Biography

I do enjoy reading biographies. Not just to learn more about people I have a special interest in, but as a more entertaining way of reading about history.

There can be something a bit stifling about the careful thoroughness of the conscientious historian trying to lay out all the strands of a complicated subject. The joy of a biography is that it just picks out one strand. The subject’s life offers a route through a period. And even though it’s often a rather erratic and contingent route, it forms a natural narrative.

And because these narratives are immune to certain kinds of criticism, they can be full of the kinds of unexpected twists, bizarre coincidences, heavy-handed irony and acts of heroism or villainy that might seem vulgar in mere fiction. I mean who could make up a character like T. E. Lawrence? Or Emma Hamilton?

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