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Lives of the mind

What explains the recent fashion for biographies of philosophers? Why do so few of them combine both good philosophy and vivid writing?

By AC Grayling   September 2002

Biography is a popular genre, and for good reason. It is a form of history, illuminating the general via the particular, and making the past-even the recent past-additionally vivid by casting it in a personal light. It satisfies a healthy form of voyeurism about lives made notable by achievement or fate, giving us insights into how they became so and providing us with materials for understanding, even changing, our own lives.

The popularity of biography has increased further since biographers allowed themselves frankness about their subjects’ intimacies. That is a good thing: life unfolds more behind closed curtains than on…

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