Peter Ackroyd’s many books include his Dickens, of 1,200 pages (Ackroyd later produced a shorter, abridged version in paperback) and well regarded, a similarly acclaimed history of London, and four volumes on the history of England. The English imagination is his theme and the subject of Albion, the most eccentric of his books. His new book charts the history of the English actor from medieval times to the present, and his track record attests to his qualifications to write about this alluring subject. For he has also written a good biography of Shakespeare, who probably earned more money as an English actor than as a playwright, though playing supporting rather than starring roles—Hamlet’s father’s ghost rather than Hamlet. Dickens, in his later years, took to the stage, reading from his books in...


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