Biography in the Media - April/May 2023

Daniel R. Meister Discussion

Caroline Knox, "Why are biographies so popular? Because humans are enthralled by the lives of others," The Guardian (9 May 2023),

Elisabeth Egan, "Should a Biographer Have Boundaries? Jeff Benedict Says Yes," New York Times (27 April 2023),

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The central paradox for those writing a biography:

If you request access to your subject or his or her intimates, you will obtain much more information than if you decline to ask for their help. (Assuming that you get the access that you want.)

But that most likely comes at a cost: The help will probably only be given conditionally - with qualifications or stipulations.

Whereas, if you don't request help, you will have less to go on - but will be much freer to write what you want.

I was grateful that my subject and his spouse were dead, and that his only child knew little about him. I was, further, very lucky: She imposed no restrictions on me - and even gave permission for me to receive her father's psychiatric file.

-- Peter Pullman, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell

One for the ancient biographers:

"But the arguments point beyond the story of Cleopatra Selene and Juba to the more general problems inherent in undertaking modern biographies of ancient subjects, and raise the question of why we are writing such books. The young Cleopatra may be an extreme case, but there is no character in antiquity (with the possible exception of Cicero, the first-century-B.C. Roman orator, theorist, wit, and letter-writer) for whom we have enough information to create a biography that satisfies the expectations of modern readers and publishers."

Mary Beard, "Who was Cleopatra's Daughter? The Perils of Searching for Feminist Heroes in Antiquity,"…