In Praise of Biographies

Long-time readers of “As a Matter of Fancy” know I am a student of history and a voracious reader. One of my favorite forms of reading is biographies. (Other reading favorites include anything with covers—literal or metaphorical.)

Biographies are a unique branch of historical writing which follows the life (and times) of a particular individual . Usually they are peculiar individuals. Individuals who made, rather than just participated in or watched, the history of their times.

Recently I’ve read biographies of such disparate people as Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt, T. E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”), Dwight David (“Ike”) Eisenhower and James (“the Father of the Constitution”) Madison. Some of them might not be recognized today. Hence their labels.

Autobiographies–like Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Samuel Pepys–take it up another notch. The last is the diary of a rising government functionary in the late seventeenth century. It’s a fascinating, candid look at life in London at a time closer to Shakespeare than today, but redounds with modern referents.

Targeted reading—not just best sellers or whatever is available—increases your reading enjoyment. You become a more critical and satisfied reader. I’ve read enough Revolution Era history and biography to spot revisionism (and sloppy research) at a blink.

What’s your reading pleasure?

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One thought on “In Praise of Biographies

  1. I’m really enjoying my WWI centennial reading. Current time-soak is the autobiography by Vera Brittain entitled Testament of Youth. Excellent so far. My ‘guilty’ reading pleasure is epic fantasy but it seems I haven’t read one of those in months. Off on too many other tangents that will hopefully make a return to epic fantasy fresh and wonderful again.

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