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110

Louis-François Pinagot He was an illiterate shoemaker in western France in the 19th century. French historian Alain Corbin picked Pinagot at random on a town registry, and wrote his biography as a way to describe the social environment of 19th century France, collecting as much data as possible about Pinagot, his family, his village, etc. The result was ...


89

I’ll throw in a vote for Robert “Romeo” Coates, a theatre actor in Britain in the early 1800s. According to Wikipedia (emphasis mine): Despite this ridicule, Coates went on to tour the British Isles. If a theatre manager would hesitate to let him show his talents, he would bribe them. Managers, in turn, often called in the police in case things went ...


61

The poet William McGonagall (born March 1825 and died 29 September 1902) is a famous example. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems ...


48

Florence Foster Jenkins, known as the world's worst opera singer. "No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation." Despite (or perhaps because of) her technical incompetence, she became a prominent musical cult figure in New York City during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. At ...


30

I think you may look into biographies of war heroes. War is an opportunity for a person to do something notable to attract biographers’ attention and still stay just one of the many. For example, The story of a real man, a novel by Boris Polevoy, is a biography of Alexey Maresyev (Meresyev in the book), a Soviet pilot who was shot down behind the frontline, ...


28

The Merchant of Prato by Iris Origo (1957) is a biography of Francesco Datini a 14th-century merchant banker. The only distinguishing factor of Datini is that by chance a huge stash of his written accounts and letters had been preserved and discovered in 1870.


24

English As She Is Spoke was so bad it was enjoyable: English As She Is Spoke is the common name of a 19th-century book written by Pedro Carolino, and falsely additionally credited to José da Fonseca, which was intended as a Portuguese–English conversational guide or phrase book, but is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour, as the given ...


23

Not a book, but there is a long-running documentary film series in the UK following the lives of ordinary people with a film every seven years from the first when they were seven years old. The latest, '63 Up', has just shown. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_(film_series)


22

This is an example of decorative marginalia, which is quite common on medieval manuscripts. Sometimes the marginalia relates to the context of the subject of that page of the manuscript, but often it appears to have been quite random. One fairly well-known group that I'm personally particularly fond of is the so-called animals at war which includes images ...


16

No, Knuth was not the first person to typeset a book "with a computer". The TEX project was started in 1978 by Don­ald E. Knuth, while re­vis­ing the sec­ond vol­ume of his Art of Com­puter Pro­gram­ming. When he got the galleys back, he saw that the pub­lisher had switched to a new dig­i­tal type­set­ting sys­tem and was shocked at the poor qual­ity. ...


15

Magnus Hirschfeld, a researcher on sexuality and early advocates for gay rights amassed a huge body of research on homosexuality and transsexuality. In '33, he was heading and institute at the Charité University in Berlin. The Archive of his Institute was burned completely, a huge body of research was lost. This did not happen "just" because he was jewish, ...


12

One of my favorite historical accounts is The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg (an Italian historian). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cheese_and_the_Worms It's an account of the life and trial of a sixteenth century miller brought before the inquisition twice, tried, and eventually executed. Quite excellent. "The study examines the unique ...


10

The novelist Vikram Seth wrote Two Lives: A Memoir, which is a biography of his uncle and aunt. His uncle was a dentist, originally from India, who studied dentistry in Germany. His wife was Jewish, from Berlin. They left Germany and settled in England shortly before World War II. The part of the book that I remember best describes the effect of World War ...


10

The works of Amanda McKittrick Ros are an example of prose that was so bad it was considered entertaining for its badness. One group who entertained themselves with her work was a group of British literary greats known collectively as the Inklings (J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were among them). Their main business was to share unpublished works of ...


9

Consider this doctoral dissertation: The hammer and the crescent: Contacts between Andalusi Muslims, Franks, and their successors in three waves of Muslim expansion into Francia, available at https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9112639/ It is based on an analysis of the original source material. You can preview the introductory chapter for free.


8

To ameliorate some of the western bias among these answers, there's an entire genre of Lei Feng biographies based on his purported diary and others' remembrances of him that have been read by far more people and been far more important to more people than any of the others mentioned here. A billion plus Chinese kids have been raised reading about him as a ...


8

You could try A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman. Strictly speaking, it's not a biography, as much as a tour of the 14th century in France, with sections on all the important events of the day: the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, peasant revolts, the papal schism, and such. But most of the narrative is structured around ...


6

There is a vast amount of literature covering the period you are interested in. What follows is but a small sample, but it should set you on your way. The following ancient sources cover 5th century BC Athens. They are not specifically about the daily lives and culture of Athenians but there is much to be gleaned from them. Plutarch's Parallel Lives, ...


5

Your criteria for exclusion seem quite flexible, so I am not sure if any of the following really count: There are several works by holocaust and WWII survivors who are more notable for their post-war lives, e.g. Imre Kertesz, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Inge Deutschkron. There are also works about victims of the war, e.g. about Tanya Savicheva. 1587 Year of no ...


4

Christian Weston Chandler is an absolute nobody, yet has a complete wiki (https://sonichu.com/) that documents his whole life, pretty much every email or Facebook post he wrote, every piece of art, video and music he produced. There's also an extensive web of relationships with people he encountered, be they real or not. Mr Chandler is pretty much the most ...


4

This is a matter of taste. And "so bad, it's good" is an 'acquired taste'. As a more or less mass phenomenon it is indeed a recent one, although slightly older thatn the question presumes. Tastes differ. Tastes develop. And not all people have the same opinion on what's good, and certainly not all at the same time. It's also quite the difference to see an ...


3

To focus on a single type of schoolbook, we can look at the McGuffey Readers. If we look at the wiki page discussing these, we find an explanation of the progression through this series of books. (emphasis mine) Most schools of the 19th century used only the first two in the series of McGuffey's four readers. The first Reader taught reading by using ...


2

Take a look at this book: C. G. Bell, J. Grason, A. Newell, DESIGNING COMPUTERS AND DIGITAL SYSTEMS USING PDP-16 REGISTER TRANSFER MODULES, Digital Press, September 1972 I quote the penultimate paragraph of the acknowledgements, in part: We have particularly enjoyed the experimentation with the art of textbook production, by using our own computing ...


2

What is the strange third flag? I would say nothing we can identify, its an error by the engraver and doesn't represent what was seen (or drawn) by Lysianskyi. Let me explain. Once again comments touch on the truth of the matter, one comment pointing out the incorrect colors on another flag in the image: Hmmmm - isn’t Peter the Great’s flag White ?top ...


2

The library of the Jesuit college of Durango had 2,555 books, worth 3,345 pesos, when it was taken over by the local diocese in 1767. At the end of the century the library had grown to around 3,830 volumes. The mileage (a unit of measure already established in other answers) between Durango and Sitka is 2746. The holdings statistics come up in the article "...


2

The answer to your title question is "Yes": an English translation was published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1949. It seems to have been originally published in 1946 in French, with subsequent translations into German (1954), Dutch (1955), Swedish (1957), etc. You can read all about these various editions on WorldCat Some libraries holding copies ...


2

The book that leapt to my mind was A Pickle For the Knowing Ones (1848), by Timothy Dexter. The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but without punctuation and seemingly random capitalization. Dexter initially handed his book out for free, but it became popular and was reprinted eight times. In the second edition, Dexter added an extra page ...


2

Not sure if you consider it biography exactly, but Steven Ozment's Magdalena and Balthasar is a lovely study of a 1500s mercantile couple from the Holy Roman Empire. It is principally translation and commentary on their correspondence, studying their relationship and milieu through the medium of those letters, though, rather than a true birth-to-childhood-to-...


2

Yes. I know. It was not created in Florence but in the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner "at Stoudios".


1

Not exactly a book, or a serious biography, but the song "The Ballad of Rufus Amos Adams" might qualify.


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