A full-scale biography of the quintessential English Renaissance man, by two experts in the period from the University of London. Those who turn to this exhaustively documented biography in search of evidence for the theory that Francis Bacon (1561—1626) was the “real author” of Shakespeare’s plays will come away disappointed. The Bard’s name is mentioned only once, and context makes it clear that the authors have no use for the theory. In fact, few readers who survive total immersion in the languid Elizabethan prose extensively cited throughout this book are likely to believe that Bacon—or any of his correspondents—could have written a single line of the plays. Instead, the reader who persists will get a detailed picture of Elizabethan court politics, international espionage, religious controversy, and pioneering scientific speculation over the 65-year span of Bacon’s career, during much of which he was near the centers of power and influence. Not that the proximity did him much good, for the first 40-odd years of his life. Despite his obvious talents, bad political decisions (choosing the wrong patrons, making an ill-judged speech in Parliament) sidelined him until after Elizabeth’s death in 1603. To this enforced absence from the political arena we owe the work for which he is best remembered: his pithy essays, and the research and writings that spelled out the essentials of scientific method. But to get to the point where these accomplishments can be understood, the reader must slog through some 200 pages dutifully chronicling Bacon’s stalled early career (along with that of his brother, Anthony), freighted with frequent extracts from period documents. The authors sail without batting an eye past such potentially exciting material as Bacon’s deep involvement with the Tudor espionage establishment or his brushes with the law on several occasions. Many general readers are likely to give up on the book well before they find out why the subject was worth the effort. For period specialists only.