Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Chgvlokdkl. Chgvlokdkl Wonders, “Who was the first biography on?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Chgvlokdkl!

If you’re reading this, chances are that you enjoy learning about people, places, and new ideas. That’s what Wonderopolis is all about! Every Wonder you read is a nonfiction article. Nonfiction means that it is based in fact—it is true. Many Wonders are about famous or important people. These are biographies! And today we’re WONDERing—what is a biography?

Simply put, a biography is the true story of a person’s life. Of course, writing a biography might not be so simple! How does someone write a biography? Some authors write a biography of someone that they knew. One of the most famous biographies in ancient times was the descriptions of Socrates by his student, Plato. Plato wrote about what he saw and experienced with Socrates.

Most biographers have to research their subjects. Writers can learn about them by reading their diaries or other papers they wrote. They can also read what other biographers have written about them. If their subject is alive, a writer might interview them to learn more about their perspective. Sometimes, a writer may know his subject, but they also research them in order to give a fuller account of their lives. One of the first modern biographers was James Boswell. He knew his subject, Samuel Johnson, very well. He also learned more about Johnson by reading his papers and journals. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson became one of the most famous biographies in history!

Another kind of biography is the autobiography. “Auto” means self, so an autobiography is a biography written by oneself! One kind of autobiography is a memoir. Memoirs are usually about one part of a person’s life—not their entire life, like an autobiography. Both biographies and autobiographies are often written about well known or important people. Many may already know of them and are interested in learning more about them. That isn’t always true, though.

There are a few different reasons why people would write a biography or autobiography. The first is to teach others about someone who is already well known. Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, that inspired the musical Hamilton, is one example. Another is to inform about other places, times, or events. Biographies of famous generals, for example, help teach us about the conflicts they were a part of. Travel memoirs show us what it is like to live in other places.

Many memoirs focus on someone’s unique life. Helen Keller’s book tells of her life as a person who was both blind and deaf. Maya Angelou wrote about her life growing up as a Black girl in Arkansas.

Autobiographies can also be used to draw attention to important issues. They can help people empathize with the author. One genre of autobiography called slave narratives were written for this purpose. Authors like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs told about their lives as enslaved people. They hoped that by telling their stories, they might inspire others to work against slavery.

Autobiographies and memoirs about the Holocaust also seek to inform and teach others. Two of the best known Holocaust memoirs are Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and Elie Wiesel’s Night. These books help readers feel connected to the authors and understand how they felt.

Writing a biography requires a lot of research. Writing an autobiography or memoir means you will need to know all about yourself! Who would YOU like to write about? Who would YOU like to read about?

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.R.7, CCRA.R.8, CCRA.R.9, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.W.9

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s palm-sized Wonder of the Day has a long tail and is sometimes gray. However, we’re not sure if it likes cheese.