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4.13  ·  Rating details ·  763 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Born in 1757, the son of a London hosier was William Blake -- poet, painter, and engraver -- possessed one of the most original and fertile creative geniuses of his age. Yet his strange aloofness and claims of supernatural visions caused many in his own time and since to doubt his sanity, and much of his astonishing poetry and visual art remains unfamiliar. Now, Peter ...more
Paperback, Biography, 400 pages
Published July 14th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1995)
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John Cooper Ackroyd rarely quotes more than a few lines at a time, and they're usually from Blake's more difficult epic poems. If you've picked up this biography…moreAckroyd rarely quotes more than a few lines at a time, and they're usually from Blake's more difficult epic poems. If you've picked up this biography as an introduction to Blake, you'd be better off checking out Blake directly—especially his more accessible writings, such as "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" and "Auguries of Innocence," which Ackroyd passes over quite quickly.(less)
Artur Nowrot It's a non-fiction book and it's pretty straightforward, though of course he's very eloquent, as usual.

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Average rating 4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  763 ratings  ·  80 reviews

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Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank goodness I’ve finished it! The book, not Blake. Despite finding large parts of the book a drudge my interest in Blake remains fresh and strong.

I can’t accuse the author of short changing me – there’s a morass of information here, it’s just I’ve been sinking under it for a long time now!

The last word I’d use to describe Blake is ‘boring’. This book frequently was, though, despite the lavish cover and excellent illustrations/pictures within.

Blake fascinates me. So many contradictions - ahead
This is the third biographical treatment of William Blake that I've read, though both of the other two weren't biographies per se, but were a mixture of biography and critique (Swinburne's William Blake: A Critical Essay and William Blake by Kathleen Raine.) Peter Ackroyd's Blake, while more detailed, does not veer much from the narrative established by the other two (though it is nowhere near the hagiography that Swinburne's is.)

It's difficult to rate a biography like this, I think, unless one
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with an interest in art and poetry
Amazing biography, excellently written. Since Blake was very open about his visions and conversations with the dead, Ackroyd is able to present his inner life as well as Blake's always evolving artistic creations. This is a biography of the man, his inner life, and how it impinges on his art, as well as Blake's religious and political views, and his theories of art and how all merged and influenced his amazing poetry and engravings. Blake himself innovated his art throughout his life, leaving an ...more
Jun 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good standard biography that clearly delineates the contours of Blake's life, work, personality and ways of being in the world. It is also a good example of why one must read multiple biographies of the same writer in order even to hope of gaining real insight into the inner lives of writers. Ackroyd focuses on Blake's art almost dismissing the personal mythology that his art illustrates. He doesn't ignore Blakes's poetry through which Blake expresses his mythology, but I sense that Ackroyd ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ackroyd fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
I travel light: a small backpack with clothes, a satchel with books--one of which stays with my hosts as a gift and leaves me room to pick up another book to bring home.

Ackroyd's Blake accompanied me on the flight to the Bay and stayed with my host, Mike Miley. I read it enroute, finishing it soon after arrival. What I'd hoped for was some insight into Blake's visions. Did he really have them? If so, how come? Was he exaggerating? lying?--on all of these questions Ackroyd proved disappointing.
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, reviewed
If the business of biography is to make you wish you'd known the person described, then in the strictest sense Peter Ackroyd has failed entirely. The William Blake outlined here was so ferociously visionary that it is occasionally hard to understand how such a mind was able to occupy a puny human body for any length of time; imagination was not stored in the mind of the great poet, it was bursting out of it.

There are more serious flaws with 'Blake' - Ackroyd has a tendency to repeat his
Oct 17, 2011 rated it liked it
I give this book three stars because I thought that the prose/style was difficult. That is, it was sometimes hard to discern meaning because the writing was sometimes too elliptical. For example, there were many references to Blake's cosmology or mythology of the universe, but never a basic outline of it. (I do understand that it was likely an evolving project even for Blake.) Also, I was left to wonder why, in view of the life of Mr. Blake's imagination, Mr. Ackroyd in the book's last paragraph ...more
Brian Willis
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best biography of Blake and it's not even close. It is also likely, barring a profound discovery, to remain the definitive biography.

By merely placing my opinion into words, I am already defeating Blake's vision for his own poetry: a transcendent fusion of art and poetry to see beyond the physical world into the spiritual. While Blake may often be lumped into the list of "great English Romantics", he himself would resist this constraining label, and in fact transcends them as well. He did
David Guy
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
My re-kindled interest in Blake began, weirdly enough, when I ordered some copies of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior for some inmates and noticed that the most perceptive Amazon review was written by a woman named Laurie from New Zealand. I clicked to see the rest of her reviews—something I almost never do—and found that, in the year 2008, she reviewed any number of major important books. She can’t have read them all in that year; she must have sat down to review her favorites. I didn’ ...more
John Cooper
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading Blake for close to thirty years (in Geoffrey Keynes' "Complete Writings"), but haven't found a satisfying and sympathetic biography until now. As one of the blurbers on the back cover points out, Ackroyd is a native Londoner—he has written authoritatively on its history—and this gives him a particularly fine vantage point from which to examine the life of a man who never lived or traveled more than 20 miles from the city. Ackroyd also is a student and admirer of Blake's epic ...more
C.M. Crockford
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Super biography even if its almost too quick at 369 pages to capture the fullness of the Man. I can see myself in Blake - his changeability, pride, permanent place in another world - though I don't have a 100th of his extraordinary perception. Would that I could. Ackroyd captures with some real depth a person who can't possibly be understood his lifetime and has been embraced in ours to some extent, even as his prophecies of mechanized life have gone ignored (then come horribly true).
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a very nice biography of Blake that sticks closely to his sources of inspiration and the construction of his books and prints. People who find Blake's work a little overwhelming or mysterious will probably benefit from giving this a quick read.
Eva Lucia
Also posted on Eva Lucias blog

Once a Blake fan, always a Blake fan...

This biography by Peter Ackroyd is very detailed and gives the reader a thorough insight of William Blake's life from early childhood, family relations, his time when trying to develop his talent for painting and then later on life about his marriage and the start of him writing poetry.

The book is extremely well-written, filled with details and sensuous descriptions about London, where Blake used to live. We get exact
Mar 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Having known nothing of Blake other than the obvious, Jerusalem, and having a book of his amazing art I wished to know a lot more. I really enjoyed Peter Ackroyd's programme on London a few years ago so knew I would be in safe hands with him. I must confess the book has sat on my shelf for a few years asI was slightly deterred by the huge volume but I am very pleased that I bit the bullet and gave it a go.

It soon becomes apparent that Blake did not only reside in the world of mere mortals but
Aria Ligi
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is well written, however there are some snarky comments in it regarding Lake Poets (such as Wordsworth) and then Ackroyd at several points is rather dismissive, if not totally condescending regarding Blake's visions. Since his visions were a HUGE part of who he was, that is hard to stomach. What catches one off-guard is that these remarks seem to come way out of left field.
Another thing is, throughout the book, he says Blake's mother's last name is Hermitage, when in fact it was
Kate Cary
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on
One self-important man pontificating about another self-important man. Nice depiction of 18th century London. Beyond that, tiresome. For boys who like to think themselves clever.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Not the best I have read, but interesting. I wish he had concentrated a little more on his writings.
David Stephens
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british-classics
Peter Ackroyd's biography on the inimitable William Blake comes soaked in the mysticism of his life and writings and the obscure details of London at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The book is probably not the best for those just getting into Blake, as it assumes readers have a certain amount of knowledge about the man and his work. I, for one, was really only familiar with The Book of Thel and the Songs of Innocence and Experience. Therefore, I wasn't ...more
Andrew Guthrie
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Blake has a certain amount of currency among my peers. He had visions, saw angels, and wallowed in obscurity during his lifetime. His artwork, in contemporary terms is "branded", easily recognized. Blake focus as a printer and engraver also makes him an apt predecessor for the artist book and zine maker. All that seemed interesting to me, but I didn't know much more.

Ackroyd's biography is therefore, at the very least, complete, down to what he was working on, when, what method he was using, who
Rob Frampton
Perhaps it's just me...
Peter Ackroyd's stunning biography of Charles Dickens and the history/biography of London are engrossing and highly-readable books, brick-like though they may be, but this study of William Blake feels more like going back to University and studying for an essay! It is, I think, difficult for a lot of modern readers to get a handle on Blake; he feels like a man from a wholly different age, his life dominated by religious and mystical concerns and with developing techniques
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustive work on the life of William Blake. It's most entertaining when Peter Ackroyd is trying to piece Blake into his own vision of a ferocious London, but Blake was reclusive and his world was tiny, so much of the book is compiling Blake's quiet achievements in engraving, painting and poetry. His life was tragic, but not a tragedy which would have pleased him, it was a slow tragedy of incredible mundanity and disappointment, mocked and completely unappreciated by far more successful ...more
Sally Campbell
Nov 10, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned-books
I was disappointed not to get further in this book and my reasons for not continuing are pretty pathetic - the typeface was so small and after looking at the page count I decided I really don’t care enough about finding out about the life of William Blake to persevere.

A shame because on the whole I find Ackroyd’s writing style to be much more accessible than other historians, but even that couldn’t tempt me to try a few more pages.
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Essays on Blake's method and madness pepper giant gorgeous illustrations, it is part art book part biography and gives you a sense of the man and his way of life and creative habits, while lightly glossing the depths of his work and its cosmology.
Yannis Livadas
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
From what I read below, most of the readers have not read the rest of the biographies written about Blake, or the critical studies concerning his ideas and poetry. Ackroyd's book is a good one, but nothing more. There are at least two other biographies which I believe that they are incomparably better than this one. If you care enough for Blake, you must read them all, or most of them, in order to be able to valuate.
Rena Sherwood
This was work to get through and not just because of the small print. This is very dense prose where you really need a few other reference books strewn around you in order to keep track of what's going on. It's also a very English book (that's not an insult) so Americans may be right out of their depth here unless they've studied English history -- and some history of European art as well.


There are some bizarre yet lovely passages about the weird people who lived in England during William
Alastair Kemp
Sep 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
How can I call a book that has taken me 2 years and 4 months to read a good book? The subject matter, William Blake, was a fascinating person, or at least this book gives evidence for that case. Sometimes the writing in this book is positively alive with detail and creates vivid scenarios in the mind. This is a good thing in a book.
Yet I also found the writing turgid at other times. And although the more biographies I read the more this seems to a biographical affectation, Ackroyd it seems is
D.S. West
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Dry at times, but so seems any book by a lover of history read by someone with my attention span. Nonetheless, Ackroyd's tender and thorough account of Blake and his works provides much insight into the poet, painter, and engraver's complex mythology and environs. I didn't realize how common mysticism and radical forms of Christianity were in London during the 1700s and early 1800s. Understanding that the Bible was viewed very differently than it is now does much to reveal Blake's evolving ideas ...more
Rachel Burton
Nov 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
The blurb on the cover of my edition of this book describes it as "a marvellous work of the imagination"... and biography or no, that's what Ackroyd does best. His non-fiction is always spattered with anecdotes and "what ifs" or "what may have happened".

However Ackroyd's brilliant style didn't really save this book from being quite dry and overly complicated. Which is odd considering it had very little to say. Blake wrote some amazing poetry. He also wrote some terrible poetry. He broke a few
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
William Blake was not well known in his life-time, and if Ackroyd's biography is true, even less well liked. He left no letters in his own possession and few letters of his survive in the hands of others. His poems (apart from the famous ones) are difficult to understand and his mentality - visionary or insane, take your pick - is almost incomprehensible to us. Writing his biography therefore is no mean task.

Ackroyd does a worthy, if rather plodding job of his biography. I didn't feel by the end
JD Newick
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Beautifully written, though as a biography it probably could have been better. It focuses more on his painting than on his poetry, which I suppose makes sense as there's already countless books on the role that Urizen and Los and whatnot play in Blake's cosmology. I've always been fascinated by William Blake; finding out just how bitter he was at his lack of commercial success was quite eye-opening for me- he was never, as I'd always though, content to be ignored in his own time, but was in fact ...more
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age
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