Is any life worthy of a biography, or should biographies be limited to famous people?Is any life worthy of a biography, or should biographies be limited to famous people?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

If we are talking about published biographies, then I think they should be limited to people who are in some way especially interesting.  My life, for example, would not really be of that much interest to anyone outside my family.  I mean, who cares how I came to be the way I am?  So I do not think there is any reason to have biographies of nobodies like myself published.

Morally speaking, though, we are all worthy of biography.  Our lives are all equally important on a personal level.  I would love to have biographies of my grandparents, for example, so that I could understand their lives better than I was able to during their lifetimes.

clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

What an interesting question.  As I consider a quick informal poll of the kinds of people who have biographies written about them, it seems that the majority of the people in the biography section of the public library are famous for one reason or another.  When you consider writing as a business, the reason is clear.  Who is going to buy a biography of someone no one has ever heard of?  Or, a better question might be, how much money is the story of a [specific famous] person's life worth?  But this doesn't mean all biographies are written about "famous" people.  In fact, any story that spans a person's life, written about by an outside author, is considered a biography.  Think about the number of published author's who have dedicated books to family members, friends, even pets.  In a way, Marley and Me (John Grogan) could be considered the biography of the author's dog.  And I loved that book.  In this way, my personal opinion is that biographies can be written about anyone.  I by no means believe they should only be limited to famous people.  The true test of success for any story is ultimately its entertainment value.  Well written, interesting, or otherwise generally entertaining stories will likely be successful, no matter who they are about.

Consider, on the flip side, the sheer number of celebrities who have joined the bandwagon of composing their own autobiographies, likely through the help of a ghost writer.  I have flipped through several of these on bookstore clearance tables and wondered how in the world such books came to be published.  In this way, the fame or finances of the person allowed them to have a self-featuring book.  My guess, however, is that the vast majority of these celebrity books would not be worth my time.  From a consumer perspective, I would imagine the only people buying such books are personal fans of those individual celebrities.

Biographies, like any other book genre, should not be limited in terms of their subjects.  Great authors can turn seemingly ordinary lives into extraordinary stories.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I'm a historian, so one of my view on this issue is that much of history is lost with the everyday passing of those we consider to be ordinary people.  I think it's a mistake to concentrate only on those who are "famous", as often times what and who is popular is not the same as what is important, especially in history.  For example, I don't know that I would ever want to read a biography of Paris Hilton, and I could make a pretty good argument that no biography needs to be written.

I think there are dozens of unsung heroes in world history that no one knows about, and it would be a great achievement, socially and historically, if our biographies weren't simply celebrations of people we already knew about, but educational celebrations of people we don't.

ilesa's profile pic

ilesa | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

personally, i think every life is worthy of a biography, because there is a drop of greatness in every man. Popularity is not the only stroke of greatness, sometimes, you will be amazed by what some unknown people have done in life...even sometimes, if you get to read the biography of some famous people, you'll get to see that there is nothing really fascinating about them.....

what do you think?

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