In the words of Mark Twain:

The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t

So, here are five reasons why choosing to read a biography will be a choice that will benefit you in many ways.

1. They allow you to stand on the shoulders of giants

In the 1670’s, Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to his friend Robert Hooke:

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants

That is exactly what reading biographies can do for you – allow you to see further because of what these people have achieved. Admittedly not every biography is about a “giant” but most are (and you can certainly pick from that list).

However, even if the person you are reading about is despicable and not worthy of praise or admiration, like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf; there likely are still many lessons to be gleaned from their life experiences and behaviours – even if most are things you don’t want to do.

2. They remind you that history repeats itself

George Santayana wrote in 1905:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Reading about the real experiences of others gives context for the decisions and consequences that we all will face. One of the best ways to take advantage of the experience of others is by reading biographies of historical figures, not academic tomes about history.

3. They promote self discovery

A good self help or professional development book will outline specific steps, tools, techniques and approaches to try. These can be valuable and successful shortcuts to help you make improvements and get results in most any area of your life.

A biography, on the other hand, won’t be as direct. You will discover ideas and approaches on your own through the stories and experiences of others. This discovery learning process is often far more satisfying, and most always more lasting, than reading a list of steps.

4. They allow you to see the world in new ways

Rather than being completely focused on a rigid way of looking at things, reading about someone from a different era, a different background or a totally different set of life experiences will give you new perspective. In truth, most great innovations come from taking an idea from one situation, discipline or industry and adapting it to another. Reading biographies is one great way to do this.

5. They give you mentors at a distance

If you read about the life of anyone you select, you will have a glimpse into their mind and have the advantage of knowing them. These people can become your mentors at a distance if you allow yourself the chance to think about what advice they might give you, or what they might do in a the situation you are facing.

Hopefully these five reasons have you at least thinking about picking up a biography, soon! Think of a person you have always found interesting or intriguing, even if you aren’t quite sure why. Then, find a book about them (or written by them) and get started!

You will be glad you did. You also will likely find more reasons to add to your personal list of why reading biographies is enjoyable and profitable for you.

Once you have decided to be a book reader, choosing to read biographies is a great way to expand your horizons, find new mentors and learn vicariously. Learning in this way can transform both your enjoyment of and benefits from reading.

This article was adapted from