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Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography

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From his mysterious connections to the British criminal underworld to his early acquaintance with Dr Watson, this text blends what we already know of Holmes's career with social history to answer the questions his admirers have long puzzled over.


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From his mysterious connections to the British criminal underworld to his early acquaintance with Dr Watson, this text blends what we already know of Holmes's career with social history to answer the questions his admirers have long puzzled over.

30 review for Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This is a very "rich" book; full of facts and details trying to create a complete life for Sherlock Holmes. As the author as biographer notes, there are 56 short stories and 4 longer ones as written by Watson (a couple penned by SH) and published through Conan Doyle. That's not much when you consider it spans a working life of more than 25 years. (Of course no pastiche, no matter how well-written is used as material for this book.) It is to fill in the blanks in both Holmes' ancestry and long li This is a very "rich" book; full of facts and details trying to create a complete life for Sherlock Holmes. As the author as biographer notes, there are 56 short stories and 4 longer ones as written by Watson (a couple penned by SH) and published through Conan Doyle. That's not much when you consider it spans a working life of more than 25 years. (Of course no pastiche, no matter how well-written is used as material for this book.) It is to fill in the blanks in both Holmes' ancestry and long life (he dies in 1929) that the author turns his energy and creativity to. To have produced this book required a considerable amount of research in to Victorian and post-Victorian England. Not merely to glean the "flavor" of the times and the people, but to get the facts about criminal, social, political and international events during the 80-odd years that the book covers in some depth. The author begins with historical facts about these elements (including education and English country life) and produces a book that tells us of Mycroft, Sherlock, Watson; how their lives ran, how they interacted, and how they influenced history. It's easy to tell that Mr. Rennison took this task to be a most serious one and wanted it to be taken seriously by SH fans. All-in-all, he has done an admirable job and this is a book that many readers will enjoy. I write all this because it is a very full book and a very serious one. It presents its "facts" with a straight face throughout just as Conan Doyle's tales purport to be real cases. For many people they will be perfectly satisfied with the end product of the author's labors. The book does succeed in being a comprehensive biography of the man, but I found a couple of problems. First off the book is very dry and second it is too short and I think these two issues are linked. The style of the book is; fact, fact, fact, inference, fact, inference, etcetera. The anecdotes that are included are meant to explain away some period of time. Seldom are they used to color the man. Because there has been so much written about Holmes and how every nuance of every story is tells us about the man, I suspect that the author wanted to hold to a neutral course as much as possible. He does present specific comments on certain major events in the detective's life (e.g. Irene Adler), but these are few. It only takes comparison with some of the great biographies of the last 20 years to see the differences. One of the key differences is the "richness" of the biography, which inevitably means making a book longer. Richness is accomplished in a couple of different way. First, by putting in both longer and more excerpts from published and unpublished materials. Second, by humanizing the story with more views (sources) and more commentary (or analysis). However, incorporating more material into the book could have made it merely a longer, dry book. Ultimately it is the author's style that determines the tone of the work. Perhaps I will look up another work by Mr. Rennison to see what his is. If you like inventive fiction (within certain hard constraints in this case) and have any affection for the Great Detective, then I do recommend this book. Perhaps you will agree with my opinion, perhaps you will think that it is an engaging (it is mostly) and perfectly lush description of his life and times. Not matter what I hope you will enjoy it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    notyourmonkey

    The most delightful thing about this book is the sheer glee the author seems to be taking in rolling around in his Holmesy geekery. That enthusiasm is enough to pull me through the slightly dull bits when he's recapping history just because he can, only loosely tied to the story he's crafted for Holmes. Definitely quasi-academic and not really curl-up-on-a-rainy-day sort of reading, but more than amusing enough to hold my attention in the fits and spurts I gave it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    My real complaint about this book is that I read it on my Kindle, which makes it difficult to flip back and forth to re-read parts. But this is a good-fun-read for any 'lightweight' fan of Sherlock Holmes and brings a sense of realism to the character. The best thing about it? It made me realise just how much I love the Sherlock Holmes stories and I am going to dig out my copy and read his adventures again. Five stars for bringing Sherlock to life for me.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Janny

    the research put into this book is incredible and with the background fabricated by rennison, you sometimes forget that sherlock holmes is a fictional character. this book really has very little to do with arthur conan doyle and much more to do with siphoning holmes' character from all of his documented adventures and making him as well-rounded and tangible as he could be. this book even fills in the gap in the time between stories, including the two year gap between reichenbach falls to his re- the research put into this book is incredible and with the background fabricated by rennison, you sometimes forget that sherlock holmes is a fictional character. this book really has very little to do with arthur conan doyle and much more to do with siphoning holmes' character from all of his documented adventures and making him as well-rounded and tangible as he could be. this book even fills in the gap in the time between stories, including the two year gap between reichenbach falls to his re-emergence as a costumed opium addict, to attempt to present his life in "real time". at the point of reading this book, i had already finished about 3/4 of of the complete novels and short stories volume 1 and 2, but retain very little details from each story except for random episodes that stood out in my mind. far from being a holmes expert, i found the book slow and distracting at times when recanting details from documented and undocumented cases. however, they did provide a welcomed refresher. i would recommend this book to any sherlock holmes fan, it really does make reading his adventures richer and provides good fodder when quizzing the character actors at the sherlock holmes museum.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cherie

    I am speachless at the detail and history in the story that was presented. I loved it, every word, but I am sorry, I cannot believe it. I want to, more than I can say, but no, it is still fiction. Steller fiction at that.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Greg Kerestan

    A decidedly useful reference for the Great Game, Rennison's faux biography of Holmes fills in many of the blanks with plausible and compelling "evidence" of Holmes's unrecorded life and interactions. Perhaps the only black mark against it is how dogmatic Rennison is to some of his own interpretations, bringing up traditional theories or hypotheses about Holmes only to shoot them down as improbable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christine Jeffords

    A unique take on Holmes, showing how, in between the cases recorded by his Boswell, he took part in various adventures related to British national security.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Brilliant story! I had a lot of fun reading this.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    More about the various players, or suspected players, in the mysteries than Holmes.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rena Sherwood

    It just amazes me that books like this can get published. What was the point of this book? It's not exactly fiction and it's not exactly a take-off of William S. Baring-Gould. It's not funny and it's not inspired and it adds nothing to the Sherlock Holmes universe. If Sherlock Holmes was real and had relations were still alive, they should sue. The Sherlock Holmes described in this book is not recognizable as the Holmes in the Canon. However, this book helped get me drowsy enough to go to sleep, It just amazes me that books like this can get published. What was the point of this book? It's not exactly fiction and it's not exactly a take-off of William S. Baring-Gould. It's not funny and it's not inspired and it adds nothing to the Sherlock Holmes universe. If Sherlock Holmes was real and had relations were still alive, they should sue. The Sherlock Holmes described in this book is not recognizable as the Holmes in the Canon. However, this book helped get me drowsy enough to go to sleep, so I suppose that's a virtue. Maybe. In a parallel universe. It's still a good title though. Perhaps someday someone could write an Albert Goldman or a National Inquirer job, spicing up Sherlock's life in a parody to make him the Caligula of the detective world. Or not.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Eh. I LOVED the idea of this book. And I am just having the hardest time putting my finger on why I didn't really enjoy it that much. It wasn't too long and wasn't grueling to read. But I found myself annoyed with the very thing I thought I would enjoy--placing Sherlock Holmes into the real world of the time his tales were set. Partly it's that the author didn't (or wasn't able to) come up with enough real evidence to support the "biographical account." So instead it all comes across as assumptio Eh. I LOVED the idea of this book. And I am just having the hardest time putting my finger on why I didn't really enjoy it that much. It wasn't too long and wasn't grueling to read. But I found myself annoyed with the very thing I thought I would enjoy--placing Sherlock Holmes into the real world of the time his tales were set. Partly it's that the author didn't (or wasn't able to) come up with enough real evidence to support the "biographical account." So instead it all comes across as assumption without much reasoning behind it. It may be that the tales don't give much support for any very detailed invented biography of Holmes. If so, I might have abandoned the project if I were the author. Instead, Rennison chooses to write "we can presume that..." and similar phrases regularly throughout the book. For me, that really detracted from the original idea of the book somehow. I know it's an invented biography of a fictional character, but for me the whole point of that structure is to provide a feeling of scholarship and legitimacy.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kevin de Ataíde

    More a history of the Victorian era than a biography, this book is a marvellous attempt to piece together the involvement of the fictional detective in the civil and criminal life of the City over the last decades of the nineteenth and the first of the twentieth century. It almost seems believable through the book that Holmes was a historical figure. Given that the only information we seem to have about Holmes is from the few publications made by Arthur Conan Doyle as given by Holmes' friend and More a history of the Victorian era than a biography, this book is a marvellous attempt to piece together the involvement of the fictional detective in the civil and criminal life of the City over the last decades of the nineteenth and the first of the twentieth century. It almost seems believable through the book that Holmes was a historical figure. Given that the only information we seem to have about Holmes is from the few publications made by Arthur Conan Doyle as given by Holmes' friend and assistant, Watson, the difficulty is understandable and the effort in this book remarkable. From beginnings in the Yorkshire moors, to Cambridge university, detective consultancy in London, to sensitive cases for European concerns and diplomatic missions on behalf of the government to Tibet and Sudan, Holmes seems indeed to have contributed to Victorian history. A good read, this one, and not very long.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Petersen

    I've been fond of Sherlock Holmes ever since my mom let me, age 10 or so, confiscate her library card when I'd gone through most of the children's section. This highly entertaining, well researched, and well written pseudo-biography brought back good reading memories and the compulsion to go back to those clever stories I've been reading for decades. Rennison does a superb job of putting together all the pieces of Holmes' life -- all the ones he can find, that is -- as well as Mycroft's and Wats I've been fond of Sherlock Holmes ever since my mom let me, age 10 or so, confiscate her library card when I'd gone through most of the children's section. This highly entertaining, well researched, and well written pseudo-biography brought back good reading memories and the compulsion to go back to those clever stories I've been reading for decades. Rennison does a superb job of putting together all the pieces of Holmes' life -- all the ones he can find, that is -- as well as Mycroft's and Watson's and even Moriarty's; and supplementing that scant information with the history, the actual history, that was going on during his supposed lifetime. The biography must be shelved with fiction, of course, but it has the clamor of truth in its exploration of the times of the several decades on either side of the last century.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alma

    This book really appealed to my loves of fiction, history and biography. I have read the Sherlock Holmes stories for many years, and although their plots and denouements are sometimes a little hard to swallow, I have always been fascinated by the characters of Holmes and Watson themselves. This “biography” is an extremely detailed blending of real history and fiction, something akin to the Indiana Jones stories with footnotes. I learned new facts of Victorian era history and gained a greater fee This book really appealed to my loves of fiction, history and biography. I have read the Sherlock Holmes stories for many years, and although their plots and denouements are sometimes a little hard to swallow, I have always been fascinated by the characters of Holmes and Watson themselves. This “biography” is an extremely detailed blending of real history and fiction, something akin to the Indiana Jones stories with footnotes. I learned new facts of Victorian era history and gained a greater feel for the climate in England from the 1880's to the First World War. The facts and fiction are so perfectly intertwined that you end up thinking that maybe Holmes really DID exist. If nothing else, the book is an amazing reference that pulls all the details of the stories together and explains many of the historical allusions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    This is a 3.5 star rating, bumped up by the obvious ingenuity and careful crafting by the author. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever taken the time to look up the background surrounding the Holmes stories. I think it speaks the the excellence of the book, and some of the problems, that my main problem with it was how difficult it was to untangle the parts invented by the author from the meticulous historical research obviously undertaken by the author. I read this at the same ti This is a 3.5 star rating, bumped up by the obvious ingenuity and careful crafting by the author. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever taken the time to look up the background surrounding the Holmes stories. I think it speaks the the excellence of the book, and some of the problems, that my main problem with it was how difficult it was to untangle the parts invented by the author from the meticulous historical research obviously undertaken by the author. I read this at the same time I watched season 2 of the updated Sherlock with Cumberbatch and was pleasantly surprised how well they meshed with one another. I think the only irritation I have with the narrative was that it turned him into a sort of proto James Bond type character. I just didn't buy into it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dane

    I got about halfway through and gave up. I'm sure the author put a lot of work into this book, but I just didn't like it. It was deadly boring up until the Jack the Ripper chapter, which I struggled to get to. That chapter was mildly interesting, but without much payoff, interest-wise, as to who Holmes thought the Ripper was. The very next chapter after that throws a little bit of mud of Holmes. When you can make the life of Sherlock Holmes deadly boring, when your chapter on Sherlock Holmes figu I got about halfway through and gave up. I'm sure the author put a lot of work into this book, but I just didn't like it. It was deadly boring up until the Jack the Ripper chapter, which I struggled to get to. That chapter was mildly interesting, but without much payoff, interest-wise, as to who Holmes thought the Ripper was. The very next chapter after that throws a little bit of mud of Holmes. When you can make the life of Sherlock Holmes deadly boring, when your chapter on Sherlock Holmes figuring out the identity of Jack the Ripper is only mildly interesting, and when you dare malign Holmes even a little bit (in addition to the rest of that, anyway), then I do not care to read the rest of your book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Edoardo Albert

    Having finished this biography of the eminent Victorian, one is left with mixed feelings about Holmes's Boswell, Dr Watson. Without his testimony, we would know next to nothing about Holmes's remarkable career, for Mr Rennison's exhaustive researches have revealed remarkably few other references to Holmes in the records of the time. But if only Dr Watson had been as diligent a biographer as James Boswell, what an insight he would have given us into the late-Victorian/Edwardian era! As it is, we Having finished this biography of the eminent Victorian, one is left with mixed feelings about Holmes's Boswell, Dr Watson. Without his testimony, we would know next to nothing about Holmes's remarkable career, for Mr Rennison's exhaustive researches have revealed remarkably few other references to Holmes in the records of the time. But if only Dr Watson had been as diligent a biographer as James Boswell, what an insight he would have given us into the late-Victorian/Edwardian era! As it is, we are left pondering what might have been, and hoping that, maybe, when the official papers are released after the expiring of the 100-years-rule, that we may learn more of Holmes's role in the affairs of high-Imperial Britain.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Leone Davidson

    So you decide you want to be an author, only perhaps you have a somewhat limited imagination and no original story to tell. What do you do? Use the creation and the mysteries of another author(the more successful the better, so use Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and use his most well known character, in this case Sherlock Holmes, and write a fictional biography of his life. Throw in some real people who were alive during the same time period Sherlock sleuthed and voila! You've got yourself a book! OK, So you decide you want to be an author, only perhaps you have a somewhat limited imagination and no original story to tell. What do you do? Use the creation and the mysteries of another author(the more successful the better, so use Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and use his most well known character, in this case Sherlock Holmes, and write a fictional biography of his life. Throw in some real people who were alive during the same time period Sherlock sleuthed and voila! You've got yourself a book! OK, I'm being harsh but I did not especially like this one, it was a tad dull even for a 'biography,' and the only thing original was making up a whole backstory for Sherlock and John Watson. It was ok but not great.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wm

    What Rennison does here is both hilarious and at time a bit tedious -- he treats Sherlock Holmes and Watson and Mycroft as actual historical figures and, drawing from the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, actual historical events, and his imagination, he creates an entire backstory for Holme and co. The approach is seriously deadpan, but the writing is so fluid and academic that it mostly works. Obviously, the more you know about the Sherlock Holmes stories and about Victorian England, the more you'll What Rennison does here is both hilarious and at time a bit tedious -- he treats Sherlock Holmes and Watson and Mycroft as actual historical figures and, drawing from the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, actual historical events, and his imagination, he creates an entire backstory for Holme and co. The approach is seriously deadpan, but the writing is so fluid and academic that it mostly works. Obviously, the more you know about the Sherlock Holmes stories and about Victorian England, the more you'll get out of it, but I enjoyed even though I haven't read most of the Holmes stories for more than 20 year and my knowledge of history is fairly shallow.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ana-Maria Petre

    For an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, it is a beautiful book in which you can immerse and forget that he is just a character. At the moment I first read it I wasn't even sure it was not about a real person. Nick Rennison is amazingly well-documented and the book has the true ring of an authentic biography. It deals with many aspects of Holmes's life, such as his childhood, sexuality or social relationships, as well as the historical background. One of the books I keep close to my heart.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Petersen

    Can a biography of a fictional character be classified as nonfiction ... Of course, when it's a character as indisputably real as Sherlock Homes. But Rennison does much more than scribble down the "facts" of Holmes' life. He explores the culture and historic events that are the context of Holmes' times, even including what he was doing during that Great Hiatus after the Reichenbach Falls incident. Great fun for a Sherlock fan.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I finished it. It wasn't bad but I do not recommend it for anyone who has not read all Sherlock Holmes books/stories. Written from the premise that Holmes and Watson were real and the stories of Doyle were based on real crimes and mysteries from 1880 to 1920 as related to Doyle via Watson with Holmes' approval. There is the tie to British governemnt inovlvement in some matters and that Holmes elusive brother played a part. Immense detail that can overwhelm the story.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rozonda

    This has been attempted before, but not so perfectly or successfully. A biography of Holmes as a real character, seamlessly woven into real characters and facts of his era, until it could fool even very seasoned Sherlockians- with reflreshing views into much tackled issues like Holmes and Jack the Ripper, the Great Hiatus or "friends" like Wilde or Conan Doyle himself. A great work of research to feed the imagination- it may sound paradoxical but it is not. Wonderful.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Keli

    This book was eh. I didn't hate it but I didn't particularly enjoy it. It was just about getting through it for me. I can't put my finger on what exactly put me off but it was just not my cup of tea. there is one thing that I know put me off and that was the writer's tone and style. I found it a little bit pompous and at times very pretentious and that made the going rough.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stevie

    An interesting biography about the probably best known fictional character. It ties together facts and fiction nicely so that you think you are reading about a real person. The only thing that irked me a little was that every major character that touched Holmes's life gets at least a summoned up mini-biography in this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kaity

    I enjoyed it. I like the idea of treating fictional characters as real people. It makes my crushes on them more substantial. What? I didn't say that. But for real guys, this book was well researched and wrote.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

    A great reference for those interested in Sherlock Holmes, Victorian England, and Edwardian England. Rennison's writing style was wonderful. I enjoyed how he was able to meld fiction and fact into a very descriptive and interesting narrative.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    A fun dive into the Sherlockian view of the character as a living, breathing person. The biography premise began to wear a bit thin as I neared the conclusion but still worth it for the literary Sherlock fan.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stéphanie

    A creative and delightful Sherlock Holmes' "biography". Highly recommended for the Great Detective lovers and all Holmesians who follow the Game.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jessi

    A clever book which intertwines real-world events with extensive research done both of history and of Sherlock Holmes. A great story.

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