Two years ago, Bill Bryson published an intentionally brief, accessible biography of William Shakespeare. The book sold well, partly due to the happy meeting of subject and author. After all, Bryson has become perhaps the best known, biggest-selling nonfiction author of the 21st century, thanks to books such as "A Short History of Nearly Everything," "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." As for Shakespeare, the 16th-century bard, well, he needs no introduction.
Bryson lobbied his many readers to believe that William Shakespeare was indeed William Shakespeare. He discounted the findings of other writers theorizing that somebody with greater societal standing -- such as Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe or the Earl of Oxford -- wrote those millions of memorable words under the pen name William Shakespeare.
To bolster his case -- and sell more books -- Bryson is back with a slightly revised text and lots of attractive illustrations, just in time for the primary gift-giving season among millions of Americans. The book from two years ago is not lushly illustrated. The new version is worth the price. Why? For those who have already read Bryson's "Shakespeare," a rereading is a pleasure. For those who missed the biography from two years ago, the illustrated edition is not all that much more expensive. As for those who do not read much but like to place impressive books on coffee tables, this book qualifies.