As we discovered last week, every nonfiction best-seller list is peppered by, and sometimes dominated by, well-crafted biographies and autobiographies. The lion’s share of this genre focuses on the famous and infamous. From heads of state and war generals to rock stars and athletes, famous people fascinate us. On the dark side, we also want to know all about political assassins, dictators and Mafiosos.
Ordinary human nature is intriguing enough, but when the person rises to become a household name, we enjoy tracing the entire life. How did the person become famous? Was it a level of genius or talent—or evil—that seemed to be there from birth and would stand out no matter what? Was it the upbringing? Circumstances and luck?
We’re curious for a lot of reasons. Some people read these stories looking for a sort of playbook: what route should I take to become a U.S. president, or how can I raise my child to be the next Major League home run hitter? If the subject hails from royalty or generational wealth, a memoir or biography lets us peek into a world to which we have no other access; we can live vicariously for the length of the book. We’re interested, too, in what goes on in the mind of a criminal, perhaps to make sure that we or our children are not headed in that direction.
There’s one more reason we love reading about famous people. Check back next time for that one!