Why readers love big bios

This is an excerpt of my recent Salon.com article about definitive biographies.

Steve Jobs didn’t spend his life punching a clock; he was the creative force behind Pixar Animation, the Macintosh computer and the iPhone. His story and Walter Isaacson’s deft retelling of it were the reasons his Steve Jobs, published in 2011, has been a monster hit – selling more than 1.7 million copies in hardcover and paperback, according to data collected by Nielsen Bookscan and provided to Salon.com. Nielsen Bookscan tracks sales at 85 percent of retailers and does not include e-book sales, which are often more than double the number of print sales.

“People crave insights into a brilliant person’s mind. What makes them tick?” said Jennifer Tung, editorial director for nonfiction at Ballantine Bantam Dell, an imprint of Random House. “It’s kind of a hybrid of voyeurism and self-help.”


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