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What is a Biography?

A biography is the written story of a person’s life. When a person writes his or her own life story, it is called an autobiography. biography

A biography or autobiography tells where and when the person was born, what he did, and what happened to him all through his life. In ancient times, most biographies were written either to teach a moral lesson or to explain something about history. These ancient biographies were not always correct, but many of them were very interesting to read. The Lives of the Greeks and Romans by Plutarch are probably the most famous. They were used by Shakespeare as sources for several of his biographical plays, such as Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.

The most famous biography in the English language is the Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, written nearly two hundred years ago. (You can read short articles about Johnson and Boswell in this encyclopedia.) One of the most famous early American autobiographies is that of Benjamin Franklin. Within the last hundred years, biographies have become much bigger, sometimes as long as ten volumes or more. These long biographies were usually written about famous authors or statesmen. Biographers included great quantities of material, such as personal letters and official documents. Sometimes these are very boring, except to students who are studying about the persons in the biographies. The most modern type of biography tells everything that is known about the subject, whether it shows him to have been a good man or a bad one.

Older biographies often left out important facts, because they would have seemed unkind. Modern biographers try to tell the truth, even if it hurts. A brief article about a person, in a magazine or in an encyclopedia such as this one, is a form of biography.

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