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The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Paperback – November 18, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lycett, biographer of Rudyard Kipling and Dylan Thomas, turns his attention to the father of detective stories in this enjoyable if densely packed biography. From his early years in Edinburgh to his life at boarding school, Conan Doyle developed a love of storytelling and mythology. After finishing medical school, he turned to writing as a way to explore his paradoxical interest in spiritualism and science. While writing his first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, published in 1886, Conan Doyle continued to practice medicine and tend to his growing family. Lycett shows that Conan Doyle often viewed his laconic detective's stories as inferior to his other work, which included everything from the social novel to a history of Britain's involvement in WWI. With his detailed descriptions of the Doyle family tree, Lycett often overwhelms the reader with names and dates, but fans won't be disappointed with his unearthing of the origins of the famous detective's name (fellow student Patrick Sherlock and Oliver Wendell Holmes) or Conan Doyle's associations with everyone from Oscar Wilde to Harry Houdini. Those looking for a close reading of the Holmes canon should look elsewhere, but fans of the in-depth literary biography will find this a satisfying read. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"[An] excellent biography.... Comprehensive and authoritative, it is undoubtedly the best account of Doyle to date, and the best we are likely to get." -- The Sunday Times (London)

"Lycett excels in unearthing the sources from which Doyle drew to endow Holmes with unique skills.... [A] brilliant analysis." -- Sunday Herald (Scotland)

"In Andrew Lycett's hugely enjoyable new biography, the sheer breathtaking dynamism of [Conan Doyle] shines through.... [An] impeccably researched book." -- The Sunday Telegraph (London)

"It is the precise and intelligent appreciation of the differences by which Conan Doyle was composed that makes Lycett's diagnosis of his subject so thoroughly satisfying. Using previously unseen archives, Lycett gives us Conan Doyle as a late Victorian and definitive Edwardian, battling with the uncertainties of his own age, weary of the uncertainties of the next one." -- The New Statesman (London)

"Conan Doyle has found a biographer of distinction in Andrew Lycett.... Lycett's brilliant piece of detective work on the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories now allows us to judge his literary worth against that of his peers and properly to set him in the context of his times.... [A] splendid biography." -- The Guardian, Book of the Week selection (London)

"[A] sympathetic new biography...shrewd and thorough...entertaining." -- The Independent on Sunday (London)

"Comprehensive and action-packed.... The first [biography] to incorporate private family papers that became available only after the death of the author's last surviving offspring.... We see Conan Doyle's flaws as clearly as his virtues.... Despite its wealth of detail, the book moves quickly." -- The Washington Post

"Lycett seamlessly interweaves Conan Doyle's letters, autobiography, and published travel writing.... The most detailed map yet published." -- Los Angeles Times

"A sophisticated and fascinating life study." -- Booklist

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (November 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074327525X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743275255
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A case could be made that the most famous character in fiction is Sherlock Holmes. Everybody knows him, if not from the original stories, then from the countless plays, movies, and parodies. There is an international fan club, and the great detective still gets mail at his 221B Baker Street address in London. But his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was not so enthusiastic. Surely Holmes was the making of Doyle as a literary man, but six years after Holmes first appeared, Doyle wrote in 1892, "I am weary of his name." The public enthusiasm over the detective was, in Doyle's view, keeping him from writing the better things for which he wanted to be known, among which were his books and pamphlets in defense of the new religion of spiritualism. He failed in many of his non-Sherlockian efforts, and thus his most recent biography is called _The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle_ (Free Press) by Andrew Lycett. The author has made a specialty of literary biographies (Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas) and has had a long battle with the complicated network of Doyle heirs (described here in an afterword) to produce a big and detailed portrait of a gifted and deeply conflicted author.

Doyle was born in 1859 in Scotland, of Irish parents. He was all her life devoted to his "Mam", perhaps excessively even by Victorian standards. Many of his words quoted here are from letters to her. His father was insane and an alcoholic, incarcerated for years in mental institutions. Doyle abandoned his family's Catholicism and as a young man claimed agnosticism at a time when the term and the idea was a new one, before eventually claiming spiritualism. Though Lycett covers Doyles other literary works, it is Sherlock who will always be most important.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the middle of the 19th century, the man who would create Sherlock Holmes was born Arthur Ignatius Conan. He sprang from a large family of artists --- most of whom preferred paint as their medium over written words, but creativity was in his blood from the beginning. Full of curiosity as a child, he "soaked up tales as a sponge absorbs water." He read voraciously to help quench his uncommon thirst for knowledge. His characters' names came from as far back as his school days, where he met a fellow pupil named Patrick Sherlock and came across an interesting pair, the Moriarty brothers.

Despite his vivid imagination, Arthur embarked on a career path of medicine. Fortunately for Sherlock Holmes fans, he discovered that he was a mediocre doctor but a great writer. Oddly, although a man of science, his interests took him through phases of dabbling with the occult, studying hypnotism, playing with the Ouija board and toying with spiritualism.

"Becoming a spiritualist so soon after creating the quintessentially rational Sherlock Holmes: that is the central paradox of Arthur's life." It is possible that the introduction of Dr. John Watson was necessary to balance that out. Watson is more romantic, more human, more fallible --- sometimes even to the point of naïvete --- than Holmes. Together, they round each other out.

More than a mere biography, Andrew Lycett's book is a fascinating study in how a character is conceived, groomed and shaped into someone who readers demand to see more of. Conan Doyle possessed a very active, inquiring mind, which is well used in his beloved stories. He lived in a lively time of wondrous authors: Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, to name a few.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on December 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Lycett has written the complete and definitive account of Arthur Conan Doyle's life. The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Doyle found himself imprisoned by the fame of his creation and wanted to be known for other things -- that was not to be. Few today know of his "new age" spiritualism which became more fervent after the death of his son in World War I. Contacting the dead became an obsession with him.

Some may know of his "Lost World" novel which predates "Jurassic Park" by 80 years. Fewer still are aware of his two successful campaigns to free unjustly convicted men from prison, using his gifts of deductive reasoning. Mr. Doyle was a remarkable man in whom the spiritual and the rational resided side by side. The biography is illustrated and a tad long, especially by the time the reader reaches the 1920's. Overall a fascinating read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Barat on December 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
Arthur Conan Doyle and his most famous creation will be thrust back into the public eye this Christmas with the release of the big-budget Robert Downey Jr. vehicle "Sherlock Holmes". It seemed like a good time to read a Doyle biography, and this one is very good. John Dickson Carr's "authorized" 1949 biography is lively and still repays reading today, but Andrew Lycett's tale is denser, if drier, drawing heavily upon documents not available to Carr. Holmes and Watson aren't really the main focal point here; Lycett gives the duo their due, but he's every bit as interested in describing Doyle's other works, discussing the author's gradual absorption in the world of spiritualism, and detailing the doings of Doyle's extended family and circle of friends. The author's homework is appreciated, but I still prefer Carr's somewhat more loosely wound bio for its sheer readability.
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