Biography Examples and Definition

Definition of Biography

A biography is a description of a real person’s life, consisting of factual details and stories from the person’s life. Biographies often include information about the subject’s personality and motives, as well as observations of the person’s life or other intimate details omitted from the profile. Most biographical examples are written about people who are or were famous, such as politicians, actors, athletes, etc. However, some biographies can be written about people who have lived wonderful lives, but they are not necessarily very famous. A biography may be labeled “authorized” if the person about whom it is written, or their family members, has given permission to the particular author to write the biography.

The word “biography” comes from the Greek words “bios” meaning “life” and -graphy meaning “writing”.

Common Examples of Biography

The biography is so popular that there is even a cable network originally dedicated to stories about the lives of famous people (called the Biography Channel). The stories turned out so well for television that other channels such as VH1, which released the biopic Behind the Music, became popular. Some examples of written autobiographies have become known in their own right, such as the following books:

1. Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (better known for the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda)
2. Unbreakable by Laura Hillenbrand
3. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
4. Into the Wild by John Krakauer
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
6. Mountains Beyond Mountains: In Search of Dr. Paul Farmer, the Man Who Will Heal the World, Tracy Kidder
7. “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Advance the World… One School at a Time” by Greg Mortensen

Difference Between Biography and Autobiography

A biographer is a description of a life other than that of the author, and an autobiography is a description of the author’s own life. However, there can be a gray area in defining biography when hiring a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is a writer who assists in the creation of a book, either by collaborating with someone else or by writing the entire book himself. Some famous people enlist the help of a ghostwriter to create their biographies if they don’t have a special talent for writing but want the story to look like it comes from their own lips. In the case of an autobiography written by a ghost, the author is not actually writing about his own life but draws enough information from the subject to make a work very close to the person’s experience.

Significance of Biography in Literature

The biographical genre evolved from other forms of historical non-fiction, which preferred to focus on the experiences of a particular individual rather than the larger actors. Biographical examples date back to 44 BC. When the Roman biographer Cornelius Nepos wrote Exelantium Imperatorum Vitae (“Lives of those capable of commanding”). The Greek historian Plutarch was also known for his autobiographies, creating a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans in his book Parallel Lives. After the creation of the printing press, one of the first “bestsellers” was the famous 1550 biography “Lives of the Artists” by Giorgio Vasari. The biography then became very popular in the 18th century when James Boswell published The Life of Samuel Johnson in 1791. Biography is one of the best-selling literary genres and has garnered several distinguished literary awards for the method.

Examples of Biography in Literature


On July 2, McCandless finished reading Tolstoy’s Family Happiness, noting several passages that inspired him:
“You were right when you said that the only true happiness in life is to live for others…” Then, on July 3, he shouldered his pack and began a twenty-mile walk on a better path. Two days later, halfway through, in heavy rain, he approached the Beaver Ponds, which had blocked access to the west bank of the Teklanica River. In April, they froze and presented no hindrance. Now he must have been terrified to see the lake spread over three acres on the road.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

John Krakauer is an author and outdoor enthusiast who is known for several non-fiction books, including his own experience in the 1996 Everest climbing disaster. All your money and hit the road. In the wilderness of the American West. McCandless died of starvation in Denali National Park in 1992. The biography delves into the events surrounding McCandless’s death and includes Krakauer’s own experiences.

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