Jane Smiley has taken an innovative & thoroughly satisfying approach to this Dickens biography. Rather than a purely chronological exploration of the man & times, she has successfully intermixed biography, literary analysis, understanding the man from the novels, and the novels from the man's experience. By so doing, the reader gets a flavor of Dickens' business life, home life, formative years, and the cross influence on his literary output. As well as some comparisons of a personal & literary character with his novelist contemporaries. Jane Smiley is able to reach into her own experience as a novelist & as a celebrity (certainly not a celebrity of the stature of Dickens in his time, but able to extrapolate) to enrich our picture of the man & his times. The book is never boring, and the reader is also outstanding. I am hoping to sample a few more of these "small biographies" that come from the same series.
The Ninth is a gem of an audiobook, up in there in the top 10 I have listened to in many years (and books) on Audible. Beautifully written and beautifully narrated. The book is composed of 4 different essays on the subject, across which you get tastes of biography, political & military history, cultural history (musical, literary, visual arts), you see where Beethoven & the Ninth came from, and how his work and this work were viewed by contemporaries and by those who came after, especially by such later musical luminaries as Mendelsohn, Wagner and so forth.
One of the essays, the shortest one, is an analysis (which does not require a degree in musicology to understand) on the Ninth itself. I found it useful to be able to toggle between a CD copy of the music and the MP3 book to follow the line of argument here. That was not too burdensome. Without doing that, it would have been difficult to understand Sachs' explanations.
I highly recommend this book.