Rather than post about a specific book, I thought I’d post about a genre – the biography.
I really enjoy reading biographies – particularly about people from history. I also find historical biographies tend to be more authentic and less self-indulgent than an autobiography or a biography of a living person. It’s as though the living person needs to somehow be immortalised into fabulousness prior to their physical departure from earth. It’s really the pinnacle of hubris.
What irritates me about most biographies though is the seemingly laborious formula they all seem to follow. The narrative follows the same chronological structure – childhood, relationship with parents/ sibling, high school, after school, THEN the interesting thing that I want to read about. It’s a curious idiosyncrasy of the genre that all biographies seem to include the sunny/ cloudy/ rainy day that the protagonists was born rather than head directly to the interesting anecdotes!
Having said that, I think the biography is sometimes belittled for not being a true form of history and I believe it absolutely has its place in public and micro history. These intimate portraits are very, readable and sometimes a lot of fun!
Biographies I enjoyed include
Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman – highly readable and extensively researched book about the life of a member of fashionable society, an influential hostess and a member of the Whig party. Adored by those around her, her husband falls in love with her best friend and abandons her emotionally and then physically. Fascinating insight into the powerlessness of women a relatively short time ago. Oh, and she’s related to the late Princess Diana!
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – this book was researched and written with Jobs’ permission but it holds no punches. Gritty and raw, Jobs gave Isaacson permission to share the good, the bad and the ugly. Made me want to sort out my wifi and sync all my digital tools (I did).
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir –Weir is the master of the historical biography. Well-researched and highly readable.
The Consolation of Joe Cinque by Helen Garner – I wrote about my intellection crush on Helen Garner here. This is part biography, part true crime. Made me really question our legal system.
Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley – I borrowed this from my mother’s book shelf when I was 13 and was hooked.
Open by Andre Agassi – honest, self-deprecating and some jaw-opening OMG moments.
Still Me by Christopher Reeve – Superman and a super man. Tissues are essential.
Biographies I did not enjoy that much
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – I wrote about it (here) but it felt way to sanitised to be authentic.
Murder in Mississippi by John Safran – the premise is interesting but the writing style is irritating. Actually, the same applies to HHhH by Laurent Binet.
Biographies on my ‘to read’ spreadsheet
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders
Living History by Hilary Rodham Clinton
My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn
Can you suggest any biographies that should be added to my list?