Review: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

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This book was #6 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a biography.

I just want to put this out there before I begin – I absolutely love Bill Bryson. I started reading his books when I got into my latter teens and his funny, observant travel documentaries allowed me to see the minutiae of the world from the comfort of my own home. Bryson has an innate talent for making the mundane seem endlessly fascinating. His attention to detail is second to none and it makes his writing on the most ordinary topics (see At Home – a history of the everyday items in your house) thoroughly enjoyable and accessible.

He doesn’t disappoint in this biography of William Shakespeare.

I am not what you would call a fan of Shakespeare. I chose to study Romeo and Juliet as my mandatory Shakespeare module at school because A) it was the shortest of his plays and B) there was a film version that I could refer to to understand what the hell was going on. Suffice to say, if anyone other than Bill Bryson had written this book, I wouldn’t have read it.

But thankfully, he did. And I loved it.

The thing with Bryson is that his research is utterly meticulous (or at least, it comes across that way). I trust him more than any other non-fiction writer to actually say what is fact, what is unproven rumour and what is nonsense. I get the sense that Bryson LOVES to find a well known ‘fact’ to debunk because this book refers more to what we don’t know about Shakespeare than what we do. It may be the only biography in the world where the reader knows less about the subject than they did before they started reading it.

The book is typical Bryson fare – we learn all about the life of Shakespeare with a focus on the quirky and unusual aspects of his life. Funny and informative, I thought it was a great read.

Overall rating: 8.5/10.

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