Tuesday, May 16, 2006

May 16: Biographer's Day

Today is the anniversary of the first meeting between Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the landmark Dictionary of the English Language, and his biographer James Boswell (1740-1795). The two men met in Davies’s London bookshop in 1763, and established a relationship that would allow Boswell to produce what is recognized as the greatest biography ever written: The Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791.

The word biography is Greek (bio = life + graph = writing)

A number of words feature the graph root as it relates to writing. Here are words and definitions from English Vocabulary Quick Reference by Roger S. Crutchfield (1):

Autobiography: The story of one’s life written by oneself (auto-, self)

Autograph: Written or made with one’s own hand, as a signature (auto- self)

Bibliography: A list of writings (biblio- book)

Cacography: Illegible handwriting (caco, poor)

Cryptography: The art or science of writing and deciphering secret codes (crypto, secret)

Dysgraphia: Impairment of the ability to write (dys-, impaired)

Hagiography: Biographies written about saints (hagio, holy)

Lexicography: The branch of linguistics dealing wit the writing or compiling of dictionaries (lex, word)

Orthography: Correct spelling (ortho, correct)

If you are a bit behind on your reading of biography, an excellent way to get caught up is to read the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. As the title suggests, this excellent book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. In addition, the authors created what they call the BioGraph System of ranking each of the 1,000 people. To lend some objectivity to their process, they created a list of five specific criteria and awarded points in each category. For example, number one on the list is Johannes Gutenberg with a score of 21,768 and number 1,000 is Andy Warhol with 1,000 points (2).

Criteria for Inclusion in the Top 1,000 People of the Millennium:

1. Lasting Influence 10,000

2. Effect on the sum total of wisdom and beauty in the world: 5,000

3. Influence on contemporaries: 5,000

4. Singularity of contribution: 3,000

5. Charisma: 2,000

Today’s Challenge: Biomania
Each name listed below has his or her biography in 1,000 Years, 1,000 People. Which one person in each of the pairs do you think is rated higher?

1. Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck?

2. Bob Dylan or T.S. Eliot?

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower or Winston Churchill?

4. Nicholas Copernicus or Galilieo Galilei?

5. William Shakespeare or Francis Bacon?

6. Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton?

7. Ludwig van Beethoven or Johann Sebastian Bach?

8. Leonardo Da Vinci or Pablo Picasso?

9. Albert Einstein or Thomas Alva Edison?

10. George Washington or Thomas Jefferson?

11. Karl Marx or Mohandas K. Gandhi?

12. Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung?

13. Adolph Hitler or Genghis Khan?

14. John Milton or Geoffrey Chaucer?

15. Marco Polo or Ferdinand Magellan?

16. John Calvin or Martin Luther?

17. Charles Dickens or Fyodor Dostoyevsky?

18. Alexander Graham Bell or Marie Curie?

19. Joseph Stalin or Niccolo Machiavelli?

20. Susan B. Anthony or Eleanor Roosevelt?

Quote of the Day: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. –William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

1. Ernest Hemingway 388 or John Steinbeck 901
2. Bob Dylan 888 or T.S. Eliot 720
3. Dwight D. Eisenhower 374 or Winston Churchill 38
4. Nicholas Copernicus 18 or Galilieo Galilei 4
5. William Shakespeare 5 or Francis Bacon 412
6. Charles Darwin 7 or Isaac Newton 6
7. Ludwig van Beethoven 10 or Johann Sebastian Bach 35
8. Leonardo Da Vinci 9 or Pablo Picasso 149
9. Albert Einstein 17 or Thomas Alva Edison 28
10. George Washington 22 or Thomas Jefferson 64
11. Karl Marx 14 or Mohandas K. Gandhi 12
12. Sigmund Freud 17 or Carl Jung 146
13. Adolph Hitler 20 or Genghis Khan 43
14. John Milton 53 or Geoffrey Chaucer 62
15. Marco Polo 66 or Ferdinand Magellan 42
16. John Calvin 69 or Martin Luther 3
17. Charles Dickens 70 or Fyodor Dostoyevsky 77
18. Alexander Graham Bell 74 or Marie Curie 75
19. Joseph Stalin 82 or Niccolo Machiavelli 40
20. Susan B. Anthony 139 or Eleanor Roosevelt 141

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 - Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

1 comment:

Neel Mehta said...

Looks like a pair of married couples made that ranking of 1,000 influential people. I can't imagine how many quarrels went into the making of that book.