WRITING LIVES IS THE DEVIL! by Gale E. Christianson

WRITING LIVES IS THE DEVIL!

Essays of a Biographer at Work
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The ins and outs of the biographer's craft, by a man who has penned several (Fox at the Wood's Edge, 1990. etc.--not reviewed). Biography, it seems, is an enterprise fraught with dangers, and in these 13 essays, Christianson (History/Indiana State) tackles them all. Most worrisome is the biographer's relation to his subject: Adversary? Advocate? Christianson argues that the biographer must identify with his subject--even if the subject happens to be Adolf Hitler. A connected issue is that of privacy: While Christianson notes that Barbara Tuchman and many others have staunchly defended the limits of investigation, he points out that ``the biographer is necessarily intrusive.'' These edgy topics and others are illustrated by the author's experiences while writing lives of Sir Isaac Newton and Loren Eiseley, both of whom were difficult subjects (Christianson describes Newton as ``an emotional eunuch,'' and says that Eiseley's autobiographical writings were fraught with extensive dissembling). As for the biographer's tools, the most important is research; the author wittily recounts the pitfalls of interviewing the living (like Eiseley's widow, who reminded Christianson of Dickens's Miss Havisham) and of resurrecting the dead (usually by threading one's way through labyrinthine archives, where a friendly librarian makes all the difference). Also discussed are writer's block, agents, book titles, fan mail, the future of the craft, and the sublime pleasures of handling a piece of the past (in England, Christianson momentarily holds--and ponders pilfering--a lock of Newton's hair). Top-heavy with Eiseley and Newton anecdotes, limiting the popular appeal--but a must-read for biographers everywhere.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-208-02382-8
Page count: 248pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993




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