Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Biography: A Brief History by Nigel Hamilton

Just when you think I have exhausted the topic of biography, Bonnie* brings me another very interesting book with many advantages for the reader interested in the topic. The book is Biography: A Brief History by Nigel Hamilton.

Readers will enjoy this book for these reasons:

  • It is new. Many of the books on biography as a literary form are twenty or thirty years old. Hamilton brings the subject to the present. The controversy of A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is included.
  • It expands the idea of biography beyond the traditional printed biographical book. Hamilton discusses cave paintings, Greek and Roman art, religious texts, the biographical and autobiographical trends in fiction, the popularity of celebrity media, documentaries, made-for-television movies, reality television, biographical films, museum exhibits, graphic novels, and blogging.
  • It identifies books, art work, and films important in the development of the biographical form. Monty Python's Life of Brian even makes the discussion. I placed some reserves during my reading of the book.
  • It is well-written and thought-provoking. Hamilton even mentions writing teachers as listeners to the autobiographical thoughts of students, an issue exposed in the aftermath of the killings at Virginia Tech.

According to Hamilton, biography is essential in a democratic society, pointing out that the form is repressed and abused by dictators. He also tells how biography has been the most dangerous literary form to write throughout history because of dangerous politics and strict libel laws. Until the last half century, biographers have almost always written about the dead, who could not sue them. Since the release of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate hearings, biography has increasing focused on the living.

Biography: A Brief History should be in many libraries.

Hamilton, Nigel. Biography: A Brief History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN 0674024664

*Behind many a good blogger is a person who inspires and feeds the writer good material.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

"According to Hamilton, biography is essential in a democratic society, pointing out that the form is repressed and abused by dictators." AND, possibly our polititions!?! :)