Biography: A Very Short Introduction, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (1 rating)


Biography is one of the most popular, best-selling, and widely-read of literary genres.

But why do certain people and historical events arouse so much interest?

How can biographies be compared with history and works of fiction?

Does a biography need to be true? Is it acceptable to omit or conceal things? Does the biographer need to personally know the subject?

Must a biographer be subjective? In this Very Short Introduction Hermione Lee considers the cultural and historical background of different types of biographies, looking at the factors that affect biographers and whether there are different strategies, ethics, and principles required for writing about one person compared to another. She also considers contemporary biographical publications and considers what kind of 'lives' are the most popular and in demand.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area.

These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly.

Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192 pages, 15 b&w halftone
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: general
  • ISBN: 9780199533541



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This is a competent survey of biography by one of the contemporary masters of the genre.  But it is rather dull and surprisingly textbook-like, lacking the verve and sweep of Nigel Hamilton’s recent Biography: A Brief History.  Lee limits herself to British biography, except for the unavoidable references to classics such as Plutarch.  Chapter titles are not very helpful, and the bibliography omits several recent efforts to deal with both the history and methodology of biography.  As a literary biographer Lee concentrates mainly on that narrow range of the genre.  And yet with the small font this book is not quite so short as all that.  Nevertheless, topics such as Freud’s influence on biography, the disputes about the veracity of life writing, and why the telling of lives excites so much hostility and controversy, are essayed in informative and succinct fashion.  Consulted as a reference book, Lee’s work can be a valuable resource for beginners as well as advanced scholars.  Lee’s own approach to biography seems entirely conventional, which makes her shy away from more daring psychoanalytical approaches pioneered by Leon Edel and George Painter.