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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Dickens Biography
When you first pick up this book in a bookshop or look at it online the first thing that hits you is obviously the size of it. From beginning to end Ackroyd's "Dickens" spans 1256 pages and to read it may seem like a daunting mission. This is not the case; Ackroyd is one of the best historical-biographial writers of our time and he knows how to make sure that long does...
Published on 3 Jun 2006 by M. D. Hart

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a ponderous tome
Peter Ackroyd quotes Dickens' own comment that 'trifles make the sum of life', and it's a thought he returns to a number of times. It's the closest thing this biography has to a theme; and it must be the reason why he has compiled a volume so massive and detailed that it feel like following Dickens' life in real time.

Forced to look up-close at so many...
Published on 2 July 2012 by gille liath


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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Dickens Biography, 3 Jun 2006
By 
M. D. Hart "Boz Phiz @ DVD" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dickens (Paperback)
When you first pick up this book in a bookshop or look at it online the first thing that hits you is obviously the size of it. From beginning to end Ackroyd's "Dickens" spans 1256 pages and to read it may seem like a daunting mission. This is not the case; Ackroyd is one of the best historical-biographial writers of our time and he knows how to make sure that long does not equal tedious. For fans and students of Dickens alike every word in this biography is essential; you may even find that you wish it was longer, I certainly did. The book chronicles everything Dickens from his birth through all of his works in periodicals and theatre to his sad and sudden death in 1870. To try and list the contents of this book would make the review over 200000 words long so i won't even try, but when I say everything I mean EVERYthing is in here from Dickens's family to his railway accident, his feelings, emotions, beliefs, experiences and relationships. There are also many caricatures and photographs of Dickens's life and times included, that add delight to what is already a wonderful read. If, however, you feel that 1300 pages really is too long but you still want to read Ackroyd's version of Dickens (which you should) try the abridged 500-page tie-in version that accompanied the BBC series in 2002. If you can manage the full version, you will not be disappointed.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings Dickens utterly to life, 17 Dec 2007
By 
lewiscarrollnut (london, - United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dickens: Abridged (Paperback)
I know that Peter Ackroyd has researchers working for him, so I assume the facts which he offers about Dickens are true. That being so, I greatly admire the way he so brilliantly weaves his material together, creating a picture of a living, breathing man - a genius who was irritating, temperamental, likeable, egocentric, self contradictory and generally almost impossible. Not only this but he puts Dickens in his period: he shows us what public life was like at the time and sketches in many individuals that Dickens knew, lived and worked with. He suggests what Dickens might have been aiming for at various times of his life, and what he might have felt and thought. There is inevitably some guesswork in this but after all, nobody can REALLY know another person, and Ackroyd's portrait, based as it is on research, probably contains more truth than the social front Dickens presented to most of the people who knew him personally. So I do believe this is the nearest we will ever get to understanding him, and highly recommend the book. By the way, this is the abridged version, but it is so illuminating and fascinating that I will now go and investigate the longer version.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abridged Ackroyd, 23 Aug 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dickens: Abridged (Paperback)
CAUTION - THERE ARE MANY ACKROYD BIOGRAPHIES OF DICKENS - AMAZON ALLOWS ONLY ONE REVIEW PER PRODUCT

Amazon's website structure allows only one review "per book" and Ackroyd's "Dickens" (to the software) is one book. (Not a criticism, just an observation on a curiosity. People reading reviews need to be aware that the reviews will appear on all books with this title and author but have been written on one of the many editions, some for children, some for adults, some "shorter" and others not.)

"DICKENS" - BBC, 1990 - cheap paperback, typical paperback paper, 600 pages

At 600 pages, I am reviewing the abridged edition, entitled "Dickens" published in 1990; the "original" was the basis for the very successful television series fronted by Peter Ackroyd.
I cannot think of two more suited and ideal companions - Peter Ackroyd and Charles Dickens. Both Londoners fascinated by London, writing most of their best work in the city with their subjects the city and its people. Dickens must be in the top few for having the most biographies written about him and it is to Ackroyd's credit that he manages to "come fresh" to the subject with new slants and information. It has two illustrated sections of his homes, the women in his life, some manuscripts and drawings and photographs of Dickens himself.
If you are looking for general information on Dickens this is ideal but, if your purpose is more specific, check his other biographies; this is the abridged version and there are longer with more detail but his is not to diminish Ackroyd's achievement.

"DICKENS - PUBLIC LIFE and PRIVATE PASSION" - BBC, 2002 - LARGE FORMAT, HIGH QUALITY PAPER, 160 pages

This is the shorter, quality paper edition, lavishly illustrated (at least one per page) with colour drawings, b/w photographs, sketches and b/w photographs of Dickens' London and its people. Although a much shorter edition, it still contains a wealth of information about London, Dickens and his visits to America and the illustrations help to bring the text alive, making it ideal for a younger person. It has a quality feel about it and would make an excellent present.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Biography, 16 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Dickens (Paperback)
I was looking for a new Ackroyd to read when I stumbled across the only reader review of this magnificent biography - which gave a rating of one star!! I urge you not to take any notice of this curious judgement! 'Dickens' is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and a magnificent addition to Peter Ackroyd's magnificent bibliography. The writing style is wonderful, very reminiscent of Mr. Dickens himself, and the story of this great man's eventful life fascinates from beginning to end.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very challenging read, but the ultimate biography, 31 Dec 2009
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dickens (Paperback)
At last, after two months and 21 days of reading. There is no doubt that this biography, at 1144 exhaustively researched pages, is a monumental literary achievement. There is plenty of rich content, but also some dull content in places. Unfortunately, the book is structured in such a way as to make it very difficult to read. The chapters are mostly too long, with no titles, thus making orientation throughout the book more difficult. The paragraphs are very long, quite often a whole page or more. Ackroyd never uses 10 words when he can use 100 and makes the same points over and over again e.g. about the symptoms of Dickens's illnesses, his regression to his childhood, the need to carry on working to fulfill a sense of purpose, etc. etc. There are some odd little unexplained fictional interludes at the end of some chapters and an unattributed interview with the author at the end of one of them in the middle of the book. So, in short, a difficult and challenging work, one that I will certainly never read again from cover to cover, but the ultimate work of reference on the great author's life. This makes it very hard to rate, and 4 is probably too high, but Amazon does not permit half points.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a ponderous tome, 2 July 2012
By 
gille liath (US of K) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Dickens (Hardcover)
Peter Ackroyd quotes Dickens' own comment that 'trifles make the sum of life', and it's a thought he returns to a number of times. It's the closest thing this biography has to a theme; and it must be the reason why he has compiled a volume so massive and detailed that it feel like following Dickens' life in real time.

Forced to look up-close at so many individual trees, we are given no opportunity of seeing the overall wood; and I wonder whether this is actually the way Ackroyd preferred it. In an extraordinary little insert, where he spends several pages interviewing himself about his own book, he admits to neither liking or disliking his subject; and to having taken it on because after his TS Eliot biography he 'wanted another challenge'. It sounds as though, having no great enthusiasm for Dickens and no 'view' on him, he simply took refuge in trying to say everything there is to say.

So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that somehow, despite the hugeness of the treatment, the figure of Dickens remains elusive. There is more real insight into the man in Chesterton's biography - one-tenth the size - and even in George Orwell's 20-page essay, than in these 1200 pages. Why? Because those men found Dickens inspiring and, through their empathy, could see the sources both of his talent and his limitations.

The truth is that any life, and especially that of a great artist, is more than merely the sum of its trifles. In spite of his words, Dickens knew that very well; that's why he was a great novelist and Peter Ackroyd is not.

PS I notice that Ackroyd's recent biog of Dickens' pal Wilkie Collins is much shorter. Has he learned a lesson - or does he actually like Collins?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ACKROYD'S DICKENS, 4 Feb 2010
By 
Rev. R. D. Robinson "robroy" (UK, Norfolk) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dickens: Abridged (Paperback)
PETER ACKROYD on CHARLES DICKENS

Nobody could have been better equipped to write a major biography of England's greatest novelist than Peter Ackroyd. He knows Dickens like the back of his hand. Like Dickens, he has tramped every inch of the streets of London, knowing its highways and its byways as intimately as did Dickens in his day. His "LONDON, A BIOGRAPHY" bears witness to that.
So, he takes us through every facet of Dickens' life, from his sunny childhood in Kent, to the horrors of the "blacking" factory, through the shame of his father's frequent indebteness and his burning desire to surmount every obstacle and achieve fame. Having achieved fluency in shorthand, he toiled through the nights recording debates in the House of Commons. His ambition and his energy were formidable, and bit by bit he did achieve fame, making a breakthrough with what became a national sensation, in "The Pickwick Papers".

Ackroyd is masterly at charting the course of his rise to fame. And, at every stage, he illuminates what he, the novelist, was experiencing, with the astonishing characters emerging from his pages. I would advise that one should read at least two or three of Dickens' novels first, and then turn to the biography. You will then appreciate where all this cornucopia of the author's imagination is coming from. Through much of the book,Ackroyd on Dickens is as good as Dickens himself. I commend Ackroyd's biography without reserve.
Roy Robinson
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dickens- A Biography of Note and Perception, 15 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Dickens (Paperback)
This is the arch type biography, scholarly, brilliant research with a hint of mystery. It leaves room to develop your own thoughts but carries you along on a wave of enthusiasm and understanding for the great novelist of the early Victorian age.
The biography leaves you with a thirst for more, a need to explore the world , sights and sounds of the early Victorian city of London.
I frequently wondered about Dickens early life, its effect on his later development as a writer and considered the similarities with James Joyce who fell in love with his native Dublin but was so rarely there in his later life. He seemed to have a need to travel as appeared so apparent with Dickens.
This biography is one of the finest from a master of the genre. Buy it, read it and enjoy it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ackroyd or Tomalin?, 19 Jun 2014
I read all 1083 pages of the Ackroyd biography in 1991, and I have just finished Claire Tomalin's excellent 417 pages. Both are excellent.
I haven't even read all the Dickens novels that I would like and I don't normally read literary biographies, but both these long biographies are great fun page turners, as good as any novel (in fact I went to an excellent 'reading' from his Dickens book by Peter Ackroyd where he recommended re-reading Dickens - excellent advice by the way if you ever have time).
Ackroyd has an excellent flowing style. His descriptions of Dickens' writing process have stayed with me for 25 years. I think he likes Dickens the man more, while Tomalin, though an admirer, paints a double-edged picture of Dickens more consistent with 21st century values. She shows how Dickens was (overall, with hundreds of exceptions) often a terrible father, a worse husband and how he covered up his long term relationship with the actress Nelly Ternan. While Tomalin's earlier book dedicated exclusively to the subject of this relationship seems to confirm there was a long term relationship (and a frequently unhappy relationship for Nelly), Ackroyd concludes after ten or so pages of argument that it seems 'almost inconceivable' that theirs was a 'consummated’ affair. Tomalin, in contrast, believes the evidence that Nelly may given birth out of wedlock (traumatic by nineteenth century standards - and Dickens would be the abuser of his fame, age and status). Even in 2014, as any journalist will tell you, it is pretty impossible to prove any relationship is ‘consummated’ (unless at least one of the people involved says it is the case, or with DNA).
Tomalin also writes well about ‘Dickens the Saint’. This is another truly excellently written book, and it opens with a snippet of a typical Dickens story where he comes across a poor young woman, who would almost certainly be hanged, and he saves her and gets her up on her feet. The authorities, jurors and her employer would be happy to let this poor victim of poverty swing. Tomalin is also sympathetic to the middle aged Dickens, unhappily married for many years, falling head over heels in love with the young actress Nelly Ternan at the end of extremely stressful theatrical rehearsals which ended up being highly successfully 'on the night'.
Tomalin's style prepares her reader over half way through the book with the words ‘You want to avert your eyes from what happened in 1858'. His adoring wife Catherine who bore him ten children is frozen out of the house. The children are encouraged to stay with their famous father and his poor wife’s sister. How must Catherine (who had done no wrong after all) have felt?
As Claire Tomalin tells us ‘once Dickens had drawn a line, he was pitiless.’ The creator of Dotheboys Hall sent two of his boys miles over the water to boarding school near Boulogne, and sometimes these boys don’t even get invited to come home for Christmas, unlike others at the school. As Dickens despairs of his son Sydney in his later life, he writes ‘I fear [Sydney] is much too far gone for recovery, and I begin to wish he were honestly dead', and his son is cut off.
As a literary biographer, Tomalin gives the perfect six paragraph summary of the strengths and weaknesses of all the major books. She writes for the wiki-generation – no doubt A level students of Dickens (certainly the general reader) will find her succinct and critical reviews very useful. I did.
In contrast, as a literary biographer, Ackroyd's strength is where he seems to get into the head of what it must have been like for Dickens to write (for example, he explains how the notes for Bleak House turn into the novel). Ackroyd also goes into some detail about the writing of the books. Where and why did he find a story about ‘spontaneous human combustion’? The story of how his ‘Miss Mowcher’ in David Copperfield, a ‘dwarf’ and a beauty specialist, was clearly based on his neighbour, a chiropodist who indeed suffered from dwarfism, is told with more detail than in the Tomalin book for example. Then again, the unabridged Ackroyd is double the length.
You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. Personally, I would choose the Tomalin for her sympathetic understanding and insights of what makes all of us, including Dickens and his family, tick.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Massively detailed, insightful and enjoyable, 27 Feb 2011
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dickens (Paperback)
Exhaustive (and, at well over a thousand pages, sometimes exhausting) biography of possibly the greatest novelist of the 19th century. Ackroyd is an extremely thorough chronicler of the great man's life and times, and also does a pretty good job of analysing what motivated this seemingly terribly driven writer who always had to be right, yet was incredibly sensitive; a man capable of great self-deception, but also of great public integrity; and one whose fictional world drew, sometimes openly, but often (the author persuasively argues) more obliquely on the `trifles' and larger events and circumstances of his own childhood and adult life. (Indeed, Ackroyd asserts that coincidence, chance, and unexpected remarks shaped the author's life in ways that only a massively detailed biography such as this, as a sort of post-mortem `agent of true knowledge', can adequately reveal.) He sees poverty, largely engendered by the debts of Charles' father John, for which he was famously imprisoned, as giving rise in the adult Dickens to a pervasive fear of failure. This expressed itself in a controlling personality that sought to manage all aspects of his own life, as well as those of both his family and the `significant other' of his later years, actress Ellen Ternan.

More than just a biography of Dickens the man, this 'life' also holds a mirror up to Dickens' Victorian age. In his changing views about to the merits of that most Victorian of enthusiasms, `progress', and his passion for social reform, the great novelist is a faithful mirror of his times, Ackroyd argues. And he sees the larger wellsprings of the novels in Dickens' (again, characteristically 19th-century) urge to `encompass everything, to comprehend everything, to control everything' (680). His is a pursuit of a complete vision of the world, a concern for human progress, for coherence and continuity amid change, but also for transcendence, something larger, brighter, more capacious than his readers could imagine for themselves. This triumph of the will in the `Battle of Life' (the title of one of Dickens' Christmas stories) leads of course to some great novels, but at a serious cost: illness, nervous exhaustion, and early death.

It's in his analysis of the transmutation of these themes into the writing of the novels that Ackroyd is at his best - the genesis, development and completion of all of them is comprehensively chronicled. Paradoxically, though, the knowing references of one who has read pretty much everything Dickens ever wrote can make this a hard read for those (like me) who don't have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Dombey and Son, Martin Chuzzlewit and the rest. But if the test of a good biography is that it sends you back to the sources with renewed enthusiasm, then Ackroyd passes with ease: I didn't particularly enjoy the quirky brief interlaced chapters where he converses with Dickens or imagines meeting his characters, but I will be reading Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit with renewed insight and enjoyment.
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