Are All Biographies Flawed?

Following a conversation which I had with one of my thesis supervisors last month, I have been pondering about biographies.  I was advised not to include any of them in my research, as the supervisor in question is ‘not interested in what an author was like, but what they wrote’.  Fair enough, I suppose.

From the Washington Independent Review of Books

However, my own personal stance on biographies is rather different to this.  I like to be acquainted with the work of a particular author or other historical figure before I read a biographical work about them, but I find that reading such tomes is central to my understanding of the world which they inhabited, and the influences which they had.

Whilst I’m not going to choose to eschew biographies in my reading life, it has led me to the following question – are all biographies flawed?  Is there really such thing as an impartial biography, or will there always be some sway by the author onto their chosen subject?  Do you tend to use biographies in your chosen research subject, or are you of the opinion of my supervisor, that all are irrelevant and really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things?  All thoughts on this, or on biographical writing in itself, are very welcome; I’d love to hear where you all stand.


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