The Aug. 6 New Yorker describes how biographies, like fiction, deviate from reality: There’s no point in writing, or reading, the life of a famous person if it doesn’t uncover some previously unpublicized piece of personal information. This is because the premise of biographies is that the private can account for the public, that the subject’s accomplishments map onto his or her psychic history, and this premise is the justification for digging up the traumatic, the indefensible, and the shameful and getting it all into print. …
It seems obvious that, if you know someone's public pronouncements and also what she wrote in her diary or confided to her friends, you'll have more insight into her thinking than if you're going on public pronouncements alone (especially if the two diverge). So when I'm reading a biography, I look for the writer to combine evidence in what strikes me as a fair way: yes, dig up all the dirt, just don't harp on it to the exclusion of everything else.
There's no point in writing, or reading, the life of a famous person if it doesn't uncover some previously unpublicized piece of personal information.
That's a really, really stupid statement. I hope it made more sense in context.
Perhaps there's no point in someone who's already an expert on the famous person in question reading another biography of that person. But for that vast majority of the population looking to read their first biography of Famous Person X, there's always room for another volume that's far better written than those already available. And if it's really, really well-written, or offers valuable new analysis of the biographical information that's already public, it's probably valuable for the aforementioned experts, too.
If people are prurient about highly revealing facts about a public persons life, that's what the markets gonna supply. Also, i'd say that because reading a biography performs the same function as watching somebody to perform an action, people, due to correspondence bias, want to read more about the person's role in events rather than about the situations surrounding those events. So, the markets gonna supply biographies that describe intricate details about the person to help us attribute the events that took place to that person.
I don't know how fiction can mislead us about reality because by definition it's fiction (not a description of reality). Biographies can mislead us about reality if we don't take in to account that the bad incentives the writers face and if we are unable to control our own perceptional and attributional biases.
I'm not sure if deviation from reality is the important common element here so much as the framing of events in a narrative structure. Biographies may recount real events unlike fictional works, but the telling of these events as a story is an invention--out of necessity, as a mass of unorganized data is incomprehensible. In a sense, a dry account of objective events without narrative organization is not more realistic anyway, since our memories of events and evaluations of ourselves and others fits a narrative pattern already. From another perspective, to "invert the normal rules of evidence" is not a bias in favor of private evidence so much as an attempt to counter the persistent correspondence bias inherent in others' construction of one's public persona.