Write About it Wednesday: What Makes a Good Biography?

“Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.”

Biographies are my go to nonfiction. I find it hard to pick up a book that details a war or a particular time period with 500 + pages without getting bored and feeling guilty for not being able to read it through. A biography allows the reader a more personal experience of what occurred.

So what makes a good biography?

A good biography should read like a novel. Truth can be told as any other story, and presentation is important. A reader shouldn’t feel as though they picked up their old history book and need to take notes in case there is a quiz at the end. The story should flow and keep the reader engaged and excited. The most important aspect of a biography is the research. An author should research thoroughly before beginning the writing process. Facts about the person’s life are important, but combining elements of the world around them makes it authentic. It is immediately evident if the right amount of research has been done. Another important element is the author’s passion. Why are they writing about this particular person? What made them significant? If the reader can’t tell then the author has missed an essential element.

My biggest pet peeve in a biography is when the author is outright biased about a historical event, or a decision made by the person they are discussing. I do not pick up a biography to hear an author’s opinion on historical matters. I want a well-rounded viewpoint so I can develop my own opinions. How do I know if something is accurate if the author is telling their own form of the truth?

What are your favorite biographies? Do you have any that you despised?


Thomas Jefferson : Joyce Appleby

“Coming to terms with Thomas Jefferson is not easy for Americans in the twenty-first century.”

If you read only one book about Thomas Jefferson in your lifetime, don’t choose this one. The quote above is true if you are reliant on the author’s informed but less than appealing recap of history. When I finished this novel, I felt as though I was leaving a five hour long history lecture that used fancy vocabulary to sound superior to everyone listening. I have frequent whims where I am intrigued by a topic and want to learn everything about it. My current Presidential obsession has led to a real interest in history and how it is conveyed. I think we need more unbiased historians providing an experience to the reader that is worth their time. A reader lives through an author’s work, and I would have died of boredom if I wasn’t determined to finish.

I was desperate to love Thomas Jefferson and I chose to read Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – Review to come!