Although the definitive biography of Conan Doyle has yet to be written (Booth, like other contemporary biographers, did not have access to Conan Doyle’s private papers), this is about as complete a life story as readers are likely to find. Booth peppers the book with fascinating, little-known facts, revealing, among other things, that Conan Doyle’s historical novel The White Company as so popular that, during World War II, the British government ensured there would be enough paper to keep the book in print. We also learn that Sidney Paget, whose illustrations of Sherlock Holmes defined the visual look of the character, got his job by accident; the editor of Strand Magazine had wanted Paget’s brother. Refreshingly, Booth also avoids the tedious analysis of the Holmes stories that has made other lives of Conan Doyle almost unreadable. Readers who think of Conan Doyle only as the man who created Sherlock Holmes will be surprised, and perhaps even shocked, by this comprehensive and fascinating biography.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, January 2000.