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The Alice Behind Wonderland
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The Alice Behind Wonderland

3.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  433 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
On a summer's day in 1858, in a garden behind Christ Church College in Oxford, Charles Dodgson, a lecturer in mathematics, photographed six-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the college dean, with a Thomas Ottewill Registered Double Folding camera, recently purchased in London.





Simon Winchester deftly uses the resulting image--as unsettling as it is famous, and the su
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Audiobook
Published May 24th 2011 by HarperAudio (first published February 11th 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,064)
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Jim Coughenour
A pleasant harmless book that fails to live up to either its subject or its author's reputation. There's little here about the "the original Alice" and what there is is fairly dismissive. Two pages from the end, Winchester writes that "Alice's later years were suffused with a terrible sadness" – which seems sweeping and idiotically glib when he continues "She missed something, and we all may like to imagine precisely what that something was: long-ago golden Oxford summer afternoons, that time of ...more
Terry
Nov 04, 2015 Terry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If this was written by one of my students, I might put "Erm, a bit...overwritten" in the margins. Ha. Winchester is quite a delightful and erudite writer and I enjoyed his voice. I think this book very clearly takes A Side and sticks with it and either ignores or dismisses any criticism of a figure Winchester obviously finds completely sympathetic. Hmmm. I read DeSalvo's biography of Virginia Woolf which talked at some length about British/Victorian attitudes toward children and it quite ruined ...more
Joe
Aug 08, 2012 Joe rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of Winchester's books I've read that has really disappointed me.

Winchester is known for picking an event and exploring it exhaustively, showing the circumstances that led up the event, and its repercussions. His books about natural disasters (Krakatoa, the San Francisco Earthquake) are among his best; his analysis in these explores both human and scientific (specifically geological) sides, and balances them really well.

This book has none of that. His writing style is there; it
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John Keahey
Jul 03, 2011 John Keahey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a nicely done book by a master storyteller. Simon Winchester looks into the photograph of the real Alice -- Alice Liddell, the young daughter of a dean at Oxford -- to whom he told the original story of a young girl "Underground" named Alice. (It didn't become "Wonderland" until the book was published.) Winchester writes about how Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, learned the new art of photography and how, through his friendship with young children, turned into a master portrait ph ...more
Joshua
Oct 06, 2015 Joshua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting small piece. More of an expanded magazine work than his usual more developed books. It's a perfect read for an afternoon when you want to be educated and entertained but perhaps don't want the commitment of starting a longer book. I wish I had saved this for an international flight.
Shawn Thrasher
Jul 02, 2011 Shawn Thrasher rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointing - from the title, I thought I was going to be reading a book about Alice Liddell, her relationship with Charles Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, the books, and what happened afterwards (which from little I have read before is an interesting story). Instead, this is sort of a history of the beginnings of Victorian photography as art and science and its relationship with Charles Dodgson. Maybe if that is what I had wanted to read I might have liked this a bit more. But it wasn't, and I didn't ...more
Chris
Apr 23, 2015 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A century and a half ago, in July 1865, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in a limited edition by Oxford University Press -- and then immediately withdrawn because Tenniel was dissatisfied with the reproduction of his illustrations. Although it wasn't until November 1865 that the second edition appeared (approved by both author and illustrator, this time under the Macmillan imprint which had published Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies two years before) be prepared for a slew of me ...more
Cynda Garza
Winchester's writing, as usual, contains a cool historical, technical approach. I am glad I satisfied my curiosity about who Alice was. Perhaps she was not the creature of Dodgson/Carroll, but a creature of nature, a sensual creature of nature. To tell more would be giving the story away. Fewer than a 100 pages, so an easy read for the curious.
Maya Panika
A very slim volume – just 100 pages – detailing Charles Dodgson’s fascination with the then, very new art/science of photography, and his subsequent relationship with Alice Liddell, who he was to immortalise as the central character in Alice in Wonderland.

The book is full of detail on Dodgson’s love of taking pictures; it scrupulously avoids passing judgement on just why Dodgson’s subject-of-choice was of very young girls, often in strangely provocative poses. The author prefers to dodge the us
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Greg
Dec 05, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's some interesting information in this book including some fascinating background that quite probably combined a number of disparate factors to come together in Charles Dodgson's head to produce that magical book which Alberto Manguel called "a miracle of literature". Two factors of which were his interest in the new art of photography which he shared with his uncle Robert Skiffington, who was a Govt. appointed Commissioner in Lunacy.

The book also gives a clear look at the Victorian era e
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Joanna
Apr 23, 2012 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More than the title suggests, this book is not only about the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland, but also about the history of photography and the making of "Lewis Carroll." Charles Dodgson is an interesting character, whom Winchester takes some pains to explain through his relationship with the Liddell family, particularly its younger members. The story that he tells gives the reader the picture of a playful man with an imagination and charm that draw children towards him (and vice versa). ...more
Malcolm
About twice as long as it needed to be (ie more an article worthy topic) but did find the history of photography / cameras and their use interesting.
Spotsalots
I received my copy as a thank-you from OUP for taking a rather long survey about my teaching; the book looked the most tempting of the thank-you gift options. When it arrived, I realized it might not have been the best choice, being that it is a slim volume by the author of the engaging but problematic The Professor and the Madman.

Like other readers here, I had mixed feelings about the book. It's poetic and provides considerable interesting detail about Dodgson/Carroll's growth as a photographer
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Xanthi
Mar 11, 2015 Xanthi rated it it was ok
I listened to this on audiobook.
With this book, don't expect a detailed biography on Alice Liddel or Lewis Carroll. What this fairly brief book focuses upon is Carroll's foray into photography. The author goes into a brief history of photographic technology in Victorian times, and how Carroll got into it, who he used as subjects, etc. In other words, the scope of the book is quite narrow.
Of course, as I listened to the book, and heard the descriptions of the photos Carroll took of children - es
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Kate Forsyth
On a summer's day in 1858, in a garden behind Christ Church College in Oxford, a shy and half-deaf mathematician named Charles Dodgson photographed six-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the college dean, with his new camera.

She was barefoot and dressed in rags, posing as a beggar-girl, and looks at the camera with a look of preternatural worldliness. Her dress has been pulled from her shoulder to show one small nipple.

Eight years later, Charles Dodgson became Lewis Carroll and his book A
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Rod
Nov 28, 2015 Rod rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a fascinating entry point into learning something about the early days of photography, as well as a look at Lewis Carroll and his relationship to Alice Liddell (and the Liddell family), which was instrumental in his creation of Alice's famous adventures. As I had only heard vague murmurings about Carroll (Dodgson) and his photographs of (and apparent infatuation with) young children, it was helpful to find out what is known about his character and intentions (not a lot) and what is ...more
Rebecca
This brief book explores the history behind Lewis Carroll's famous image of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired 'Alice in Wonderland.' The first part covers Dodgson's (Carroll's) life until he arrived at Oxford, the second part covers the history of photography up until Dodgson got involved, and the last part covered Dodgson's relationship with the Liddells and his photography portraiture hobby. It specifically focuses on the famous image of Alice as a beggar maid, but covers other photographs ...more
Julie
Nov 17, 2015 Julie rated it liked it
British audiobook reader, Yes!
Many big and handsome words, Yes!

But that's all. This isn't about Alice. It's about photographs of Alice.

The book is good and interesting for about 100 pages. Which is fine, because that's how long the book is.
Sarah Crawford
Feb 14, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a rather interesting book. A great deal of it actually goes into the history of photography. The part that doesn't focuses a lot on the photo that Dodgson took of Alice as a beggar girl. The photo shows the young girl in rags, basically, standing as if she were begging. Her left nipple is shown (although the picture needs to be looked at with a magnifying glass to actually tell.

This is one of the controversial pictures that Dodgson took of young girls. The book points out, though, that
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Sem
May 28, 2015 Sem rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What is the point of this book? A smattering of Carrollian biography with the biographer's usual miraculous, and unsupported, insights into his subject's inner workings, a lengthy regurgitated discussion of early photographic methods, many descriptions of photographs not pictured in the book and therefore of no use to the reader, the sudden entrance and equally speedy exit of 'the Alice behind Wonderland' towards the end of the book, the author's dithering over the tiresome 'was he or wasn't he' ...more
Beth G.
Yet, for most, even after the book is finally shut and put back, the memory of the image proves hauntingly and lingeringly distracting, and for a long while.

Winchester begins this slim volume with a description of a photograph Charles Dodgson (better known today as Lewis Carroll) took of then-six-year-old Alice Liddell, after a discussion of how the photo ended up in a library at Princeton. This first chapter is a good indication of what is to come: a curiously circuitous look at the life of Dod
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Jeslyn
Jan 10, 2012 Jeslyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is an odd offering. For a book that comes in at less than 100 pages, Winchester touches on multiple topics - Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll); the Dodgson photography archives at Princeton, UT Austin, etc.; social/academic/religious expectations at Oxford/Christ Church; the birth of photography; Dodgson and photography; Alice Liddell. I haven't included Dodgson's writing of Alice In Wonderland, since it is barely referenced. Given the breadth of topic, each is shallowly attended at best.

Winc
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Deanna
Jul 29, 2012 Deanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Winchester is a man who believes a good story should be told completely, and in the process, tells a story like no one else has done. This small book (110 pages, with the index) is centered around the photograph on the cover of Alice Liddell, the Alice for whom "Alice in Wonderland" was created. But it is not a story of the creation of that children's novel except that it shows the character of the man, Charles Dodgson, who became Lewis Carroll, from a fascinating and different way than ha ...more
Wayne
Feb 03, 2012 Wayne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Alice fans, fanatics or obsessives
Recommended to Wayne by: a great photographic gift from Steph
THE LUST FOR ALICE...lick your speculating chops!!!

This book is about one single photograph ostensibly.
As well you get an excellent biography of Charles Dodgson and a short but very absorbing history of the invention of photography by three men really.
Still, it was difficult to grasp what the book was getting at...UNTIL!!!

REVELATION I
UNTIL...the ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...at the end of the book
where the author,entertaining historian Simon Winchester,
refers to "this photographic series" published by
"the
...more
Lauren Strickland
I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but I'm trying to teach myself to read outside my comfort zone. While wandering into Alice-in-Wonderland territory isn't exactly exotic for me (I collect copies of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass, as well as other writing on these texts, and random bits of Alice merchandise too!), reading factual accounts of past events - in full, not just a photocopied chapter here or there - is new for me. Simon Winchester's examination of a famous C ...more
Janet
May 13, 2012 Janet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition


I was underwhelmed by this book; it felt a little underdone. In particular, it is often repetitive, as though Winchester thinks his audience will forget salient details - a central character's nickname, for example - and must therefore repeat them with every reference. In a work of 100 pages it seems a low risk.

Several reviews here are critical of the fact that the book doesn't explore Alice Liddell's life in more detail. This is an unreasonable expectation - the subject of the book is not, in
...more
Bryna Kranzler
Feb 10, 2012 Bryna Kranzler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The question of Who was the ‘Alice’ who inspired Alice in Wonderland? has been answered before, but the title of this slim book led me to expect an understanding of how she inspired Lewis Carroll’s (nee Charles Dodgson, whose day job was as an Oxford mathematician) remarkable and timeless story.

We begin with a glimpse of Alice as Carroll photographs her (photography having been a relatively recent invention and an obsession for Dodgson), then scroll back in time to reveal the confluence of posi
...more
Susannah
Jun 16, 2013 Susannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is about Lewis Carroll, or rather Charles Dodgson, his hobby as a photographer, and an infamous photo he took of Alice Liddell. Rather than dwelling on the legend of Dodgson's famous book, Alice in Wonderland, it explores his history, his childhood, and his relationship with the Liddell's and what his photographs said about his life. The history of early photography was especially interesting, but unfortunately, for a book about Dodgson's photographs, the only photo featured in it is t ...more
Julie
At 100 pages, this was a very quick little read, giving insight into Charles Dodgson's work as a photographer and his depictions of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.

Winchester writes a book that is easy to digest and packs a lot of information into it. I feel like I learned a lot about Dodgson's life. However, he made a reference in the afterword to "quasi-academic scholarship" on the subject of Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, and that's what this felt like to me. In between
...more
Sue
Jan 21, 2012 Sue rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Bought on a whim when Amazon sent me a list of books for 99c. Which seems a disgracefully small amount for a book, even an e-book, written by such a well-respected author. But there you have it! At least it brought it to my attention, though how much of the 99c Winchester would have received is a mystery. Not enough to buy even a newspaper. It tells the story of the real life Lewis Carroll, Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician, and his relationship with Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dea ...more
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more
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