Reading The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig really unlocked the treasure of literary biographies that not only celebrates the lives of authors but helps me understand the world and time that made them.
The New York Times has a list literary biographies that have been reviewed by the The New York Times Book Review since 2000.
The first very ones I read were about W. Somerset Maugham and actor Sal Mineo. Both were supposedly gay. Maugham never acknowledged his homosexuality but was known to carry on affairs with a male sculptor. Mineo’s breakthrough as an actor came in Rebel Without a Cause, in which he played John “Plato” Crawford, the sensitive teenager smitten with Jim Stark (played by James Dean). In short, I read to get the dirt.
Literary Biographies offer more than just gossips. They help rediscover people we think we know well. They also help reassess infamous characters and get the story behind legendary characters. In my reading experience, I learn some first-hand insight into history—for the glimpse at humanity through a story you know is true and real. History books might give the hardcore facts, a literary biography can give the best insider’s view on a specific time.