American Biography


From the Introduction:

This last concern with how one biography stands in relation to another pervades this volume, for I am especially distressed at the way biographers often ignore each other. Too often they make extravagant claims of originality, ignoring the work of their predecessors or devaluing it—as in the case of Hellman biographer Deborah Martinson. To engage in this kind of blinkered biography is a disservice to the genre itself; it prevents readers from seeing biography as a cumulative and incremental enterprise. Biographers, like historians, build on evidence—primary and secondary—and yet many biographers cite only primary sources, assigning other biographers to the bibliographical ghetto. In effect, the biographer is suggesting that there is some kind of pristine relationship between herself and her sources and that the interpretations of other biographers do not count. In fact, just the opposite is true, primary sources are not evidence until they are interpreted, and how other interpreters have discovered and evaluated primary sources is a part of biographical tradition. And it is that tradition that I call on every time a biographer tries to bury it.