Janet Maslin, in her New York Times review last week of Ron Chernow’s new biography of Ulysses S. Grant, praises Chernow for “manag[ing] to put on Grant goggles and deal primarily with this one soldier’s role in the military, this one leader’s role in the Civil War.”
I find this helpful. Without such goggles—or, pick another metaphor, without binoculars that can be trained on one figure, or without a magnifying glass that can enlarge details of a key face in a crowd—biographical writing can too easily become general history. That context is necessary, of course. But not too much—the biographer’s point is to see, to point to, to communicate, the life of a person.
Back to my goggles.