As You Like It

Literary news, book reviews
and more…   rss-icon 

Real lives enlighten our own

by Evan | Dec 04, 2017
Steve JobsMuch as we love stories, I wonder why biographies are not more popular than fiction. Sure, we can relate our lives to characters and situations in fiction, but they're still fiction. Good biographies cause us to relate our lives to real people -- admirable, reprehensible or, sometimes, both. 

Case in point, I recently finished Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I hadn't paid much attention to the career of the late Apple co-founder and was surprised to learn what a cruel person he was. I've been trying to teach myself lately to not be so sensitive to what people think of me, but reading about how Jobs mistreated seemingly everyone around him helped me ease up on myself a bit. Better to be a wimp than a warlock, even if I would never have been able to browbeat people into inventing the iPhone. 

Hearing about Jobs's famous "reality distortion field" brought President Trump to mind. Apple employees coined that term to describe how Jobs could believe so much in things that others thought were impossible that oftentimes reality changed and the impossible became possible. I don't recall hearing two years ago of any experts who thought Trump could really become president, but he dismissed that reality and there he is today. I'm looking at some tasks in my life that seem daunting; maybe I could benefit from distorting my own sense of reality. 

Death of a KingDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to distort realities far greater than a long-shot presidential campaign or the limitations of early computers. Tavis Smiley's Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year is the tragic tale of a man who was trying to end racism, end poverty and stop a war all at the same time. The book is not a full biography. It includes some asides about King's earlier life, but it hones in on how King suffered as the waves of a violent time drowned out his pleas for peace in the months before he was murdered. I'm still listening to the book and still trying to process what it tells me about my own very small involvement in pushing for social change, but it's surely got something to do with how much personal sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Meanwhile, I'm on a crazy project reading a 188-year-old volume about a 1,517-year old Byzantine general. I don't know yet what The Life of Belisarius by Lord Mahon (Philip Henry Stanhope) is going to teach me about my 21st century life of ease on the other side of the world, but Belisarius did live a fabled life, beating one big opponent after another with small forces. Almost like fiction, only better.


EvanEvan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.

2 comments

Leave a comment
  1. Evan | Dec 11, 2017
    Of course, our own lives are stories, too. Maybe that's one reason people write genealogies, which are kind of selfie prequels! 
  2. Nancy McCammon-Hansen | Dec 09, 2017
    I think it would be wonderful to take a history class that used biographies as the basis for the class material. As an admitted history geek and voracious reader, I have loved biographies from the time I was in elementary school. And certainly presidential biographies....and those of the first ladies....are wonderful. Can't wait for the books by the Obamas.

    Leave a comment