications of biography—its history, its subjects, its practitioners, and its pitfalls. The section on 'fair use' alone makes his book essential reading for everyone involved in the art of writing lives. Add to those Rollyson's trenchant reviews of biographies new and old, and the guide becomes a master class in the virtues and vices of its subject.
Mary Dearborn
For biographers, Rollyson has written an absolutely essential guide to compelling biographical issues. But Biography: A User's Guide is also a treat for readers of literature—and anyone who loves good gossip. It's studded with gems of provocative insight and behind-the-scenes stories. Rollyson, a seasoned biographer, makes no secret of his biases or his reputation as a biographical outlaw: the story of his adventures in writing his biography of Susan Sontag is more than worth the price of admission. A fascinating book.
Marion Meade
Carl Rollyson's Biography: A User's Guide offers something witty and wonderful for everybody. Readers of biographies will be amazed to get a backstage guided tour of how these books are really produced. Writers of biographies should keep a copy under their pillows.
Patricia O'Toole
Carl Rollyson is to biography what Boswell was to Johnson: indispensable. An excellent biographer himself, Rollyson is also the finest critic of the art as well as a thoroughly delightful guide to the pleasures of reading biography and the perils of writing it.
Roger Lewis
With his high-powered and perceptive page-turners on Lillian Hellman, Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn and Susan Sontag, Carl Rollyson has shown himself to be amongst the very first rank of contemporary biographical practitioners. More than this, however, with Biography: A User's Guide, Rollyson now proves that he is also the genre's foremost and most brilliant anatomist. His new book is typically erudite, mischievous, irresistible, and endlessly stimulating.
Doug Munro
Reflections on the biographer's art have become too much the domain of literary critics. It is timely that ground has been recovered with Carl Rollyson's Biography: A User's Guide, written by a practicing biographer who mixes reflection with commentary on the practical and ethical aspects of the craft, and who is not afraid to speak his mind. Here's a book to read and heed whatever one's position on the totem pole.
John Heilpern
For anyone mad enough to write a biography, this witty, definitive book is absolutely essential reading. For anyone who merely loves reading biography, it's a smashing insider's guide. Mr. Rollyson is informed and passionate and fun about a subject he knows intimately. He's also unafraid to let his personal opinions show, thank goodness. In short, he's written a wonderfully entertaining biography about the art of biography.
The Boston Globe - Sven Birkerts
Rollyson is a lively and opinionated and knowledgeable writer, with much to impart.
The Biographer's Craft
Promise(s) to generate discussion in the field.
The Washington Times

This book makes a notable contribution to a rare genre—the literature on biography.

Boston Globe
Rollyson is a lively and opinionated and knowledgeable writer, with much to impart.
— Sven Birkerts
Library Journal

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.
—Marianne Orme

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566637800
  • Publisher: Ivan R Dee
  • Publication date: 5/25/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.47 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Rollyson has written biographies of Rebecca West, Norman Mailer, Martha Gellhorn, Lillian Hellman, Marilyn Monroe, and (with Lisa Paddock) Susan Sontag. He lives in Cape May County, New Jersey.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)