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Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters Hardcover – November 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This fascinating collection of previously unpublished letters from the creator of Sherlock Holmes offers a revealing glimpse of a Renaissance man fated to be overshadowed by his most famous character. Beginning with correspondence from Doyle as an eight-year-old in 1867, the editors offer a warts-and-all picture of his life until 1920, 10 years before his death, covering the author's frank accounts of life at a boarding school, his struggles as a young doctor and aspiring writer, and his political advocacy. Those seeking insights into the creation of Holmes may be disappointed; while Doyle's ambivalence toward Holmes is well known, this collection reveals the extent to which he viewed his character principally as a source of income rather than a lasting legacy. The editors—Doyle experts Lellenberg and Stashower, and Doyle's great-nephew Foley—have nicely balanced the content: the letters reveal Doyle's stiff upper lip when he lost a son during the Great War, and his sense of humor, as in a hilarious report to his mother on the birth of his daughter Mary. This will be essential reading for all fans of Conan Doyle and his sleuth. (Andrew Lycett's biography of Conan Doyle, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes, is due from the Free Press this fall.) Illus. (Nov. 1)
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'Fairly hums with Conan Doyle's trademark enthusiasm.' Independent on Sunday 'Superbly edited by three Conan Doyle scholars, (it) sheds new light on the writer's work and inner life, as well as his various love affairs and spiritualist crises..."A Life in Letters" is a monument to the enduring popularity of the occupant of 221b Baker Street and greatest investigator of all...This plum pudding of a book is essential reading to fans of Conan Doyle.' Financial Times 'The selected letters...convey an almost physical presence of the author, with his strange mixture of kindness and carelessness, overbearing self-confidence and depressive self-doubt.' Economist --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; annotated edition edition (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201358
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201356
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Susan Rice on December 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It took me about a week to read this volume, and it became a very comfortable companion. I felt the three editors, men with uniquely close relationships with the life of Arthur Conan Doyle, were intelligent commentators on the material that hovered outside the actual letters, and made good decisions on what the reader needs to understand the text. I have read several biographies over a lifetime of study of Dr. Doyle's most famous creation, but I never before felt a real sense of kinship with the author. All knowledge had been perceived through the filter of each biographer's particular prejudices, not to mention the inavailability of much family material including these letters. Reading this book, I felt the full strength of his personality and the familial forces that had shaped his principles and politics. What's more, his sometimes puckish, sometimes ponderous sense of humor was demonstrated clearly to me for the first time.

Everything about the book -- the photographs and drawings, the clear and handsome style of each page, the careful index -- gave further examples of the intelligent, thoughtful decisions by its editors and publishers. Let me recommend this book.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Randall Stock on November 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's private letters, many of which have never been published. It provides an intimate and unvarnished view of the famous author that should appeal to both serious Sherlockians and casual readers interested in Conan Doyle.

These letters reveal details of everyday life not mentioned in biographies, and clarify events that many biographers tend to gloss over. We also learn some new things about the Sherlock Holmes stories, including the fact that two prominent Holmes fans encouraged Conan Doyle to continue writing them when he might have stopped.

As a Conan Doyle researcher, I've produced FAQs and web checklists of Conan Doyle manuscripts and archival materials. I'd expected this to be purely a reference book but I ended up reading it straight through. Conan Doyle's style is very readable, and the editors provide excerpts from his autobiography and other details for a smoothly-flowing narrative that's interesting and engaging.

Anyone doing research on Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes will want to consult this volume. Even if you've already read a biography about Conan Doyle, you should read this book of his uncensored letters. You're certain to learn something new and get a fresh perspective on the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Joseph S. Maresca HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The presentation represents unique unpublished letters of
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The letters were written in the
1860s- some are dated others are not dated. There are
noted drawings and photos in the book including:

o drawings by John Doyle (the son)
o photo of Mary Kingsley Conan Doyle
o Conan Doyle as a country gentleman
o aboard "Eira" ship's master with Conan Doyle

The presentation describes how Conan Doyle dedicated the
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to Joseph Bell who
reviewed the work glowingly in "The Bookman". Clearly,
Conan Doyle learned some of the medical technology from
Joseph Bell. Nonetheless, Conan Doyle attended medical
school where he picked up a considerable body of knowledge
applied in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This is a wonderful historical document for academicians,
literary buffs, English students, students of literature
and students of the historical period of the 1860s.
The work is worth acquiring as a gift to the student
in your house.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on November 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Three well informed editors have done outstanding work in presenting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's personal letters in a clean and understandable format.

While by its nature not a biography, this book certainly helps reveal the very robust, varied, and patriotic life led by the creator of Sherlock Holmes. It is also a touching study in letters of the lifelong love of a son for a devoted mother.

All Baker Street Irregulars, as well as students of English literature of the period, are encouraged to buy this book for their libraries.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mention the name of Sherlock Holmes and the name of his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is instantly recalled. Doyle (1859-1930) was a fascinating man whose life story cries out for a biopic! Doyle was born in Edinburgh Scotland to an artist and his intellectually gifted wife Mary. Doyle's father died in an asylum suffering from alcohol and depression in 1893. His mother lived a ripe old age until 1920. It is to Mary Doyle, the mother he adored and confided in throughout his life, that over 90% of these fascinating letters are sent.Several of her own letters to favorite son Arthur are also included.
Doyle became a doctor graduating from the Edinburgh Medical School, traveled to the North Pole as a ship's physician and set up his shingle in the city of Portsmouth in the 1880s. It was during this period he began "A Study in Scarlet" which introduced Holmes and Watson to the British and American public. He also wrote several adventure stories and historical fiction works in homage to his literary idol Sir Walter Scott. His"White Company" about medieval Europe is still in print. While in Portsmouth he wed Louisa Hawkins who bore him two children Mary and Kingsley. Kingsley died from disease in World War I.
With his literary star rising, Dr. Holmes and his famiy moved to London. He there associated himself with the literary world of the day knowing such luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Welles, Thomas Hardy, George Meredith. He also socialized with the aristocracy and once sat beside King Edward VII at a dinner.
Dr. Doyle was no stay at home writer. He served in the medical service during both the Boer War and World War I. Doyle enjoyed such varied sports as golf, tennis, cricket and skiing. He loved bicycling and owned a new fanagled motor car particpating in auto races.
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