There are many biographies on Shakespeare (despite the fact that very little is actually known about him), but Charles Nicholl's The Lodger Shakespeare approaches the Bard's life from a unique and fascinating angle: as a lodger living in the home of a French Huguenot family from 1603-1605. Nicholl bases his book on documents that were discovered in 1909, court records from 1612 in which Shakespeare gave a deposition in a suit between Christopher Mountjoy - his former landlord - and Stephen Belott, Mountjoy's son-in-law. This is the only known record in which Shakespeare's spoken words have been recorded.
These court records lead Nicholl into an exploration of the interesting culture of Jacobean London and the influences that probably affected Shakespeare's later works such as Measure for Measure, Othello and King Lear. Furthermore, he examines church records and other documents that give insight into the Mountjoy family, because the events that occurred in their household while Shakespeare lived there likely influenced his plays.
The Lodger Shakespeare, unlike other books of its ilk, looks at Shakespeare from a domestic standpoint rather than examining his life as a great literary figure. Through Nicholl's details, it is easy to picture a 40-year-old Shakespeare sitting at a desk in a small room at the Mountjoy house, quill in hand, feverishly working on his latest play.
The problem with this book is that it tends to go off on tangents. In one section of the book, Nicholl goes into painstaking detail about the Mountjoys' work in tiremaking (expensive and intricately crafted headgear that was fashionable at the time). While Shakespeare may have learned something of the industry from the Mountjoys (and they perhaps helped with costuming for his plays), this insight on Jacobean fashion is probably lost on most readers.
While I appreciate this different perspective on Shakespeare, I think The Lodger Shakespeare only has a limited appeal. At the end of the book, Nicholl includes the court records from the Belott-Mountjoy suit, which are not translated into modern English and can be difficult to read. The entire book is also generously peppered with footnotes, which, though necessary, are distracting. This is hardly a book to pick up if you want some light reading. If you are a devout fan of Shakespeare with an appreciation for early 17th-century British history, it is certainly worth your time.