In our previous two Great Biographies installments, iUniverse has focused on biographies of literary figures – Samuel Johnson, Geoffrey Chaucer, and James Joyce. Today, we look at two biographies outside of the literary sphere and discuss what makes them strong and enjoyable.
Philip Ziegler’s Mountbatten: The Official Biography details the life of Lord Louis Mountbatten, a complex figure whose name has generated sharp reactions over the years. Mountbatten was involved in military and government positions throughout his life, and was also prominent because of his aristocratic lineage.
The biography is interesting to read, for several reasons. First, Ziegler was the official biographer and is on close terms with Britain’s royal family, and hence he had immense access to information. Second, Mountbatten was a member of the upper class, and his friends, acquaintances, and colleagues are also fascinating to read about. Third, he played a large role in Britain’s state matters, such as World War II and colonialism. However, the feature of the biography that sticks out most is Ziegler’s unflinching honesty. He presents Mountbatten as a very human figure, full of fortes but also flaws. The latter include Mountbatten’s extreme pride in his ancestry as well as the frustrations of working with his documents. At the end, a full and trustworthy portrayal emerges.
John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman also succeeds in many similar ways to the book above. Lennon, the co-founder of the Beatles whose life was tragically cut short by an assassin in 1980, remains much revered and almost god-like to many people.
Norman’s book is intriguing because it is really a biography of the Beatles as a band, not just Lennon. It shows how Lennon’s life led up to the founding of the Beatles and how Lennon himself influenced and was influenced by their success and popularity. A taste of the 1960s comes through, while we see more of Lennon’s psychology exposed, among immense research. Norman’s portrait of the songwriter is direct, honest, and unbiased – so much so, that Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, eventually refused to endorse it as the “official” biography as she found the depiction of her late husband to be “mean”. In all, we get an impression of what it was like to know Lennon on a personal basis – his good character but complicated personality.
Which non-literary figure would be your choice to write about? Let us know!