A biography, often known as a bio, or wiki, is a thorough account of a person’s life. It depicts a person’s experience of these life events rather than simply stating the obvious information about things like education, employment, relationships, and death. In contrast to a profile or curriculum vitae (résumé), a biography tells the story of a person’s life, emphasizing important events and intimate details of their experiences. It may also contain an appraisal of the person’s personality.
The majority of biographical writings are nonfiction, but they can also be fiction books that describe a person’s life. Legacy writing is a type of in-depth biographical reporting. The genre of biography includes works in many different mediums, including literature and film.
An authorized biography is written with the subject’s or the subject’s heirs’ consent, cooperation, and occasionally participation. An autobiography is written by the author, occasionally with the help of a co-author or ghostwriter.
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Every biography starts with the person’s humanity story. Although there are many different types of biographies, all of them adhere to the facts as they were known at the time. The term “biography” is defined here along with several examples of popular forms.
A biography is merely the story of the life of an actual person. It may concern someone who is currently living, someone who lived centuries ago, someone who is well-known around the world, an unsung hero lost to history, or even a special group of individuals. Life-changing events frequently take center stage as the author recounts the details of their life, from conception through death (or the author’s current situation). To paint a complete picture of her subject, the author frequently discusses her subject’s upbringing, relationships, failures, and accomplishments.
The writing of biographies involves extensive research. Information sources could be as straightforward as an interview where the person gives their own interpretation of the events in their life. When writing about deceased individuals, biographers search for first-hand accounts left behind by the subject and, if practical, speak with friends or family members in person. The accounts of other academics who have researched their subject may likewise be included by historical biographers.
The ultimate objective of a biography is to depict the environment in which the subject of the biography lived and to recreate it. Did they alter their environment? Did their environment affect them? Did they live beyond the era they were born into? If not, why not? How then? The fact that biographies may be so valuable to read is due to these common life lessons.
Where the Biography Started
Both great mortals and the gods were celebrated in Greco-Roman literature. Their actions, whether they succeeded or failed, were to be imitated or used as examples. Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, one of the first works entirely focused on humanity, is one such example (probably early 2nd century AD). A pair of men, one Greek and one Roman, are compared in this collection of biographies and are presented as either a good or poor model to follow.
The Life of Charlemagne by Einhard, published in the Middle Ages around 817 AD, stands out as one of the most well-known biographies of its time. The fact that Einhard repeatedly extols Charlemagne’s accomplishments doesn’t take away from the importance this biography has provided to historians for centuries after its publication.
The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), written by James Boswell, is regarded as the first modern biography and resembles modern biographies in many ways. Boswell conducted interviews, carried out extensive research over many years, and produced a gripping account of his subject.
As the 20th century and the First World War approached, the genre changed. As a result, memoirs saw a surge in the 1920s. Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves, published in 1929, is a coming-of-age story set in the absurdity of war and its aftermath. The Story of My Experiments with Truth, written by Mahatma Gandhi the same year, recounts how his life’s experiences inspired him to create his theories of nonviolent resistance. Celebrity tell-alls started to gain popularity at this time as a kind of entertainment.
The civil rights movement’s explosion and the tragedies of World War II gave American biographers of the late 20th century considerable material to record. John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946), one of the best works written on the war, tells the tales of six people who experienced those historic days. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was written as told by Alex Haley (1965). Yet the more things change in biographies, the more they also remain the same. One recurring element is a biographer’s effort to present their subject in an updated light, like in Susan Quinn’s biography Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady (2016).
Authorized or unauthorized contemporary biographies
A typical contemporary biography describes the life of a person who is either currently living or has recently died away. Sometimes these are authorized—written with the subject’s or their family’s consent or input—like Dave Itzkoff’s personal examination of Robin Williams’ life and career, Robin. Unauthorized biographies of current individuals may cause controversy. Famous behavior by Kitty Kelley Sinatra was so enraged with His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra that he attempted to stop its release.
Our fascination with historical biographies is as strong as ever, as seen in Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. After reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, an 800-plus page epic biography written to establish Hamilton’s place as a great American, Miranda was inspired to pen the musical. Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat by Paula Gunn Allen clarifies misconceptions about another misunderstood historical character by providing information that is typically lacking from previous versions concerning her tribe, her family, and her relationship with John Smith. Historical biographies, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, also shine a focus on individuals who passed away without ever receiving the respect they earned.
The History of a Group
When a group of individuals exhibits distinctive traits, they might be the focus of a group biography. Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pirates (1724), which chronicles the lives of prominent pirates and creates the cultural stereotypes we still associate with them, is the first instance of this. As seen by David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street, a captivating behind-the-scenes look at the early years of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mimi Baez Faria, and Richard Faria as they established the folk scene in New York City, smaller ensembles are as deserving of a biography. The personal stories of four notable members of the British royal family—Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Kate, and Meghan—are also told through their dress choices in Elizabeth Holmes’ book HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style.
This kind of biography is one that is written by the subject and covers their complete life up to the time it was published. Saint Augustine’s The Confessions (400), one of the first autobiographies, recounts his personal experiences from boyhood through his conversion to religion in order to provide a comprehensive counsel to life. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, a cherished and award-winning author, is the first of six autobiographies that detail all of her childhood suffering as well as the arduous journey that led to her involvement in the civil rights struggle.
Memoirs are a sort of autobiography that focuses on a particular yet important aspect of the author’s life. Augusten Burroughs describes his life as a witch in his book Toil & Trouble. In Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett describes his upbringing in a cult, his family’s escape, and the rise to fame of his band, The Airborne Toxic Event. A Promised Land, Barack Obama’s first presidential memoir, details his entry into politics and his first four years in government.
Although they can’t replace a meticulously studied scholarly biography, fictional biographies are undoubtedly more engaging. Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald depicts Zelda and F. Scott’s chaotic, Jazz Age lives from Zelda’s perspective. Marie Benedict’s book The Only Woman in the Room takes readers inside the private world of Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood actress, and scientist during the Second World War. Even though they are frequently whimsical, these imagined biographies adhere to the form by substantially basing their setting, plot, and characters on real-world events.