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  1. #1
    ich liebe Leni stelok's Avatar
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    Default autobiography versus biography

    which do you think is more reliable? a person's own autobiography or a biography written by another person?

    I read George Takei's autobiography "To The Stars" and Stan Lee's autobiography "Excelsior!". Both are fun to read. While their books reflect their points of view/perspectives, there are lot of things about their lives that they wouldn't mention. For example, George Takei never hinted in his book that he was a gay. However, the book was published long before he came out of the closet.
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  2. #2
    Thief and Archer
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    Give me a well-researched, objective biography any day.
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  3. #3
    Modus omnibus in rebus Roquefort Raider's Avatar
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    I've never read an autobiography that felt totally complete and objective; on the other hand, I never read one where the author has an axe to gring with the subject. One has the advantage of unparalleles familarity with its subject, one is free from the reluctance of revealing delicate matters. So it's hard for me tosay which I prefer; I just expect different things from them.
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  4. #4
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    I like both for different reasons. Both are subject to different strengths and weaknesses. Isaac Asimov was pretty straightforward about his warts in his various autobios.

  5. #5
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    With autobiographies, I'm not looking for objectivity so much as for a subjective view of the subject's thinking and attitude - Bertrand Russell comes to mind; and sometimes just for a rollicking good story told by someone who was actually there- like Casanova or Cellini; and sometimes for an "insider's view" of another time and place. You can see the common thread there: a subjective, but first-person, primary account, as inaccurate and self0serving as it might well be.

    With biographies, I'd expect the same kind of thing: insight into the subject's (actually the object's, if we want to be accurate) ideas and feelings about things; an involving story; a picture of cultures "other" in time and/or in space - but based on research and scholarship and, yeah, with some attempt at objectivity, at transcending not only the subject/object's but also the writer's own biases and preconceptions, or at least at being upfront about them.

    For autobios, I think the Cellini and the Casanova are must-reads - Casanova in particular is a desert-island book (cheating, it's several volumes). I liked Russell's, but wouldn't place it amongst his very best works - I think you'd be better off reading his non-biographical stuff first, and there's a lot of that. Henri Charriere's Papillon: if you think you don't need to read this because you've seen the movie, think again - it's an incredible reading experience.

    Bios, I liked the Wittgenstein one from several years back, some time in the 90s, I think. The Frida Kahlo one from around the same time. The Lord Byron one from the 80s, ... I"ll have to look up the authors later, can't recall them at the moment.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Addams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by berk View Post
    I've never read an autobiography that felt totally complete and objective
    Well, objectivity is not exactly what you're supposed to look for when reading an autobiography. What is interesting in those books is the subjectivity of the author, what he or she personally thinks about this or that. What is true, where are the lies and if there is lies, why ?

  7. #7
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    I also like both. Autobiographies can be much more authentic and give you a feel for the person, but I don't like it if they are too much in love with themselves. I really enjoyed the autobio of eric clapton. Biographies are great, because they can place the person in a larger context. But I usually skip the childhood years :)

  8. #8
    Modus omnibus in rebus Roquefort Raider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    I like both for different reasons. Both are subject to different strengths and weaknesses. Isaac Asimov was pretty straightforward about his warts in his various autobios.
    Ah, but they were the warts he wanted to acknowledge... A point that struck me in all of Asimov's autobiographies and memoirs is how reluctant he was to talk about his relationship with his son (while he positively gushed about his daughter).

    It's like how Clinton never really said anything about the Lewinsky affair in his own autobiography. He just gave second-hand information, reporting what the headlines said and such, but never revealing what he really thought.
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