Interesting Literature

The Best Books about Shakespeare

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

We thought it was time we offered our pick of the best books about William Shakespeare: the best introductions to his life and his work. The following is not designed to be an exhaustive list, but many of these books were written by leading Shakespeare scholars and each contains something which every fan of the Bard should know.

Disclaimer: as an Amazon Associate, we get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

This book, published in 1997, examines the legacy of Shakespeare’s work, the way it has inspired others (from Romantic poets and novelists to twentieth-century postcolonial theorists), and how Shakespeare’s writing is constantly reinvented and recast by each new generation.

It’s a hugely readable book, since Bate is happy to speculate – drawing on what evidence is available – as to many of the great mysteries of Shakespeare’s life and work, such as the identity of the ‘Mr W. H.’ to whom the 1609 printing of the Sonnets was dedicated.

It has been called ‘the best modern book on Shakespeare’ (by RSC founder Sir Peter Hall) and is essential reading for anyone interested in the Bard.   Also well worth the read is Bate’s biography of the Bard…

This, from 2008, is a sort of ‘intellectual biography’ of Shakespeare which uses Jaques’ ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from  As You Like It  as a conceit or structure through which to examine some of the widely held assumptions about Shakespeare’s life.

Did Shakespeare really retire from London and return to Stratford-upon-Avon to live out his last years with his family, following his ‘curtain call’ on the London stage, his 1611 play  The Tempest ? Bate also suggests a highly plausible candidate for the ‘rival poet’ referred to in the Sonnets; his analysis here is compelling. Another must-read.

Greenblatt’s book (from 2004) forms a valuable companion to Bate’s two books, especially  Soul of the Age . Greenblatt is the founder of the school of criticism known as New Historicism, which, put crudely and simply, examines literary works in their original context through particular focus on the network of writings that were being produced at the time the literary text was produced.

New Historicism also uses specific events – including anecdotes – from the period to shed light on the social and political background out of which the literature was written. Greenblatt is especially interested in the idea of Shakespeare as a careful and cautious man, a businessman shoring up his earnings from his share in the theatres he worked for, and his property investments, for his retirement.

But Greenblatt is also frequently brilliant about the plays themselves: his discussion of the shift that took place in Shakespeare’s writing in around 1600 (when he wrote  Hamlet ) is fascinating.

In short, in plays such as  Hamlet ,  King Lear , and  Othello , Shakespeare draws on existing source material for these stories but removes obvious motives for characters’ actions (e.g. Iago’s motive for making mischief, Lear’s reason for testing his daughters), resulting in more psychologically and morally complex and ambiguous drama.

Caroline Spurgeon,  Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us .  

This landmark work of literary analysis was first published in 1934, and is a fascinating study of Shakespeare’s writing and well worth reading.

Spurgeon examines the images of Shakespeare’s plays in order to find out what sorts of images he most frequently draws on and what this might tell us about him, especially in terms of his relation to his contemporaries. It is a good study of what makes Shakespeare so peculiar alongside his fellow Elizabethan and Jacobean writers.

One of the best books on Shakespeare’s language, and a handy companion volume to Spurgeon’s older, groundbreaking study of the Bard’s imagery. Kermode was often a superb close-reader of poetry and a very clear-headed critic, and this shines through here. Highly readable.

This was one of the first of the recent popular books on Shakespeare written by an academic: although it was published a year after Bate’s  The Genius of Shakespeare , in 1998, it purportedly sold 100,000 copies in hardback (perhaps as a result of the success of Shakespeare in Love in cinemas that year) and, despite some contentious claims, showed publishers that lots of readers had an appetite for books on the Bard .

In 1904, this immeasurably influential study of Shakespeare’s tragedies appeared. It is still in print – as an affordable Penguin Classics edition – and although Bradley sometimes treats the characters a little too much as though they were real people rather than imaginary constructions, there’s a raft of lucid insights into the plays to be had.

This is our choice for a popular book on Shakespeare written by a non-Shakespearean. It’s short, light, engaging, humorous, with its distinct approach being to discount as much of the speculation about Shakespeare’s life as possible, and instead focus solely on the facts of his life that we definitely (or at least pretty definitely) know.

Written by one of the greatest living critics, this book is perhaps the best one on the Sonnets. A remarkable close reader of poetry, Vendler provides detailed commentaries on all of the 154 sonnets and, like Spurgeon and Kermode, has some particularly astute things to say about the poems’ language. It’s a little pricier than most of the other books on this list, but it’s big, so it’s worth the extra money.

Of course, any list purporting to select the ‘best books on Shakespeare’ is going to be subjective and even tendentious – so do please leave us your suggestions for other titles below.

If you enjoyed this list, check out our pick of the 10 best books about literature and our interesting facts about the Bard . You might also enjoy our interesting  Macbeth  facts  and our facts about  Romeo and Juliet .  Fans of language trivia might also like our selection of the best accessible books about the English language .

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35 thoughts on “The Best Books about Shakespeare”

Really good information. Learning about the man who wrote the manuals on the human condition has got to be a plus.

Hi there. while not wishing to criticise any on your list, a few others might have made it: Ted Hughes’ Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being; Secret Shakespeare; the Arden edition of Troilus and Cressida (and while not a book my post on this play), and Kermode’s long ago Arden on The Tempest. Also important is the dictionary of sexual imagery of the period in three volumes. Reading this will transform any person’s idea of Shakespeare.

Brysons Book ist a bit superficial and shoudn’t be in a list of “best books”. How about MacGregors “Shakespeares Restless World” as a popular alternative? And I am missing Gary Taylors “Reinventing Shakespeare”, which is a bit older, but still an excellent book on the reception of Shakespeare through the ages.

There is also The Shakespearean Ethic by John Vyvyan – the most original book about Shakespeare acoording to Chrisopher Booker. Ive read most of it and find his thesis compelling.

Don’t know that one; I’ll look it up. Thanks!

The Greenblatt book is the one I rely on most.

Shakespeare by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man who was Shakespeare by Mark Anderson belongs on the list.

It’s book that goes so much further than any other in its ability to link the man who wrote the works with the works themselves. Writers write from experience. There’s a real man with real experiences behind the “Shake-Speeare” allonym.

It’s beyond time to stop smoking from the Disney-upon-Avon tourist industry crack pipe and strip the veil from the most fascinating whodunnit in human history.

Something the Stratford tourist industry won’t tell you – Will Shaksper of Stratford was mocked on the London stage in his own lifetime as an illiterate, braggart, pretender.

This latter is in the realm of fantasy or historical fiction . . .

I agree that the Kermode one about language is excellent! Another good one is by Peter Hall not sure of the exact title – smth like Shakespeare’s Notes to his Players? It is about the poetry of the plays and how actors should speak the lines.

Using ‘Shakespeare by Another Name’ to Study Shakespeare as a dramatist is like using ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to study monarchy as a form of government.

Reblogged this on yllibsomar .

All based on a spurious biography. Read Mark Anderson’s “Shakespeare by Another name” for a truly literary approach to the plays and their author — principally Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Whatever you say, Bob.

Thanks for a great list! Any list is open for debate, but you did a fine job here.

What an good idea for a post. I read Will in the World years ago and thought it was really interesting. Haven’t read the others. Oh, gosh, I can’t believe anyone still really thinks that anyone besides Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. I researched this years ago, and the arguments are nonsense. Edward de Vere was dead for most of the time Shakespeare was alive!

Yes — and we know that de Vere DID write this:

Sitting alone upon my thought in melancholy mood, In sight of sea, and at my back an ancient hoary wood, I saw a fair young lady come, her secret fears to wail, Clad all in colour of a nun, and covered with a veil; Yet (for the day was calm and clear) I might discern her face, As one might see a damask rose hid under crystal glass.

The man who wrote that also wrote Hamlet? I don’t think so.

Yeah, that was the other thing I thought when I did my research, that none of the others proposed sounded anything like Shakespeare. It was as if those proposing the idea were tone deaf.

The Bill Bryson book is brilliant. Great post! Will take a look at the other suggestions.

Anthony Burgess wrote a good one. It’s weird and idiosyncratic but he’s incapable of writing a boring sentence so it rollocks along and has got a lot of beautiful illustrations in it.

I wrote to Burgess once. I admired him as a writer and I’ve read everything he wrote (including both Shakespeare (the biography) and Nothing Like The Sun (the fictional biography) but I couldn’t stand his obsession with Graham Greene, who I thought the better writer. It was as though Burgess was upset that Greene didn’t seem to notice him. After Greene’s death, Burgess wrote what was supposed to be an obituary of Greene but was in fact a paean to himself. I didn’t keep a copy of the letter but I do remember that it ended with the words, “You are, sir, a piece of shit.” He wrote back to me on a BBC postcard — his reply was brief but rather good. As one might expect.

Recently entertained by a one-woman play: The Second Best bed. Lichfield Literary Festival. Brilliant, engaging acting and a well held story line.

Well, the nature of lists is that something always gets left off. Can I just commend you on the breadth of your lists – Bill Bryson is a really solid, non-threatening introduction to Shakespeare, in my opinion:)

Great blog post, there are certainly some good suggestions here for my future reading. I’m glad you put “Will in the World” on your list as it’s one book whose approach I found particularly enlightening. Another one I really enjoyed was “Shakespeare for all time” by Stanley Wells; there’s a little bit of biog at the beginning but mostly it’s about how Shakespeare’s works have been interpreted in subsequent centuries and how he came to be the cultural legend he is today.

There are a couple of wonderful novels which capture the man, and are inventive, and also enhance the reader’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s works : Jude Morgan – The Secret Life of William Shakespeare and Robert Winder – The Final Act of Mr Shakespeare.

Oh, and both of them start from the premise that Shakespeare was in fact – Shakespeare, which I found a big relief!

Reblogged this on desperatelyseekingcymbeline and commented: I’m re-posting this to give myself a nice easy-to-access reading list…

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So glad you included the Bryson book. It’s the book which introduced me to him and I’ve been a big fan ever since. I like his take because, as you say, he sticks to what is known. Plus, Bryson surprises you with facts which stick in your head long after you’ve finished reading. Down side – you become a terrible bore at parties!

I know the ‘bore at parties’ feeling well, having been that person! Bryson is a marvellous populariser of subjects – I love his A Short History of Nearly Everything, about science, for that reason. But I’ve not read one of his I haven’t liked. (Even his latest, One Summer: America 1927, was a page-turner!) He has an eye for a catchy anecdote and is a great debunker of misconceptions, which we love examining here!

I couldn’t agree more! No wonder I like both Bryson and this blog site so much :)

Reblogged this on Rare Films & TV Classics on DVD .

Reblogged this on Jude’s Threshold and commented: William.

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The Best Shakespeare Books

Last updated: May 05, 2024

Five Books has a series of interviews with world-leading Shakespeare scholars, recommending books on a variety of aspects of the Bard. Disillusioned when forced to study him at school but ready to engage with Shakespeare's plays again? Or do you already know your Hamlet from your Lear but are keen to explore more about the man? Even if you are completely new to Shakespeare, our interviews with the world’s foremost Shakespeare experts will set you on the right path.

These include:

Sir Stanley Wells , honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford, and General Editor of The Complete Oxford Shakespeare; Emma Smith , Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford University, and acclaimed expert of Shakespeare's First Folio; and James Shapiro , Professor of English at Columbia University, and award-winning author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? and 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare , which won the Baillie Gifford 'Winner of Winners' award, for the best nonfiction book of the past 25 years!

Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me From mine own library with volumes that I prize above my dukedom. ( The Tempest , I. 2)

The best books on Shakespeare’s Reception , recommended by Emma Smith

Titus andronicus (arden shakespeare) by jonathan bate & william shakespeare, reinventing shakespeare: a cultural history, from the restoration to the present by gary taylor, passing strange: shakespeare, race, and contemporary america by ayanna thompson, shakespeare on film by judith buchanan, the palgrave encyclopedia of global shakespeare by alexa alice joubin (editor).

In the years after William Shakespeare died, his plays took on a life of their own. They meant different things to different people at different times as they spread around the world, turning a glover's son from a one-horse town in central England into one of the best-known authors of all time. Emma Smith , Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Oxford, recommends books to better understand 'Shakespeare reception'—the study of Shakespeare since his death.

In the years after William Shakespeare died, his plays took on a life of their own. They meant different things to different people at different times as they spread around the world, turning a glover’s son from a one-horse town in central England into one of the best-known authors of all time. Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Oxford, recommends books to better understand ‘Shakespeare reception’—the study of Shakespeare since his death.

Shakespeare’s Best Plays , recommended by Emma Smith

Macbeth by william shakespeare, measure for measure by william shakespeare, twelfth night by william shakespeare, pericles by william shakespeare, richard ii by william shakespeare.

Shakespearean scholar Emma Smith picks her five favourite plays by the Bard, and controversially argues that not only are some of his plays just too long, but also that the most moving moments in Shakespeare's oeuvre are where we might not expect them

Shakespearean scholar Emma Smith picks her five favourite plays by the Bard, and controversially argues that not only are some of his plays just too long, but also that the most moving moments in Shakespeare’s oeuvre are where we might not expect them

The best books on Shakespeare’s Life , recommended by James Shapiro

Outlines of the life of shakespeare by james orchard halliwell-phillipps, william shakespeare by e k chambers, shakespeare’s lives by s schoenbaum, the lodger by charles nicholl, william shakespeare by peter holland.

Though many scholars have done meticulous work and brought to life slices of his life, writing a traditional, cradle-to-grave biography of Shakespeare is impossible, says Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro . Here he selects some of his favourite books tackling aspects of Shakespeare's life, including the one he most wishes he had written himself.

Though many scholars have done meticulous work and brought to life slices of his life, writing a traditional, cradle-to-grave biography of Shakespeare is impossible, says Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro. Here he selects some of his favourite books tackling aspects of Shakespeare’s life, including the one he most wishes he had written himself.

Robert S Miola on Shakespeare’s Sources

Metamorphoses ovid (translated by a d melville), roman lives plutarch (trans. robin waterfield), four comedies plautus (ed. erich segal), six tragedies seneca (translated by emily wilson), holinshed's chronicles by raphael holinshed.

William Shakespeare has a strong claim to be the most influential writer of all time. But whose works influenced him? And how? Robert S Miola discusses the breadth of Shakespeare’s reading, the vexed question of how we can reconstruct what he read, and the staggeringly innovative ways that Shakespeare shaped his sources

The best books on Shakespeare’s Sonnets , recommended by Scott Newstok

Shakespeare's sonnets by katherine duncan-jones & william shakespeare, the art of shakespeare's sonnets by helen vendler & william shakespeare, all the sonnets of shakespeare by paul edmonson, stanley wells & william shakespeare, the afterlife of shakespeare's sonnets by jane kingsley-smith, nets by jen bervin, lucy negro, redux by caroline randall williams.

The beauty of Shakespeare's sonnets speaks to us down the centuries, their lines peaking out at us from the titles of famous books or enjoying outings at weddings or other romantic occasions. But they were not always regarded as perfectly-formed jewels, and the relationships they portray not as conventional as many of us presume. Here, Shakespeare scholar Scott Newstok talks us through books that help us learn more about Shakespeare's sonnets, from the best introduction to the poems for students through to their afterlife and recent creative interpretations.

The beauty of Shakespeare’s sonnets speaks to us down the centuries, their lines peaking out at us from the titles of famous books or enjoying outings at weddings or other romantic occasions. But they were not always regarded as perfectly-formed jewels, and the relationships they portray not as conventional as many of us presume. Here, Shakespeare scholar Scott Newstok talks us through books that help us learn more about Shakespeare’s sonnets, from the best introduction to the poems for students through to their afterlife and recent creative interpretations.

Stanley Wells recommends the best of Shakespeare’s Plays

King lear by william shakespeare, a midsummer night’s dream by william shakespeare, the winter's tale by william shakespeare, antony and cleopatra by william shakespeare.

In our Shakespeare series , we ask experts to select their favourite plays from the Bard's oeuvre. Here, preeminent Shakespearean scholar Sir Stanley Wells chooses five plays that best chart the evolution of the Bard of Avon during his 25-year career.

In our Shakespeare series , we ask experts to select their favourite plays from the Bard’s oeuvre. Here, preeminent Shakespearean scholar Sir Stanley Wells chooses five plays that best chart the evolution of the Bard of Avon during his 25-year career.

René Weis on The Best Plays of Shakespeare

Romeo and juliet by william shakespeare.

In the second of a Five Books series marking the 400th year since the world's most popular playwright's death, eminent Shakespearean René Weis picks his five favourite plays, and explains why King Lear  will change your life.

In the second of a Five Books series marking the 400th year since the world’s most popular playwright’s death, eminent Shakespearean René Weis picks his five favourite plays, and explains why King Lear  will change your life.

Best Shakespeare Books for Kids , recommended by Natasha

Illustrated stories from shakespeare by anna claybourne, rosie dickins & william shakespeare, the shakespeare stories by andrew matthews, to wee or not to wee by pamela butchart, macbeth by conrad mason, twelfth night by rosie dickins.

Are you longing to get your children as excited about Shakespeare as you are? There's a lot of books out there to introduce kids to the Bard. Here, Natasha , a 10-year old living in Oxfordshire, recommends some of her favourite retellings of Shakespeare stories.

Are you longing to get your children as excited about Shakespeare as you are? There’s a lot of books out there to introduce kids to the Bard. Here, Natasha, a 10-year old living in Oxfordshire, recommends some of her favourite retellings of Shakespeare stories.

We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.

This site has an archive of more than one thousand seven hundred interviews, or eight thousand book recommendations. We publish at least two new interviews per week.

Five Books participates in the Amazon Associate program and earns money from qualifying purchases.

© Five Books 2024

  •   The best Shakespeare books (for every type of reader)

The best Shakespeare books (for every type of reader)

Whether you're completely new to shakespeare and wondering where to start, the bard's biggest fan looking for a beautiful edition of your favourite work, or somewhere in between the two, here's our guide to the best shakespeare books..

best biography shakespeare

There's a reason why Shakespeare's plays are still the most performed in the world, more than 400 years after they were written. Comedy, tragedy, romance , history , politics, murder: all of life (and death) is here. And there's no better way to really appreciate and immerse yourself in his language than by taking the time to read it at your own pace. If you're looking to buy some of Shakespeare's work in book form, you're in the right place. Here's our guide to the best Shakespeare books for every type of reader. 

For those new to Shakespeare

A midsummer night’s dream, by william shakespeare.

Book cover for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The perfect introduction to Shakespeare’s world of magic, exuberance, beauty and imagination, it’s no surprise A Midsummer Night’s Dream is his most performed play. The action takes place in an enchanted forest inhabited by fairies and sprites. Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius, and Demetrius is in love with her. . . but Hermia loves Lysander, and he loves her. And then there’s Hermia’s friend Helena, who loves Demetrius. Their tangled love lives are made even more complicated by the interference of Oberon, King of the Fairies, his wife Titania and the impish sprite, Puck. There are spells, misunderstandings, disguises and love potions in this most entertaining of Shakespeare’s plays.  

Shakespeare's most romantic work

Romeo and juliet.

Book cover for Romeo and Juliet

The ultimate love story: often copied, never bettered. In fourteenth-century Verona, a city torn apart by feuds and gang warfare, Romeo and Juliet fall madly in love. But their families are sworn enemies and the two young lovers are caught in a crossfire of hostility, revenge and intolerance. A heady mix of passion, violence, comedy and tragedy, this is a story that grips from start to finish. 

The Sonnets

Book cover for The Sonnets

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are the greatest exposition of love in all its guises ever written in the English language; meditations on love, longing, jealousy, betrayal and infatuation, conveyed in the most beautiful and moving poetry. Whether you want to shout out your love or worship from afar; your heart has been broken or you’re in the first flush of romance, you’ll find beauty, solace and inspirational beauty in this slender book. 

And the most tragic tragedies

Book cover for Hamlet

And finally Hamlet , one of the most performed plays in the world. Hamlet, prince of Denmark, meets with his father's ghost, who alleges that his own brother, now married to his widow, murdered him. But is his father telling the truth? Tormented by doubt and introspection, Hamlet feigns madness to test the ghost’s accusation and plots brutal revenge against his uncle. But his apparent insanity wreaks havoc on innocent and guilty alike and by the end of the play, both Hamlet and his Uncle – and quite a few others –are dead.  

Book cover for King Lear

Elderly King Lear decides to divide his kingdom up between his three daughters, based on how much they can show that they love him. Cordelia, the youngest and most loving, refuses to play the game. The other two, the evil Regan and Goneril, vie for control of the kingdom. Fuelled by greed they eventually cast their own father out into a storm where he descends into madness. A shocking, wild and desperately moving play.

For history buffs

Book cover for Henry V

Demonstrating that Shakespeare's plays have plenty to say about contemporary life,  Henry V is set in the early fifteenth century when the English were restless and dissatisfied with the status quo. There’s a new king on the throne, the young Henry V, known for his wild adolescent years. So we have a disgruntled population, an untamed young royal and a new king. Sound familiar? Henry V, however, grows into his royal role to become a forceful and impressive leader. He wages war on France culminating in the famous battle of Agincourt, gaining victory over the French. Henry V is a magnificent study of both conflict and diplomacy. 

For fans of the supernatural

The tempest.

Book cover for The Tempest

The Tempest weaves magic and the supernatural into a profound story about politics, power and human nature. Prospero has long been exiled from Italy and banished to a remote island with his daughter Miranda, where there lives an invisible sprite, Ariel, and the fearsome Caliban, son of a witch. Prospero harnesses his magical powers to conjure up a treacherous storm so that his sworn enemies, including his brother Antonio, are shipwrecked on the island. There follows a play filled with murderous plots, drunken confusion, love and redemption. 

The funniest Shakespeare play

Much ado about nothing.

Book cover for Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is Shakespeare’s most mature comedy and perhaps that’s why it’s really endured. At the heart of the play is the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. Theirs is a classic set up familiar to any rom com fan – with razor sharp wit, they bicker, they fight and they take verbal swipes at each other, but does all this squabbling mask their true feelings? Of course it does! It’s down to their friends to turn them around and have them fall in love. With the usual ingenious sub plots, here’s a hugely entertaining comedy with a message about misunderstandings, love and deception. 

You may also like

Classic books to read at least once in your lifetime, 11 of the best charles dickens books (for every type of reader), the ultimate guide to jane austen's books.

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Early life in Stratford

  • Career in the theatre
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William Shakespeare

How did Shakespeare die?

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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare

What was Shakespeare's family like?

Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway , eight years his senior, when he was 18. They had three children: Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died at the age of 11.

How many plays did Shakespeare write?

There is some dispute about how many plays Shakespeare wrote. The general consensus is 37. 

How many sonnets did Shakespeare write?

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets . The most famous include Sonnet 18, with opening lines “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”, and Sonnet 130, which begins “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”

The cause of Shakespeare's death is unknown. However, the vicar of the local church wrote in his journal some fifty years later that “Shakespeare, Drayton , and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” The account cannot be verified but has led some scholars to speculate that Shakespeare may have died of typhus.

Shakespeare remains vital because his plays present people and situations that we recognize today. His characters have an emotional reality that transcends time, and his plays depict familiar experiences, ranging from family squabbles to falling in love to war. The fact that his plays are performed and adapted around the world underscores the universal appeal of his storytelling.

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best biography shakespeare

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England—died April 23, 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon) was a poet, dramatist, and actor often called the English national poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.

Shakespeare occupies a position unique in world literature . Other poets, such as Homer and Dante , and novelists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens , have transcended national barriers, but no writer’s living reputation can compare to that of Shakespeare, whose plays, written in the late 16th and early 17th centuries for a small repertory theatre , are now performed and read more often and in more countries than ever before. The prophecy of his great contemporary, the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson , that Shakespeare “was not of an age, but for all time,” has been fulfilled.

Explore five questions about Shakespeare's life

It may be audacious even to attempt a definition of his greatness, but it is not so difficult to describe the gifts that enabled him to create imaginative visions of pathos and mirth that, whether read or witnessed in the theatre, fill the mind and linger there. He is a writer of great intellectual rapidity, perceptiveness, and poetic power. Other writers have had these qualities, but with Shakespeare the keenness of mind was applied not to abstruse or remote subjects but to human beings and their complete range of emotions and conflicts. Other writers have applied their keenness of mind in this way, but Shakespeare is astonishingly clever with words and images, so that his mental energy, when applied to intelligible human situations, finds full and memorable expression, convincing and imaginatively stimulating. As if this were not enough, the art form into which his creative energies went was not remote and bookish but involved the vivid stage impersonation of human beings, commanding sympathy and inviting vicarious participation. Thus, Shakespeare’s merits can survive translation into other languages and into cultures remote from that of Elizabethan England .

Shakespeare the man

Learn about William Shakespeare's early boyhood and path to London to become a playwright and actor

Although the amount of factual knowledge available about Shakespeare is surprisingly large for one of his station in life, many find it a little disappointing, for it is mostly gleaned from documents of an official character. Dates of baptisms , marriages , deaths , and burials ; wills , conveyances , legal processes, and payments by the court—these are the dusty details. There are, however, many contemporary allusions to him as a writer, and these add a reasonable amount of flesh and blood to the biographical skeleton.

If You'd Only Be My Valentine, American Valentine card, 1910. Cupid gathers a basket of red hearts from a pine tree which, in the language of flowers represents daring. Valentine's Day St. Valentine's Day February 14 love romance history and society heart In Roman mythology Cupid was the son of Venus, goddess of love (Eros and Aphrodite in the Greek Pantheon).

The parish register of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon , Warwickshire , shows that he was baptized there on April 26, 1564; his birthday is traditionally celebrated on April 23. His father, John Shakespeare, was a burgess of the borough , who in 1565 was chosen an alderman and in 1568 bailiff (the position corresponding to mayor , before the grant of a further charter to Stratford in 1664). He was engaged in various kinds of trade and appears to have suffered some fluctuations in prosperity . His wife, Mary Arden, of Wilmcote, Warwickshire, came from an ancient family and was the heiress to some land. (Given the somewhat rigid social distinctions of the 16th century, this marriage must have been a step up the social scale for John Shakespeare.)

Stratford enjoyed a grammar school of good quality, and the education there was free, the schoolmaster’s salary being paid by the borough. No lists of the pupils who were at the school in the 16th century have survived, but it would be absurd to suppose the bailiff of the town did not send his son there. The boy’s education would consist mostly of Latin studies—learning to read, write, and speak the language fairly well and studying some of the Classical historians, moralists, and poets. Shakespeare did not go on to the university, and indeed it is unlikely that the scholarly round of logic, rhetoric , and other studies then followed there would have interested him.

Instead, at age 18 he married. Where and exactly when are not known, but the episcopal registry at Worcester preserves a bond dated November 28, 1582, and executed by two yeomen of Stratford, named Sandells and Richardson, as a security to the bishop for the issue of a license for the marriage of William Shakespeare and “ Anne Hathaway of Stratford,” upon the consent of her friends and upon once asking of the banns. (Anne died in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare. There is good evidence to associate her with a family of Hathaways who inhabited a beautiful farmhouse, now much visited, 2 miles [3.2 km] from Stratford.) The next date of interest is found in the records of the Stratford church, where a daughter, named Susanna, born to William Shakespeare, was baptized on May 26, 1583. On February 2, 1585, twins were baptized, Hamnet and Judith. (Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later.)

How Shakespeare spent the next eight years or so, until his name begins to appear in London theatre records, is not known. There are stories—given currency long after his death—of stealing deer and getting into trouble with a local magnate, Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, near Stratford; of earning his living as a schoolmaster in the country; of going to London and gaining entry to the world of theatre by minding the horses of theatregoers. It has also been conjectured that Shakespeare spent some time as a member of a great household and that he was a soldier, perhaps in the Low Countries . In lieu of external evidence, such extrapolations about Shakespeare’s life have often been made from the internal “evidence” of his writings. But this method is unsatisfactory: one cannot conclude, for example, from his allusions to the law that Shakespeare was a lawyer, for he was clearly a writer who without difficulty could get whatever knowledge he needed for the composition of his plays.

No Sweat Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Biography

This page offers a complete biography of Shakespeare, from birth to death. Read the whole William Shakespeare biography , or skip to the section of Shakespeare’s life you’re most interested in:

Shakespeare’s Birth and Family Shakespeare’s Childhood & Education Shakespeare’s Marriage & Children Shakespeare’s Lost Years Shakespeare’s London Years Shakespeare’s Retirement Shakespeare’s Death

A Very Brief William Shakespeare Biography

  • Parents: John Shakespeare & Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden).
  • Date of Birth: Generally accepted as 23rd April 1564. Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April, 1564.
  • Wife: Anne Hathaway (married 1582).
  • Children : Susanna (born 1583), Hamnet and Judith (twins, born 1585).
  • Resided: Born and raised in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Prime working years spent away from family in London. Returned to family in Stratford-Upon-Avon upon retirement.
  • Career: Writer, actor, theatre owner and producer.
  • Body of Work : 37 plays. 149 sonnets. 2 long narrative poems.
  • Died: 23 April 1616, aged 52. Buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon . Read 50 fun facts about Shakespeare

The Chandos portrait of WIlliam Shakespeare biography

The Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Birth and Family

Shakespeare was the third of the eight children born to John and Mary Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23rd 1564.

John Shakespeare ran his own business as a glove maker and a wool dealer. He held local public positions and was a bailiff (like a mayor) in the town council. After 1567 it is alleged that he was in financial difficulties. In 1557 John married Mary Arden who had no formal education at all.  John and Mary had lost two daughters prior to William’s birth, leaving him as their oldest surviving child. William’s younger siblings were Gilbert (born in 1566), Joan (1569), Anne (1571), Richard (1574) and Edmund (1580). Anne died at the age of eight, but William’s four other younger siblings lived into adulthoods.

Shakespeare’s family lived in a townhouse on Henley Street in the centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon. John used one of his downstairs rooms as a workshop for his glove business, displaying his gloves on his house windowsill for passers-by to peruse and buy. Read more about Shakespeare’s birthplace .

Shakespeare's birthplace

Shakespeare’s family home on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s Childhood and Education

During Shakespeare’s time it was typical for boys to start their education at grammar school at seven and be taught a curriculum with Latin at is centre. Children would be expected to learn long passages of prose and poetry. In addition, children were drilled in grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic and astronomy. Children of public officials received free tuition. Girls did not receive a school education.

It is likely that William lived with his family and was taught according to the above principles at his local grammar school. This was called The King’s New School , and was just a five-minute walk from his home on Henley Street. When William was fourteen his father lost his public position, so it’s  probable that William left school and joined his father in business, making and selling gloves. There is no record of Shakespeare going to university. His contemporary Christopher Marlowe did go to Cambridge, but most playwrights, including Ben Johnson , did not.

To get a feel for Shakespeare’s childhood it’s interesting to note that when Shakespeare was a child water was not clean enough to drink. Attitudes towards hygiene differed hugley to our modern understanding of cleanliness., and tt’s believed that in Tudor times bathing occurred only once a year – probably in May. After the water had been fetched it would be boiled and poured into a large barrel or tub. The father bathed first, followed by any other men who lived in the house, then the women, and finally the children, in order of their age. Talking of such issues, the toilet facilities were quite basic with a simple pewter chamber-pot (a wide jug with a handle) serving as a toilet to be used indoors. Outside, garden privies would consist of a wooden seat with a hole cut in it, sitting over a cess-pit or open sewer.

Read more about Shakespeare’s early childhood >>

Read more about Shakespeare’s teen & school years >>

interior of an Elizabethan classroom with small wooden desk

Shakespeare’s likely classroom at The King’s New School

Shakespeare’s Marriage and Children

Parish records show that when Shakespeare was 18 years old he married Anne Hathaway, a 26 year old, wealthy farmer’s daughter , in Canterbury Province, Worcester.

Anne was three months pregnant when they married, with their first daughter, Susanna, born on the 26th May 1583. William and Anne went on to have twins Hamnet (a boy) and Judith (a girl), born on the 2nd February 1585. Hamnet died of unknown causes at 11 years old, but William’s daughters and wife outlived him. Judith went on to marry Thomas Quinney in 1616 and had three sons: Shakespeare, Richard, and Thomas. Shakespeare died in infancy and Richard and Thomas both died bachelors in 1639 leaving behind no legitimate descendants. There are legitimate descendants stemming from Shakespeare’s sister Joan who married William Hart some time before 1600.

Portrait of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife

Portrait of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife

Shakespeare’s Lost Years

The seven year period after the birth of Hamnet and Judith is known as Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ as there are no recordings about him, other than one mention of him visiting London in 1616 to see his son-in-law, John Hall.

Speculation about this time is rife. One prominent speculative theory is that Shakespeare fled from Stratford to avoid prosecution as a poacher. This theory could explain why he left his wife and children in Stratford and reappeared 90 miles away in London. Other theories are that Shakespeare toured with an acting troupe possibly in Italy. This latter theory is given weight as 14 plus of his plays include Italian settings, and a 16th Century guest book in Rome signed by pilgrims includes three cryptic signings that some attribute to Shakespeare. This is not a watertight argument though because Italian literature would have been widely read at the time. In addition, there is speculation that Shakespeare met John Florio , an apostle of Italian culture in England and tutor to Shakespeare’s patron; Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton . The possibility that Shakespeare was a soldier has also been debated widely but there is no proof to support this claim.

The truth is though that no one actually knows where Shakespeare lived or worked. What historians are certain of is that during this time Shakespeare left behind the image of a country youth and re-emerged as a playwright and businessman, so at some point during this time he learned his trade as a writer in London.

Shakespeare in London

The late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century is referred to as the golden age of English drama, due to the popularity of theatre, and volume of plays produced at that time. There was fierce competition among the twenty or so theatres in London, keeping scores of writers busy churning out new plays. Shakespeare became one of those writers, though we are not sure exactly how this occurred.

It seems that Shakespeare did not maintain a London household, but lived in several lodgings with landlords and other lodgers during his London years. He was always within walking distance of the theatre zone, so we can imagine him walking to work every day.

By the early 1590s, court records show Shakespeare was living somewhere in Bishopsgate, London. By then he had written Two Gentlemen of Verona , Love’s Labours Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Romeo and Julie t, Richard II , and The Merchant of Venice . He seems to have been interested in writing poems: in addition to his day job of writing plays – he also wrote his two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece . Not only that, but this is the period when he started work on his sonnets .

In 1595 documents show that Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men , along with William Kempe and Richard Burbage . Shakespeare was involved with this company of actors in London for most of his career, as actor, producer, theatre owner and, of course, a very popular playwright.

It’s evident that Shakespeare was earning good money from his theatre business, as civil records show that in 1597 he bought New Place, one of Stratford’s biggest houses, and moved his family into it. In this same year, his son Hamnet died of unknown causes, aged eleven.

By 1599 Shakespeare was living in Bankside, on the south side of The Thames near the infamous Clink Prison. It was in this area Shakespeare and his business partners Kempe and Burbage built their own theater on the south bank of The Thames river, which they called the Globe Theater . and tt’s likely Shakespeare moved to Bankside to be near to the building site. Shakespeare’s playwriting would have been a necessity to provide material to fill his company’s new theatre every day. Between 1599 and 1604 he wrote at least seven plays, including Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 , The Merry Wives of Windsor , As You Like It , Much Ado About Nothing , Henry V and Julius Caesar .

Records show that in 1604 Shakespeare moved back to the City of London and rented a room in the house in Cripplegate, near St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased leases of real estate near Stratford for 440 pounds, which doubled in value and earned him an income of 60 pounds a year. This made him an entrepreneur as well as an artist, and scholars believe these investments gave him the time to write his plays uninterrupted.

Shakespeare lived in Cripplegate for about eight years writing many plays, including Twelfth Night , Hamlet , Troilus and Cressida , Alls Well That Ends Well , Measure for Measure , Othello , King Lear , Macbeth , Antony and Cleopatra , Coriolanus , Timon of Athens , Pericles , Cymbeline , The Winter’s Tale , and The Tempest .

In 1607 his older daughter, Susanna, married and his mother died the following year. His sonnets were published in 1609.

It was a four-day ride by horse from Stratford to London, so it’s believed that Shakespeare spent all of his time in London writing and acting except for the 40-day Lenten period when theatres were closed when he travelled back to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon.


A map of London in Shakespeare’s time

Shakespeare’s Retirement

After a glittering career as an actor, playwright, and theatre proprietor in London, Shakespeare ‘retired’ to Stratford sometime after 1611 whilst in his late 40s. He rejoined his wife and two surviving children. By this time he also had a granddaughter, Elizabeth, daughter of Judith.

Retirement for Shakespeare was not a matter of sitting around in slippers and letting the world pass him by. He had a portfolio of properties and many business interests, including some in the corn and malt trades. He also continued to make the occasional long journey to London. Before leaving London Shakespeare had built up a selection of plays that hadn’t yet been performed. These included The Winter’s Tale, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Cymbeline. It is likely that he visited London for some of these first performances, most probably those of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, which were performed to King James.

On June 29th, 1613 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was burnt down. It is likely that this event meant more time spent in London for Shakespeare. Shakespeare was definitely in Westminster on 11th May 1612 where he appeared as a witness in the case of Bellot v. Mountjoy . At one time Shakespeare had been a lodger in Christopher Mountjoy’s house in Cripplegate, and now Mountjoy was being sued by his son-in-law, Stephen Bellott for defaulting on a promised marriage settlement. Shakespeare had been involved in the dowry negotiations and so was called to give evidence in the case.

Shakespeare enjoyed visits from his many friends in the world of theatre, arts, and letters to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon. He continued to collaborate with younger playwrights , participating in the writing of Henry VIII , Two Noble Kinsmen , and also the lost play, Cardenio , with his friend John Webster .

Shakespeare’s Death

We aren’t sure of the exact date of his death but it is assumed, from a record of his burial two days later at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon that he died on his 52nd birthday on 23rd April 1616. His gravestone remains there and bears the following engraving:

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare To digg the dust enclosed heare; Blese be ye man yt spares these stones And curst be he yt moves my bones

It is believed that Shakespeare’s death occurred in New House, where he would have been attended by his son-in-law, Dr John Hall, the local physician.

Most historians agree that in the 17th Century Stratford-Upon-Avon had a reputation for scandalous stories and rumours with no basis in fact. This means that we must be cautious in believing for certain the commonly held theory about the cause of Shakespeare’s death:

in 1661, many years after Shakespeare’s death John Ward, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church noted in his diary : “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” It is therefore often stated that Shakespeare died from a fever after a drinking binge with fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton . There are other reports that Michael Drayton and Ben Johnson visited Shakespeare a week before he died and spent the evening eating and drinking together.

This may be true, but there is a further theory that Shakespeare was sick for over a month before he died. The evidence comes from the fact that on 25th March 1616 (just 4 weeks before his death) Shakespeare dictated his will – in keeping with the 17th Century tradition of drawing up wills on one’s deathbed. This points to the fact that Shakespeare was aware his life was coming to an end. Some scholars also point to his signature on his will being somewhat shaky, suggesting his frailty at the time. As an aside, there is lots of historical discussion and exploration about whether bequeathing his second-best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway was a slight against her or not. It probably wasn’t but we don’t know for sure.

Despite all of the theories, the cause of Shakespeare’s death at the age of just 52 will likely remain a mystery. Shakespeare died a grandfather after living a relatively long and healthy life where the average life expectancy was just 35.

Shakespeare was buried on 25th April, 1616, in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church, complete with curse and flowers

William Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church, complete with curse and flowers

peter ackroyd 'shakespeare the biography' book cover

Buy Peter Ackroyd’s “Shakespeare The Biography” on Amazon

In search of Shakepseare book cover

Buy Michael Wood’s “In Search of Shakespeare” on Amazon

Shakespeare the invention of human book cover

Buy Harold Bloom’s “Shakespeare, The Invention of Human” on Amazon

Bill Brtson Shakespeare nook cover

Buy Bill Bryson’s “Shakespeare” on Amazon

Read Our Favourite Shakespeare Biographies in Print

There are so many books out there about Shakespeare and his life, but these four below are our all-time favourites. Each one is readable, informative and well worth relaxing with for a few hours to get a deeper understanding about the man himself:

Author’s Notes

Despite William Shakespeare’s fame as a historical figure, there are very few hard facts known about him. Historians use the following primary sources to piece together his life:

  • Shakespeare’s works — the plays, poems and sonnets.
  • Official records such as church and court records ( available here ).
  • Written commentary about Shakespeare and his work from contemporaries such as Robert Green and Ben Johnson.

Biographers over the years have amassed an immense amount of knowledge and information Some fact, some opinion. A key purpose of this biography of William Shakespeare has been to make clear what is supposition or assumption rather than fact. We acknowledge here our reference to the following established secondary sources:

Bill Bryson. Shakespeare. London. Wilkie Collins. 2016 Peter Ackroyd. Shakespeare the biography. London. Vintage 2006.

As an Amazon Associate, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases, at no additional cost to you.

Read More About Shakespeare’s Life

Shakespeare’s life | Shakespeare timeline | Shakespeare biography | Shakespeare’s early childhood | Shakespeare’s teenage years | Shakespeare’s lost years | Shakespeare’s London years | Shakespeare’s final years | Shakespeare’s death

Read More About Shakespeare’s Family

Shakespeare’s family |  Shakespeare’s family tree | Shakespeare’s grandparents | Shakespeare’s parents | Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother | John Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s father | Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare wife | Shakespeare’s children | Judith Quiney | Hamnet Shakespeare |  Shakespeare’s grandchildren

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thanks this biography helped me with a school project!


Same Here!! lol :D


this will help me with my school project for history and i have probably gone beyond what we have learent in school


WoW! Thanks alot!! I actually had to do reasearch on william shakesphere for school!!! :)

you spelled a lot wrong.

you spelled it wrong

Bruce Stark

More process information and knowledge in terms of facts and his plays is needed otherwise, this is one of the few websites helping me to do my presentation on Shakey! Thanks for the help!

Vidushi Agarwal

You guys can add some more stuff to it. Although this proved to be helpful for me yet I’d say that more points about Shakespeare’s life can be added.


can’t find quiz

Myreen Moore Nicholson

I have very recently discovered that my Great+ grandfather, Thomas Ffoxe, Jr. lived on Silver Street, which was only a block long, and on which Shakespeare lived 1602-1612. Thomas was baptized at St. Olave’s Church, which was Hugenot, or Scandinavian, in 1618. I am still researching to see if Thomas’ father of the same name lived there before him. This church was catecorner to the Mountjoy House, a headdress maker and shop, where Shakespeare lived as a lodger during this period.

Pamela Mathis-Yon

Enjoyed reading this and thank you .

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William Shakespeare

By: Editors

Updated: June 7, 2019 | Original: October 3, 2011

Did Shakespeare Write His Own Plays?

Considered the greatest English-speaking writer in history and known as England’s national poet, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) has had more theatrical works performed than any other playwright. To this day, countless theater festivals around the world honor his work, students memorize his eloquent poems and scholars reinterpret the million words of text he composed. They also hunt for clues about the life of the man who inspires such “bardolatry” (as George Bernard Shaw derisively called it), much of which remains shrouded in mystery. Born into a family of modest means in Elizabethan England, the “Bard of Avon” wrote at least 37 plays and a collection of sonnets, established the legendary Globe theater and helped transform the English language.

Shakespeare’s Childhood and Family Life

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a bustling market town 100 miles northwest of London, and baptized there on April 26, 1564. His birthday is traditionally celebrated on April 23, which was the date of his death in 1616 and is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England. Shakespeare’s father, John, dabbled in farming, wood trading, tanning, leatherwork, money lending and other occupations; he also held a series of municipal positions before falling into debt in the late 1580s. The ambitious son of a tenant farmer, John boosted his social status by marrying Mary Arden, the daughter of an aristocratic landowner. Like John, she may have been a practicing Catholic at a time when those who rejected the newly established Church of England faced persecution.

Did you know? Sources from William Shakespeare's lifetime spell his last name in more than 80 different ways, ranging from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.” In the handful of signatures that have survived, he himself never spelled his name “William Shakespeare,” using variations such as “Willm Shakspere” and “William Shakspeare” instead.

William was the third of eight Shakespeare children, of whom three died in childhood. Though no records of his education survive, it is likely that he attended the well-regarded local grammar school, where he would have studied Latin grammar and classics. It is unknown whether he completed his studies or abandoned them as an adolescent to apprentice with his father.

At 18 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (1556-1616), a woman eight years his senior, in a ceremony thought to have been hastily arranged due to her pregnancy. A daughter, Susanna, was born less than seven months later in May 1583. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed in February 1585. Susanna and Judith would live to old age, while Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died at 11. As for William and Anne, it is believed that the couple lived apart for most of the year while the bard pursued his writing and theater career in London. It was not until the end of his life that Shakespeare moved back in with Anne in their Stratford home.

Shakespeare’s Lost Years and Early Career

To the dismay of his biographers, Shakespeare disappears from the historical record between 1585, when his twins’ baptism was recorded, and 1592, when the playwright Robert Greene denounced him in a pamphlet as an “upstart crow” (evidence that he had already made a name for himself on the London stage). What did the newly married father and future literary icon do during those seven “lost” years? Historians have speculated that he worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, traveled across continental Europe or joined an acting troupe that was passing through Stratford. According to one 17th-century account, he fled his hometown after poaching deer from a local politician’s estate.

Whatever the answer, by 1592 Shakespeare had begun working as an actor, penned several plays and spent enough time in London to write about its geography, culture and diverse personalities with great authority. Even his earliest works evince knowledge of European affairs and foreign countries, familiarity with the royal court and general erudition that might seem unattainable to a young man raised in the provinces by parents who were probably illiterate. For this reason, some theorists have suggested that one or several authors wishing to conceal their true identity used the person of William Shakespeare as a front. (Most scholars and literary historians dismiss this hypothesis, although many suspect Shakespeare sometimes collaborated with other playwrights.)

Shakespeare’s Plays and Poems

Shakespeare’s first plays, believed to have been written before or around 1592, encompass all three of the main dramatic genres in the bard’s oeuvre: tragedy (“Titus Andronicus”); comedy (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Taming of the Shrew”); and history (the “Henry VI” trilogy and “Richard III”). Shakespeare was likely affiliated with several different theater companies when these early works debuted on the London stage. In 1594 he began writing and acting for a troupe known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (renamed the King’s Men when James I appointed himself its patron), ultimately becoming its house playwright and partnering with other members to establish the legendary Globe theater in 1599.

Between the mid-1590s and his retirement around 1612, Shakespeare penned the most famous of his 37-plus plays, including “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Macbeth” and “The Tempest.” As a dramatist, he is known for his frequent use of iambic pentameter, meditative soliloquies (such as Hamlet’s ubiquitous “To be, or not to be” speech) and ingenious wordplay. His works weave together and reinvent theatrical conventions dating back to ancient Greece, featuring assorted casts of characters with complex psyches and profoundly human interpersonal conflicts. Some of his plays—notably “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “Measure for Measure” and “Troilus and Cressida”—are characterized by moral ambiguity and jarring shifts in tone, defying, much like life itself, classification as purely tragic or comic.

Also remembered for his non-dramatic contributions, Shakespeare published his first narrative poem—the erotic “Venus and Adonis,” intriguingly dedicated to his close friend Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton—while London theaters were closed due to a plague outbreak in 1593. The many reprints of this piece and a second poem, “The Rape of Lucrece,” hint that during his lifetime the bard was chiefly renowned for his poetry. Shakespeare’s famed collection of sonnets, which address themes ranging from love and sensuality to truth and beauty, was printed in 1609, possibly without its writer’s consent. (It has been suggested that he intended them for his intimate circle only, not the general public.) Perhaps because of their explicit sexual references or dark emotional character, the sonnets did not enjoy the same success as Shakespeare’s earlier lyrical works.

Shakespeare’s Death and Legacy

Shakespeare died at age 52 of unknown causes on April 23, 1616, leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughter Susanna. (Anne Hathaway, who outlived her husband by seven years, famously received his “second-best bed.”) The slabstone over Shakespeare’s tomb, located inside a Stratford church, bears an epitaph—written, some say, by the bard himself—warding off grave robbers with a curse: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” His remains have yet to be disturbed, despite requests by archaeologists keen to reveal what killed him.

In 1623, two of Shakespeare’s former colleagues published a collection of his plays, commonly known as the First Folio. In its preface, the dramatist Ben Jonson wrote of his late contemporary, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” Indeed, Shakespeare’s plays continue to grace stages and resonate with audiences around the world, and have yielded a vast array of film, television and theatrical adaptations. Furthermore, Shakespeare is believed to have influenced the English language more than any other writer in history, coining—or, at the very least, popularizing—terms and phrases that still regularly crop up in everyday conversation. Examples include the words “fashionable” (“Troilus and Cressida”), “sanctimonious” (“Measure for Measure”), “eyeball” (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and “lackluster” (“As You Like It”); and the expressions “foregone conclusion” (“Othello”), “in a pickle” (“The Tempest”), “wild goose chase” (“Romeo and Juliet”) and “one fell swoop” (“Macbeth”).

best biography shakespeare

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William Shakespeare

Meet the man behind the works, william shakespeare biography.

Explore the life of the renowned English poet, playwright, and actor.

Shakespeare's Life: A Timeline

When was shakespeare born.

William Shakespeare's birthday is most commonly celebrated on 23 April.

The Authorship Question

Who wrote the plays of William Shakespeare?

Shakespeare's Family

An introduction to William Shakespeare's immediate family.

Shakespeare's School

Find out what we know about Shakespeare's school and how else he may have been educated.

Wedding and Marriage

Shakespeare coat of arms.

Find out what Shakespeare's coat of arms looks like

Shakespeare's Career

Read about William Shakespeare's early career as he built his reputation in London.

Shakespeare and Stratford

William Shakespeare's relationship with his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon

How did Shakespeare Die?

Learn about the circumstances of Shakespeare's death and the curse on his gravestone

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Anne hathaway's cottage, shakespeare's new place.

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Book Scrolling

Best Book Lists, Award Aggregation, & Book Data

The Best Books About Shakespeare

The Best Books About Shakespeare

What are the best books about Shakespeare?” We looked at 210 of the top Shakespeare books, aggregating and ranking them so we could answer that very question!

Fame and notoriety are fleeting. Try and think who alive today would still be a name that is remembered and talked about 100, 500, and 1,000 years from now.

100 years is pretty easy, there are still tons of people from the early 1900’s that are known and talked about today, so you can figure that at least some political leaders, a few writers, artists and musicians, a scientists or two, and a handful of people from popular culture will be topics of interest and conversation. Think about Charles Lindbergh though, he was one of the biggest celebrities of the last 100 years, and he isn’t exactly a huge topic of interest these days (his Nazi sympathies probably didn’t help, but still). Jumping back 500 years and it gets even harder. There are certainly influential people from that era, but again people aren’t exactly talking about Ivan The Terrible in everyday conversation. Henery VIII, Elizabeth I, Martin Luther, and Copernicus do a bit better, but even then it is probably Da Vinci who is brought up the most in daily conversation today.

As for 1,000 years ago, try and name literally anyone that is still brought up in daily (non-history teacher) conversations. Genghis Khan was 800 years ago, but that is like choosing Napoleon for someone currently alive today. As you go back further it is the same. There are religious figures (Budda, Moses, Sri Krishna), a few rulers (Cleopatra, Ceasar, Alexander The Great), and some thinkers/writers (Confucius, Plato, Socrates, Homer), but even these are spaced hundreds, sometimes thousands of years apart. We may think that with all of the technology around today that more people will be remembered, and there will be better more durable ways of transferring data, but we honestly have no idea who or what will be remembered.

This overly long introduction is all pretty much here, because it seems like books and lists about Shakespeare are incredibly commonplace, and we wanted to highlight how weird that is for someone who wasn’t a religious or political figure and has been dead for a little over 400 years. Practically every writer or actor today will list Shakespeare as an influence, it seems like half the words and phrases we use today were created by the man, and it doesn’t seem like his influence or popularity will be going away anytime soon.

All together we found 210 of the ‘Best Books About Shakespeare’. That doesn’t include the hundreds of additional books released about him over just the last few years, just the cream of the crop. The top 27 books, all appearing on two or more lists, are below with images, links, and summaries. The additional 183 titles, as well as the sources we used, can be found in alphabetical order at the bottom of the page.

Be sure to check back later this week for our list of the best books influenced by Shakespeare!

Happy Scrolling!

Top 27 Books About Shakespeare Books

27 .) 1599: a year in the life of william shakespeare by james shapiro.


  • Modern Library
  • Interesting Literature
“1599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen. James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.”

Learn More / Purchase Book

26 .) 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro


  • The Telegraph
  • The Independent
“n the years leading up to 1606, Shakespeare’s great productivity had ebbed. But that year, at age forty-two, he found his footing again, finishing a play he had begun the previous autumn—King Lear—then writing two other great tragedies, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. It was a memorable year in England as well—a terrorist plot conceived by a small group of Catholic gentry had been uncovered at the last hour. The foiled Gunpowder Plot would have blown up the king and royal family along with the nation’s political and religious leadership. The aborted plot renewed anti-Catholic sentiment and laid bare divisions in the kingdom. It was against this background that Shakespeare finished Lear, a play about a divided kingdom, then wrote a tragedy that turned on the murder of a Scottish king, Macbeth. He ended this astonishing year with a third masterpiece no less steeped in current events and concerns: Antony and Cleopatra.”

25 .) A Companion to Shakespeare by David Scott Kastan


“A Companion to Shakespeare is an indispensable book for students and teachers of Shakespeare, indeed for anyone with an interest in his plays. Contains 28 newly commissioned essays written by the most distinguished historians and literary scholars Situates Shakespeare in the historical and cultural conditions in which he wrote”

24 .) Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro


  • Clear Shakespeare
For more than two hundred years after William Shakespeare’s death, no one doubted that he had written his plays. Since then, however, dozens of candidates have been proposed for the authorship of what is generally agreed to be the finest body of work by a writer in the English language. In this remarkable book, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. Among the doubters have been such writers and thinkers as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller. It is a fascinating story, replete with forgeries, deception, false claimants, ciphers and codes, conspiracy theories—and a stunning failure to grasp the power of the imagination.

23 .) Prefaces to Shakespeare by Harley Granville-Barker


Harley Granville-Barker’s Prefaces to Shakespeare originally published in five series between 1927 and 1947 covering ten plays are collected in four volumes: Volume I (Hamlet), Volume II (King Lear, Cymbeline, Julius Caesar), Volume III (Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus) and Volume IV (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello). An actor, dramatist, producer and a profound Shakespearean scholar, Granville-Barker brought about a revolution in his Shakespearean productions in the first decade of the twentieth century by recapturing, with his experience and expertise, the spirit and vitality of the plays as they were produced on the Elizabethan stage.

22 .) Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber


“A brilliant and companionable tour through all thirty-eight plays, Shakespeare After All is the perfect introduction to the bard by one of the country’s foremost authorities on his life and work. Drawing on her hugely popular lecture courses at Yale and Harvard over the past thirty years, Marjorie Garber offers passionate and revealing readings of the plays in chronological sequence, from The Two Gentlemen of Verona to The Two Noble Kinsmen. Supremely readable and engaging, and complete with a comprehensive introduction to Shakespeare’s life and times and an extensive bibliography, this magisterial work is an ever-replenishing fount of insight on the most celebrated writer of all time.”

21 .) Shakespeare and the Popular Voice by Annabel Patterson


In Shakespeare and the Popular Voice Annabel Patterson challenges as counter-intuitive the common opinion that Shakespeare was anti-democratic, contemptuous of the crowd and an unfailing supporter of Elizabethan social hierarchy.

20 .) Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet by Edward Wilson-Lee


“Shakespeare in Swahililand tells the unexpected literary history of Shakespeare’s influence in East Africa. Beginning with Victorian-era expeditions in which Shakespeare’s works were the sole reading material carried into the interior, the Bard has been a vital touchstone throughout the region. His plays were printed by liberated slaves as one of the first texts in Swahili, performed by Indian laborers while they built the Uganda railroad, used to argue for native rights, and translated by intellectuals, revolutionaries, and independence leaders. Weaving together stories of explorers staggering through Africa’s interior, eccentrics living out their dreams on the savanna, decadent émigrés, Cold War intrigues, and even Che Guevara, Edward Wilson-Lee―a Cambridge lecturer raised in Kenya―tallies Shakespeare’s influence in Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Traveling through these countries, he speaks with everyone from theater directors and academics to soldiers and aid workers, discovering not only cultural dimensions traceable to Shakespeare’s plays but also an overwhelming insistence that these works provide a key insight into the region.”

19 .) Shakespeare in Ten Acts by Gordon McMullan and Zoe Wilcox


Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, it is difficult to imagine a time when he was not considered a genius. But those 400 years have seen his plays banished and bowdlerized, faked and forged, traded and translated, re-mixed and re-cast. Shakespeare’s story is not one of a steady rise to fame; it is a tale of set-backs and sea-changes that have made him the cultural icon he is today. Each performance discussed here holds up a mirror to the era in which it was performed. The first stage appearance by a woman in 1660 and a black actor playing Othello in 1825 were landmarks for society as well as for Shakespeare’s reputation. The book explores productions as diverse as Peter Brook’s legendary A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mark Rylance’s ‘Original Practices’ Twelfth Night, and a Shakespeare forgery staged at Drury Lane in 1796, among many others. The illustrations include the only surviving playscript in Shakespeare’s hand, an authentic Shakespeare signature, and rare printed editions including the First Folio. These and other treasures from the British Library’s manuscript and rare book collections feature alongside film stills, costumes, paintings and production photographs.

18 .) Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd


Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare–and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, the animals, even the flowers–that would appear in Shakespeare’s plays. He takes us through Shakespeare’s London neighborhood and the fertile, competitive theater world where he worked as actor and writer. He shows us Shakespeare as a businessman, and as a constant reviser of his writing. In joining these intimate details with profound intuitions about the playwright and his work, Ackroyd has produced an altogether engaging masterpiece.

17 .) Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom


A landmark achievement as expansive, erudite, and passionate as its renowned author, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, writing about, and teaching Shakespeare. Preeminent literary critic-and ultimate authority on the western literary tradition-Harold Bloom leads us through a comprehensive reading of every one of the dramatist’s plays, brilliantly illuminating each work with unrivaled warmth, wit and insight. At the same time, Bloom presents one of the boldest theses of Shakespearean scholarships: that Shakespeare not only invented the English language, but also created human nature as we know it today.

16 .) Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode


15 .) Shakespeare’s Money by Robert Bearman


  • International Business Times
There is no doubting Shakespeare’s literary genius, immortalized in his published work. However, statements along these lines are frequently followed by laments of how little is known about this life. This is true if we wish to know about Shakespeare’s movements on even a month-by-month basis, or about his working practices and relationships with his theatrical fellows. However, too great an emphasis on this dearth of material not only leads to ill-informed comment that this is somehow “suspicious” but also tends to downgrade the importance of what material has survived, often dismissed instead simply as evidence of his business dealings which have little bearing on his creative work. However, this material does at least help us to evaluate how successful Shakespeare was in earning a living in a profession which, in his day, was far from mainstream.

14 .) Shakespeare’s Works & Elizabethan Pronunciation by Fausto Cercignani


13 .) Shakespeare’s Binding Language by John Kerrigan


Shakespeare’s Binding Language gives a freshly researched account of these contexts, but it is focused on the plays. What motives should we look for when characters asseverate or promise? How far is binding language self-persuasive or deceptive? When is it allowable to break a vow? How do oaths and promises structure an audience’s expectations? Across the sweep of Shakespeare’s career, from the early histories to the late romances, this book opens new perspectives on key dramatic moments and illuminates language and action. Each chapter gives an account of a play or group of plays, yet the study builds to a sustained investigation of some of the most important systems, institutions, and controversies in early modern England, and of the wiring of Shakespearean dramaturgy. Scholarly but accessible, and offering startling insights, this is a major contribution to Shakespeare studies by one of the leading figures in the field.

12 .) Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays by Janet Adelman


  • The Guardian
An original reading of Shakespeare’s plays illuminating his negotiations with mothers, present and absent, and tracing the genesis of Shakespearean tragedy and romance to a psychologized version of the Fall.

11 .) The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Helen Vendler


Helen Vendler, widely regarded as our most accomplished interpreter of poetry, here serves as an incomparable guide to some of the best-loved poems in the English language. In detailed commentaries on Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, Vendler reveals previously unperceived imaginative and stylistic features of the poems, pointing out not only new levels of import in particular lines, but also the ways in which the four parts of each sonnet work together to enact emotion and create dynamic effect.

10 .) The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson


“The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays.” It tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of extraordinary events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited. In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.”

9 .) The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl


In 1612, Shakespeare gave evidence in a court case at Westminster-and it is the only occasion on which his actual spoken words were recorded. In The Lodger Shakespeare, Charles Nicholl applies a powerful biographical magnifying glass to this fascinating but little-known episode in the Bard’s life. Drawing on evidence from a wide variety of sources, Nicholl creates a compellingly detailed account of the circumstances in which Shakespeare lived and worked amid the bustle of early seventeenth-century London. This elegant, often unexpected exploration presents a new and original look at Shakespeare as he was writing such masterpieces as Othello, Measure for Measure, and King Lear.

8 .) The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition by John   Jowett ; William Montgomery; Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells


“Hailed by The Washington Post as “”a definitive synthesis of the best editions”” and by The Times of London as “”a monument to Shakespearean scholarship,”” The Oxford Shakespeare is the ultimate anthology of the Bard’s work: the most authoritative edition of the plays and poems ever published. Now, almost two decades after the original volume, Oxford is proud to announce a thoroughly updated second edition, including for the first time the texts of The Reign of Edward III and Sir Thomas More, recognizing these two plays officially as authentic works by Shakespeare. This beautiful collection is the product of years of full-time research by a team of British and American scholars and represents the most thorough examination ever undertaken of the nature and authority of Shakespeare’s work. The editors reconsidered every detail of the text in the light of modern scholarship and they thoroughly re-examined the earliest printed versions of the plays, firmly establishing the canon and chronological order of composition. All stage directions have been reconsidered in light of original staging, and many new directions for essential action have been added. This superb volume also features a brief introduction to each work as well as an illuminating General Introduction. Finally, the editors have added a wealth of secondary material, including an essay on language, a list of contemporary allusions to Shakespeare, an index of Shakespearean characters, a glossary, a consolidated bibliography, and an index of first lines of the Sonnets. “

7 .) The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642 by Andrew Gurr


For almost forty years The Shakespearean Stage has been considered the liveliest, most reliable and most entertaining overview of Shakespearean theatre in its own time. It is the only authoritative book that describes all the main features of the original staging of Shakespearean drama in one volume: the acting companies and their practices, the playhouses, the staging and the audiences. Thoroughly revised and updated, this fourth edition contains fresh materials about how specific plays by Shakespeare were first staged, and provides new information about the companies that staged them and their playhouses. The book incorporates everything that has been discovered in recent years about the early modern stage, including the archaeology of the Rose and the Globe. Also included is an invaluable appendix, listing all the plays known to have been performed at particular playhouses and by specific companies.

6 .) Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson


“Ranging ambitiously across four continents and four hundred years, Worlds Elsewhere is an eye-opening account of how Shakespeare went global. Seizing inspiration from the playwright’s own fascination with travel, foreignness, and distant worlds―worlds Shakespeare never himself explored―Andrew Dickson takes us on an extraordinary journey: from Hamlet performed by English actors tramping through the Baltic states in the early sixteen hundreds to the skyscrapers of twenty-first-century Beijing and Shanghai, where “Shashibiya” survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution to become a revered Chinese author. En route, Dickson traces Nazi Germany’s strange love affair with, and attempted nationalization of, the Bard, and delves deep into the history of Bollywood, where Shakespearean stories helped give birth to Indian cinema. In Johannesburg, we discover how Shakespeare was enlisted in the fight to end apartheid. In nineteenth-century California, we encounter shoestring performances of Richard III and Othello in the dusty mining camps and saloon bars of the Gold Rush.”

5 .) Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion by David and Ben Crystal


A vital resource for scholars, students and actors, this book contains glosses and quotes for over 14,000 words that could be misunderstood by or are unknown to a modern audience. Displayed panels look at such areas of Shakespeare’s language as greetings, swear-words and terms of address. Plot summaries are included for all Shakespeare’s plays and on the facing page is a unique diagramatic representation of the relationships within each play.

4 .) William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems by E. K. Chambers


3 .) Shakespeare’s Lives by Samuel Schoenbaum


When S. Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives first appeared over twenty years ago, critics enthusiastically hailed it as a triumph of wit and scholarship. Stanley Wells, the editor of Shakespeare’s complete works, called it “an extraordinary achievement….fluent, vivid, and intelligent.” Writing in the Saturday Review, Benjamin DeMott described Shakespeare’s Lives as “a superbly informed, elegantly composed, intensely readable book,” while Terry Eagleton remarked on its “shrewd intelligence.” Schoenbaum’s study of the changing images of Shakespeare throughout history broke important new ground; but in the years since this book first appeared many scholars have followed his lead, and Shakespeare studies has progressed by leaps and bounds. Now, Schoenbaum, one of “the heroes of Shakespeare scholarship,” according to Wells, has revised and up-dated this classic study of Shakespeare and his biographers, taking account of the most recent scholarship, adding a chapter on “Recent Lives,” and abridging certain sections.

2 .) Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt


A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? Stephen Greenblatt brings us down to earth to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, could have become the world’s greatest playwright.

1 .) The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathon Bates


This fascinating book by one of Britain’s most acclaimed Shakespeare scholars explores the extraordinary staying-power of the world’s most famous dramatist. Bate opens by taking up questions of authorship and then goes on to trace Shakespeare’s canonization and near-deification, examining not only the uniqueness of his status among English-speaking readers but also his effect on literary cultures across the globe. Ambitious, wide-ranging, and historically rich, this book shapes a provocative inquiry into the nature of genius as it ponders the legacy of a talent unequalled in English letters. A bold and meticulous work of scholarship, The Genius of Shakespeare is also lively and accessibly written and will appeal to any reader who has marveled at the Bard and the enduring power of his work. This tenth anniversary edition has a new twenty-page afterword that addresses the renewed interest in Shakespeare and recent film adaptations of his most celebrated works.

The #28-210 Additional Books About Shakespeare

28A Feminist Companion to Shakespeareedited by Dympna CallaghanModern Library
29A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sexual LanguageGordon WilliamsModern Library
30A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and RomanceNorthrop FryeModern Library
31A New History of Early English Dramaedited by J. D. Cox and D. S. KastanModern Library
32A Shakespeare GlossaryCharles T. OnionsToday In Literature
33A Short History of Shakespearean CriticismArthur M EastmanBardweb
34A short life of Shakespeare: With the sourcesE ChambersBardweb
35A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599Clear Shakespeare
36Actors on ShakespeareModern Library
37After ShakespeareJohn GrossModern Library
38All Night AwakeSarah A. HoytFlashlight Worthy
39Alternative Shakespeares (New Accents)John DrakakisBardweb
40An Introduction to Shakespeare: The Dramatist in His ContextPeter HylandBardweb
41ArielGrace TiffanyFlashlight Worthy
42Asimov’s Guide to ShakespeareClear Shakespeare
43Captive Victors: Shakespeare’s Narrative Poems and SonnetsHeather DubrowModern Library
44Coffee with ShakespeareStanley Wells, forewordFlashlight Worthy
45Development of Shakespeare’s Theater (AMS Studies in the Renaissance)John H AstingtonBardweb
46Disowning Knowledge in Seven Plays of ShakespeareStanley CavellModern Library
47Doing ShakespeareSimon PalfreyModern Library
48Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern EnglandKim HallThe Guardian
49Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare’s Women TodayModern Library
50Elizabethan Drama: Eight PlaysJohn and William Green GassnerBardweb
51Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan DramaMadeleine DoranModern Library
52English Authors Series: William Shakespeare: His Life and Times (Twayne’s English Authors Series)Dennis KayBardweb
53Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on TragediesMaynard MackBardweb
54Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance DramaKaren NewmanThe Guardian
55Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy (Alexander Lectures)Northrop FryeBardweb
56Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of EnglandRichard HelgersonThe Guardian
57Hamlet Made Simple and Other EssaysDavid P GontarBardweb
58Hamlet: A User’s GuideMichael PenningtonModern Library
59Hamlet’s Advice to the PlayersPeter HallModern Library
60Highbrow/LowbrowClear Shakespeare
61Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s EnglandStephen OrgelModern Library
62In Search of ShakespeareMichael WoodModern Library
63Ink and Steel of the Promethean AgeElizabeth BearFlashlight Worthy
64Interred with Their BonesJennifer Lee CarrellFlashlight Worthy
65King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition and TragedyStephen BoothModern Library
66Literary Fat Ladies: RhetoricPatricia ParkerModern Library
67Making Shakespeare: From Stage to PageTiffany SternModern Library
68Mistress ShakespeareKaren HarperFlashlight Worthy
69My Father Had a Daughter: Judith Shakespeare’s TaleGrace TiffanyFlashlight Worthy
70Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeareedited by Geoffrey BulloughModern Library
71Nothing Like the SunAnthony BurgessFlashlight Worthy
72On Shakespeare’s SonnetsHannah Crawforth and Elizabeth Scott-BaumannThe Telegraph
73OpheliaLisa KleinFlashlight Worthy
74Outlines of the Life of ShakespeareJames Orchard Halliwell-PhillippsFive Books
75Oxford Dictionary of National BiographyPeter HollandFive Books
76Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean PronunciationDavid CrystalThe Telegraph
77Performance Approaches to Teaching ShakespeareEdward L. RocklinModern Library
78Players of Shakespeareedited by Robert SmallwoodModern Library
79Playing ShakespeareJohn BartonModern Library
80PoliticsJ. Leeds BarrollModern Library
81Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare’s Genres (Routledge Library Editions: Shakespeare)Leonard TennenhouseBardweb
82Recovering Shakespeare’s Theatrical VocabularyAlan DessenModern Library
83Rehearsal From Shakespeare to SheridanTiffany SternModern Library
84Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the PresentGary TaylorModern Library
85Robert, Earl of EssexRobert LaceyToday In Literature
86ShakespeareBrian VickersModern Library
87ShakespearePeter MackModern Library
88ShakespeareAlvin KernanModern Library
89ShakespeareAnia LoombaModern Library
90ShakespeareRobin Headlam WellsModern Library
91Shakespeare Among the ModernsRichard HalpernThe Guardian
92Shakespeare and ComedyR. W. MaslenModern Library
93Shakespeare and Gender: A HistoryDeborah E. BarkerBardweb
94Shakespeare and MasculinityBruce SmithModern Library
95Shakespeare and MusicDavid LindleyModern Library
96Shakespeare and OvidJonathan BateModern Library
97Shakespeare and Renaissance PoliticsAndrew HadfieldModern Library
98Shakespeare and the Arts of LanguageClear Shakespeare
99Shakespeare and the Drama of His TimeMartin WigginsModern Library
100Shakespeare and the Energies of DramaMichael GoldmanBardweb
101Shakespeare and the Geography of DifferenceJohn GilliesModern Library
102Shakespeare and the Idea of the PlayAnne RighterModern Library
103Shakespeare and the JewsJames ShapiroModern Library
104Shakespeare and the Nature of ManTheodore SpencerModern Library
105Shakespeare and the Problem of MeaningNorman RabkinModern Library
106Shakespeare and the RhetoriciansMarion TrousdaleModern Library
107Shakespeare and WomenPhyllis RackinModern Library
108Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist.Lukas ErneSlate
109Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, ContextPatricia ParkerThe Guardian
110Shakespeare in Love: ScreenplayTom Stoppard, Marc NormanFlashlight Worthy
111Shakespeare in WarwickshireMark EcclesBardweb
112Shakespeare Is HardFintan O’TooleModern Library
113Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary, Volume 1 (A-M)Alexander SchmidtToday In Literature
114Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary, Volume 2 (N-Z)Alexander SchmidtToday In Literature
115Shakespeare on FilmJack JorgensBardweb
116Shakespeare the ThinkerA. D. NuttallModern Library
117Shakespeare ThinkingPhilip DavisModern Library
118Shakespeare Verbatim: The Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 ApparatusMargreta de GraziaThe Guardian
119Shakespeare Without WomenDympna CallaghanThe Guardian
120Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook (Yale Shakespeare Supplements)G BentleyBardweb
121Shakespeare: A LifePark HonanModern Library
122Shakespeare: His Life, His Language, His TheaterSam SchoenbaumBardweb
123Shakespeare: His Life, Work, and EraDennis KayBardweb
124Shakespeare: The Director’s CutMichael BogdanovModern Library
125Shakespeare: The Evidence : Unlocking the Mysteries of the Man and His WorkIan WilsonBardweb
126Shakespeare: The Lost YearsE HonigmannBardweb
127Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)Bill BrysonInteresting Literature
128Shakespeare’s GardensJackie BennettInternational Business Times
129Shakespeare’s Language: An IntroductionN BlakeBardweb
130Shakespeare’s PersonalityNorman HollandBardweb
131Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Yale Nota Bene)Stephen BoothBardweb
132Shakespeare’s StagecraftJ StyanBardweb
133Shakespeare’s BooksStuart GillespieModern Library
134Shakespeare’s Comediesedited by Emma SmithModern Library
135Shakespeare’s Dramatic GenresLawrence DansonModern Library
136Shakespeare’s English KingsPeter SaccioModern Library
137Shakespeare’s Festive ComediesC. L. BarberModern Library
138Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic BookEmma SmithThe Telegraph
139Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells UsCaroline SpurgeonInteresting Literature
140Shakespeare’s ImaginationE. A. ArmstrongModern Library
141Shakespeare’s Metrical ArtGeorge T. WrightModern Library
142Shakespeare’s Non-Standard English: A Dictionary of His Informal LanguageN. F. BlakeModern Library
143Shakespeare’s PlutarchT. J. B. SpencerModern Library
144Shakespeare’s Professional CareerPeter ThomsonModern Library
145Shakespeare’s ReadingRobert MiolaModern Library
146Shakespeare’s ScepticismGraham BradshawModern Library
147Shakespeare’s Shakespeare: How the Plays were MadeJohn C. MeagherModern Library
148Shakespeare’s SonnetsPaul Edmondson and Stanley WellsModern Library
149Shakespeare’s WordplayM. M. MahoodModern Library
150Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance EnglandStephen GreenblattBardweb
151Shakespearean Sentences: A Study in Style and SyntaxJohn Porter HoustonBardweb
152Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth (New Penguin Shakespeare Library)A. C. BradleyInteresting Literature
153Shakespeares AmericaMichael D BristolBardweb
154Shakespearian RomanceHoward FelperinBardweb
155Shylock Is my NameHoward JacobsonThe Telegraph
156Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern SexualitiesJonathan GoldbergThe Guardian
157Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William ShakespeareJonathan BateInteresting Literature
158Speaking ShakespearePatsy RodenburgModern Library
159Stages of History: Shakespeare’s English ChroniclesPhyllis RackinModern Library
160Tales from Shakespeare: Children’s ClassicsCharles and Mary Lamb LambBardweb
161The Action to the Word: Structure and Style in Shakespearean TragedyDavid YoungBardweb
162The Actor and the TextCicely BerryModern Library
163The Archaeology of ShakespeareJean WilsonModern Library
164The Authorship of Shakespeare’s PlaysJonathan HopeModern Library
165The Bard in Brief: Shakespeare in QuotationsHannah ManktelowThe Independent
166The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of ShameGail PasterThe Guardian
167The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies (Cambridge Companions to Literature)Stanley WellsBardweb
168The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship QuestionScott McCraeBardweb
169The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King LearSusan SnyderBardweb
170The Complete Works of Shakespeare (7th Edition)David BevingtonBardweb
171The Development of Shakespeare’s ImageryWolfgang ClemenModern Library
172The Elizabethan Stage: 4-volume setE ChambersBardweb
173The Eloquent Shakespeare: A Pronouncing Dictionary for the Complete Dramatic WorksClear Shakespeare
174The Jacobean and Caroline Stage: Plays and PlaywrightsG BentleyBardweb
175The Language of ShakespeareG. L. BrookModern Library
176The Mediaeval Stage (Dover Books on Literature & Drama)E ChambersBardweb
177The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean ComedyWilliam C CarrollBardweb
178The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the RenaissanceRichard A. LanhamModern Library
179The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & the RealityCharlton OgburnBardweb
180The North Face of Shakespeare: Activities for Teaching the PlaysJames StredderModern Library
181The Origins of ShakespeareEmrys JonesBardweb
182The Oxford Companion to ShakespeareMichael Dobson (Editor), Stanley Wells (Editor)Today In Literature
183The Problem of Order: Elizabethan Political Commonplaces and an Example of Shakespeare’s ArtE. W. TalbertModern Library
184The Reduced Shakespeare Co. presents The Compleat Works of Wllm ShksprDaniel Singer, Jess Borgeson, William Shakespeare, Adam LongFlashlight Worthy
185The Repertory of Shakespeare’s CompanyRoslyn KnutsonModern Library
186The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd EditionG EvansBardweb
187The Rough Guide to ShakespeareAndrew DicksonModern Library
188The Shakespeare CountryE CosterBardweb
189The Shakespeare Stealer SeriesGary BlackwoodFlashlight Worthy
190The Shakespeare WarsSlate
191The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays (Routledge Library Editions: Shakespeare)Kenneth MuirBardweb
192The Turquoise RingGrace TiffanyFlashlight Worthy
193The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of ShakespeareCarolyn LenzBardweb
194The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606James ShapiroInteresting Literature
195Thinking ShakespeareBrian Kulick, Karin Coonrod, Michael Kahn, and Barry EdelsteiSlate
196Time’s Fool: A Mystery of ShakespeareLeonard TourneyFlashlight Worthy
197Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his LifeKatherine Duncan-JonesModern Library
198Unreading ShakespeareDavid P GontarBardweb
199WillGrace TiffanyFlashlight Worthy
200Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My LifeDominic DromgooleModern Library
201William ShakespeareTerry EagletonBardweb
202William Shakespeare & Robert Greene: The EvidenceWilliam Hall ChapmanToday In Literature
203William Shakespeare: A BiographyA RowseBardweb
204William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (Oxford Paperbacks)Sam SchoenbaumBardweb
205William Shakespeare: His World, His Work, His InfluenceJohn F AndrewsBardweb
206William Shakespeare: Records and ImagesSam SchoenbaumBardweb
207William Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse GreekeT. W. BaldwinModern Library
208Women as HamletTony HowardModern Library
209Year of the KingAntony SherModern Library
210Young ShakespeareRussell FraserModern Library

12 Best Shakespeare Book Sources/Lists

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Shakespeare: The Biography

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Peter Ackroyd

Shakespeare: The Biography Paperback – Illustrated, November 14, 2006

A TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, the animals, even the flowers–that would appear in Shakespeare’s plays. He takes us through Shakespeare’s London neighborhood and the fertile, competitive theater world where he worked as actor and writer. He shows us Shakespeare as a businessman, and as a constant reviser of his writing. In joining these intimate details with profound intuitions about the playwright and his work, Ackroyd has produced an altogether engaging masterpiece.

  • Print length 572 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Anchor
  • Publication date November 14, 2006
  • Dimensions 5.22 x 1.33 x 7.87 inches
  • ISBN-10 9781400075980
  • ISBN-13 978-1400075980
  • See all details

Editorial Reviews

From the back cover, about the author.

PETER ACKROYD is the bestselling writer of both fiction and nonfiction, most notably the definitive history of London, London, The Biography . His most recent books include The Lambs of London and J.M.W. Turner, the second biography in the Ackroyd Brief Lives series. He has also written full-scale biographies of Dickens, Blake, and Thomas More and the novels The Clerkenwell Tales, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, Milton in America, and The Plato Papers . He has won the Whitbread Award for Biography, the Royal Society of Literature Award under the William Heinemann Bequest (jointly), the Somerset Maugham Award, the South Bank Award for Literature, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and The Guardian fiction prize. He lives in London. 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Product details.

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ 140007598X
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anchor (November 14, 2006)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 572 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9781400075980
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1400075980
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.2 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.22 x 1.33 x 7.87 inches
  • #394 in Shakespeare Literary Criticism
  • #1,129 in British & Irish Literary Criticism (Books)
  • #5,337 in Author Biographies

About the author

Peter ackroyd.

Peter Ackroyd, (born 5 October 1949) is an English biographer, novelist and critic with a particular interest in the history and culture of London. For his novels about English history and culture and his biographies of, among others, William Blake, Charles Dickens, T. S. Eliot and Sir Thomas More, he won the Somerset Maugham Award and two Whitbread Awards. He is noted for the volume of work he has produced, the range of styles therein, his skill at assuming different voices and the depth of his research.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984 and appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2003.

Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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Customers find the book well-researched and written. They also describe the subject matter as interesting and praise the author's great appreciation for Shakespeare.

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Customers find the book well researched, informative, and entertaining. They also say it does a credible job making the case for the Bard's writing. Readers also mention that the book is well footnoted and interesting to read.

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"...Regarding the book itself, it is excellent and well written and has lots of engaging details about the Shakesperian period I haven't seen elsewhere...." Read more

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Customers find the book's subject matter interesting and intense. They also say the book is highly readable and brilliant.

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"Ackroyd is a wonderful writer with a great appreciation for Shakespeare . He brings in all the latest research and findings about Shakespeare...." Read more

Customers find the book imaginative, intuitive, and a seductive page-turner. They also appreciate the beautiful language and ability to paint stunning literary pictures of a time and milieu.

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Shakespeare's life.

19th-century portrait of Shakespeare with his family at home in Stratford

William Shakespeare: A biography

Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don’t know everything about Shakespeare’s life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don’t know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.

We do know that Shakespeare’s life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes.

Looking for more in-depth information? Need something you can cite? Read an essay about Shakespeare’s life from the Folger Shakespeare Editions. Read essay

Primary sources

Visit Shakespeare Documented to see primary-source materials documenting Shakespeare’s life. This online resource of items from the Folger and other institutions brings together all known manuscript and print references to Shakespeare and his works, as well as additional references to his family, in his lifetime and shortly thereafter.

Early life: Birth and childhood

William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare’s oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.

Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don’t know why.

Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford’s grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.


A horn book in the Folger collection, similar to one that Shakespeare might have learned to read from

Marriage (to Anne Hathaway) and children

A few years after he left school, in late 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was already expecting their first-born child, Susanna, which was a fairly common situation at the time. When they married, Anne was 26 and William was 18. Anne grew up just outside Stratford in the village of Shottery. After marrying, she spent the rest of her life in Stratford.

In early 1585, the couple had twins, Judith and Hamnet, completing the family. In the years ahead, Anne and the children lived in Stratford while Shakespeare worked in London, although we don’t know when he moved there. Some later observers have suggested that this separation, and the couple’s relatively few children, were signs of a strained marriage, but we do not know that, either. Someone pursuing a theater career had no choice but to work in London, and many branches of the Shakespeares had small families.

Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, died in 1596 at the age of 11. His older daughter Susanna later married a well-to-do Stratford doctor, John Hall. Their daughter Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s first grandchild, was born in 1608. In 1616, just months before his death, Shakespeare’s daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney, a Stratford vintner. The family subsequently died out, leaving no direct descendants of Shakespeare.

London theater

For several years after the birth of Judith and Hamnet in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare’s activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.

Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a “Shake-scene.” The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare’s earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3 , which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis . The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594.

For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (renamed the King’s Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.

Final years and death

Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.

Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen , which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare’s health may have had a longer decline.

The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King’s Men.

View a timeline of Shakespeare’s life with links to key supporting documents on Shakespeare Documented .

View timeline

Bust of William Shakespeare holding a quill

The bust of Shakespeare in the Folger Reading Room is a copy of the statue at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Frequently asked questions

Why did shakespeare leave his wife his “second best bed”.

William Shakespeare wrote in his last will and testament, dated March 25, 1616, “Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture” (furniture is used to refer to the curtains and bedcover which formed part of the complete bed).

This was not an unusual bequest, nor was it likely to have been intended as a snub. The best bed was usually regarded as an heirloom piece, to be passed to the heir rather than the spouse. It is also probable that the best bed would have been reserved for guests, meaning the “second best” was the bed that William and Anne shared.

What did Shakespeare’s son die of?

We don’t really know how Shakespeare’s young son Hamnet died. He had a twin sister named Judith, who lived to adulthood and married, but Hamnet died at the age of 11 and a half. Child mortality was high in the 16th century; there were no antibiotics and many childhood diseases might therefore prove fatal, such as scarlet fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, and even measles. He was buried on August 11, 1596.

What is the inscription on Shakespeare’s grave?


Did Shakespeare have a coat of arms?

Yes, William’s father, John Shakespeare, was granted a coat of arms in 1596. It was disputed in 1602 by York Herald, Ralph Brooke, saying that the arms were too similar to existing coats of arms, and that the family was unworthy. However, the challenge was unsuccessful, as the Shakespeare coat of arms appears in later heraldic collections and on William Shakespeare’s funeral monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Does Shakespeare have descendants?

William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had three children. The eldest, Susanna, was baptized on May 26, 1583, and married John Hall in 1607. They had one child, Elizabeth, in 1608. Elizabeth was married twice, to Thomas Nash in 1626, and to John Bernard in 1649. However, she had no children by either husband.

William and Anne also had twins, Judith and Hamnet, who were baptized on February 2, 1585. Hamnet died at age 11 and a half. Judith married Thomas Quiney in 1616, and the couple had three sons: Shakespeare Quiney, who died in infancy, and Richard and Thomas, who both died in 1639 within a month of each other. Since neither of the boys married, there is no possibility of any legitimate descendants from Shakespeare’s line.

It is possible, however, to claim a relationship to Shakespeare through his sister, Joan. She married William Hart some time before 1600, and there are many descendants of this marriage alive today, in both the male and female lines.

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Shakespeare's Biography

William Shakespeare (also spelled Shakspere, Shaksper, and Shake-speare, because spelling in Elizabethan times was not yet fixed and absolute) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England in April 1564. William was the son of John Shakespeare, a successful tradesman and alderman, and of Mary Arden, a daughter of the gentry. They lived on Henley Street . His baptismal record is dated April 26 of that year. Due to the fact that birth certificates were not issued during Elizabethan times, the first official record we have of Shakespeare is his baptismal record. Baptisms were normally performed within a few days of birth, thus a tradition arose that he was born on Sunday, April 23, but this has no historical basis. It is factual, however, that Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. Legend has it that Shakespeare died of a fever, and although an outbreak of typhoid hit Stratford in 1616, the facts behind Shakespeare’s death remain a mystery.

The house in Stratford is known as “Shakespeare’s Birthplace,” although this status is uncertain. It is claimed that the poet was born in the room with the lattice windows. Shakespeare’s father was a prosperous glove maker and held many titles during his lifetime, including ale taster, chamberlain, alderman, bailiff (equivalent to mayor), and chief alderman. He was later prosecuted for participating in the black market in wool, and lost his position as an alderman. Some evidence points to possible Roman Catholic sympathies on both sides of the family—a danger under Elizabeth’s protestant rule.

William Shakespeare probably attended the Stratford Grammar School in central Stratford, which likely provided an intensive education in Latin grammar, and translating such authors as Cicero, Virgil, and Shakespeare’s beloved Ovid. It is presumed that the young Shakespeare attended this school because John Shakespeare’s position as alderman allowed his children a free education at the school. Unfortunately there are no surviving school records to corroborate. There is no evidence that his formal education extended beyond grammar school.

Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (who was 26) at the age of 18, on November 28, 1582 at Temple Grafton , near Stratford. Two neighbors of Anne, Fulk Sandalls and John Richardson, posted bond that there were no impediments to the marriage. There appears to have been some haste in arranging the ceremony, as Anne was three months pregnant. After his marriage, William Shakespeare left few traces in the historical record until he appeared on the London literary scene. On May 26, 1583 Shakespeare’s first child, Susanna, was baptized at Stratford. A son, Hamnet, and a daughter, Judith, were baptized soon after on February 2, 1585. Hamnet died in 1596 at the age of eleven of unknown causes. Some suspect that his death was part of the inspiration behind The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (c.1601), a reworking of an older, lost play. Susanna and Judith lived to ripe ages of sixty-six and sixty-one, respectively.

The late 1580s are known as Shakespeare’s “Lost Years” because no evidence has survived to show exactly where he was or why he left Stratford for London. One legend, long since thoroughly discredited, pronounces that he was caught poaching deer on the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, the local Justice of the Peace, and had to flee. Another theory is that Shakespeare could have joined Leicester’s or Queen’s Men as they traveled through Stratford while on tour. 17 th century biographer John Aubrey recorded the testimony of the son of one of Shakespeare’s fellow players, placing Shakespeare as “a schoolmaster in the country.”

London and Theatrical Career

By the end of 1592, Shakespeare was an established playwright in London, receiving acclaim for such plays as Henry VI , The Comedy of Errors , and Titus Andronicus . By 1598 Shakespeare had moved to the parish of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, and appeared at the top of a list of actors in Every Man in His Humour written by Ben Jonson. Shakespeare became an actor, writer, and finally part-owner of a playing company, known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men—the company took its name, like others of the period, from its aristocratic sponsor, the Lord Chamberlain. The group became popular enough that after the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), the new monarch adopted the company after which it became known as the King’s Men.

In 1604, Shakespeare acted as a matchmaker for his landlord’s daughter. Legal documents from 1612, when the case was brought to trial, show that in 1604, Shakespeare was a tenant of Christopher Mountjoy, a Huguenot tire-maker (a maker of ornamental headdresses) in the northwest of London. Mountjoy’s apprentice Stephen Belott wanted to marry Mountjoy’s daughter. Shakespeare was enlisted as a go-between, to help negotiate the details of the dowry. On Shakespeare’s assurances, the couple married. Eight years later, Belott sued his father-in-law for delivering only part of the dowry. Shakespeare was called to testify, but remembered little of the circumstances. Various documents recording legal affairs and commercial transactions show that Shakespeare grew rich enough during his stay in London to purchase a property in both Blackfriars and London. In 1597, Shakespeare also purchased the second largest house in Stratford (called New Place). It is here that Shakespeare would eventually spend the last years of his life.

Later Years

Shakespeare “retired” to Stratford in about 1610-11, although he still spent much time in London and attending to his company’s affairs. His retirement was not entirely without controversy; he was drawn into a legal quarrel regarding the enclosure of common lands. (Enclosure enabled land to be converted to pasture for sheep, but removed it as a resource for the poor.) Shakespeare had a financial interest in the land, and to the chagrin of some, he took a neutral position, making sure only that his own income from the land was protected. In the last few weeks of Shakespeare’s life, the man who was to marry his younger daughter Judith—a tavern-keeper named Thomas Quiney—was charged in the local church court with “fornication.” A woman named Margaret Wheeler had given birth to a child and claimed it was Quiney’s; she and the child both died soon after. Quiney was thereafter disgraced, and Shakespeare revised his will to ensure that Judith’s interest in his estate was protected from possible malfeasance on Quiney’s part.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 at the age of 52. He remained married to Anne until his death and was survived by his two daughters, Susannah and Judith. Susannah married Dr. John Hall. Neither Susannah’s nor Judith’s children had any offspring, and as such, there are no known direct descendants of the poet and playwright alive today. It was rumored, however, that Shakespeare was the real father of his godson, William Davenant.

Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was granted the honor of burial in the chancel not on account of his fame as a playwright, but for purchasing a share of the tithe of the church for £440 (a considerable sum of money at the time). Shakespeare’s funeral monument rests on the wall nearest his grave, and shows him posed with quill and paper in hand. Each year on his claimed birthday, a new quill pen is placed in the writing hand of the bust. It was common in his time for graves in the chancel of the church to be emptied as more room was needed, with the contents removed to a nearby charnel house. Possibly fearing that his body would be removed, he is considered to have written the following epitaph on his tombstone:

Good frend for Jesvs sake forbeare, To digg the dvst encloased heare. Bleste be ye man ӳt spares thes stones, And cvrst be he ӳt moves my bones.

Popular legend claims that unpublished works by Shakespeare may lie inside his tomb, but no one has ever verified these claims, perhaps for fear of the curse included in the quoted epitaph. Perhaps out of respect for the greatest playwright of all time.

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Biography of William Shakespeare, History's Most Famous Playwright

His plays and sonnets are still studied and performed to this day / Moment / Getty Images

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William Shakespeare (April 23, 1564–April 23, 1616) wrote at least 37 plays and 154 sonnets , which are considered among the most important and enduring ever written. Although the plays have captured the imagination of theatergoers for centuries, some historians claim that Shakespeare didn’t actually write them .

Amazingly, little is known about Shakespeare’s life. Even though he is the world’s most famous and popular playwright , historians have had to fill in the gaps between the handful of surviving records from Elizabethan times .

Fast Facts: William Shakespeare

  • Known For : One of history's most famous playwrights, who wrote at least 37 plays, which are still studied and performed to this day, as well as 154 sonnets, which are also highly regarded
  • Also Known As : The Bard
  • Born : April 23, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England
  • Parents : John Shakespeare, Mary Arden
  • Died : April 23, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Published Works : " Romeo and Juliet" (1594–1595), "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" (1595–1596), " Much Ado About Nothing " (1598–1599), "Henry V" (1598–1599), " Hamlet " 1600–1601, "King Lear" (1605–1606), "Macbeth" ( 1605–1606), "The Tempest" (1611–1612)
  • Awards and Honors : After Shakespeare's death, a funerary monument was erected to honor him at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he is buried. It depicts a half-effigy of The Bard in the act of writing. Numerous statues and monuments have been erected around the world to honor the playwright.
  • Spouse : Anne Hathaway (m. Nov. 28, 1582–April 23, 1616)
  • Children : Susanna, Judith and Hamnet (twins)
  • Notable Quote : "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."

Early Years

Shakespeare was probably born on April 23, 1564 , but this date is an educated guess because we only have a record of his baptism three days later. His parents, John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, were successful townsfolk who moved to a large house in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, from the surrounding villages. His father became a wealthy town official and his mother was from an important, respected family.

It is widely assumed that Shakespeare attended the local grammar school where he would have studied Latin, Greek, and classical literature . His early education must have made a huge impact on him because many of his plots draw on the classics.

Shakespeare’s Family

At age 18, on November 28, 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway from Shottery, who was already pregnant with their first daughter. The wedding would have been arranged quickly to avoid the shame of having a child born out of wedlock. Shakespeare fathered three children, Susanna, born in May 1583 but conceived out of wedlock, and Judith and Hamnet, twins who were born in February 1585.

Hamnet died in 1596 at age 11. Shakespeare was devastated by the death of his only son, and it is argued that "Hamlet," written four years later, is evidence of this.

Theater Career

At some point in the late 1580s, Shakespeare made the four-day ride to London, and by 1592 had established himself as a writer. In 1594, an event occurred that changed the course of literary history: Shakespeare joined Richard Burbage’s acting company and became its chief playwright for the next two decades. Here, Shakespeare was able to hone his craft, writing for a regular group of performers.

Shakespeare also worked as an actor in the theater company , although the lead roles were always reserved for Burbage himself. The company became very successful and often performed in front of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. In 1603, James I ascended the throne and granted his royal patronage to Shakespeare’s company, which became known as The King’s Men.

Shakespeare the Gentleman

Like his father, Shakespeare had excellent business sense. He bought the largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon by 1597, owned shares in the Globe Theater, and profited from some real estate deals near Stratford-upon-Avon in 1605. Before long, Shakespeare officially became a gentleman, partly due to his own wealth and partly due to inheriting a coat of arms from his father who died in 1601.

Later Years and Death

Shakespeare retired to Stratford in 1611 and lived comfortably off his wealth for the rest of his life. In his will, he bequeathed most of his properties to Susanna, his eldest daughter, and some actors from The King’s Men. Famously, he left his wife his “second-best bed” before he died on April 23, 1616 . (This date is an educated guess because we only have a record of his burial two days later).

If you visit Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, you can still view his grave and read his epitaph engraved into the stone:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.

More than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare's plays and sonnets still hold a special place in theaters, libraries, and schools around the world. "His plays and sonnets have been performed in nearly every major language on every continent," notes Greg Timmons writing on

In addition to the legacy of his plays and sonnets, many of the words and phrases Shakespeare created infuse dictionaries today and are embedded in modern English, including these sayings from some of his plays:

  • All that glitters isn't gold (" The Merchant of Venice ")
  • All's well that ends well (" All's Well that Ends Well ")
  • To be-all and the end-all (" Macbeth ")
  • Break the ice (" The Taming of the Shrew )
  • We have seen better days (" As You Like It ")
  • Brave new world (" The Tempest ")
  • Brevity is the soul of wit (" Hamlet ")
  • Cruel to be kind ("Hamlet")
  • It's Greek to me (" Julius Caesar ")
  • Something wicked this way comes ("Macbeth")
  • Star-crossed lovers (" Romeo and Juliet ")
  • Wild-goose chase ("Romeo and Juliet")
  • The world is my oyster (" The Merry Wives of Windsor ")

Few writers, poets, and playwrights—and Shakespeare was all three—have had the influence on culture and learning that Shakespeare has. With luck, his plays and sonnets may still be revered and studied four centuries from now.

  • “ IWonder - William Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of England's Bard. ”  BBC.
  • “ Shakespeare's Words & Phrases. ”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
  • Timmons, Greg. “ William Shakespeare's 400th Anniversary: The Life & Legacy of The Bard. ” , A&E Networks Television, 2 Nov. 2018.
  • “ Who Was William Shakespeare? Everything You Need to Know. ”  Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline ,
  • “ William Shakespeare Quotes. ”  BrainyQuote , Xplore.
  • A Complete List of Shakespeare’s Plays
  • William Shakespeare's Family
  • Where Was Writer William Shakespeare Born?
  • What We Know About Shakespeare's Death
  • Biography of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's Wife
  • What Is a Sonnet?
  • Top Quotes From Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare Authorship Debate
  • Facts About Shakespeare
  • Discover the Mysterious Shakespeare Lost Years
  • 'Hamlet' Overview
  • A Timeline of William Shakespeare's Life
  • What Happened to Shakespeare's Skull
  • 'The Tempest' Overview
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overview
  • Was Shakespeare a Businessman?

10 Best William Shakespeare Books – The Definitive Guide

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the greatest writers in the English language. His works have been enjoyed by readers and audiences for centuries, and have shaped the way we think about literature, theatre, and human nature. If you’re looking to dive into the world of Shakespeare, here are the best Shakespeare books you should read.

Understanding Shakespeare’s Works

Before we jump into the list, it’s important to understand why Shakespeare’s plays are still so important today. Shakespeare’s works explore universal themes that are still relevant to us, such as love, fate, power, and the human condition. By reading his plays, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Shakespeare’s plays are not only important for their literary value, but also for their cultural significance. His works have been translated into every major language and have been performed countless times all over the world. They have influenced countless other writers and artists, and continue to be a major part of our cultural heritage.

The Importance of Reading Shakespeare

But why read Shakespeare? Well, aside from the fact that he’s a literary giant, reading his works can improve your language skills, increase your cultural understanding, and broaden your horizons. And who knows, you might even find that you actually enjoy it!

Reading Shakespeare can be a challenging task, but the rewards are well worth the effort. His language is rich and complex, and his characters are some of the most memorable in all of literature. By reading his plays, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the power of language and the complexities of the human experience.

The Different Genres of Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare wrote a variety of plays, from tragedies to comedies to histories. While his tragedies are often the most well-known, it’s worth exploring his other works as well. They showcase the many facets of his talent and offer insights into different periods of history.

Shakespeare’s comedies are often overlooked, but they are just as important as his tragedies. They offer a glimpse into the lighter side of life and provide a much-needed break from the intensity of his other works. His histories, on the other hand, offer a fascinating look at the political and social issues of his time, and provide valuable insights into the world of Elizabethan England.

Overall, Shakespeare’s works are a vital part of our cultural heritage, and should be read and appreciated by everyone. Whether you’re a literature student, a history buff, or just someone looking for a good read, there’s something in Shakespeare’s plays for everyone.

The Top 10 Shakespeare Books

William Shakespeare is one of the most celebrated playwrights in history, and his works continue to be studied and performed to this day. His plays explore a wide range of themes, from love and family to power and betrayal. Here are the top 10 Shakespeare books that every literature lover should read:

Hamlet is perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous play, and for good reason. It’s a tragedy that explores themes of revenge, betrayal, and madness. The play follows the story of Prince Hamlet, who is tasked with avenging his father’s murder by his uncle, who has since married his mother. Throughout the play, Hamlet grapples with his own sanity and the morality of revenge. Some of the most famous lines in English literature come from this play, such as “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Another tragedy, Macbeth follows the story of a Scottish nobleman who becomes consumed with ambition and power. The play is known for its dark and haunting atmosphere, as well as its exploration of themes of guilt, fate, and morality. As Macbeth rises to power, he becomes increasingly paranoid and violent, leading to his eventual downfall.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a classic love story that has been adapted countless times. It’s a tragic tale of two young lovers from feuding families who will stop at nothing to be together. The play explores the power of love and the consequences of hate, as well as the societal pressures that can drive people apart.

Othello is a tragedy that deals with themes of jealousy, race, and betrayal. It follows the story of a Moorish general in the Venetian army who is driven to madness by his jealousy of his wife and trusted advisor. The play is known for its complex characters and exploration of the human psyche.

King Lear is a tragedy that explores the consequences of pride and the nature of familial relationships. It tells the story of an aging king who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, with disastrous results. The play is known for its exploration of themes of power, loyalty, and the nature of madness.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy that follows the adventures of several couples and a group of amateur actors in an enchanted forest. It’s a lighthearted play that touches on themes of love, magic, and illusion. The play is known for its whimsical characters and witty dialogue.

The Tempest

The Tempest is a complex play that explores themes of power, forgiveness, and the nature of humanity. It follows the story of a deposed Duke who seeks revenge on those who wronged him, only to be faced with a moral dilemma. The play is known for its exploration of themes of colonization and the power dynamics between individuals and society.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar is a history play that tells the story of the assassination of the Roman leader and its aftermath. It explores themes of power, loyalty, and betrayal, as well as the consequences of political ambition. The play is known for its exploration of the nature of leadership and the complexities of political power.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a comedy that follows the story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to work for a Duke. It’s a play that explores themes of gender roles, love, and identity. The play is known for its exploration of the fluidity of gender and the complexities of romantic relationships.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy that follows the romantic entanglements of several couples in Italy. It’s a play that explores the nature of love, deception, and the power of words. The play is known for its witty banter and exploration of the complexities of human relationships.

These 10 Shakespeare books are just a small sample of the playwright’s vast body of work. Each play offers a unique perspective on the human experience and continues to captivate audiences centuries after they were first written.

Modern Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Works

William Shakespeare’s works are timeless classics that have been enjoyed by audiences for centuries. They have been adapted in various forms, including stage performances, films, and novels. In recent years, there has been a surge in modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s works that have breathed new life into these timeless tales.

Retellings in Novel Form

One of the most popular forms of modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s works is retelling them in novel form. These adaptations allow authors to put their own spin on the classic tales and offer readers a fresh perspective on the stories they know and love. Some popular examples of modern retellings include The Hogarth Shakespeare series, which features modern retellings by contemporary authors, and Margaret Atwood ‘s Hag-Seed, a retelling of The Tempest.

The Hogarth Shakespeare series features authors like Jeanette Winterson , who retold The Winter’s Tale as The Gap of Time , and Anne Tyler , who retold The Taming of the Shrew as Vinegar Girl. These adaptations offer modern takes on the classic tales, exploring themes like love, betrayal, and family in new and exciting ways.

Hag-Seed, on the other hand, takes a more experimental approach to retelling The Tempest. Atwood sets her story in a present-day theater, where a disgraced director is staging a production of The Tempest with a group of prisoners. The novel offers a unique perspective on the play, exploring themes of power, revenge, and redemption.

Shakespeare’s Influence on Film and Television

Shakespeare’s plays have also been adapted for film and television countless times, in a variety of styles and genres. Some of the best-known adaptations include Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which sets the play in a modern-day Verona Beach and features Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers. Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet is another well-known adaptation, featuring an all-star cast that includes Branagh himself, Kate Winslet, and Robin Williams.

More recently, the television series Westworld drew heavily from the themes and characters of Macbeth . The series is set in a futuristic theme park where guests can live out their wildest fantasies, but things take a dark turn when the androids that run the park begin to question their existence and rebel against their human creators. The series explores themes of power, ambition, and morality, much like Macbeth.

Whether you’re a lifelong fan or just discovering Shakespeare for the first time, there are countless ways to enjoy his works. From stage performances to modern adaptations in novels, films, and television, Shakespeare’s stories continue to captivate audiences and inspire new generations of artists.

If you’re interested in exploring Shakespeare’s works further, there are many resources available to help you. Online databases like the Folger Shakespeare Library offer free access to the complete works of Shakespeare, along with study guides and other resources to help you understand and appreciate his writing.

There are also many books and documentaries that offer insights into Shakespeare’s life and work. Some popular options include Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd , Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt , and the BBC documentary Shakespeare Uncovered.

Whether you’re a student, a scholar, or simply a fan of great storytelling, there’s something for everyone in the world of Shakespeare.

Did Shakespeare write books?

Shakespeare was a well-known English playwright. He did not write novels, as the ‘novel’ form was not created until the early 18th century, long after Shakespeare’s death. Instead, he predominantly wrote plays and sonnets.

What are the best comedies written by Shakespeare?

Some of the most popular comedy plays written by Shakespeare are as follows: Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merchant of Venice.

What are the best tragedies written by Shakespeare?

Shakespeare’s reputable tragedies include Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar.

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William Shakespeare Biography

William Shakespeare Portrait

William Shakespeare was indisputably among the top English-language poets and playwrights of all time. He was born in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564 and died there in April 1616. His surviving body of work includes 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two narrative poems, the majority of which he penned between 1589 and 1613. While much of Shakespeare's biography is unknown, murky or subject to dispute, historians have managed to verify factual data through his own writings, the works of his contemporaries and historical documents.

Early Years: 1564 to 1585

The Bard of Avon, as William Shakespeare is also known, was the child of a leather merchant and glover, John Shakespeare. His mother was from a family of landed gentry. In the absence of records detailing Shakespeare's early education, historians guess he attended a nearby school where he learned to read and write English as well as Latin.

In 1582, when he was just 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior. They would have three children, a daughter in 1583 and a set of twins in 1585. They lost their only son, Hamnet, when the boy was 11 years old. Daughters Susanna and Judith would live to be 66 and 77, respectively.

Middle Years: 1586 to 1599

From 1586 until 1592, very little information is available regarding the Shakespeare household or the bard himself. During this period that historians refer to as the writer's lost years, only a scant legal document or two gives evidence of Shakespeare's existence. Over the years, various biographers have speculated that he may have been a poacher on the run from a disgruntled landowner, a horse-minder at a London theater, or more probably, a local schoolmaster.

Also during his lost years, the bard was devoting a good portion of his time to playwriting. By 1592, solid evidence shows that one if not more of his plays was underway on London stages. The first of his plays in production was probably "Henry IV, Part One," an historical work which not only chronicles the active years of the monarch's reign but also introduces his son Hal and Henry Percy, or Hotspur, a rival.

The bard had established himself in London prior to 1592, as evidenced by a mention in the London Times by a fellow playwright. He completed "Henry IV, Part Two" and "Henry V" early in the 1590s. By 1594, he and a group of colleagues had formed an acting troupe they called The Lord Chamberlain's Men, in honor of their patron, which would soon grow to prominence in the London theater scene.

The 1590s were quite a prolific time for Shakespeare. He wrote additional historic plays, including "Richard II," "Richard III," and "Titus Andronicus." He also penned the comedies "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "The Taming of the Shrew" and "A Comedy of Errors," probably early in the decade.

From around 1595 to the end of the century, Shakespeare turned his sights toward more romantic comedies, including "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Merchant of Venice," Twelfth Night" and "Much Ado About Nothing." The bard wrote the tragedies "Romeo and Juliet," and "Julius Caesar" during this period of his life as well,

By 1597, Shakespeare had written approximately 15 of his 38 surviving plays. He had achieved enough financial success to purchase one of Stratford's nicest homes for his family. He continued to live principally in London where he wrote and acted in his plays. During periods such as Lent when theaters were closed and when outbreaks of the plague shut down the city, he likely spent time with his family in Stratford..

Shakespeare was not only writing scripts for his company, often based on stories from mythology, literature and historic accounts, but he was also acting in his own plays. The Lord Chamberlain's Men put on performances at such London venues as The Theatre and The Curtain. In 1599, the acting troupe built The Globe from the ruins of The Theater, establishing their own playhouse, which opened in 1599.

Later Years: 1600-1613

Early in the new century, the bard continued to produce great literature, penning such masterworks as "Troilus and Cressida," "Measure for Measure," "All's Well That Ends Well," and some of his most renowned tragedies, including "Hamlet," "Othello" and "King Lear." In 1603, The Lord Chamberlain's Men delivered a command performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Queen Elizabeth's Hampton court. When the Queen died later that year, the acting troupe changed its name to The King's Men in honor of the newly crowned King James I. Their first performance for the monarch was "As You Like It."

The bard was growing artistically during this era, customizing his mastery of blank verse with wit and intention to enrich his characters' dialogue and enliven the action. He employed such techniques as run-on lines and inflected phrasing to breathe life into a poetic form that tended to the monotone if used within strict parameters of ten syllables per line and alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. The dialogue of his play "Hamlet," for example, seems animated in comparison to the more strictly patterned lines of earlier works such as "Henry V." Shakespeare also provided moments of variation in his plays by inserting bits of rhymed verse in the dialogue, for example in Puck's epilogue in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

During the first decade of the 17th century, Shakespeare published his "Sonnets," a collection of 154 14-line works that employed the same blank verse format as his plays but with the specific rhyme scheme of three quatrains and a concluding couplet. Released as a printed collection in 1609, Shakespeare's sonnets had likely been written individually over time, and those within his circle of friends were probably already familiar with some of them. The form the bard employed for his verses became known as the Shakespearean sonnet, as opposed to the traditional Petrarchan sonnet, which consists of an octet and a sestet.

In his last plays, "Cymbeline," "A Winter's Tale," and "The Tempest," the bard test-drove a hybrid genre, the tragicomedy, also known as the romance. While they take a more somber, serious tone than such comedies as "Twelfth Night," these tragicomedies end on a positive note, unlike such tragedies as "King Lear." The bard also completed two last works for theater, "Henry VIII" and "The Two Noble Kinsmen," with a collaborator, likely John Fletcher, a contemporary playwright.

Just after the completion of "Henry VIII" in 1613, The King's Men lost the Globe playhouse to a fire. By the time they reopened in 1614, Shakespeare had already retired to his family home in Stratford where he died in 1616 at the age of 52. While no verified version of the manner of his death exists today, one account, written by the vicar of Stratford 50 years later, attributes his untimely demise to drinking too hard with his friends John Drayton and Ben Johnson, and catching a fatal fever as a result.

The Controversy

Due in part to the great gaps in knowledge regarding Shakespeare's early education and the lost years, the bard has always been shrouded in mystery. In addition, not a single manuscript he wrote in his own hand survived the centuries. One scholarly explanation for this lack of historical verification is that "William Shakespeare" was the pen name of some more illustrious, well-educated figure of the Elizabethan era.

The controversy did not see the light of day until more than two centuries after the bard's death. Among the first to question the authorship of such all-time great works as "Macbeth" was a Pennsylvanian Lutheran named Samuel Schmucker, and he was merely drawing an analogy. He likened the scholarly trend of his time in using historic data to raise doubts about the existence of Christ was akin to speculating that Shakespeare never existed. An offhand remark, but that is all it took to sow the seed of controversy.

Some of the fuel for the fire included: 1. The lack of documentation for Shakespeare's existence. 2. The disputed authorship of particular works. 3. The unlikelihood that someone with the bard's background would rise to greatness.

Among the most famous doubters were Mark Twain, Henry James, Sigmund Freud and Orson Wells. Among the candidates people have mentioned as the "real" William Shakespeare are Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Earl of Oxford Edward DeVere. The controversy has even found its way into the U.S. Supreme Court as the subject of a moot debate.

The Influence of William Shakespeare Through the Centuries

One of the bard's most enduring influences is on the English language. Not only are many quotes from his plays, such as Polonius' advice to Hamlet, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," a part of the English lexicon, but the way in which Shakespeare shaped the language to suit his own artistic purposes would influence future writers and poets throughout subsequent history, from Charles Dickens to Maya Angelou. Charles Dickens drew upon the bard's writings for many of his titles as well as numerous quotations he used within his novels.

Shakespeare also enriched the language with the addition of approximately 2,000 new words and numerous new usages of existing vocabulary. Some of the words attributed to the bard include "auspicious," "dwindle" and "sanctimonious." Phrases he originated that are still in the popular lexicon include, "break the ice" from "The Taming of the Shrew" and "in a pickle" from "The Tempest."

The bard's masterful characterizations have become archetypes for social standards. Such larger-than-life characters as Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia and a host of others inform contemporary social standards in ways that are inextricably woven into the fabric of modern society. They not only appear as standard icons in the theater, movies, literature and visual arts, but also have established themselves as cultural norms, particularly in English-speaking societies. It is not even necessary to have read the works of Shakespeare to be familiar with his well-known quotations and characters.

Even the controversy surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets serves to keep the bard very much a vital figure in contemporary lore. The probability that the mystery will probably never be resolved, given the lack of hard evidence, means that Shakespearean scholars, school teachers and their students will be reading and discussing the 16th-century master far into the future.

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Shakespeare 400th anniversary: 6 best books

From the wealth of new and reissued publications celebrating the bard, we select the most enlightening reads, article bookmarked.

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This year sees the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on 23 April 1616. There are a huge number of publications celebrating the Bard’s life and works, from new biographies and studies of the playwright’s global influence to pocket-sized primers of his most influential works. We’ve read our way through a number – both new titles and the best reissued books – to bring you a selection that celebrates his diverse legacy. There should be something on this list to inform both Shakespeare aficionados and newcomers to the oeuvre. Happy reading.

1. The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate: Picador, £9.99

best biography shakespeare

The author and editor of several acclaimed Shakespeare books, Jonathan Bate is one of the foremost authorities today on the Bard’s life and works. Reprinted with a new cover for 2016, this is by turns a biography, a history, a polemic and a eulogy. Few books give as comprehensive a portrait of Shakespeare: the man, the works, his language, his intentions, his anxieties and his rivals are all covered as components of his legacy. It's fluidly written, moving effortlessly from a discussion of Shakespeare’s sexuality to a rant against the authorship sceptics, for example. This one is a must-read for those who really want to get under the skin of Shakespeare.

2. Shakespeare’s Binding Language by John Kerrigan: £35, Oxford University Press

best biography shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Binding Language is among the most imaginative books on Shakespeare to be published this year. John Kerrigan, an English professor at the University of Cambridge, identifies all the oaths and vows sworn between Shakespeare’s characters, and how these promises affect the characters' interactions in the plays. Kerrigan deftly moves from the toothless vows of the comedies – ‘swearing in jest’ – to the sinister vows of vengeance in the histories and tragedies (Othello promises revenge on Cassio and Desdemona with ‘the due reverence of a sacred vow’). Kerrigan’s view of Shakespeare’s characters as bound in a tangle of conflicting promises is a unique and refreshing view.

3. Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet by Edward Wilson-Lee: £20, Harper Collins

best biography shakespeare

Cambridge professor Edward Wilson-Lee’s half-history, half-travel book takes Shakespeare out of England and into the jungles, savannahs and bustling city streets of East and Central Africa. Wilson-Lee takes the region country by country, exploring Shakespeare’s ever-changing legacy. Through his travel and studies, Wilson-Lee encounters a myriad of memorable characters, such as a Macbeth -quoting street vendor in Luxor, or Julius Nyerere, the first Tanzanian president, studiously translating Julius Caesar through the racket of independence. The Shakespeare Wilson-Lee finds in Africa is one entirely unfamiliar to him: a Shakespeare at sea, a Shakespeare in the jungle, a ‘Shakespeare in Colonial Trousers’. As he writes in his conclusion: "the Shakespeare made in Africa has come to replace the one taken there".

4. 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro: £9.99, Faber & Faber

best biography shakespeare

For 2016, we get the sequel to James Shapiro’s excellent 2005 history book, 1599 . In 1606 , Shapiro, a professor at Columbia University, chronicles what he describes as Shakespeare’s most creative year – the year not only of King Lear , but also Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra . Shapiro delves into the tumult of England in 1605/06, years blighted by plague and political conspiracy, to show the reader how certain events influenced the composition of these three tragedies. In King Lear, Shapiro finds a King James anxious about the unity of his kingdom. In Macbeth, he identifies the spectre of the narrowly-thwarted Gunpowder Plot. 1606 is a fascinating study of these three great tragedies and the Jacobean backdrop that shaped them.

5. Shakespeare in Ten Acts by Gordon McMullan and Zoe Wilcox: £40, The British Library

best biography shakespeare

Accompanying the eponymous British Library exhibition starting this month, Shakespeare in Ten Acts gives the reader a glimpse into the history of the Shakespeare performance. From Richard Burbage, the first ever Hamlet, in 1601, to last year’s cinematic adaptation of Macbeth , this book is a rich account of the challenges of staging Shakespeare in different times. It takes a chronological format, covering the past four centuries. Writers identify key moments in the history of Shakespeare performance, such as the first woman to play Desdemona – an anonymous actress in 1660 – or the first black Othello, Ira Aldridge in 1833. The result is a captivating portrait of the ever-changing Shakespearean stage.

6. The Bard in Brief: Shakespeare in Quotations by Hannah Manktelow: £10, The British Library

best biography shakespeare

Also accompanying the British Library’s exhibition is The Bard in Brief . It’s a small book, about 100 pages, exhibiting some of the handiwork for which the writer is famed. It includes soliloquies, sonnets and other famous passages in the Shakespearean oeuvre. With a short description of context attached to each snippet of Shakespeare, this is a perfect book for blagging some last-minute knowledge before 23 April.

Dozens of excellent and original books have been, and still are being, published this year – but the most impressive books in this list are without a doubt The Genius of Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s Binding Language . Though somewhat formidable, these are books for readers who really want to know Shakespeare and his writing and why, four centuries on, he won’t go away. Bate perfectly captures Shakespeare’s imperishable allure with an Auden quote: "The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living". The wealth and quality of the Shakespeare literature emerging this year shows that the Bard’s legacy is in good hands.

17 Best Movies You Didn't Realize Are Based on Shakespeare Plays


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William Shakespeare was a late 16th-century English playwright, poet, and actor who is regarded by many as the greatest writer in history. Today, his plays are still performed on stages around the world, and studying his works is a high school right of passage.

It's not surprising that the Bard would go on to inspire future writers and their stories. Shakespeare's works have since been used as the basis for a lot of movies – and not just the straight adaptations like Romeo + Juliet or Macbeth . Modern interpretations of his plays exist in every film genre, with numerous movies inspired by Shakespeare. All you have to do is look closely, and you will find that sometimes a zombie movie is a romance, or an animated musical is a Shakespearean tragedy. From Men of Respect to The Lion King , we analyze and rank which are the best Shakespeare adaptation movies that aren't as obvious to audiences thanks to their modernized retellings .

17 'Forbidden Planet' (1956)

Based on 'the tempest'.

Robot and crew on a planet

An iconic entry of 1950s sci-fi cinema , one whose influence on the genre going forward as A-grade entertainment cannot be overstated, Forbidden Planet is one of the most famous titles of 50s Hollywood. It follows the crew of a spaceship sent to a distant planet to investigate why the scientific colony stationed there decades earlier has gone silent. Upon arrival, they discover that one of the scientists and his daughter are the only two survivors, and endeavor to uncover the dark truth as to why.

Derived from Shakespeare’s The Tempest , Forbidden Planet thrives with its narrative intrigue that places an emphasis on character . Its special effects and art design retain much of the striking grandiosity today as they did upon release almost 70 years ago, which is actually a testament to the story and the manner in which such elements were implemented into the film. – Ryan Heffernan

Forbidden Planet

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16 'Men of Respect' (1990)

Based on 'macbeth'.

Men of Respect is the story of Mike Battaglia ( John Turturro ), who climbs to the top of his mafia family by killing the boss and anyone else who threatens to get in his way. The film is a 1990s crime drama that mirrors the tragedy of Macbeth, transporting the story into the world of organized crime.

Battaglia's ambitions and actions during his rise to power would ultimately become his downfall. Despite not being a masterpiece, Men of Respect is an interesting adaptation of Shakespeare's well-known play Macbeth . William C. Reilly's film has political overtones that allude to the idiom, "Be careful what you wish for," just like the famous work by the gifted poet and playwright.

Watch on Tubi

15 'Get Over It' (2001)

Based on 'a midsummer night's dream'.

When it comes to Shakespeare-retelling movies, Ge t Over It is a pretty loose adaptation (it is based on A Midsummer Night's Dream ), but it is well worth mentioning nonetheless. The teen romantic comedy tells the story of a high school senior who tries to win back his ex-girlfriend by joining the cast of the school play she is starring in (which happens to be the play from which the movie draws inspiration).

Tommy O'Haver 's 2001 film veers far from Shakespeare's original plot, exchanging mischievous fairies for impish but well-meaning high school boys. The film steers itself back by inserting scenes from the play, performed on stage by the high school students, while its musical performances by Vitamin C and Sisqo rooted the film firmly in the early 2000s.

Watch on Hoopla

14 'Deliver Us from Eva' (2003)

Based on 'the taming of the shrew'.

The girls posing while looking at the camera in Deliver Us from Eva.

Eva ( Gabrielle Union ) is a little too involved in her three sisters' love lives. Their partners decide to take matters into their own hands when the men hire Ray ( LL Cool J ) to woo her. They hope that Ray can keep Eva away from her sisters and out of their business, but their plan begins to backfire when the two fall in love for real in a wonderful approach to the fake dating trope in film .

Deliver Us from Eva is loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew . This version of the play isn’t as complicated as the original text. What is complicated is the meddling of the three men in the life of the combative "shrew." Although a bit predictable, Deliver Us from Eva is still a fairly enjoyable watch.

Deliver Us From Eva

13 'o' (2001), based on 'othello'.

In O , Odin ( Mekhi Phifer ), a Black student-athlete, is the MVP of the basketball team in a predominantly white upper-class high school. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Desi ( Julia Stiles ), and is loved by his coach and all his teammates with one exception: Hugo ( Josh Hartnett ). Hugo is jealous of the attention and affection Odin receives, especially from their coach ( Martin Sheen ) who is also Hugo's father.

Following the plot of Shakespeare's Othello , Hugo begins manipulating his "friend" and those around him, ultimately resulting in Odin's undoing. O is a perfectly executed turn-of-the-century take on Shakespeare's play Othello , which has been frequently re-adapted over the years. The play's themes of race, passion, and adversity have made it a favorite among filmmakers and audiences alike.

Rent on Amazon

12 'Just One of the Guys' (1985)

Based on 'twelfth night'.

A young boy looking at a young girl in Just One of the Guys.

The '80s high school rom-com Just One of the Guys is an adaptation of Twelfth Night starring Joyce Hyser , Clayton Rohner , and William Zabka , Terri (Hyser) is an aspiring journalist who just wants to be taken seriously in a world dominated by men. She disguises herself as a boy to gain more journalistic credibility, ditching her "good looks" for a short haircut and men's clothing.

In true Shakespearean fashion, Terri falls for a guy while she's disguised, and things get complicated. All in all, the film is a hidden gem from the '80s that fans of the Bard will likely still enjoy today. Furthermore, Just One of the Guys tackles universal teenage themes, like sexual relationships, body image, and dating.

Just One of the Guys

11 'the northman' (2022), based on 'hamlet'.

Amleth in village during the Viking raid in The Northman.

An epic Viking movie about family and revenge, The Northman is imbued with a gritty historical might as it follows Prince Amleth ( Alexander Skarsgård ) on his quest to avenge his father and rescue his mother by killing his traitorous uncle. Its premise has a loose basis on Shakespeare’s Hamlet , tracking a young prince hellbent on killing his uncle for usurping his father’s throne. However, The Northman is also based on the legend of Amleth, a Scandinavian tale that was the direct inspiration for Hamlet .

As such, The Northman may not be based on Shakespeare as earnestly as other films, but it is fascinating to see a modern-day re-telling of a mythic legend that inspired the playwright’s works. Realized with stunning art design, a rousing sense of brutality, and all of Robert Eggers ’ trademark style, the film is a gloriously ultra-violent fantasy revenge tale sure to intrigue fans of Shakespearian stories. – Ryan Heffernan

The Northman

10 'warm bodies' (2013), based on 'romeo and juliet'.

Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies

In one of the best modern movies based on Shakespeare's work, R ( Nicholas Hoult ) is not your typical zombie. True, he craves human flesh, and brains are admittedly his favorite. But unlike the rest of his kind, he longs for more. Affection? Perhaps love? He finds what he's looking for when, one day, he meets Julie ( Teresa Palmer ). It's love at first sight for R, as his once-dead heart begins beating again.

Warm Bodies , at its core, is an echo of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet : a boy meets and falls in love with a girl from a different household (or species) who is the sworn enemy of his own, and, alas, the star-crossed lovers are destined for failure. The film gives the play a 21st-century twist but still throws in plenty of callbacks to the original text. R has a best friend named M ( Rob Corddry ). In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo's best friend is Mercutio. Julie is a shortened version of Juliet. Also, Julie's boyfriend, Perry ( Dave Franco ), gets his name from Count Paris. What's more, Warm Bodies , a truly underrated zombie movie , recreates the famous balcony scene.

Warm Bodies

9 'anyone but you' (2023), based on 'much ado about nothing'.

Ben (Glen Powell) and Bea (Sydney Sweeney) looking at each other in Anyone But You

When it comes to recent films based on Shakespeare's plays, Anyone But You surely deserves a spot on the list. This 2023 romantic comedy follows Bea ( Sydney Sweeney ) and Ben's ( Glen Powell ) destination wedding vacation, in which the two meet again after their complicated past. What's more, the two pretend to be a couple.

Although it isn't obvious that the Will Gluck film is based on Much Ado About Nothing , Anyone But You brings Shakespeare's characters Benedick and Beatrice to life with great results. The film is an innovative take on the romantic comedy genre and felt like a breath of fresh air, though far from being an unforgettable feature (it received mixed reviews from critics, too). Still, Gluck's movie is an entertaining one, as well as a win for rom-coms at the global box office, with Anyone But You grossing over $150 million worldwide . – Daniela Gama

Anyone But You

Watch on Netflix

8 'Ex Machina' (2015)

Alicia Vikander in 'Ex Machina'

Alex Garland is a modern master of science-fiction storytelling , seamlessly blending the mesmerizing aesthetic of the genre with a rich thematic depth that makes for arresting and spellbinding films. One of his best pictures thus far is 2015’s contained sci-fi thriller Ex Machina , which follows a programmer who wins a prize that sees him travel to his CEO’s remote villa. Once there, he begins participating in an experimental series of tests concerning the CEO’s new creation, an advanced AI android.

A fascinating and complex tale of power, desire, technology, and misogyny, Ex Machina takes inspiration from a variety of different sources including past sci-fi films and literature, and contemplative thought experiments. Another discernible influence on the picture was Shakespeare’s play The Tempest , with its narrative of manipulation and isolation abundantly clear in Ex Machina . – Ryan Heffernan

7 'She's the Man' (2006)

Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum in She's The Man

She's the Man , in all its early 2000s romantic comedy glory, takes its entire plot from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night . The only real difference to the play is its modern setting. The play has twins separated in a shipwreck, whereas Viola ( Amanda Bynes ) and Sebastian ( James Kirk ) are separated by different schools in the film.

The teen drama is about Viola, who disguises herself as a boy to play in an all-male soccer team. Her plan quickly becomes complicated when she falls for her roommate, Duke ( Channing Tatum ), who does not know her true identity. She's the Man was a commercial success when it came out, grossing $57.2 million against a budget of $20–25 million, and endures as a highly referenced film in popular culture.

She's the Man

6 'my own private idaho' (1991), based on 'henry iv' parts i and ii.

River Phoenix sitting behind Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix 's chemistry alone — the two were very close friends in real life — makes it worth watching My Own Private Idaho , which is among the best movies inspired by Shakespeare plays . The film follows Mike Waters, a hustler afflicted with narcolepsy, and Scott Favor, the rebellious son of a mayor. The two embark on an adventure from Portland to Idaho and ultimately to the coast of Italy to find Mike's long-lost mother.

Gus Van Sant 's road trip drama based on Henry IV is touching and tender, offering a thoughtful message about sexual identity and love — so much so that it is considered a landmark piece in queer cinema. Regarded as a cult classic these days, the avant-garde My Own Private Idaho is mandatory viewing when it comes to Shakespeare adaptations. – Daniela Gama

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Watch on Criterion

5 'Ran' (1985)

Based on 'king lear'.

Ran - 1985

A legendary Japanese filmmaker and a true master of visual storytelling, Akira Kurosawa is widely regarded as one of the greatest film directors in the history of cinema. In addition to his technical magnificence, he was also a marvel when unveiling a narrative in a spectacular and immersive fashion. Perhaps a reason for this is the inspiration he often took from William Shakespeare, even adapting several of his stories to the screen. While Throne of Blood is heralded as one of the greatest adaptations of Macbeth , Ran is sometimes overlooked as a similarly brilliant interpretation of King Lear .

Using immense scale and a visually arresting color palette, Ran transpires as an aging warlord divides his kingdom so each of his three sons can rule. However, the allure of total power corrupts them, seeing the region fall into all-out war. It is a mighty cinematic achievement, a breathtaking display of style and story that never wastes a second of its 160-minute runtime and stands as one of the greatest epics ever made . – Ryan Heffernan

4 'The Bad Sleep Well' (1960)

Another Kurosawa masterpiece, The Bad Sleep Well is one of the most subtle of the director’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s work . The noir crime thriller follows Kōichi Nishi ( Toshiro Mifune ), a vengeful man who rises up the ranks of an industry corporation and marries the disabled daughter of the company’s vice president as a grand scheme to secure justice for his father, a past employee at the company, whose suicide was covered up.

A loose adaptation of Hamlet , The Bad Sleep Well is a rousing story of family honor and revenge, with its focus on Kōichi’s obsessive vendetta amid a world of corporate corruption and greed an intriguing centerpiece. A pristine example of Kurosawa’s mastery of narrative as well as his prowess as a filmmaker, the crime film is an iconic testament to the excellence of international cinema. – Ryan Heffernan

3 '10 Things I Hate About You' (1999)

Patrick and Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You standing together and pointing at the camera.

The 1999 high school comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You , is the story of a love-sick Cameron ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) and his elaborate plan to win the heart of Bianca ( Larisa Oleynik ). Bianca is not allowed to date until her sister Kat ( Julia Stiles ) begins to. Cameron convinces the self-absorbed pretty boy, Joey ( Andrew Keegan ) to pay the mysterious Patrick ( Heath Ledger ) to "tame" Kat.

Gil Junger's movie is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and features tons of references to the play and Shakespeare himself . In the movie, Kat is referred to as "the shrew" in one of the first scenes. Kat's best friend, Mandella ( Susan May Pratt ) is Shakespeare-obsessed, with a photo of him in her locker and she can be heard quoting the playwright more than once. Being the blueprint of 1990s romantic comedies, 10 Things I Hate About You is the perfect back-to-school film everyone should check.

10 Things I Hate About You

2 'west side story' (1961).

The cast of West Side Story dancing.

West Side Story , the musical remake of Romeo and Juliet, went from Broadway to film in an engaging play-to-big-screen adaptation in 1961. Maria ( Natalie Wood ) and Tony ( Richard Beymer ) are star-crossed lovers in New York City. The two teens come from rival gangs, the Jets and Sharks.

Just as the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet , peace cannot be kept as Bernardo (Maria's brother, played by George Chakiris ) kills Tony's best friend, Riff ( Russ Tamblyn ), prompting Tony's immediate retaliation. Tony stabs and kills Bernardo and the deaths seem to mirror that of the play's characters, Mercutio and Tybalt. No doubt, West Side Story is an engaging story that takes place among the best Shakespeare adaptations .

West Side Story (1961)

1 'the lion king' (1994).

Rafiki holding up Simba at Pride Rock in The Lion King.

Disney's The Lion King is a true classic and not the first film fans are likely to think of when identifying movies based on Shakespeare's works. With a score composed by Hans Zimmer and A-list actors like Matthew Broderick (Simba) and James Earl Jones (Mufasa) bringing the animation to life, it's almost hard to believe the story isn't completely original. But one of Disney's greatest animated classics wouldn't exist without a monumental play by The Bard.

The Lion King is the play Hamlet at its core; it is the story of a king murdered by his brother and a young prince who will someday avenge his father. Luckily, Disney decided to leave out the part where the queen marries the murderous uncle and instead made it so Sarabi ( Madge Sinclair ) and the other lionesses are servants to Scar ( Jeremy Irons ).

The Lion King (1994)

NEXT: The Best Shakespeare Film Adaptations, Ranked

  • Shakespeare

My Own Private Idaho

The 1 00 Best Books of the 21st Century

Stack of 20 books

As voted on by 503 novelists, nonfiction writers, poets, critics and other book lovers — with a little help from the staff of The New York Times Book Review.

Many of us find joy in looking back and taking stock of our reading lives, which is why we here at The New York Times Book Review decided to mark the first 25 years of this century with an ambitious project: to take a first swing at determining the most important, influential books of the era. In collaboration with the Upshot, we sent a survey to hundreds of literary luminaries , asking them to name the 10 best books published since Jan. 1, 2000.

Stephen King took part. So did Bonnie Garmus, Claudia Rankine, James Patterson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Elin Hilderbrand, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Roxane Gay, Marlon James, Sarah MacLean, Min Jin Lee, Jonathan Lethem and Jenna Bush Hager, to name just a few . And you can also take part! Vote here and let us know what your top 10 books of the century are.

We hope you’ll discover a book you’ve always meant to read, or encounter a beloved favorite you’d like to pick up again. Above all, we hope you’re as inspired and dazzled as we are by the breadth of subjects, voices, opinions, experiences and imagination represented here.

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

  • Decode the list with our staff critics
  • Submit your own Top 10
  • Let us help you find a new book to read from the list
  • See how your favorite authors voted
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Book cover for Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke

Denis Johnson 2007

Like the project of the title — an intelligence report that the newly minted C.I.A. operative William “Skip” Sands comes to find both quixotic and useless — the Vietnam-era warfare of Johnson’s rueful, soulful novel lives in shadows, diversions and half-truths. There are no heroes here among the lawless colonels, assassinated priests and faith-stricken NGO nurses; only villainy and vast indifference.

Liked it? Try “ Missionaries ,” by Phil Klay or “ Hystopia ,” by David Means.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for How to Be Both

How to Be Both

Ali Smith 2014

This elegant double helix of a novel entwines the stories of a fictional modern-day British girl and a real-life 15th-century Italian painter. A more conventional book might have explored the ways the past and present mirror each other, but Smith is after something much more radical. “How to Be Both” is a passionate, dialectical critique of the binaries that define and confine us. Not only male and female, but also real and imaginary, poetry and prose, living and dead. The way to be “both” is to recognize the extent to which everything already is. — A.O. Scott, critic at large for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi ,” by Geoff Dyer or “ The Argonauts ,” by Maggie Nelson.

Book cover for Bel Canto

Ann Patchett 2001

A famed opera singer performs for a Japanese executive’s birthday at a luxe private home in South America; it’s that kind of party. But when a group of young guerrillas swoops in and takes everyone in the house hostage, Patchett’s exquisitely calibrated novel — inspired by a real incident — becomes a piano wire of tension, vibrating on high.

Book cover for Bel Canto

My wife and I share books we love with our kids, and after I raved about “Bel Canto” — the voice, the setting, the way romance and suspense are so perfectly braided — I gave copies to my kids, and they all loved it, too. My son was in high school then, and he became a kind of lit-pusher, pressing his beloved copy into friends’ hands. We used to call him the Keeper of the Bel Canto. — Jess Walter, author of “Beautiful Ruins”

Liked it? Try “ Nocturnes ,” by Kazuo Ishiguro or “ The Piano Tuner ,” by Daniel Mason.

Book cover for Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward 2013

Sandwiched between her two National Book Award-winning novels, Ward’s memoir carries more than fiction’s force in its aching elegy for five young Black men (a brother, a cousin, three friends) whose untimely exits from her life came violently and without warning. Their deaths — from suicide and homicide, addiction and accident — place the hidden contours of race, justice and cruel circumstance in stark relief.

Liked it? Try “ Breathe: A Letter to My Sons ,” by Imani Perry or “ Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir ,” by Natasha Trethewey.

best biography shakespeare

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Saidiya Hartman 2019

A beautiful, meticulously researched exploration of the lives of Black girls whom early-20th-century laws designated as “wayward” for such crimes as having serial lovers, or an excess of desire, or a style of comportment that was outside white norms. Hartman grapples with “the power and authority of the archive and the limits it sets on what can be known” about poor Black women, but from the few traces she uncovers in the historical record, she manages to sketch moving portraits, restoring joy and freedom and movement to what, in other hands, might have been mere statistics. — Laila Lalami, author of “The Other Americans”

Liked it? Try “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being,” by Christina Sharpe or “ All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake ,” by Tiya Miles.

Book cover for Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel 2012

The title comes from an old English legal phrase for summoning men who have been accused of treason to trial; in the court’s eyes, effectively, they are already dead. But Mantel’s tour-de-force portrait of Thomas Cromwell, the second installment in her vaunted “Wolf Hall” series, thrums with thrilling, obstinate life: a lowborn statesman on the rise; a king in love (and out of love, and in love again); a mad roundelay of power plays, poisoned loyalties and fateful realignments. It’s only empires, after all.

stack of books facing backward

Liked it? Try “ This Is Happiness ,” by Niall Williams or “ The Western Wind ,” by Samantha Harvey.

Book cover for On Beauty

Zadie Smith 2005

Consider it a bold reinvention of “Howards End,” or take Smith’s sprawling third novel as its own golden thing: a tale of two professors — one proudly liberal, the other staunchly right-wing — whose respective families’ rivalries and friendships unspool over nearly 450 provocative, subplot-mad pages.

Book cover for On Beauty

“You don’t have favorites among your children, but you do have allies.”

Let’s admit it: Family is often a kind of war, even if telepathically conducted. — Alexandra Jacobs, book critic for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Crossroads ,” by Jonathan Franzen.

Book cover for Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel 2014

Increasingly, and for obvious reasons, end-times novels are not hard to find. But few have conjured the strange luck of surviving an apocalypse — civilization preserved via the ad hoc Shakespeare of a traveling theater troupe; entire human ecosystems contained in an abandoned airport — with as much spooky melancholic beauty as Mandel does in her beguiling fourth novel.

Liked it? Try “ Severance ,” by Ling Ma or “ The Passage ,” by Justin Cronin.

Book cover for The Days of Abandonment

The Days of Abandonment

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2005

There is something scandalous about this picture of a sensible, adult woman almost deranged by the breakup of her marriage, to the point of neglecting her children. The psychodrama is naked — sometimes hard to read, at other moments approaching farce. Just as Ferrante drew an indelible portrait of female friendship in her quartet of Neapolitan novels, here, she brings her all-seeing eye to female solitude.

Book cover for The Days of Abandonment

“The circle of an empty day is brutal, and at night it tightens around your neck like a noose.”

It so simply encapsulates how solitude can, with the inexorable passage of time, calcify into loneliness and then despair. — Alexandra Jacobs

Liked it? Try “ Eileen ,” by Ottessa Moshfegh or “ Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation ,” by Rachel Cusk.

Book cover for The Human Stain

The Human Stain

Philip Roth 2000

Set during the Clinton impeachment imbroglio, this is partly a furious indictment of what would later be called cancel culture, partly an inquiry into the paradoxes of class, sex and race in America. A college professor named Coleman Silk is persecuted for making supposedly racist remarks in class. Nathan Zuckerman, his neighbor (and Roth’s trusty alter ego), learns that Silk, a fellow son of Newark, is a Black man who has spent most of his adult life passing for white. Of all the Zuckerman novels, this one may be the most incendiary, and the most unsettling. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Vladimir ,” by Julia May Jonas or “ Blue Angel ,” by Francine Prose.

Book cover for The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh Nguyen 2015

Penned as a book-length confession from a nameless North Vietnamese spy as Saigon falls and new duties in America beckon, Nguyen’s richly faceted novel seems to swallow multiple genres whole, like a satisfied python: political thriller and personal history, cracked metafiction and tar-black comedy.

Liked it? Try “ Man of My Time ,” by Dalia Sofer or “ Tomás Nevinson ,” by Javier Marías; translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

Book cover for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between

Hisham Matar 2016

Though its Pulitzer Prize was bestowed in the category of biography, Matar’s account of searching for the father he lost to a 1990 kidnapping in Cairo functions equally as absorbing detective story, personal elegy and acute portrait of doomed geopolitics — all merged, somehow, with the discipline and cinematic verve of a novel.

Liked it? Try “ A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy ,” by Nathan Thrall, “ House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East ,” by Anthony Shadid or “ My Father’s Fortune ,” by Michael Frayn.

best biography shakespeare

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Brevity, thy name is Lydia Davis. If her work has become a byword for short (nay, microdose) fiction, this collection proves why it is also hard to shake; a conflagration of odd little umami bombs — sometimes several pages, sometimes no more than a sentence — whose casual, almost careless wordsmithery defies their deadpan resonance.

Liked it? Try “ Ninety-Nine Stories of God ,” by Joy Williams or “ Tell Me: Thirty Stories ,” by Mary Robison.

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Detransition, Baby

Torrey Peters 2021

Love is lost, found and reconfigured in Peters’s penetrating, darkly humorous debut novel. But when the novel’s messy triangular romance — between two trans characters and a cis-gendered woman — becomes an unlikely story about parenthood, the plot deepens, and so does its emotional resonance: a poignant and gratifyingly cleareyed portrait of found family.

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Peters’s sly wit and observational genius, her ability to balance so many intimate realities, cultural forces and zeitgeisty happenings made my head spin. It got me hot, cracked me up, punched my heart with grief and understanding. I’m in awe of her abilities, and will re-read this book periodically just to remember how it’s done. — Michelle Tea, author of “Against Memoir”

Liked it? Try “ I Heard Her Call My Name: A Memoir of Transition ,” by Lucy Sante or “ Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta ,” by James Hannaham.

Book cover for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass

David W. Blight 2018

It is not hard to throw a rock and hit a Great Man biography; Blight’s earns its stripes by smartly and judiciously excavating the flesh-and-bone man beneath the myth. Though Douglass famously wrote three autobiographies of his own, there turned out to be much between the lines that is illuminated here with rigor, flair and refreshing candor.

Liked it? Try “ The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family ,” by Kerri K. Greenidge or “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865,” by James Oakes.

Book cover for Pastoralia

George Saunders 2000

An ersatz caveman languishes at a theme park; a dead maiden aunt comes back to screaming, scatological life; a bachelor barber born with no toes dreams of true love, or at least of getting his toe-nubs licked. The stories in Saunders’s second collection are profane, unsettling and patently absurd. They’re also freighted with bittersweet humanity, and rendered in language so strange and wonderful, it sings.

Liked it? Try “ Swamplandia! ,” by Karen Russell or “ Friday Black ,” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

Book cover for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee 2010

The subtitle, “A Biography of Cancer,” provides some helpful context for what lies between the covers of Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, though it hardly conveys the extraordinary ambition and empathy of his telling, as the trained oncologist weaves together disparate strands of large-scale history, biology and devastating personal anecdote.

Liked it? Try “ Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End ,” by Atul Gawande, “ Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery ,” by Henry Marsh or “ I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life ,” by Ed Yong.

Book cover for When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World

Benjamín Labatut; translated by Adrian Nathan West 2021

You don’t have to know anything about quantum theory to start reading this book, a deeply researched, exquisitely imagined group portrait of tormented geniuses. By the end, you’ll know enough to be terrified. Labatut is interested in how the pursuit of scientific certainty can lead to, or arise from, states of extreme psychological and spiritual upheaval. His characters — Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, among others — discover a universe that defies rational comprehension. After them, “scientific method and its object could no longer be prised apart.” That may sound abstract, but in Labatut’s hands the story of quantum physics is violent, suspenseful and finally heartbreaking. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality ,” by William Egginton, “ The Noise of Time ,” by Julian Barnes or “The End of Days,” by Jenny Erpenbeck; translated by Susan Bernofsky.

Book cover for Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season

Fernanda Melchor; translated by Sophie Hughes 2020

Her sentences are sloping hills; her paragraphs, whole mountains. It’s no wonder that Melchor was dubbed a sort of south-of-the-border Faulkner for her baroque and often brutally harrowing tale of poverty, paranoia and murder (also: witches, or at least the idea of them) in a fictional Mexican village. When a young girl impregnated by her pedophile stepfather unwittingly lands there, her arrival is the spark that lights a tinderbox.

Liked it? Try “ Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice ,” by Cristina Rivera Garza or “ Fever Dream ,” by Samanta Schweblin; translated by Megan McDowell.

Book cover for Pulphead

John Jeremiah Sullivan 2011

When this book of essays came out, it bookended a fading genre: collected pieces written on deadline by “pulpheads,” or magazine writers. Whether it’s Sullivan’s visit to a Christian rock festival, his profile of Axl Rose or a tribute to an early American botanist, he brings to his subjects not just depth, but an open-hearted curiosity. Indeed, if this book feels as if it’s from a different time, perhaps that’s because of its generous receptivity to other ways of being, which offers both reader and subject a kind of grace.

Liked it? Try “ Sunshine State ,” by Sarah Gerard, “ Consider the Lobster ,” by David Foster Wallace or “ Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It ,” by Geoff Dyer.

Book cover for The Story of the Lost Child

The Story of the Lost Child

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2015

All things, even modern literature’s most fraught female friendship, must come to an end. As the now middle-aged Elena and Lila continue the dance of envy and devotion forged in their scrappy Neapolitan youth, the conclusion of Ferrante’s four-book saga defies the laws of diminishing returns, illuminating the twined psychologies of its central pair — intractable, indelible, inseparable — in one last blast of X-ray prose.

Liked it? Try “The Years That Followed,” by Catherine Dunne or “From the Land of the Moon,” by Milena Agus; translated by Ann Goldstein.

best biography shakespeare

A Manual for Cleaning Women

Lucia Berlin 2015

Berlin began writing in the 1960s, and collections of her careworn, haunted, messily alluring yet casually droll short stories were published in the 1980s and ’90s. But it wasn’t until 2015, when the best were collected into a volume called “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” that her prodigious talent was recognized. Berlin writes about harried and divorced single women, many of them in working-class jobs, with uncanny grace. She is the real deal. — Dwight Garner, book critic for The Times

best biography shakespeare

“I hate to see anything lovely by myself.”

It’s so true, to me at least, and I have heard no other writer express it. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Flamethrowers ,” by Rachel Kushner or “ The Complete Stories ,” by Clarice Lispector; translated by Katrina Dodson.

Book cover for Septology

Jon Fosse; translated by Damion Searls 2022

You may not be champing at the bit to read a seven-part, nearly 700-page novel written in a single stream-of-consciousness sentence with few paragraph breaks and two central characters with the same name. But this Norwegian masterpiece, by the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature, is the kind of soul-cleansing work that seems to silence the cacophony of the modern world — a pair of noise-canceling headphones in book form. The narrator, a painter named Asle, drives out to visit his doppelgänger, Asle, an ailing alcoholic. Then the narrator takes a boat ride to have Christmas dinner with some friends. That, more or less, is the plot. But throughout, Fosse’s searching reflections on God, art and death are at once haunting and deeply comforting.

Book cover for Septology

I had not read Fosse before he won the Nobel Prize, and I wanted to catch up. Luckily for me, the critic Merve Emre (who has championed his work) is my colleague at Wesleyan, so I asked her where to start. I was hoping for a shortcut, but she sternly told me that there was nothing to do but to read the seven-volume “Septology” translated by Damion Searls. Luckily for me, I had 30 hours of plane travel in the next week or so, and I had a Kindle.

Reading “Septology” in the cocoon of a plane was one of the great aesthetic experiences of my life. The hypnotic effects of the book were amplified by my confinement, and the paucity of distractions helped me settle into its exquisite rhythms. The repetitive patterns of Fosse’s prose made its emotional waves, when they came, so much more powerful. — Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University

Liked it? Try “ Armand V ,” by Dag Solstad; translated by Steven T. Murray.

Book cover for An American Marriage

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones 2018

Life changes in an instant for Celestial and Roy, the young Black newlyweds at the beating, uncomfortably realistic heart of Jones’s fourth novel. On a mostly ordinary night, during a hotel stay near his Louisiana hometown, Roy is accused of rape. He is then swiftly and wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The couple’s complicated future unfolds, often in letters, across two worlds. The stain of racism covers both places.

Liked it? Try “ Hello Beautiful ,” by Ann Napolitano or “ Stay with Me ,” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.

Book cover for Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Gabrielle Zevin 2022

The title is Shakespeare; the terrain, more or less, is video games. Neither of those bare facts telegraphs the emotional and narrative breadth of Zevin’s breakout novel, her fifth for adults. As the childhood friendship between two future game-makers blooms into a rich creative collaboration and, later, alienation, the book becomes a dazzling disquisition on art, ambition and the endurance of platonic love.

Liked it? Try “ Normal People ,” by Sally Rooney or “ Super Sad True Love Story ,” by Gary Shteyngart.

Book cover for Exit West

Mohsin Hamid 2017

The modern world and all its issues can feel heavy — too heavy for the fancies of fiction. Hamid’s quietly luminous novel, about a pair of lovers in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern country who find that certain doors can open portals, literally, to other lands, works in a kind of minor-key magical realism that bears its weight beautifully.

Liked it? Try “ The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida ,” by Shehan Karunatilaka or “ A Burning ,” by Megha Majumdar.

Book cover for Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout 2008

When this novel-in-stories won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009, it was a victory for crotchety, unapologetic women everywhere, especially ones who weren’t, as Olive herself might have put it, spring chickens. The patron saint of plain-spokenness — and the titular character of Strout’s 13 tales — is a long-married Mainer with regrets, hopes and a lobster boat’s worth of quiet empathy. Her small-town travails instantly became stand-ins for something much bigger, even universal.

Liked it? Try “ Tom Lake ,” by Ann Patchett or “ Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage ,” by Alice Munro.

Book cover for The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power

Robert Caro 2012

The fourth volume of Caro’s epic chronicle of Lyndon Johnson’s life and times is a political biography elevated to the level of great literature. His L.B.J. is a figure of Shakespearean magnitude, whose sudden ascension from the abject humiliations of the vice presidency to the summit of political power is a turn of fortune worthy of a Greek myth. Caro makes you feel the shock of J.F.K.’s assassination, and brings you inside Johnson’s head on the blood-drenched day when his lifelong dream finally comes true. It’s an astonishing and unforgettable book. — Tom Perrotta, author of “The Leftovers”

Liked it? Try “ G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century ,” by Beverly Gage, “ King: A Life ,” by Jonathan Eig or “ American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer ,” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Book cover for Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Secondhand Time

Svetlana Alexievich; translated by Bela Shayevich 2016

Of all the 20th century’s grand failed experiments, few came to more inglorious ends than the aspiring empire known, for a scant seven decades, as the U.S.S.R. The death of the dream of Communism reverberates through the Nobel-winning Alexievich’s oral history, and her unflinching portrait of the people who survived the Soviet state (or didn’t) — ex-prisoners, Communist Party officials, ordinary citizens of all stripes — makes for an excoriating, eye-opening read.

Liked it? Try “ Gulag ,” by Anne Applebaum or “ Is Journalism Worth Dying For? Final Dispatches ,” by Anna Politkovskaya; translated by Arch Tait.

Book cover for The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood, Youth, Dependency

The Copenhagen Trilogy

Tove Ditlevsen; translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman 2021

Ditlevsen’s memoirs were first published in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s, but most English-language readers didn’t encounter them until they appeared in a single translated volume more than five decades later. The books detail Ditlevsen’s hardscrabble childhood, her flourishing early career as a poet and her catastrophic addictions, which left her wedded to a psychotic doctor and hopelessly dependent on opioids by her 30s. But her writing, however dire her circumstances, projects a breathtaking clarity and candidness, and it nails what is so inexplicable about human nature.

Liked it? Try “ The End of Eddy ,” by Édouard Louis; translated by Michael Lucey.

Book cover for All Aunt Hagar’s Children

All Aunt Hagar’s Children

Edward P. Jones 2006

Jones’s follow-up to his Pulitzer-anointed historical novel, “The Known World,” forsakes a single narrative for 14 interconnected stories, disparate in both direction and tone. His tales of 20th-century Black life in and around Washington, D.C., are haunted by cumulative loss and touched, at times, by dark magical realism — one character meets the Devil himself in a Safeway parking lot — but girded too by loveliness, and something like hope.

Book cover for All Aunt Hagar’s Children

“It was, I later learned about myself, as if my heart, on the path that was my life, had come to a puddle in the road and had faltered, hesitated, trying to decide whether to walk over the puddle or around it, or even to go back.”

The metaphor is right at the edge of corniness, but it's rendered with such specificity that it catches you off guard, and the temporal complexity — the way the perspective moves forward, backward and sideways in time — captures an essential truth about memory and regret. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Office of Historical Corrections ,” by Danielle Evans or “ Perish ,” by LaToya Watkins.

Book cover for The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander 2010

One year into Barack Obama’s first presidential term, Alexander, a civil rights attorney and former Supreme Court clerk, peeled back the hopey-changey scrim of early-aughts America to reveal the systematic legal prejudice that still endures in a country whose biggest lie might be “with liberty and justice for all.” In doing so, her book managed to do what the most urgent nonfiction aims for but rarely achieves: change hearts, minds and even public policy.

Liked it? Try “ Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America ,” by James Forman Jr., “ America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s ,” by Elizabeth Hinton or “ Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent ,” by Isabel Wilkerson.

Interested? Reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for The Friend

Sigrid Nunez 2018

After suffering the loss of an old friend and adopting his Great Dane, the book’s heroine muses on death, friendship, and the gifts and burdens of a literary life. Out of these fragments a philosophy of grief springs like a rabbit out of a hat; Nunez is a magician. — Ada Calhoun, author of “Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me”

Book cover for The Friend

“The Friend” is a perfect novel about the size of grief and love, and like the dog at the book’s center, the book takes up more space than you expect. It’s my favorite kind of masterpiece — one you can put into anyone’s hand. — Emma Straub, author of “This Time Tomorrow”

Liked it? Try “ Autumn ,” by Ali Smith or “ Stay True: A Memoir ,” by Hua Hsu.

Book cover for Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Far From the Tree

Andrew Solomon 2012

In this extraordinary book — a combination of masterly reporting and vivid storytelling — Solomon examines the experience of parents raising exceptional children. I have often returned to it over the years, reading it for its depth of understanding and its illumination of the particulars that make up the fabric of family. — Meg Wolitzer, author of “The Interestings”

Liked it? Try “ Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us ,” by Rachel Aviv or “ NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity ,” by Steven Silberman.

Book cover for We the Animals

We the Animals

Justin Torres 2011

The hummingbird weight of this novella — it barely tops 130 pages — belies the cherry-bomb impact of its prose. Tracing the coming-of-age of three mixed-race brothers in a derelict upstate New York town, Torres writes in the incantatory royal we of a sort of sibling wolfpack, each boy buffeted by their parents’ obscure grown-up traumas and their own enduring (if not quite unshakable) bonds.

Liked it? Try “ Shuggie Bain ,” by Douglas Stuart, “ Fire Shut Up in My Bones ,” by Charles Blow or “ On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous ,” by Ocean Vuong.

Book cover for The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America

Philip Roth 2004

What if, in the 1940 presidential election, Charles Lindbergh — aviation hero, America-firster and Nazi sympathizer — had defeated Franklin Roosevelt? Specifically, what would have happened to Philip Roth, the younger son of a middle-class Jewish family in Newark, N.J.? From those counterfactual questions, the adult Roth spun a tour de force of memory and history. Ever since the 2016 election his imaginary American past has pulled closer and closer to present-day reality. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Biography of X ,” by Catherine Lacey or “ The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family ,” by Joshua Cohen.

Book cover for The Great Believers

The Great Believers

Rebecca Makkai 2018

It’s mid-1980s Chicago, and young men — beautiful, recalcitrant boys, full of promise and pure life force — are dying, felled by a strange virus. Makkai’s recounting of a circle of friends who die one by one, interspersed with a circa-2015 Parisian subplot, is indubitably an AIDS story, but one that skirts po-faced solemnity and cliché at nearly every turn: a bighearted, deeply generous book whose resonance echoes across decades of loss and liberation.

Liked it? Try “ The Interestings ,” by Meg Wolitzer, “ A Little Life ,” by Hanya Yanagihara or “ The Emperor’s Children ,” by Claire Messud.

Book cover for Veronica

Mary Gaitskill 2005

Set primarily in a 1980s New York crackling with brittle glamour and real menace, “Veronica” is, on the face of it, the story of two very different women — the fragile former model Alison and the older, harder Veronica, fueled by fury and frustrated intelligence. It's a fearless, lacerating book, scornful of pieties and with innate respect for the reader’s intelligence and adult judgment.

Liked it? Try “ The Quick and the Dead ,” by Joy Williams, “ Look at Me ,” by Jennifer Egan or “ Lightning Field ,” by Dana Spiotta.

Book cover for 10:04

Ben Lerner 2014

How closely does Ben Lerner, the very clever author of “10:04,” overlap with its unnamed narrator, himself a poet-novelist who bears a remarkable resemblance to the man pictured on its biography page? Definitive answers are scant in this metaphysical turducken of a novel, which is nominally about the attempts of a Brooklyn author, burdened with a hefty publishing advance, to finish his second book. But the delights of Lerner’s shimmering self-reflexive prose, lightly dusted with photographs and illustrations, are endless.

Book cover for 10:04

“Shaving is a way to start the workday by ritually not cutting your throat when you’ve the chance.”

“10:04” is filled with sentences that cut this close to the bone. Comedy blends with intimations of the darkest aspects of our natures, and of everyday life. Who can shave anymore without recalling this “Sweeney Todd”-like observation? — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. ,” by Adelle Waldman, “ Open City ,” by Teju Cole or “ How Should a Person Be? ,” by Sheila Heti.

Book cover for Demon Copperhead

Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver 2022

In transplanting “David Copperfield” from Victorian England to modern-day Appalachia, Kingsolver gives the old Dickensian magic her own spin. She reminds us that a novel can be wildly entertaining — funny, profane, sentimental, suspenseful — and still have a social conscience. And also that the injustices Dickens railed against are still very much with us: old poison in new bottles. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ James ,” by Percival Everett or “ The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store ,” by James McBride.

Book cover for Heavy: An American Memoir

Kiese Laymon 2018

What is the psychic weight of secrets and lies? In his unvarnished memoir, Laymon explores the cumulative mass of a past that has brought him to this point: his Blackness; his fraught relationship to food; his family, riven by loss and addiction and, in his mother’s case, a kind of pathological perfectionism. What emerges is a work of raw emotional power and fierce poetry.

Liked it? Try “ Men We Reaped ,” by Jesmyn Ward or “ Another Word for Love ,” by Carvell Wallace.

Book cover for Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides 2002

Years before pronouns became the stuff of dinner-table debates and email signatures, “Middlesex” offered the singular gift of an intersex hero — “sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome!” — whose otherwise fairly ordinary Midwestern life becomes a radiant lens on recent history, from the burning of Smyrna to the plush suburbia of midcentury Grosse Pointe, Mich. When the teenage Calliope, born to doting Greek American parents, learns that she is not in fact a budding young lesbian but biologically male, it’s less science than assiduously buried family secrets that tell the improbable, remarkable tale.

Liked it? Try “ The Nix ,” by Nathan Hill, “ The Heart’s Invisible Furies ,” by John Boyne or “ The Signature of All Things ,” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Book cover for Stay True

Hua Hsu 2022

An unlikely college friendship — Ken loves preppy polo shirts and Pearl Jam, Hua prefers Xeroxed zines and Pavement — blossoms in 1990s Berkeley, then is abruptly fissured by Ken’s murder in a random carjacking. Around those bare facts, Hsu’s understated memoir builds a glimmering fortress of memory in which youth and identity live alongside terrible, senseless loss.

Liked it? Try “ Truth & Beauty: A Friendship ,” by Ann Patchett, “ The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions ,” by Jonathan Rosen or “ Just Kids ,” by Patti Smith.

Book cover for Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich 2001

Waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, retail clerk: Ehrenreich didn’t just report on these low-wage jobs; she actually worked them, trying to construct a life around merciless managers and wildly unpredictable schedules, while also getting paid a pittance for it. Through it all, Ehrenreich combined a profound sense of moral outrage with self-deprecating candor and bone-dry wit. — Jennifer Szalai, nonfiction book critic for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Poverty, by America ,” by Matthew Desmond or “ The Working Poor: Invisible in America ,” by David K. Shipler.

Book cover for The Flamethrowers

The Flamethrowers

Rachel Kushner 2013

Motorcycle racing across the arid salt flats of Utah; art-star posturing in the downtown demimonde of 1970s New York; anarchist punk collectives and dappled villas in Italy: It’s all connected (if hardly contained) in Kushner’s brash, elastic chronicle of a would-be artist nicknamed Reno whose lust for experience often outstrips both sense and sentiment. The book’s ambitions rise to meet her, a churning bedazzlement of a novel whose unruly engine thrums and roars.

Liked it? Try “ City on Fire ,” by Garth Risk Hallberg or “ The Girls ,” by Emma Cline.

Book cover for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

The Looming Tower

Lawrence Wright 2006

What happened in New York City one incongruously sunny morning in September was never, of course, the product of some spontaneous plan. Wright’s meticulous history operates as a sort of panopticon on the events leading up to that fateful day, spanning more than five decades and a geopolitical guest list that includes everyone from the counterterrorism chief of the F.B.I. to the anonymous foot soldiers of Al Qaeda.

Liked it? Try “ Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 ,” by Steve Coll or “ MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman ,” by Ben Hubbard.

Book cover for Tenth of December

Tenth of December

George Saunders 2013

For all of their linguistic invention and anarchic glee, Saunders’s stories are held together by a strict understanding of the form and its requirements. Take plot: In “Tenth of December,” his fourth and best collection, readers will encounter an abduction, a rape, a chemically induced suicide, the suppressed rage of a milquetoast or two, a veteran’s post-­traumatic impulse to burn down his mother’s house — all of it buffeted by gusts of such merriment and tender regard and daffy good cheer that you realize only in retrospect how dark these morality tales really are.

Book cover for Tenth of December

Nobody writes like George Saunders. He has cultivated a genuinely original voice, one that is hilarious and profound, tender and monstrous, otherworldly and deeply familiar, much like the American psyche itself. With each of these stories, you feel in the hands of a master — because you are. — Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

Liked it? Try “Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories,” by Lauren Groff, “ Oblivion: Stories ,” by David Foster Wallace or “ The Nimrod Flipout: Stories ,” by Etgar Keret, translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston.

Book cover for Runaway

Alice Munro 2004

On one level, the title of Munro’s 11th short-story collection refers to a pet goat that goes missing from its owners’ property; but — this being Munro — the deeper reference is to an unhappy wife in the same story, who dreams of leaving her husband someday. Munro’s stories are like that, with shadow meanings and resonant echoes, as if she has struck a chime and set the reverberations down in writing.

Liked it? Try “ Homesickness ,” by Colin Barrett or “ The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore .”

Book cover for Train Dreams

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson 2011

Call it a backwoods tragedy, stripped to the bone, or a spare requiem for the American West: Johnson’s lean but potent novella carves its narrative from the forests and dust-bowl valleys of Spokane in the early decades of the 20th century, following a day laborer named Robert Grainier as he processes the sudden loss of his young family and bears witness to the real-time formation of a raw, insatiable nation.

Liked it? Try “ That Old Ace in the Hole ,” by Annie Proulx or “ Night Boat to Tangier ,” by Kevin Barry.

Book cover for Life After Life

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson 2013

Can we get life “right”? Are there choices that would lead, finally, to justice or happiness or save us from pain? Atkinson wrestles with these questions in her brilliant “Life After Life” — a historical novel, a speculative novel, a tale of time travel, a moving portrait of life before, during and in the aftermath of war. It gobbles up genres and blends them together until they become a single, seamless work of art. I love this goddamn book. — Victor LaValle, author of “Lone Women”

Book cover for Life After Life

“‘Fox Corner — that’s what we should call the house. No one else has a house with that name and shouldn’t that be the point?’

‘Really?’ Hugh said doubtfully. ‘It’s a little whimsical, isn’t it? It sounds like a children’s story. The House at Fox Corner. ’

‘A little whimsy never hurt anyone.’

‘Strictly speaking, though,’ Hugh said, ‘can a house be a corner? Isn’t it at one?’

So this is marriage, Sylvie thought.”

“Her brilliant ear. Her humor. Her openness. Her peculiar gifts. Some of her books are perfect. The rest are merely superb.” — Amy Bloom, writer

Liked it? Try “Light Perpetual,” by Francis Spufford or “ Neverhome ,” by Laird Hunt.

Book cover for Trust

Hernan Diaz 2022

How many ways can you tell the same story? Which one is true? These questions and their ethical implications hover over Diaz’s second novel. It starts out as a tale of wealth and power in 1920s New York — something Theodore Dreiser or Edith Wharton might have taken up — and leaps forward in time, across the boroughs and down the social ladder, breathing new vitality into the weary tropes of historical fiction. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for Trust

Be prepared for some serious mind games! Set in New York City in the 1920s and ’30s, the story of a Manhattan financier and his high-society wife is told through four “books” — a novel, a manuscript, a memoir and a journal. But which version should you trust? Is there even one true reality?

As we sift our way through these competing narratives, Diaz serves us clues and red herrings in equal measure. We know we are being gamed, but we’re not sure exactly which character is gaming us. While each reader will draw their own conclusion when they reach the end of this complex and thrilling book, what is never disputed is the ease with which money and power can bend reality itself. — Dua Lipa, singer and songwriter behind the Service95 Book Club

Liked it? Try “ This Strange Eventful History ,” by Claire Messud or “ The Luminaries ,” by Eleanor Catton.

Book cover for The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian

Han Kang; translated by Deborah Smith 2016

One ordinary day, a young housewife in contemporary Seoul wakes up from a disturbing dream and simply decides to … stop eating meat. As her small rebellion spirals, Han’s lean, feverish novel becomes a surreal meditation on not just what the body needs, but what a soul demands.

Book cover for The Vegetarian

“I want to swallow you, have you melt into me and flow through my veins.”

“The Vegetarian” is a short novel with a mysterious, otherworldly air. It feels haunted, oppressive … It’s a story about hungers and starvation and desire, and how these become intertwined.” — Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of “Mexican Gothic”

Liked it? Try “ My Year of Rest and Relaxation ,” by Ottessa Moshfegh or “ Convenience Store Woman ,” by Sayaka Murata; translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

Book cover for Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Marjane Satrapi 2003

Drawn in stark black-and-white panels, Satrapi’s graphic novel is a moving account of her early life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and her formative years abroad in Europe. The first of its two parts details the impacts of war and theocracy on both her family and her community: torture, death on the battlefield, constant raids, supply shortages and a growing black market. Part 2 chronicles her rebellious, traumatic years as a teenager in Vienna, as well as her return to a depressingly restrictive Tehran. Devastating — but also formally inventive, inspiring and often funny — “Persepolis” is a model of visual storytelling and personal narrative.

Liked it? Try “ '>Martyr! ,” by Kaveh Akbar or “ Disoriental ,” by Négar Djavadi; translated by Tina Kover.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for A Mercy

Toni Morrison 2008

Mercies are few and far between in Morrison’s ninth novel, set on the remote colonial land of a 17th-century farmer amid his various slaves and indentured servants (even the acquisition of a wife, imported from England, is strictly transactional). Disease runs rampant and children die needlessly; inequity is everywhere. And yet! The Morrison magic, towering and magisterial, endures.

Liked it? Try “ Year of Wonders ,” by Geraldine Brooks or “ The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois ,” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

Book cover for The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt 2013

For a time, it seemed as if Tartt’s vaunted 1992 debut, “The Secret History,” might be her only legacy, a once-in-a-career comet zinging across the literary sky. Then, more than a decade after the coolish reception to her 2002 follow-up, “The Little Friend,” came “The Goldfinch” — a coming-of-age novel as narratively rich and riveting as the little bird in the Dutch painting it takes its title from is small and humble. That 13-year-old Theo Decker survives the museum bombing that kills his mother is a minor miracle; the tiny, priceless souvenir he inadvertently grabs from the rubble becomes both a talisman and an albatross in this heady, haunted symphony of a novel.

Liked it? Try “ Freedom ,” by Jonathan Franzen or “ Demon Copperhead ,” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Book cover for The Argonauts

The Argonauts

Maggie Nelson 2015

Call it a memoir if you must, but this is a book about the necessity — and also the thrill, the terror, the risk and reward — of defying categories. Nelson is a poet and critic, well versed in pop culture and cultural theory. The text she interprets here is her own body. An account of her pregnancy, her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge and the early stages of motherhood, “The Argonauts” explores queer identity, gender politics and the meaning of family. What makes Nelson such a valuable writer is her willingness to follow the sometimes contradictory rhythms of her own thinking in prose that is sharp, supple and disarmingly heartfelt. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “My 1980s and Other Essays,” by Wayne Koestenbaum, “ No One Is Talking About This ,” by Patricia Lockwood or “ On Immunity ,” by Eula Biss.

Book cover for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin 2015

“The Fifth Season” weaves its story in polyphonic voice, utilizing a clever story structure to move deftly through generational time. Jemisin delivers this bit of high craft in a fresh, unstuffy voice — something rare in high fantasy, which can take its Tolkien roots too seriously. From its heartbreaking opening (a mother’s murdered child) to its shattering conclusion, Jemisin shows the power of what good fantasy fiction can do. “The Fifth Season” explores loss, grief and personhood on an intimate level. But it also takes on themes of discrimination, human breeding and ecological collapse with an unflinching eye and a particular nuance. Jemisin weaves a world both horrifyingly familiar and unsettlingly alien. — Rebecca Roanhorse, author of “Mirrored Heavens”

Liked it? Try “ American War ,” by Omar El Akkad or “ The Year of the Flood ,” by Margaret Atwood.

Book cover for Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Tony Judt 2005

By the time this book was published in 2005, there had already been innumerable volumes covering Europe’s history since the end of World War II. Yet none of them were quite like Judt’s: commanding and capacious, yet also attentive to those stubborn details that are so resistant to abstract theories and seductive myths. The writing, like the thinking, is clear, direct and vivid. And even as Judt was ruthless when reflecting on Europe’s past, he maintained a sense of contingency throughout, never succumbing to the comfortable certainty of despair. — Jennifer Szalai

Liked it? Try “ We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland ,” by Fintan O’Toole, “ Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin ,” by Timothy D. Snyder or “ To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 ,” by Adam Hochschild.

best biography shakespeare

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James 2014

“Brief”? For a work spanning nearly 700 pages, that word is, at best, a winky misdirection. To skip even a paragraph, though, would be to forgo the vertiginous pleasures of James’s semi-historical novel, in which the attempted assassination of an unnamed reggae superstar who strongly resembles Bob Marley collides with C.I.A. conspiracy, international drug cartels and the vibrant, violent Technicolor of post-independence Jamaica.

Liked it? Try “ Telex From Cuba ,” by Rachel Kushner or “ Brief Encounters With Che Guevara ,” by Ben Fountain.

Book cover for Small Things Like These

Small Things Like These

Claire Keegan 2021

Not a word is wasted in Keegan’s small, burnished gem of a novel, a sort of Dickensian miniature centered on the son of an unwed mother who has grown up to become a respectable coal and timber merchant with a family of his own in 1985 Ireland. Moralistically, though, it might as well be the Middle Ages as he reckons with the ongoing sins of the Catholic Church and the everyday tragedies wrought by repression, fear and rank hypocrisy.

Book cover for Small Things Like These

This is the book I would like to have written because its sentences portray a life — in all its silences, subtleties and defenses — that I would hope to live if its circumstances were mine. It’s never idle, I guess, to be asked what we would give up for another. — Claudia Rankine, author of “Citizen”

Liked it? Try “ The Rachel Incident ,” by Caroline O’Donoghue or “ Mothers and Sons ,” by Colm Tóibín.

Book cover for H Is for Hawk

H Is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald 2015

I read “H Is for Hawk” when I was writing my own memoir, and it awakened me to the power of the genre. It is a book supposedly about training a hawk named Mabel but really about wonder and loss, discovery and death. We discover a thing, then we lose it. The discovering and the losing are two halves of the same whole. Macdonald knows this and she shows us, weaving the loss of her father through the partial taming (and taming is always partial) of this hawk. — Tara Westover, author of “Educated”

Book cover for H Is for Hawk

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer.”

Chosen by Tara Westover.

Liked it? Try “ The Friend ,” by Sigrid Nunez or “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Book cover for A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan 2010

In the good old pre-digital days, artists used to cram 15 or 20 two-and-a-half-minute songs onto a single vinyl LP. Egan accomplished a similar feat of compression in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a compact, chronologically splintered rock opera with (as they say nowadays) no skips. The 13 linked stories jump from past to present to future while reshuffling a handful of vivid characters. The themes are mighty but the mood is funny, wistful and intimate, as startling and familiar as your favorite pop album. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Girl, Woman, Other ,” by Bernardine Evaristo, “ Doxology ,” by Nell Zink or “ Telegraph Avenue ,” by Michael Chabon.

Book cover for The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives

Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer 2007

“The Savage Detectives” is brash, hilarious, beautiful, moving. It’s also over 600 pages long, which is why I know that my memory of reading it in a single sitting is definitely not true. Still, the fact that it feels that way is telling. I was not the same writer I’d been before reading it, not the same person. Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the wayward poets whose youth is chronicled in “Detectives,” became personal heroes, and everything I’ve written since has been shaped by Bolaño’s masterpiece. — Daniel Alarcón, author of “At Night We Walk in Circles”

Liked it? Try “ The Old Drift ,” by Namwali Serpell or “The Literary Conference,” by César Aira; translated by Katherine Silver.

Book cover for The Years

Annie Ernaux; translated by Alison L. Strayer 2018

Spanning decades, this is an outlier in Ernaux’s oeuvre; unlike her other books, with their tight close-ups on moments in her life, here such intimacies are embedded in the larger sweep of social history. She moves between the chorus of conventional wisdom and the specifics of her own experiences, showing how even an artist with such a singular vision could recognize herself as a creature of her cohort and her culture. Most moving to me is how she begins and ends by listing images she can still recall — a merry-go-round in the park; graffiti in a restroom — that have been inscribed into her memory, yet are ultimately ephemeral. — Jennifer Szalai

Liked it? Try “ Leaving the Atocha Station ,” by Ben Lerner, “ All Fours ,” by Miranda July or “Swimming in Paris: A Life in Three Stories,” by Colombe Schneck; translated by Lauren Elkin and Natasha Lehrer.

Book cover for Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates 2015

Framed, like James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” as both instruction and warning to a young relative on “how one should live within a Black body,” Coates’s book-length letter to his 15-year-old son lands like forked lightning. In pages suffused with both fury and tenderness, his memoir-manifesto delineates a world in which the political remains mortally, maddeningly inseparable from the personal.

Liked it? Try “ American Sonnets For My Past and Future Assassin ,” by Terrance Hayes, “ Don’t Call Us Dead ,” by Danez Smith or “ Black Folk Could Fly ,” by Randall Kenan.

Book cover for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Alison Bechdel 2006

“A queer business.” That’s how Bechdel describes her closeted father’s death after he steps in the path of a Sunbeam Bread truck. The phrase also applies to her family’s funeral home concern; their own Victorian, Addams-like dwelling; and this marvelous graphic memoir of growing up gay and O.C.D.-afflicted (which generated a remarkable Broadway musical). You forget, returning to “Fun Home,” that the only color used is a dreamy gray-blue; that’s how vivid and particular the story is. Even the corpses crackle with life. — Alexandra Jacobs

Book cover for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

I read “Fun Home” with creative writing students in a course I teach at Dartmouth College called “Investigative Memoir.” The first time I taught it, a student wrote in their anonymous course evaluation, “I should not have been exposed to this” — the censorious voice tends to be passive. The last time I taught it, a student said that if they’d found this in their high school library — in a state in which such books are now all but illegal in high school libraries — it would have changed their life. I’m long past my schooling, but “Fun Home” still changes my life every time I return. — Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War”

Liked it? Try “ Blankets ,” by Craig Thompson, “ My Dirty Dumb Eyes ,” by Lisa Hanawalt or “ Small Fry ,” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs.

Book cover for Citizen

Claudia Rankine 2014

“I, too, am America,” Langston Hughes wrote, and with “Citizen” Rankine stakes the same claim, as ambivalently and as defiantly as Hughes did. This collection — which appeared two years after Trayvon Martin’s death, and pointedly displays a hoodie on its cover like the one Martin wore when he was killed — lays out a damning indictment of American racism through a mix of free verse, essayistic prose poems and visual art; a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in both poetry and criticism (the first book ever nominated in two categories), it took home the prize in poetry in a deserving recognition of Rankine’s subtle, supple literary gifts.

Liked it? Try “ Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems ,” by Robin Coste Lewis, “How to be Drawn,” by Terrance Hayes or “ Ordinary Notes ,” by Christina Sharpe.

Book cover for Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones

Jesmyn Ward 2011

As Hurricane Katrina bears down on the already battered bayou town of Bois Sauvage, Miss., a motherless 15-year-old girl named Esch, newly pregnant with a baby of her own, stands in the eye of numerous storms she can’t control: her father’s drinking, her brothers’ restlessness, an older boy’s easy dismissal of her love. There’s a biblical force to Ward’s prose, so swirling and heady it feels like a summoning.

Liked it? Try “ Southern Cross the Dog ,” by Bill Cheng or “ The Yellow House: A Memoir ,” by Sarah Broom.

Book cover for The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty

Alan Hollinghurst 2004

Oh, to be the live-in houseguest of a wealthy friend! And to find, as Hollinghurst’s young middle-class hero does in early-1980s London, that a whole intoxicating world of heedless privilege and sexual awakening awaits. As the timeline implies, though, the specter of AIDS looms not far behind, perched like a gargoyle amid glittering evocations of cocaine and Henry James. Lust, money, literature, power: Rarely has a novel made it all seem so gorgeous, and so annihilating.

Liked it? Try “ Necessary Errors ,” by Caleb Crain.

Book cover for White Teeth

White Teeth

Zadie Smith 2000

“Full stories are as rare as honesty,” one character confides in “White Teeth,” though Smith’s debut novel, in all its chaotic, prismatic glory, does its level best to try. As her bravura book unfurls, its central narrative of a friendship between a white Londoner and a Bengali Muslim seems to divide and regenerate like starfish limbs; and so, in one stroke, a literary supernova was born.

Liked it? Try “ Lionel Asbo: State of England ,” by Martin Amis or “ Americanah ,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward 2017

Road trips aren’t supposed to be like this: an addled addict mother dragging her 13-year-old son and his toddler sister across Mississippi to retrieve their father from prison, and feeding her worst habits along the way. Grief and generational trauma haunt the novel, as do actual ghosts, the unrestful spirits of men badly done by. But Ward’s unflinching prose is not a punishment; it loops and soars in bruising, beautiful arias.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing

“Home is about the earth. Whether the earth open up to you. Whether it pull you so close the space between you and it melt and it beats like your heart. Same Time.”

“This passage from ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ means so much to me. Richie says it to the protagonist, Jojo. He’s a specter, a child ghost, a deeply wounded wanderer, and yet also so wise.” — Imani Perry, author of “Breathe” and “South to America”

Liked it? Try “ The Turner House ,” by Angela Flournoy or “ Lincoln in the Bardo ,” by George Saunders.

Book cover for The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai

Helen DeWitt 2000

Sibylla, an American expat in Britain, is a brilliant scholar: omnivore, polyglot, interdisciplinary theorist — all of it. Her young son, Ludo, is a hothouse prodigy, mastering the “Odyssey” and Japanese grammar, fixated on the films of Akira Kurosawa. Two questions arise: 1) Who is the real genius? 2) Who is Ludo’s father? Ludo’s search for the answer to No. 2 propels the plot of this funny, cruel, compassionate, typographically bananas novel. I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the answer to No. 1 is Helen DeWitt. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Instructions ,” by Adam Levin.

Book cover for Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell 2004

Mitchell’s almost comically ambitious novel is indeed a kind of cumulus: a wild and woolly condensation of ideas, styles and far-flung milieus whose only true commonality is the reincarnated soul at its center. The book’s six nesting narratives — from 1850s New Zealand through 1930s Belgium, groovy California, recent-ish England, dystopian Korea and Hawaii — also often feel like a postmodern puzzle-box that whirls and clicks as its great world(s) spin, throwing off sparks of pulp, philosophy and fervid humanism.

Liked it? Try “ Same Bed Different Dreams ,” by Ed Park or “ Specimen Days ,” by Michael Cunningham.

Book cover for Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2013

This is a love story — but what a love story! Crisscrossing continents, families and recent decades, “Americanah” centers on a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who discovers what it means to be Black by immigrating to the United States, and acquires boutique celebrity blogging about it. (In the sequel, she’d have a Substack.) Ifemelu’s entanglements with various men undergird a rich and rough tapestry of life in Barack Obama’s America and beyond. And Adichie’s sustained examination of absurd social rituals — like the painful relaxation of professionally “unacceptable” hair, for example — is revolutionary. — Alexandra Jacobs

Liked it? Try “ We Need New Names ,” by NoViolet Bulawayo, “ Netherland ,” by Joseph O’Neill or “ Behold the Dreamers ,” by Imbolo Mbue.

Book cover for Atonement

Ian McEwan 2002

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done, or so the saying goes. But what a naïve, peevish 13-year-old named Briony Tallis sets in motion when she sees her older sister flirting with the son of a servant in hopelessly stratified pre-war England surpasses disastrous; it’s catastrophic. It’s also a testament to the piercing elegance of McEwan’s prose that “Atonement” makes us care so much.

Liked it? Try “ The Sense of an Ending ,” by Julian Barnes, “ Brooklyn ,” by Colm Toíbín or “ Life Class ,” by Pat Barker.

Book cover for Random Family

Random Family

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc 2003

More than 20 years after it was published, “Random Family” still remains unmatched in depth and power and grace. A profound, achingly beautiful work of narrative nonfiction, it is the standard-bearer of embedded reportage. LeBlanc gave her all to this book, writing about people experiencing deep hardship in their full, lush humanity. — Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

Book cover for Random Family

I hate “Random Family.” It robbed us nonfiction writers of all our excuses: Well, it’s easier for fiction writers to achieve that level of interiority. Until “Random Family” entered the chat. It’s easier to create emotion on screen. Until “Random Family” entered the chat. It’s impossible to capture and understand a community if you’re an outsider. Until “Random Family” entered the chat.

Based on a decade of painstaking reporting in a social micro-world, it is a book of total immersion, profound empathy, rigorous storytelling, assiduous factualness, page-turning revelation and literary rizz. I hate “Random Family” because it took away all the excuses. I adore it because it raised the sky. — Anand Giridharadas, author of “The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy”

Liked it? Try “ Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City ,” by Andrea Elliott or “ When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era ,” by Donovan X. Ramsey.

Book cover for The Overstory

The Overstory

Richard Powers 2018

We may never see a poem as lovely as a tree, but a novel about trees — they are both the stealth protagonists and the beating, fine-grained heart of this strange, marvelous book — becomes its own kind of poetry, biology lesson and impassioned environmental polemic in Powers’s hands. To know that our botanical friends are capable of communication and sacrifice, sex and memory, is mind-altering. It is also, you might say, credit overdue: Without wood pulp, after all, what would the books we love be made of?

Liked it? Try “ Greenwood ,” by Michael Christie or “ Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures ,” by Merlin Sheldrake.

Book cover for Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Alice Munro 2001

Munro’s stories apply pointillistic detail and scrupulous psychological insight to render their characters’ lives in full, at lengths that test the boundaries of the term “short fiction.” (Only one story in this book is below 30 pages, and the longest is over 50.) The collection touches on many of Munro’s lifelong themes — family secrets, sudden reversals of fortune, sexual tensions and the unreliability of memory — culminating in a standout story about a man confronting his senile wife’s attachment to a fellow resident at her nursing home.

Liked it? Try “ So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men ,” by Claire Keegan or “ Nora Webster ,” by Colm Tóibín.

Book cover for Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Katherine Boo 2012

If the smash movie “Slumdog Millionaire” gave the world a feel-good story of transcending caste in India via pluck and sheer improbable luck, Boo’s nonfiction exploration of several interconnected lives on the squalid outskirts of Mumbai is its sobering, necessary corrective. The casual violence and perfidy she finds there is staggering; the poverty and disease, beyond bleak. In place of triumph-of-the-human-spirit bromides, though, what the book delivers is its own kind of cinema, harsh and true.

Liked it? Try “ Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea ,” by Barbara Demick or “ Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet's Memoir of China's Genocide ,” by Tahir Hamut Izgil; translated by Joshua L. Freeman.

Book cover for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond 2016

Like Barbara Ehrenreich or Michelle Alexander, Desmond has a knack for crystallizing the ills of a patently unequal America — here it’s the housing crisis, as told through eight Milwaukee families — in clear, imperative terms. If reading his nightmarish exposé of a system in which race and poverty are shamelessly weaponized and eviction costs less than accountability feels like outrage fuel, it’s prescriptive, too; to look away would be its own kind of crime.

Liked it? Try “ Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America ,” by Barbara Ehrenreich or “ Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive ,” by Stephanie Land.

Book cover for Erasure

Percival Everett 2001

More than 20 years before it was made into an Oscar-winning movie, Everett’s deft literary satire imagined a world in which a cerebral novelist and professor named Thelonious “Monk” Ellison finds mainstream success only when he deigns to produce the most broad and ghettoized portrayal of Black pain. If only the ensuing decades had made the whole concept feel laughably obsolete; alas, all the 2023 screen adaptation merited was a title change: “American Fiction.”

Liked it? Try “ Yellowface ,” by R.F. Kuang or “ The Sellout ,” by Paul Beatty.

Book cover for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Say Nothing

Patrick Radden Keefe 2019

“Say Nothing” is an amazing accomplishment — a definitive, impeccably researched history of the Troubles, a grim, gripping thriller, an illuminating portrait of extraordinary people who did unspeakable things, driven by what they saw as the justness of their cause. Those of us who lived in the U.K. in the last three decades of the 20th century know the names and the events — we were all affected, in some way or another, by the bombs, the bomb threats, the assassinations and attempted assassinations. What we didn’t know was what it felt like to be on the inside of a particularly bleak period of history. This book is, I think, unquestionably one of the greatest literary achievements of the 21st century. — Nick Hornby, author of “High Fidelity”

Liked it? Try “ A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them ,” by Timothy Egan or “ We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption ,” by Justin Fenton.

Book cover for Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders 2017

A father mourns his young son, dead of typhoid; a president mourns his country riven by civil war. In Saunders’s indelible portrait, set in a graveyard populated by garrulous spirits, these images collide and coalesce, transforming Lincoln’s private grief — his 11-year-old boy, Willie, died in the White House in 1862 — into a nation’s, a polyphony of voices and stories. The only novel to date by a writer revered for his satirical short stories, this book marks less a change of course than a foregrounding of what has distinguished his work all along — a generosity of spirit, an ear acutely tuned to human suffering.

Liked it? Try “ Sing, Unburied, Sing ,” by Jesmyn Ward, “ Grief Is the Thing With Feathers ,” by Max Porter or “ Hamnet ,” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Book cover for The Sellout

The Sellout

Paul Beatty 2015

Part of this wild satire on matters racial, post-racial, maybe-racial and Definitely Not Racial in American life concerns a group known as the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. One of them has produced an expurgated edition of an American classic titled “The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit.” Beatty’s method is the exact opposite: In his hands, everything sacred is profaned, from the Supreme Court to the Little Rascals. “The Sellout” is explosively funny and not a little bit dangerous: an incendiary device disguised as a whoopee cushion, or maybe vice versa. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for The Sellout

Some voices are so sharp they slice right through reality to reveal everything we’ve been hiding or ignoring or didn’t know was there. This novel cut into me — as a writer and reader and American. It’s fearless and funny and unlike anything else I’ve read. — Charles Yu, author of “Interior Chinatown”

Liked it? Try “ Harry Sylvester Bird ,” by Chinelo Okparanta or “ We Cast a Shadow ,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

best biography shakespeare

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon 2000

Set during the first heyday of the American comic book industry, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, Chabon’s exuberant epic centers on the Brooklyn-raised Sammy Clay and his Czech immigrant cousin, Joe Kavalier, who together pour their hopes and fears into a successful comic series even as life delivers them some nearly unbearable tragedies. Besotted with language and brimming with pop culture, political relevance and bravura storytelling, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001.

best biography shakespeare

“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” combines eloquent prose, captivating characters, a deeply researched setting and an adventure that previously only belonged to the pulps. High art and low art and who the heck cares? Chabon opened the doors not just for comic book nerds, but for every kind of nerd, including this gay one. Chabon’s book made me the writer I am, and I’m still dazzled by it: the century's first masterpiece. — Andrew Sean Greer, author of “Less”

Liked it? Try “ Carter Beats the Devil ,” by Glen David Gold or “ The Fortress of Solitude ,” by Jonathan Lethem.

Book cover for Pachinko

Min Jin Lee 2017

“History has failed us, but no matter.” So begins Lee’s novel, the rich and roiling chronicle of a Korean family passing through four generations of war, colonization and personal strife. There are slick mobsters and disabled fishermen, forbidden loves and secret losses. And of course, pachinko, the pinball-ish game whose popularity often supplies a financial lifeline for the book’s characters — gamblers at life like all of us, if hardly guaranteed a win.

Liked it? Try “ Homegoing ,” by Yaa Gyasi, “ The Covenant of Water ,” by Abraham Verghese or “ Kantika ,” by Elizabeth Graver.

Book cover for Outline

Rachel Cusk 2015

This novel is the first and best in Cusk’s philosophical, unsettling and semi-autobiographical Outline trilogy, which also includes the novels “Transit” and “Kudos.” In this one an English writer flies to Athens to teach at a workshop. Along the way, and once there, she falls into intense and resonant conversations about art, intimacy, life and love. Cusk deals, brilliantly, in uncomfortable truths. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ Checkout 19 ,” by Claire-Louise Bennett or “ Topics of Conversation ,” by Miranda Popkey.

Book cover for The Road

Cormac McCarthy 2006

There is nothing green or growing in McCarthy’s masterpiece of dystopian fiction, the story of an unnamed man and his young son migrating over a newly post-apocalyptic earth where the only remaining life forms are desperate humans who have mostly descended into marauding cannibalism. Yet McCarthy renders his deathscape in curious, riveting detail punctuated by flashes of a lost world from the man’s memory that become colorful myths for his son. In the end, “The Road” is a paean to parental love: A father nurtures and protects his child with ingenuity and tenderness, a triumph that feels redemptive even in a world without hope. — Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit From the Goon Squad”

Liked it? Try “ On Such a Full Sea ,” by Chang-rae Lee or “ The Buried Giant ,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Book cover for The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion 2005

Having for decades cast a famously cool and implacable eye on everything from the Manson family to El Salvador, Didion suddenly found herself in a hellscape much closer to home: the abrupt death of her partner in life and art, John Gregory Dunne, even as their only child lay unconscious in a nearby hospital room. (That daughter, Quintana Roo, would be gone soon too, though her passing does not fall within these pages.) Dismantled by shock and grief, the patron saint of ruthless clarity did the only thing she could do: She wrote her way through it.

Liked it? Try “ When Breath Becomes Air ,” by Paul Kalanithi, “ Crying in H Mart ,” by Michelle Zauner or “ Notes on Grief ,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

best biography shakespeare

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz 2007

Díaz’s first novel landed like a meteorite in 2007, dazzling critics and prize juries with its mix of Dominican history, coming-of-age tale, comic-book tropes, Tolkien geekery and Spanglish slang. The central plotline follows the nerdy, overweight Oscar de León through childhood, college and a stint in the Dominican Republic, where he falls disastrously in love. Sharply rendered set pieces abound, but the real draw is the author’s voice: brainy yet inviting, mordantly funny, sui generis.

Liked it? Try “ Deacon King Kong ,” by James McBride or “ The Russian Debutante’s Handbook ,” by Gary Shteyngart.

Book cover for Gilead

Marilynne Robinson 2004

The first installment in what is so far a tetralogy — followed by “Home,” “Lila” and “Jack” — “Gilead” takes its title from the fictional town in Iowa where the Boughton and Ames families reside. And also from the Book of Jeremiah, which names a place where healing may or may not be found: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” For John Ames, who narrates this novel, the answer seems to be yes. An elderly Congregationalist minister who has recently become a husband and father, he finds fulfillment in both vocation and family. Robinson allows him, and us, the full measure of his hard-earned joy, but she also has an acute sense of the reality of sin. If this book is a celebration of the quiet decency of small-town life (and mainline Protestantism) in the 1950s, it is equally an unsparing critique of how the moral fervor and religious vision of the abolitionist movement curdled, a century later, into complacency. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for Gilead

“Then he put his hat back on and stalked off into the trees again and left us standing there in that glistening river, amazed at ourselves and shining like the apostles. I mention this because it seems to me transformations just that abrupt do occur in this life, and they occur unsought and unawaited, and they beggar your hopes and your deserving.”

From a dog-eared, battered, underlined copy of Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” I offer the following quote which undoes me every time I read it — transformation and its possibility is so much a part of what I read for. — Kate DiCamillo, novelist

Liked it? Try “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding or “ Zorrie ,” by Laird Hunt.

Book cover for Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro 2005

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are boarders at an elite English school called Hailsham. Supervised by a group of “guardians,” the friends share music and rumors while navigating the shifting loyalties and heartbreaks of growing up. It’s all achingly familiar — at times, even funny. But things begin to feel first off, then sinister and, ultimately, tragic. As in so much of the best dystopian fiction, the power of “Never Let Me Go” to move and disturb arises from the persistence of human warmth in a chilly universe — and in its ability to make us see ourselves through its uncanny mirror. Is Ishiguro commenting on biotechnology, reproductive science, the cognitive dissonance necessary for life under late-stage capitalism? He’d never be so didactic as to tell you. What lies at the heart of this beautiful book is not social satire, but deep compassion.

Liked it? Try “ Station Eleven ,” by Emily St. John Mandel, “ Oryx and Crake ,” by Margaret Atwood or “ Scattered All Over the Earth ,” by Yoko Tawada; translated by Margaret Mitsutani.

Book cover for Austerlitz

W.G. Sebald; translated by Anthea Bell 2001

Sebald scarcely lived long enough to see the publication of his final novel; within weeks of its release, he died from a congenital heart condition at 57. But what a swan song it is: the discursive, dreamlike recollections of Jacques Austerlitz, a man who was once a small refugee of the kindertransport in wartime Prague, raised by strangers in Wales. Like the namesake Paris train station of its protagonist, the book is a marvel of elegant construction, haunted by memory and motion.

Liked it? Try “ Transit ,” by Rachel Cusk or “ Flights ,” by Olga Tokarczuk; translated by Jennifer Croft.

Book cover for The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead 2016

“The Underground Railroad” is a profound revelation of the intricate aspects of slavery and nebulous shapes of freedom featuring an indomitable female protagonist: Cora from Georgia. The novel seamlessly combines history, horror and fantasy with philosophical speculation and cultural criticism to tell a compulsively readable, terror-laden narrative of a girl with a fierce inner spark who follows the mysterious path of her mother, Mabel, the only person ever known to have escaped from the Randall plantations.

I could hardly make it through this plaintively brutal novel. Neither could I put it down. “The Underground Railroad” bleeds truth in a way that few treatments of slavery can, fiction or nonfiction. Whitehead’s portrayals of human motivation, interaction and emotional range astonish in their complexity. Here brutality is bone deep and vulnerability is ocean wide, yet bravery and hope shine through in Cora’s insistence on escape. I rooted for Cora in a way that I never had for a character, my heart breaking with each violation of her spirit. Just as Cora inherits her mother’s symbolic victory garden, we readers of Whitehead’s imaginary world can inherit Cora’s courage. — Tiya Miles, author of “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake”

Book cover for The Underground Railroad

“Mabel had packed for her adventure. A machete. Flint and tinder. She stole a cabin mate’s shoes, which were in better shape. For weeks, her empty garden testified to her miracle. Before she lit out she dug up every yam from their plot, a cumbersome load and ill-advised for a journey that required a fleet foot. The lumps and burrows in the dirt were a reminder to all who walked by. Then one morning they were all smoothed over. Cora got on her knees and planted anew. It was her inheritance.”

Chosen by Tiya Miles.

Liked it? Try “ The Prophets ,” by Robert Jones Jr., “ Washington Black ,” by Esi Edugyan or “ The American Daughters ,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

Book cover for 2666

Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer 2008

Bolaño’s feverish, vertiginous novel opens with an epigraph from Baudelaire — “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom” — and then proceeds, over the course of some 900 pages, to call into being an entire world governed in equal parts by boredom and the deepest horror. The book (published posthumously) is divided into five loosely conjoined sections, following characters who are drawn for varying reasons to the fictional Mexican city of Santa Teresa: a group of academics obsessed with an obscure novelist, a doddering philosophy professor, a lovelorn police officer and an American reporter investigating the serial murders of women in a case with echoes of the real-life femicide that has plagued Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In Natasha Wimmer’s spotless translation, Bolaño’s novel is profound, mysterious, teeming and giddy: Reading it, you go from feeling like a tornado watcher to feeling swept up in the vortex, and finally suspect you might be the tornado yourself.

Liked it? Try “ Compass ,” by Mathias Énard; translated by Charlotte Mandell.

Book cover for The Corrections

The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen 2001

With its satirical take on mental health, self-improvement and instant gratification, Franzen’s comic novel of family disintegration is as scathingly entertaining today as it was when it was published at the turn of the millennium. The story, about a Midwestern matron named Enid Lambert who is determined to bring her three adult children home for what might be their father’s last Christmas, touches on everything from yuppie excess to foodie culture to Eastern Europe’s unbridled economy after the fall of communism — but it is held together, always, by family ties. The novel jumps deftly from character to character, and the reader’s sympathies jump with it; in a novel as alert to human failings as this one is, it is to Franzen’s enduring credit that his genuine affection for all of the characters shines through.

Book cover for The Corrections

Sometimes we have a totemic connection to a book that deepens our appreciation. I had Jonathan Franzen's brand-new doorstop of a hardcover with me when I was trapped in an office park hotel outside Denver after 9/11. The marvelous, moving, often very funny novel kept me company when I needed company most. As Franzen himself wrote, “Fiction is a solution, the best solution, to the problem of existential solitude.” — Chris Bohjalian, author of “The Flight Attendant”

Liked it? Try “ Middlesex ,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, “ Commonwealth ,” by Ann Patchett or “ The Bee Sting ,” by Paul Murray.

Book cover for The Known World

The Known World

Edward P. Jones 2003

This novel, about a Black farmer, bootmaker and former slave named Henry Townsend, is a humane epic and a staggering feat of wily American storytelling. Set in Virginia during the antebellum era, the milieu — politics, moods, manners — is starkly and intensely realized. When Henry becomes the proprietor of a plantation, with slaves of his own, the moral sands shift under the reader’s feet. Grief piles upon grief. But there is a glowing humanity at work here as well. Moments of humor and unlikely good will bubble up organically. Jones is a confident storyteller, and in “The Known World” that confidence casts a spell. This is a large novel that moves nimbly, and stays with the reader for a long time. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Water Dancer ,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “ A Mercy ,” by Toni Morrison.

Book cover for Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel 2009

It was hard choosing the books for my list, but the first and easiest choice I made was “Wolf Hall.” (“The Mirror and the Light,” the third book in Mantel’s trilogy, was the second easiest.)

We see the past the way we see the stars, dimly, through a dull blurry scrim of atmosphere, but Mantel was like an orbital telescope: She saw history with cold, hard, absolute clarity. In “Wolf Hall” she took a starchy historical personage, Thomas Cromwell, and saw the vivid, relentless, blind-spotted, memory-haunted, grandly alive human being he must have been. Then she used him as a lens to show us the age he lived in, the vast, intricate spider web of power and money and love and need — right up until the moment the spider got him. — Lev Grossman, author of “The Bright Sword”

Liked it? Try “ The Lion House: The Coming of a King ,” by Christopher de Bellaigue or “ The Books of Jacob ,” by Olga Tokarczuk; translated by Jennifer Croft.

Book cover for The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson 2010

Wilkerson’s intimate, stirring, meticulously researched and myth-dispelling book, which details the Great Migration of Black Americans from South to North and West from 1915 to 1970, is the most vital and compulsively readable work of history in recent memory. This migration, she writes, “would become perhaps the biggest underreported story of the 20th century. It was vast. It was leaderless. It crept along so many thousands of currents over so long a stretch of time as to be difficult for the press truly to capture while it was under way.” Wilkerson blends the stories of individual men and women with a masterful grasp of the big picture, and a great deal of literary finesse. “The Warmth of Other Suns” reads like a novel. It bears down on the reader like a locomotive. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie ,” by Ayana Mathis, “ All Aunt Hagar’s Children ,” by Edward P. Jones or “ Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance ,” by Mia Bay.

Book cover for My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2012

The first volume of what would become Ferrante’s riveting four-book series of Neapolitan novels introduced readers to two girls growing up in a poor, violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy: the diligent, dutiful Elena and her charismatic, wilder friend Lila, who despite her fierce intelligence is seemingly constrained by her family’s meager means. From there the book (like the series as a whole) expands as propulsively as the early universe, encompassing ideas about art and politics, class and gender, philosophy and fate, all through a dedicated focus on the conflicted, competitive friendship between Elena and Lila as they grow into complicated adults. It’s impossible to say how closely the series tracks the author’s life — Ferrante writes under a pseudonym — but no matter: “My Brilliant Friend” is entrenched as one of the premier examples of so-called autofiction, a category that has dominated the literature of the 21st century. Reading this uncompromising, unforgettable novel is like riding a bike on gravel: It’s gritty and slippery and nerve-racking, all at the same time.

Liked it? Try “ The Book of Goose ,” by Yiyun Li, “ Cold Enough for Snow ,” by Jessica Au or “ Lies and Sorcery ,” by Elsa Morante; translated by Jenny McPhee.

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If you’ve read a book on the list, be sure to check the box under its entry, and your final count will appear here. (We’ll save your progress.)

... but I’m sure there’s something for me.

Keep track of the books you want to read by checking the box under their entries.


In collaboration with the Upshot — the department at The Times focused on data and analytical journalism — the Book Review sent a survey to hundreds of novelists, nonfiction writers, academics, book editors, journalists, critics, publishers, poets, translators, booksellers, librarians and other literary luminaries, asking them to pick their 10 best books of the 21st century.

We let them each define “best” in their own way. For some, this simply meant “favorite.” For others, it meant books that would endure for generations.

The only rules: Any book chosen had to be published in the United States, in English, on or after Jan. 1, 2000. (Yes, translations counted!)

After casting their ballots, respondents were given the option to answer a series of prompts where they chose their preferred book between two randomly selected titles. We combined data from these prompts with the vote tallies to create the list of the top 100 books.

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Amazon Prime Day Book Deals 2024: Save Big and Find Your Next Summer Read

Books up to 56% off? We call that a total steal.

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We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back.

That’s why we combed through several of the most popular genres — fantasy, thriller, and romance — to highlight the best savings on the most highly-rated and anticipated reads. If you’re as deep into book TikTok as we are, then you’ll also want to peruse our recommended #BookTok section with top-tier prime sales (but, warning, you may be inclined to add every single one to your cart!). Scroll on to shop our favorite Prime Day book deals that you can finally add to your Goodreads profile!

Best of Reese’s Book Club

‘The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley

William Morrow & Company ‘The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley

If you enjoy a thrilling plot twist, then this is the book for you—even Reese Witherspoon ’s book club agrees. The Guest List is an easy read that’s hard to put down. Following the lives of a wedding party on an island off the coast of Ireland, one of the guests is found dead. In this book, resentment, nostalgia, and friendship are all key themes to an exciting plot.

‘The Alice Network: A Novel’ by Kate Quinn

William Morrow Paperbacks ‘The Alice Network: A Novel’ by Kate Quinn

Taking place in 1947, this book follows the story of pregnant college girl, Charlie St. Claire is banished from her family. The journey leads her to London, where she becomes a female spy in France during World War II. One reviewer said, “Very well written—honoring many brave women who put their lives on the line to gather information for the Allies.”

‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens

G.P. Putnam's Sons ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens

Now an adaptation film, this book is a murder mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age plot. It takes place on the coast of North Carolina in late 1969, as the audience dives deep into nature and unkempt secrets. The book has garnered over 3 million ratings on Goodreads, for an average liking of 4.7 out of 5.

‘The Paper Place’ by Miranda Cowley Heller

Riverhead Books ‘The Paper Place’ by Miranda Cowley Heller

If you’re into deeply emotional love stories, then you'll want to check out The Paper Place . The book displays a love triangle between 50-year-old Elle, her husband Peter, and childhood love, Jonas. Readers called it “beautifully written,” “poetic,” and a “meticulously detailed and constructed story.”

Best Autobiographies

‘Spare’ by Prince Harry The Duke of Sussex

Random House ‘Spare’ by Prince Harry The Duke of Sussex

If you haven’t read Prince Harry’s memoir yet, this is your chance. The Duke of Sussex details his feelings after losing his mother as a young boy, Princess Diana . It’s a story of grief, anger, and romance as Meghan Markle came along.

‘The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family’ by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

William Morrow ‘The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family’ by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

Growing up as a child actor was normal for brothers Ron Howard and Clint Howard. The Hollywood stars take the reader inside what it was like to move to California for showbiz, highlighting the highs and lows of fame, revisiting their lives as adults.

‘The Mamba Mentality: How I Play’ by Kobe Bryant

MCD ‘The Mamba Mentality: How I Play’ by Kobe Bryant

Currently over 50% off and the number one best-seller in Amazon’s basketball biographies, Kobe Bryant details his life after retirement from professional basketball, before his tragic passing in 2020. It teaches discipline and success — taking you into the life of one of the world’s most famous athletes.

Best of #BookTok That Even Celebs Love

‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ Paperback Box Set by Sarah J. Maas

Bloomsbury Publishing ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ Paperback Box Set by Sarah J. Maas

As Shay Mitchell pointed out on TikTok , hopping on the Court of Thorns and Roses train isn’t a maybe, it’s a must. Nineteen-year-old huntress, Feyre, finds herself in a magical land in which something wicked comes. The character takes you on an adventure of romance, faerie lore, and some jaw-dropping seduction. Plus, you won’t have to wait for the next book in the series, because this box set includes all five paperbacks!

‘Bridgerton’ Boxed Set

William Morrow Paperbacks ‘Bridgerton’ Boxed Set

In the era of Bridgerton , it’s the perfect time to buy the boxed set that inspired the Netflix series, with books one through four (even top celebs like Kim Kardashian , Mila Kunis , and Drew Barrymore couldn’t get enough). The feel-good romance series delves into the Regency time period of London’s social hierarchy. Dearest gentle reader, who doesn’t love some juicy small-town gossip?

‘It Ends with Us’ by Colleen Hoover

Atria Books ‘It Ends with Us’ by Colleen Hoover

Yes, even Kylie Jenner reads Colleen Hoover’s books (just see this Instagram post ). Based on a classic love triangle, Lily finds love with neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid — although their relationship doesn’t end up being as perfect as it seems. In comes Lily’s first love, Atlas Corrigan, as she deals with starting a business, a tumultuous romance, and unexpected disturbances. Be sure to snag this book before the film adaptation comes out on August 9, starring Blake Lively and Justin Baldoni playing Lily and Ryle.

‘Fourth Wing’ by Rebecca Yarros

Little, Brown Book Group ‘Fourth Wing’ by Rebecca Yarros

The first in the Fourth Wing series, also beloved by TikToker Brittany Broski as seen on her podcast , twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail deals with the world’s biggest societal woes in the presence of dragons. Set to become an elite dragon rider, Violet deals with secrets, enemies, and friendships.

‘Harry Potter’ Paperback Box Set by J.K. Rowling

Arthur A. Levine Books ‘Harry Potter’ Paperback Box Set by J.K. Rowling

This one needs no explanation, with celeb fans like Shawn Mendes and Margot Robbie . This Harry Potter paperback box set includes books one through seven at almost half the price. The infamous series follows the world of a young wizard, Harry Potter , and his long battle with ‘he who shall not be named’—Voldemort (sorry for naming him, Potter fans!)—alongside his friends, Hermione and Ron.

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PEOPLE's Best Books of July 2024: A Revealing JFK Jr. Biography and New Fiction from Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Look no further for the best books to slip into your beach bag this summer

Carly Tagen-Dye is the Books editorial assistant at PEOPLE, where she writes for both print and digital platforms.

The dog days of summer are upon us, along with some hot new books to pack with you on your next beach trip. From a McCarthy-era caper to rich kids behaving badly — as well as new celebrity memoirs and biographies — here are PEOPLE's picks for the best new books to read this July.

'JFK Jr: An Intimate Oral Biography' by RoseMarie Terenzio and Liz McNeil

Simon & Schuster

25 years after his tragic death, John F. Kennedy Jr. is back in the spotlight in this intimate, first-of-its-kind biography. Including insight from his closest friends and confidantes, this comprehensive look at his life — written by his former assistant and close friend RoseMarie Terenzio and PEOPLE editor-at-large Liz McNeil — shows a new side of the beloved figure.

'Loud' by Drew Afualo

Courtesy of AUWA Books

In 2020, Drew Afualo, fed up with the sexist, racist and bigoted content she saw online, took to social media to voice her concerns. Now, the rising internet star, known as the "Crusader for Women," is sharing her message of inclusivity in her debut memoir. An empowering read.

'The Briar Club' by Kate Quinn

The diverse residents of an all-women boarding house in McCarthy-era Washington, D.C., are brought together by a mysterious newcomer, but she harbors a dangerous secret that a murder threatens to reveal. Quinn evocatively balances the outward cheerfulness of the 1950s with historical observations exploring racism, misogyny, homophobia and political persecution in this sharply drawn, gripping novel. — Robin Micheli 

'Long Island Compromise' by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Carl and Ruth Fletcher’s grown children have everything money can buy, but each one is a hot mess — and now the family’s fortune is in peril. Could it be a blessing in disguise? A farcical, entertaining drama about generational trauma. — Kim Hubbard

'More, Please' by Emma Specter

“For as long as I can remember, my mother has been beautiful.” It’s an arresting opening sentence, and the pages that follow — exploring societal expectations about the female body and the author’s own struggles with diet culture and binge eating — don’t disappoint. Unflinching and insightful. — Kim Hubbard

'Ladykiller' by Katherine Wood

A shared tragedy when they were teenagers forever bonds heiress Gia and bookish Abby even through their lives diverge as they get older. Decades later, the glamorous Gia invites Abby on a trip to reconnect, then disappears, leaving only an unfinished manuscript detailing the days leading up to her disappearance. A glitzy mystery with shades of Gone Girl .

'The Coin' by Yasmin Zaher

When a wealthy, eccentric Palestinian woman moves to N.Y.C., starts teaching at a middle school and gets caught up in a bag-selling scheme, she starts to slowly unravel. Watching her get embroiled in fraud and all that follows is a page-turning delight.

'All This and More' by Peng Shepherd

Remember “choose your own adventure” books? This fun, participatory novel is about a TV show that enables people to change their destiny, raising questions about technology and fate.

'The God of the Woods' by Liz Moore

In 1961 the disappearance of Bear Van Laar, 8, left his wealthy family shattered. Now, 14 years later, Bear’s teenage sister has gone missing from a summer camp near the family’s Adirondack estate. Intercutting past and present, Moore keeps the suspense at a fever pitch amid nuanced portraits of the out-of-touch Van Laars, their hangers-on and the locals who both depend on and resent them. A winner. — Kim Hubbard

'Masquerade' by O.O. Sangoyomi

This brilliant debut transports you to a reimagined West Africa in the 15th century. The vibrant prose tells the story of Òdòdó, a blacksmith kidnapped by a king to become his wife. As she navigates the politics of her new life, her journey is gripping — an immersive, one-of-a-kind story. — McKenzie Jean-Philippe

'Teddy' by Emily Dunlay

Teddy has always struggled under the thumbs of her powerful Dallas family and now, her controlling husband, an American embassy employee in Rome. Then a paparazzo photo threatens to destroy her. The glamour of La Dolce Vita and the repressive sexism of the 1960s pulse through this captivating exploration of the female psyche. — Robin Micheli 

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James McBride poses with chin in hand. He's wearing a blue beret, blue turtleneck and gray sweater with a hoop earring in his left ear.

James McBride Awarded the 2024 Prize for American Fiction

July 11, 2024

Posted by: Wendi Maloney

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Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced this week that the Library is conferring the 2024 Prize for American Fiction on acclaimed author James McBride. He will accept the prize at the National Book Festival on Aug. 24.

One of the Library’s most presti­gious awards, the annual Prize for American Fiction honors a literary writer whose body of work is dis­tinguished not only for its mastery of the art, but also for its originality of thought and imagination.

“I’m honored to bestow the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction on a writer as imaginative and knowing as James McBride,” Hayden said. “McBride knows the American soul deeply, reflecting our struggles and triumphs in his fiction, which so many readers have intimately connected with. I, also, am one of his enthusiastic readers.”

The award seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that — throughout consistently accomplished careers — have told us something essential about the American experience.

“I wish my mom were still alive to know about this,” McBride said. “I’m delighted and honored. Does it mean I can use the Library? If so, I’m double thrilled.”

McBride is the author of the best­selling novel “Deacon King Kong”; “The Good Lord Bird,” winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction; “The Color of Water”; “Song Yet Sung”; the story collection “Five-Carat Soul”; and the James Brown biography “Kill ’Em and Leave.”

His debut novel, “Miracle at St. Anna,” was turned into a 2008 film. In 2016, McBride was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

He is also a musician, a com­poser and a current distinguished writer-in-residence at New York University.

McBride’s most recent bestsell­ing novel, “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store,” received the 2023 Kirkus Prize for Fiction and was named Barnes and Noble’s 2023 Book of the Year.

The National Book Festival will take place from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The theme is “Books Build Us Up.”

On Aug. 1, McBride will participate in a virtual interview with PBS Books as part of a series preview­ing 2024 festival authors.

McBride has appeared at multi­ple National Book Festivals in past years, most recently in 2020, when he spoke about his novel “Deacon King Kong.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Watch NBC News anchor Lester Holt's full interview with Biden

Richard Simmons, legendary fitness personality, dies at 76

Fitness guru Richard Simmons has died, two law enforcement sources confirmed to NBC News.

Simmons was found unresponsive Saturday at his home in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, one day after his 76th birthday, the law enforcement sources said. The exact cause of his death is pending.

Simmons' brother, Lenny Simmons, confirmed the death in a statement.

"I don’t want people to be sad about my brother," Lenny Simmons said. "I want them to remember him for the genuine joy and love he brought to people’s lives."

Richard Simmons.

"We are in shock," Lenny Simmons added. "Please respect the family at this difficult time."

Tom Estey, Simmons’ longtime publicist, said in a statement, “Today the World lost an Angel.”

On Friday, Simmons shared a message on social media thanking fans for the birthday wishes.

"Thank you…I never got so many messages about my birthday in my life!" Simmons wrote. "I am sitting here writing emails. Have a most beautiful rest of your Friday."

He signed the post "Love, Richard."

Simmons, the fitness coach known for his eccentric personality and "Sweatin’ to the Oldies" workout videos, rose to fame in the 1970s and 1980s after opening gyms and releasing dozens of fitness videos.

His website describes him as "one of the world’s most revered and iconic fitness personalities" who has been an "instructor and motivator for over 40 years."

"By delivering a serious message with his trademark humor, he has helped millions of overweight men and women lose more than 3,000,000 pounds by adopting sensible, balanced eating programs and exercise regimes that are energetic, fun and motivating," a biography for Simmons on his website reads.

Simmons grew up in New Orleans and struggled with his weight from a young age, weighing nearly 200 pounds when he was 15. By the time he graduated from high school, he was 268 pounds, according to his website.

He won a scholarship to study art in Florence, Italy, as a young man and, while eating outdoors, was approached by an agent who hired him to model for TV commercials. He ended up in more than 130 commercials, playing a range of parts, like a dancing meatball and a pat of margarine, and appearing in Fruit of the Loom underwear and with Dannon yogurt.

While at a supermarket one day, Simmons discovered a note stuck to the windshield of his Fiat that read "Fat people die young. Please don't die."

It prompted him to try anything possible to lose weight, including fasting, pills, exercise and injections. He dropped from 268 pounds to 156 pounds, but after several hair transplants and plastic surgery operations, he realized the importance of losing weight and getting healthy gradually, leading him to study health and nutrition.

From there, he took his talents to the West Coast in 1973, moving to Los Angeles, where he was unable to find a gym that "wasn’t for people who were already in shape," according to his website. So, Simmons took it upon himself to create one, and SLIMMONS in Beverly Hills was opened in 1974.

While working as a maître d’ in Los Angeles, Simmons noticed what he believed was self-destructive eating behaviors of those he was serving, which led him to open Ruffage in 1975, a healthy restaurant with a salad bar, and the Anatomy Asylum, an adjoining exercise studio.

His concern for his patrons and his flamboyant personality attracted the likes of Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. He also earned the attention of television producers who encouraged him to share his message and became a regular on TV talk shows.

Richard Simmons attends the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade

It was at SLIMMONS where he taught classes and hosted seminars until 2013, his website said. His success also led to his own nationally syndicated series, "The Richard Simmons Show," which ran for four years and earned multiple Emmy awards.

Simmons also released 65 fitness videos, which sold over 20 million copies, and wrote nine books and three cookbooks, according to his website.

Simmons had been something of a recluse since 2014, and in January, he spoke out against an upcoming biopic being made about his life starring actor and comedian Pauly Shore, which Simmons said  he never permitted . 

“I have never given my permission for his movie. So don’t believe everything you read,” he wrote on  Facebook  at the time. “I no longer have a manager, and I no longer have a publicist. I just try to live a quiet life and be peaceful. Thank you for all your love and support.”

Since that post, Simmons has been active on social media, often writing motivational messages and sharing stories about moments and people in his life. The posts have ranged in topic from his childhood in New Orleans to racial segregation to fitness and his family.

He died just months after he posted a cryptic social media message , writing “I am ….dying.” He later walked it back, but the next day, he shared that he had been diagnosed with skin cancer.

In the March 18 social media post, he wrote that he had “news” to share.

“Please don’t be sad. I am ….dying. Oh I can see your faces now. The truth is we all are dying. Every day we live we are getting closer to our death,” Simmons wrote.

“Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to enjoy your life to the fullest every single day,” he continued in the post. “Get up in the morning and look at the sky… count your blessings and enjoy.”

The rest of the post included suggestions about how to lead a healthy lifestyle and reminders to hug the ones you love.

Later that day, he posted another update clarifying he was not dying.

“Sorry many of you have gotten upset about my message today. Even the press has gotten in touch with me. I am not dying,” he wrote. “It was a message about saying how we should embrace every day that we have.”

The next day, he shared that he had been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma , a type of skin cancer.

The day after that, he shared in another social media post that the issue had been resolved after three procedures with a “cancer doctor,” Dr. Ralph A. Massey.

It was not immediately clear whether Simmons’ recent skin cancer diagnosis had anything to do with his death.

Rebecca Cohen is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

Andrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western U.S., specializing in crime, courts and homeland security. 

Michelle Acevedo is a New York-based senior editor for NBC News.

best biography shakespeare

Diana Dasrath is entertainment producer and senior reporter for NBC News covering all platforms.


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  1. The Best Books about Shakespeare

    We thought it was time we offered our pick of the best books about William Shakespeare: the best introductions to his life and his work. The following is not designed to be an exhaustive list, but many of these books were written by leading Shakespeare scholars and each contains something which every fan of the Bard should know.

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    The best books on Shakespeare's Reception, recommended by Emma Smith. In the years after William Shakespeare died, his plays took on a life of their own. They meant different things to different people at different times as they spread around the world, turning a glover's son from a one-horse town in central England into one of the best ...

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    Poet and playwright William Shakespeare is considered the greatest dramatist of all time. Read about his birthday, wife, plays, poems, quotes, and more facts.

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    William Shakespeare ( c. 23 [a] April 1564 - 23 April 1616) [b] was an English playwright, poet and actor. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. [4] [5] [6] He is often called England's national poet and the " Bard of Avon " (or simply "the Bard"). His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 ...

  5. The best Shakespeare books (for every type of reader)

    Whether you're completely new to Shakespeare or the Bard's biggest fan looking for a beautiful new edition, here's our guide to the best Shakespeare books.

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    William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England—died April 23, 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon) was a poet, dramatist, and actor often called the English national poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time. Shakespeare occupies a position unique in world literature.

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  13. Shakespeare's Life: From the Folger Shakespeare Editions

    This biography, first published in 2001 under the title Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life, sets out to look into the documents from Shakespeare's personal life—especially legal and financial records—and it finds there a man very different from the one portrayed in more traditional biographies.

  14. Shakespeare: The Biography

    SHAKESPEARE: THE BIOGRAPHY is unlike the works other writers-excellent academics-have written, which merely analyze and describe. Rather, Peter Ackroyd has used his skill, his extraordinary knowledge, and his historical intuition to craft this major full-scale book on one of the most towering figures of the Englishlanguage.

  15. Shakespeare's life

    Learn about Shakespeare's life and family: birth in Stratford-upon-Avon, marriage to Anne Hathaway and their children, work in London theaters, and death.

  16. A Scholarly Analysis of Shakespeare's Life That Reads Like a Detective

    James Shapiro reviews Lena Cowen Orlin's book, which focuses on Shakespeare's life in Stratford.

  17. Shakespeare's Biography

    Shakespeare's Biography. William Shakespeare (also spelled Shakspere, Shaksper, and Shake-speare, because spelling in Elizabethan times was not yet fixed and absolute) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England in April 1564. William was the son of John Shakespeare, a successful tradesman and alderman, and of Mary Arden, a ...

  18. Biography of William Shakespeare, Famous Playwright

    Shakespeare retired to Stratford in 1611 and lived comfortably off his wealth for the rest of his life. In his will, he bequeathed most of his properties to Susanna, his eldest daughter, and some actors from The King's Men. Famously, he left his wife his "second-best bed" before he died on April 23, 1616.

  19. William Shakespeare Biography

    Examine the life, times, and work of William Shakespeare through detailed author biographies on eNotes.

  20. 10 Best William Shakespeare Books

    William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the greatest writers in the English language. His works have been enjoyed by readers and audiences for centuries, and have shaped the way we think about literature, theatre, and human nature. If you're looking to dive into the world of Shakespeare, here are the best Shakespeare books you should read.

  21. William Shakespeare Biography

    William Shakespeare was indisputably among the top English-language poets and playwrights of all time. He was born in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564 and died there in April 1616. His surviving body of work includes 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two narrative poems, the majority of which he penned between 1589 and 1613. While much of Shakespeare's biography is unknown, murky or ...

  22. Shakespeare 400th anniversary: 6 best books

    This year sees the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death on 23 April 1616. There are a huge number of publications celebrating the Bard's life and works, from new biographies and ...

  23. Best Shakespeare Books 2024

    William Shakespeare wrote some of the world's most famous plays, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth. We rounded up 10 of the best Shakespeare books to read in 2024.

  24. 17 Best Movies You Didn't Realize Are Based on Shakespeare Plays

    Some of the best movies based on Shakespeare's plays aren't always obviously inspired by them, from Warm Bodies to The Lion King.

  25. Test Your Knowledge of Shakespeare Film Adaptations

    The works of William Shakespeare have inspired countless performances and interpretations over the centuries, but some films show their Shakepearean roots more clearly than others. The challenge ...

  26. 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

    As voted on by 503 book lovers — with a little help from the staff of The New York Times Book Review.

  27. Amazon Prime Day Book Deals 2024: 12 Reads You Won't Be ...

    From the best celebrity memoirs to LGBTQ+ books to presidential biographies that celebrate America's political ... 10 Best Presidential Biographies. ... The Best Shakespeare Movie Adaptations ...

  28. PEOPLE's Picks for the Best Books of July 2024

    See PEOPLE's picks for the best new books of July 2024 — from a revealing biography on JFK Jr. to anticipated fiction from Taffy Brodesser-Akner and more.

  29. James McBride Awarded the 2024 Prize for American Fiction

    The Library will award the 2024 Prize for American Fiction to novelist and author James McBride, Librarian Carla Hayden announced today. McBride, 66, is the author of the hugely popular memoir "The Color of Water," novels such as "The Good Lord Bird" (winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction) and, most recently "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store," which received the 2023 Kirkus ...

  30. Richard Simmons, legendary fitness personality, dies at 76

    Simmons was found unresponsive Saturday at his Hollywood Hills home, one day after his 76th birthday, two law enforcement sources said.