cover image How to Do Biography: A Primer

How to Do Biography: A Primer

Nigel Hamilton. Harvard University Press, $22.95 (379pp) ISBN 978-0-674-02796-1

In this follow-up to Biography: A Brief History, Hamilton crafts a guide to writing biography that's one part how-to and several parts indulgent-but illuminating-infatuation with the possibilities of the form. Drawing instruction from his own lifetime of biographic work and others'-including Samuel Johnson, Robert Caro, David McCullough, Hermione Lee, Edmund Morris, and others whom Hamilton has admired, known and worked with-the author takes readers on an intellectual journey through the creative process, from conception to publishing. Chapters cover questions of agenda, audience and research, how to take your subject from birth to death, and the ""afterlife"" of the published work. Hamilton's passion, lyricism and collection of telling anecdotes make this ""short book of advice"" an unexpected page-turner; it's hard not to get caught up in the author's romantic vision of biography, a form he believes has nearly as many permutations as music. Elucidating not just the dos and don'ts of biography, but also the whys and hows, Hamilton has created a motivating, empowering guide for writers (and fans) of the genre.