Tim Pittman

The Power of Big Biographies

People shy away from big books. They are intimidating. The thought of being stuck in one book for thousands of pages seems daunting. I don’t want to stick with one person for more than a few days, let alone weeks.

But they are underrated as massive compendiums of knowledge on a particular period. It’s safe to say that typical big biography - Lincoln, Grant, Ben Franklin, Steve Jobs - are of lives that lasted for 60 - 80 years.

What is misleading about these books is that they are about one person. But in order to tell the person’s story, context is required. This is where these books shimmer.

In order to understand the subject, context of the period is required. The backdrop of the period, its value, opinions, and narratives that support the growth of the subject are needed.

As a result you’ll walk away with a very solid foundation into 60 to 80 years of a time period and the context in which it is presented. For this I really enjoy the presidential biographies - my favorites have been Grant, The Rise of Teddy Roosevelt, and (most likely, not finished) Washington. Since presidents wield such immense power, they cast a wide range, requiring the author to provide greater context.

So, pick up a biography. Get through the low parts. They will come. But while others put the book down because it’s too difficult, you’ll enjoy benefits.