Why are biographies not reliable sources of history?

Why are biographies not reliable source of history
Thinking about why Biographies are not not reliable source of history.

It is always painful to find out that your work was rejected due to weak or unreliable biographical sources after lots of time, resources, and effort that you put into it.

This article brings to you twenty-two reasons why biographies are not reliable historical sources.

Why are biographies not reliable sources of history?

The following are the actual facts about why Biographies are considered unreliable sources of history.

  1. Lack of accurate information.
  2. Conflicting information.
  3. Focus on the individual.
  4. Bias.
  5. Lack of truth.
  6. Profit-making motive.
  7. Failure to explain long term trends.
  8. Fragmentary details.
  9. Perpetuate historical myths.
  10. Chronological limit of life.
  11. Over attachment of biographers to the subject.
  12. Focus on the highest members of the society.
  13. Death of Evidence.
  14. Too much information.
  15. The evidence relied upon is not comprehensive.
  16. Errors in translation.
  17. Political patronage.
  18. Hero worshipping.
  19. Lost of major parts.
  20. Too little information.
  21. Full of extrapolations.
  22. Stuffing of imaginary characters.

1. Lack of accurate information.

History relies on only accurate and verifiable information from trustworthy sources before data will be accepted and used.

Biographies are full of inaccurate data, which makes them unreliable for acceptance and usage as a source in history.

Biographies are always lacking in providing original and factual information.

When you take a biography to extract historical data, you must compare it with other sources before its reliability is accepted.

2. Focus on individual.

The biography focuses a hundred percent on the individual while neglecting all other factors that can give a more comprehensive understanding of a period, event, or activity of that particular time.

Since history focuses much more on the broader socio-economic, intellectual, and political movement that has wider implications than the action of an individual.

Therefore, using biography alone as a source of history becomes a problem because it cannot give information on activities with that are beyond individual life.

Generally, biographies are biased, making them unreliable to be used as a source of history.

A biography presents the subject to the reader in a manner that always projects a positive image even if it is not valid.

Biographers pick the subject due to their subjectivity and not based on a pure desire to study the individual.

Moreover, some biographers are paid to write on the subject, making information in it unreliable to use in documenting history.

4. Absence of truth.

Biographies are not always accurate in what they contain.

Some are riddled with lies and fabricated stories that cannot be verified when subjected to examination.

The absence of truth in most of them is the primary reason they are considered unreliable in history.

History deals only with studying facts that happened in the past.

5. Profit-making motive.

People wrote some biographies with the sole objective of getting monetary benefit from them.

This reason makes the author’s effort impure.

It leads to distortions of events,  exaggerations, falsehood, and other harmful methods to be employed to profit from the publication of the biography.

Therefore, history considered such actions unethical and unreliable for use.

History aims to purify all pieces of information in other to prevent distortions, manipulation, propaganda, and outright falsehood from gaining access and destroying its credibility.

Biography cannot explain long-term trends due to its Focus on only short-term aspects.

Individual life is short, as such biography can only deal with such period, which Is against the significant purpose of history, which is the study of long-term trends that can last thousands of years.

7. Fragmentary details.

Among the significant factors for the unreliability of biography being used as a source of history is that it always provides small pieces of details that are very difficult to collate and merge to give some historical value.

However, even if these fragmented pieces can provide an essential historical fact, gathering them together is impossible to do.

8. It perpetuate Historical myths.

The inconsistencies and inaccuracies in biographies help in perpetuating historical myths and legends that have no reliable historical basis.

Mo of the myths we know is not verifiable by any known historical data at all, which makes the data suspicious and unreliable to use.

9. Chronological limit of life.

Individual life is limited to a few decades of existence. By relying on personal life, biography becomes very limited for practical usage regarding historical reliability.

The historical limit of a human life rarely defines a historical period that I reliable.

History is comprehensive, and it takes covers limits beyond human life’s existence limit.

We are using biography as a historical source and, therefore, very unreliable.

10. Over attachment of Biographers to the Subject.

To have a very objective work, the author needs to be neutral to the affairs of the subject.

In this aspect, biographers identify themselves too much with the subject, which affects their ability to be neutral.

This absence of neutrality, one of the central Focuses of historians’ research efforts, is defeated, making the entire biography unreliable.

11. Focus on higher members of the Society.

One of the most significant limitations of biography is the too much attention it allocates to only the high-ranking members of a society, which in most cases does not reflect the actual situation of that society.

Particularly in the past, the Focus is on the kings, queens, nobles, and other ranking members of the society while neglecting the majority peasant population.

12. Death of evidence.

Another factor that makes the reliability of a biography questionable to history is the lack of evidence that will help verify the authenticity of all the facts mentioned in it.

This inability to provide extensive evidence makes the reliability and sources in the biography spooky and subjective.

12. Too much information.

History is comprehensive, thereby making it able to absolve relevant pieces of necessary information while weeding out all those that are not needed.

On the other hand, a biography relies on a specific and provides lots of information that has no historical value—things like the subject’s favourite colours and hobbies.

13. Evidence relied upon is not comprehensive.

Most of the Evidence provided to back up information in biographies is not comprehensive.

Moreover, history relies on only ample evidence for it to be helpful to both historians and researchers.

Most of us want to get ample evidence in our day-to-day research activities.

14. Errors in translation.

Most of the early biographies were written in languages other than English. The process of translating them back to English.

The people who translate them back to the English that we are using now frequently make mistakes in understanding the context and meaning of many sentences mistranslated.

Most early biographies were written in the era of greek civilisations, therefore are written in the Greek language, which made translating them to other languages complicated in the past.

15. Political patronage.

Most biographers in the past write biographies of leaders and prominent people in other to gain political favours from such people.

This action makes the authenticity of what they write unreliable, and most of them full of errors and deliberate distortion of facts in other to satisfy their paymasters.

Due to such distortions, they are found not reliable to be used as a reference in history.

16. Hero worshipping.

Some biography writers are afraid of criticism from relatives and supporters of the subject.

Therefore, they tend to write only things that will praise the issue to high heavens without balancing their report to reflect all the good and bad aspects of the person.

Some biography writers are either loyal servants or fans of the heroes, which makes all they write in their biography to be questionable and unreliable to history.

17. Lost of major parts.

BiographieS are kept for a very long period.

Due to this long Storage, many of them are damaged by dampness, flooding, termites, and poor storage facilities.

AS a result of these factors, Some or most parts that can not be retrieved forever make relying on them very problematic in the long run.

18.Too little information.

The information provided by biography is too little to be reliably used for historical research purposes.

History requires a ton of verifiable knowledge to arrive at the most accurate answer that will not mislead people, which biography failed to provide adequately.

19. Full of extrapolations.

Biographies are full of extrapolations that are often irreverent and add no meaning to any aspect of the biography.

This habit is mainly found in pre-printing histories, which suffer acceptability problems in historical research.

20. Stuffing of imaginary characters.

Biography is nonfiction.

Therefore any introduction of imaginary fictional characters will decrease the reliability of such to the barest minimum.

History considers biography not reliable to be used for analyzing historical events.

Differences between biography and history.

1. Biography focuses on individual lives alone, while history covers all aspects of the world.

2. Biographies are restricted to the author’s ability, while history, on the other hand, has no author restriction.

 Similarities between biography and history.

1. Deals with the past.

Both biography and history deal with issues that involve things of the past.

They attempt to explain what happened in the past, those involved, and why and how it happened to the present generation.

Both also explained the merit and demerit of such actions and the benefits generated or otherwise.

People attempt to know what happened in the past in other to be able to make informed decisions and avoid possible future mistakes.

2. Subjective.

Both history and biography are not using scientifically recognized means in arriving at their conclusion.

They rely on oral and documented manuscripts, archeological pieces of evidence, and other documents to get the information needed for a proper understanding of events.

3. Bulkiness.

The number of pages used in both biography and history is very bulky compared to other documented books.

Both of them are heavy in word count and pages due to the amount of information they contain.


Therefore, the reason why biographies are not reliable sources of history is as a combination of several factors.

Those factors includes, lack of adequate information, conflicting information, bias, focus on the individual, Lack of truth, Profit making motive, Failure to explain long-term trends, Fragmentary details, Perpetuate historical myths, Chronological limit of life, over-attachment of biographers to the subject.

It also includes a Focus on the highest members of the society, Death of Evidence, Too much information, and the evidence relied upon is not comprehensive, errors in translation, Political patronage, hero-worship, lost parts, and too little information. Full of extrapolations, stuffing of imaginary characters, among others.


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