Gore Vidal on Academic Biographers

26 June 2008 at 8:44 am 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Gore Vidal, writing in 1981 in the New York Review of Books:

Lately, American biography has fallen more and more into the hands not of writers but of academics. That some academics write very well indeed is, of course, perfectly true and, of course, perfectly rare. When it comes to any one of the glorious founders of our imperial republic, the ten-volume hagiography is now the rule. Under the direction of a tenured Capo, squads of graduate students spend years assembling every known fact, legend, statistic. The Capo then factors everything into the text, like sand into a cement mixer. The result is, literally, monumental, and unreadable.

Thanks to LRC for the tip. The context is Gore’s praise for David McCullough’s short biography of Teddy Roosevelt (who Vidal calls a “sissy”), Mornings on Horseback.

Of course there are some terrific academic biographers writing today such as Thomas McCraw and Guido Hülsmann. But they are probably the exceptions that prove the rule.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Ephemera. Tags: .

Whither Chicago Economics? Vertical Is the New Horizontal

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rafe  |  26 June 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Check out Malachi Hacohen on Karl Popper, warts and all!

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/shortreviews/revHacohenIHS.html

  • 2. Richard O. Hammer  |  26 June 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Not economics, but I really enjoyed the 2006 biography of William James by Robert D. Richardson, a retired English professor and friend from a coffee shop where I hang out. ISBN: 0618433252

  • 3. Joe Mahoney  |  27 June 2008 at 10:21 am

    My wife Jeanne and I met David McCullough and his wife last year. They invited us for their July 4th celebration in Camden, Maine. A good date (and place) to spend with the author of 1776 !

  • 4. felicity12  |  8 July 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Wow! You were invited by David McCullough? That sounds as if it was a spectacular Independence Day. I hope to meet him someday. He has inspired me so much.

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