The stated goal of Hamilton and Renders’ “ABC” volume is to provide readers with an overview of modern biography as it is practiced today, but the real agenda is broader—“ensuring biography’s valorization in the academy and in public discourse” as “a lynchpin in the defence of civilized society” (184). Key to that valorization is biography’s commitment to truth and verifiable facts—an increasingly steep challenge in our contemporary world where “fake news” trumps all and facts are under siege.

Hamilton and Renders have chosen an unusual and not entirely successful methodology to make their case for biography—A through Z chapters in which they range widely on a variety of topics over a wide swath of history. Most readers will probably skip around...

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