Books by Peter Ackroyd

PETER ACKROYD is the author of such diverse bestselling books as London: the Biography and The Life of Thomas More. An award-winning biographer, novelist, poet, and playwright, he lives in London.

Released: Oct. 9, 2018

"Though this installment doesn't quite match the first four in capturing our imaginations, Ackroyd, as always, is well worth the read."
The fifth volume in the acclaimed author's history of England. Read full book review >
QUEER CITY by Peter Ackroyd
Released: May 8, 2018

"An exciting look at London's queer history and a tribute to the 'various human worlds maintained in [the city's] diversity despite persecution, condemnation, and affliction.'"
A history of the development of London as the European epicenter of queer life. Read full book review >
REVOLUTION by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Oct. 10, 2017

"All chroniclers of popular history should be required to study Ackroyd's writing, his methodology, and the totality of his treatment of his subjects."
Ackroyd (Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day, 2017, etc.) fans rejoice! The fourth volume of the author's History of England series has arrived. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 25, 2016

"Ackroyd writes of his enigmatic subject, 'he did not want anyone to come too close.' Alas, readers of this book will not get as close to that subject as they might like."
A celebrated biographer adds to the tall pile of biographies about cinema's master of suspense. Read full book review >
WILKIE COLLINS by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Oct. 6, 2015

"A compact, pithy, and generous biography of a novelist who found great success despite writing in the age of Dickens, Eliot, and Trollope."
The latest installment in the author's Brief Lives series is dedicated to the popular British novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). Read full book review >
CHARLIE CHAPLIN by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Oct. 28, 2014

"A comprehensive look at Chaplin the man but lacking as a portrait of the artist and his legacy."
The life of a great filmmaker and lousy human being. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 21, 2014

"Appropriately detailed, beautifully written story of the Stuarts' rise and fall—will leave readers clamoring for the further adventures awaiting England in the 18th century."
Biographer, historian and novelist Ackroyd (Three Brothers, 2014, etc.) continues his History of England series with the third of six proposed volumes. Read full book review >
THREE BROTHERS by Peter Ackroyd
Released: March 4, 2014

"At times humdrum and perfunctory, at others fantastical, this genre-spanning novel offers lightweight bookish entertainment."
The prize-winning British novelist, biographer and critic's intriguing if inconsistent latest is a stew of family saga, murder mystery, political conspiracy and tableau of London's history. Read full book review >
TUDORS by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Oct. 15, 2013

"A solid multivolume popular history: readable, entirely nonrevisionist and preoccupied by politics, religion and monarchs—a worthy rival to Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples."
Prolific British novelist, biographer and critic Ackroyd launches the second volume of his sweeping history less than two years after beginning with Foundation (2012). Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 16, 2012

"A true history of England tightly focused on the building blocks that made her."
Once again, Ackroyd (London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets, 2011) exhibits his magic touch with the written word, this time with the first in a six-volume history of England. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2011

"Eloquent and visceral."
The indefatigable expert on the Big Smoke considers the history below London's streets from a historical, mythical and psycho-geographical perspective. Read full book review >
VENICE by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Nov. 2, 2010

"A loving yet clear-eyed celebration of the enigmatic icon on the Adriatic."
The indefatigable chronicler of his native England's culture looks overseas to the magical Italian city on a lagoon. Read full book review >
THE CANTERBURY TALES by Geoffrey Chaucer
Released: Nov. 16, 2009

"A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer's Tales."
Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer's mixed-media masterpiece. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 6, 2009

"A questionable mishmash of cultural, scientific, literary, psychological and political material gives birth to an atmospheric but unnatural doppelgänger to Shelley's classic."
Prolific literary polymath Ackroyd (Poe, 2009, etc.) rearranges the original gothic horror story of ambition gone awry into a blend of autobiography and history. Read full book review >
POE by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Jan. 20, 2009

"Necessarily sketchy, but often insightful, sometimes stunning."
Latest entry in the prolific biographer's Brief Lives series sketches a tormented existence begun in misery, ended in mystery. Read full book review >
THAMES by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Nov. 4, 2008

"Riverine structure, lovely and liquid language."
Meandering journey along the rivers Thames with the eloquent and prolific Ackroyd (Newton, 2008, etc.). Read full book review >
NEWTON by Peter Ackroyd
Released: April 15, 2008

"A slim but solid introduction, akin to James Gleick's Isaac Newton (2003)."
Compact biography of the great English scientist, the third in Ackroyd's Brief Lives series (Chaucer, 2005; J.M.W. Turner, 2006). Read full book review >
THE FALL OF TROY by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Nov. 6, 2007

"An entertaining, at times over-the-top historical pastiche, from a veteran yarn-spinner who Knows the Territory."
The life of archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) is boldly fictionalized in the industrious British author's latest (The Lambs of London, 2006, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2007

"Bohemian exegesis."
Wide-ranging introductions to books of the Bible. Read full book review >
THE LAMBS OF LONDON by Peter Ackroyd
Released: June 20, 2006

"Reasonable entertainment for serious Anglophiles."
The prolific Ackroyd (J.M.W. Turner, 2006, etc.) returns to fiction in his ongoing examination of English cultural history, this time involving Charles and Mary Lamb, in the discovery of previously unknown Shakespearean manuscripts. Read full book review >
J.M.W. TURNER by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Jan. 17, 2006

"A short biography, but one no less satisfying for the wide-ranging erudition Ackroyd brings to the task."
An acutely limned miniature of J.M.W. Turner (1775-51), whose watercolors, engravings and spectacular oils mark him as England's greatest painter of air, earth and water. Read full book review >
SHAKESPEARE by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Oct. 18, 2005

"Newcomers to Shakespearean studies will find this a good place to start. Those more familiar with the field will find that it palls in comparison to Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World (2004)."
Ackroyd (Chaucer, Jan. 2005, etc.) continues his exploration of his native country's imaginative landscape with a portrait of the life and times of the quintessential English artist. Read full book review >
CHAUCER by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Jan. 18, 2005

"A splendid introduction to a pivotal figure in the history of English literature. (21 b&w illustrations)"
The first in a new series, Ackroyd Brief Lives, offers a fascinating portrait of the man who has been called the father of English poetry. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 21, 2004

"Thoroughly captivating: the whole medieval panorama re-achieved by a modern, with all the atmosphere of the old."
The erudite and entertaining Ackroyd brings 1380s London to life all over again, with many a nod to The Canterbury Tales. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 21, 2003

"A learned, eye-opening survey of the 'mixed style' that shaped a nation's culture and self-image. (70 pp. color and b&w illustrations)"
A vast and rich panorama encompassing English literature, philosophy, science, art, and music. Read full book review >
LONDON by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Oct. 16, 2001

"Somewhat rarefied, but a splendid tribute to the great metropolis. "
An impressionistic history of England's capital city, by British novelist/biographer Ackroyd (The Plato Papers, 2000, etc.), who knows his subject well and writes about it with considerable passion. Read full book review >
THE PLATO PAPERS by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Jan. 18, 2000

The intellectual legacy of Platonic philosophy takes on entertaining new life in this sophisticated and very funny fable by the protean British author (The Life of Thomas More, 1998, etc.). Prefatory quotations from various fictional scholarly sources inform us that the human race has reached the year a.d. 3700, despite the quenching of the world's "light" (due to nuclear catastrophe?) centuries ago, followed by a period of enlightenment (—The Age of Witspell"). The setting is London, where a —great orator" named Plato dispenses wisdom, eons after his namesake flourished in Athens (during "The Age of Orpheus"). In 55 brief chapters, Ackroyd juxtaposes brief conversations between Plato and his (feminine) soul and with his several admiring disciples (who discuss him, in separate chapters), with the great man's "exequies" on evidence of earlier civilizations' mistakes (an exhumed copy of Poe's stories is believed to be "the unique record of a lost race" sunk in paranoia and depression; surviving fragmentary texts reveal the existence of a prophetic black singer named George Eliot and "a clown or buffoon who was billed as Sigmund Freud"), and excerpts from Plato's "glossary" of antiquities ("rock music" is presumed to denote "the sound of old stones"). Fortunately, this slim book doesn't settle for elegant gags. Plato's fascination with the alien cultures of the past inspires him to undertake a "Journey to the Underworld," during which he discovers the parallel existence (beneath Witspell) of ‘' Mouldwarp" (our own civilization, supposedly ended when "the light" disappeared). The result is his trial, ostensibly for corrupting the young; in reality, for having introduced uncertainty into a world smugly convinced that it knows itself, and thus knows all. A strikingly imaginative and provocative cautionary tale that makes superb use of Ackroyd's formidable erudition. One of his most satisfying books. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

A vividly evocative portrait of the lawyer and statesman who was "the King's good servant, but God's first," from award- winning biographer and novelist Ackroyd (Blake, 1996; T.S. Eliot, 1984; etc.) Thomas More was born in 1479 in Milk Street, in what is now the center of London's financial district, to Agnes and John More, a tradesman-turned-lawyer. Thomas would be one of the great intellects of his time, and Ackroyd gives particular attention to young More's rare and prolonged education: his apprenticeship at the court of the learned Archbishop and Chancellor John Morton of Canterbury, his grounding in the liberal arts at Oxford University, and his legal education at New Inn and Lincoln's Inn. More's upbringing and education, Ackroyd shows, left their permanent imprint upon him: His extensive training in dialectical logic served him well at the bar and on the bench, his time with Archbishop Morton made him familiar with the world of prelates and statecraft, and his Latin and literary training fitted him for his career as a humanist. Ackroyd vibrantly evokes the devout London in which More lived, where even successful lawyers meditated on life's transience and participated in endless rounds of prayer and ritual. He also gives an intimate picture of More's affectionate relations with his family and tells the familiar story of More's rise to favor in the court of Henry VIII, his friendship with Erasmus, his tenure as lord chancellor, and his fall from grace as the crisis of the king's divorce of Catherine of Aragon worsened. Ultimately, More's constancy to his church outweighed his obeisance to the king: Ackroyd gives what amounts to a transcript of the trial in which More refused to endorse Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, and narrates his imprisonment in the Tower of London and execution in 1535. A limpidly written and superbly wrought portrait of a complex hero who was truly, as his friend Erasmus stated, "omnium horarum homo"—a "man for all seasons." (8 pages color, 8 pages black-and-white illustrations) (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club/ History Book Club selection) Read full book review >
BLAKE by Peter Ackroyd
Released: April 15, 1996

Ackroyd's biography of William Blake represents an achievement of composite method fully in the poet's own spirit—it's a work so sensitive to its subject, it seems to have conjured him from the beyond. Scholar, workaday artisan, mystic, and social critic, Blake (17571827) excelled at poetry, engraving, and painting. Yet rather than spread his multifacteed genius through diverse pursuits, Blake concentrated it into his homemade books—famous now, but noted in his day only as oddities. For these sui generis productions, Blake printed pages where script and illustration flow side by side: now commenting on this world, now offering visions of others. Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, 1995; Dickens, 1991; etc.) again shows himself to be an adept literary critic and historian: His explications of many of Blake's works, from widely known lyrics like ``The Tyger'' to hermetic epics like ``The Four Zoas,'' unfold into detailed panoramas of England as Blake knew it. He captures the difficulties that the radical Blake faced in squaring his art training at the prestigious Royal Academy with his humble artisanal background. The blunt, ``gothic,'' outline forms of Raphael and DÅrer, out of fashion at the time, provided Blake with an alternative tradition with which to affiliate himself; such contemporaries as John Flaxman and Henry Fuseli provided moral support. Above all, Ackroyd stresses Blake's intimate relation to his London environs and to the crises of war and industrialization that beset Britain during his life. While he argues that Blake was often caught up in hallucinatory waking visions, Ackroyd weighs against any diagnosis of mental illness the justice of Blake's claim that he was gifted to see through and beyond the insane upheavals of his times. Not the least part of Ackroyd's accomplishment is to have limited himself to 416 pages—enough, and (to paraphrase Blake), assuredly not too much. (16 pages b&w illustrations, 24 pages color illustrations, 73 text illustrations, not seen) (Book-of-the-Month Club selection) Read full book review >
DICKENS by Peter Ackroyd
Released: Feb. 4, 1990

In this monumental, 1184-page biography, Dickens has acquired a contemporary voice. Ackroyd, biographer (T.S. Eliot, 1984) and novelist (First Light, 1989, etc.), seamlessly and artfully captures the great author's personality, experience, times, and fictions, even his style—precise, rich, varied, subtle. The story is familiar, fictionalized by Dickens himself: the deprived, overworked child; the industrious youth learning shorthand, law, journalism; the young man, age 21, starting his literary career and his family (a wife unsuited to domestic duties, which he performed himself; ten children to support, along with improvident relatives); travels to America, public readings, a romance with Ellen Ternan, the dissolution of his marriage, acclaim as the "chronicler of his age." Moving easily between life and art, Ackroyd shows how Dickens invented as much as reflected that age: literal and symbolic projections of his own inner needs, dreams, nightmares coincided with the equally secret, repressed, and frightening fantasies of his public. He derived wealth, power, and fame from depicting a world populated by the helpless, impoverished, imprisoned, abandoned, disabled; by orphans, derelicts, eccentrics, criminals; by madness, violence, foul odors, mysterious events, and mindless systems all redeemed around a hearth by loving, patient, loyal friends and family, by sentiment, simplicity, generosity, and humor. Of himself, however, he required more: beset with a volatile temper, a restless nature that kept him prowling the streets, intense, methodical, overbearing, superstitious, lonely, anxious, he wrote to exorcise his own ghosts and to "engender" himself. Ackroyd is as comfortable and learned in contemporary literary theory as he is with the historical detail (updating Fred Kaplan's Dickens, 1988). Pushing the limits of biography, he interpolates imaginary chapters—Dickens entering one of his own novels, conversing with other authors, even with Ackroyd himself—dramatizing his flaws, rationalizations, and conviviality, fulfilling Dickens's ambition—to adapt a phrase from the autobiographical David Copperfield—to be at least the hero of his own life. A biographical triumph. Read full book review >