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Posted June 9, 2011
Biography is a story of someone's life, and biographies have been written for as long as people had been interested in lives of others. This very short introduction takes us on a trip throughout centuries at exploring the genre, it's ever evolving conventions and the basic requirements that we expect from all good biographies. The main focus of the book is the British biographies, with a few others used as examples. There are no biographical examples from non-western sources, unless you count those from the Bible. Nonetheless, even with these constraints we get to see a vast variety of approaches to biography. Some biographers had intimate first-hand knowledge of their subject, while other wrote from a vast spatial and temporal distance, relying solely on secondhand sources. Another big difference that biography as a genre has undergone is the change of mores that nowadays puts a stronger stress on disreputable and salacious aspects of one's life. This is a far cry from "exemplary lives" model that had been popular in the past, which had presupposed the purpose of biography to be enlightenment and edification of the public.
Reading about biography in abstract can be rather boring. Luckily, this book is replete with examples from various notable biographies. However, if you are not interested in biography as a genre you may not get too much out of reading this book.