December 13, 2011

"Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory."

Said Benjamin Disraeli.

23 comments:

Peano said...

A biography isn't a history?

Michael said...

I am coming to agree with this.

traditionalguy said...

Does he mean auto biographies like Ben Franklin, U S Grant and Winston Churchill produced.

The level of fiction does go way up when men who were not there tell tall tales about what probably happened.

Chip S. said...

Disraeli failed to anticipate Lytton Strachey.

Tim said...

"The level of fiction does go way up when men who were not there tell tall tales about what probably happened."

Indeed so. There is, most assuredly, no fiction in either of Barack Obama's New York Times best-selling autobiographies.

Jose_K said...

The same was said before by Montaigne and after by Emerson

rcocean said...

Tommy Carlyle would disagree.

LarsPorsena said...

Chip S. said...
Disraeli failed to anticipate Lytton Strachey.
------------------

Bitterly ironic post..but a thread winner

rcocean said...

Here's a Disraeli quote for Althouse:

"Be amusing: never tell unkind stories; above all, never tell long ones."

edutcher said...

There is no biography without history and history is usually more interesting.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

"Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory."

But for God's sake stay away from autobiography, unless you are a student of self-serving mendacity.

rcocean said...

"But for God's sake stay away from autobiography, unless you are a student of self-serving mendacity."

Its either very, very good, or very very bad. Cf: "Memoirs of US Grant" and "Dreams of My father"

Paul said...

As long as the biography is not BS märchen (look at Obama's) I can agree with him.

But sadly many biographies are just promotions of viewpoint and not fully fact based.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

rcocean said...

Its either very, very good, or very very bad. Cf: "Memoirs of US Grant" and "Dreams of My father"


I actually thought about Grant after I wrote that. His Memoirs is the exception that proves the rule. Compare it to Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe. I expected Eisenhower to be somewhat modest, but Crusade is basically about how everyone sucked except for Eisenhower.

Canuck said...

History without theory is not biography.

History without theory is genealogy.

rcocean said...

"I expected Eisenhower to be somewhat modest, but Crusade is basically about how everyone sucked except for Eisenhower."

You mean Monty?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Monty, DeGaulle, even Churchill.

chuck said...

Disraeli's autobiography was a vast disappointment to me, thin and empty of scandal or revelations. But I note he said biography, not autobiography.

themightypuck said...

Imagine Obama saying something like that?

Tibore said...

Not to disagree with the eminent Disraeli, but that's horrid advice. No one's ever gotten better educated by ignoring entire areas of study.

The better advice would be to read everything critically, and work to understand context beyond any single piece. Unfortunately, pithy statements like "read no history" lends itself to being quoted better. Sad, but true.

Peter said...

The last biography I read way "Khrushchev: A Political Life" by Wm. J. Tompson. And it was well worth reading.

But if you read only biographies you'll miss a great deal of history- such as, what life was like for Everyman, and the nature of (for example) popular culture.

BTW, there's an interesting article in Vanity Fair, which asserts that popular culture has been mostly frozen for the last 20 years or so.

http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2012/01/prisoners-of-style-201201

Crunchy Frog said...

Everyone sucked except for Patton.

wv: tobici - or not tobici

BJM said...

@rcocean

"I have a phobia of Benjamin Disraeli's hair." - Billy Bob Thorton.

Just thought I'd lob this into the thread for no reason other than it amuses me (Thorton also fears antique Louis Quatorze baroque furniture).