"Short lives" were the earliest manifestations of biography. Their memorializing intent remains alive (in obituaries and biographical dictionaries). That said, these essays were tendentious—making arguments, or exemplifying moral conduct—rather than simply celebrating individuals. Given that biography, since the romantic age, has tended to celebrate individuals, what can we learn by revisiting more tendentious "brief lives"? This article suggests that some research agendas and some disciplinary imperatives are conducive to short lives. Noting the ways in which tendentious essays are deployed in current life writing, this article identifies generic differences between full-scale biography and (contemporary) short lives to argue that the potential of the latter should be more fully appreciated.