novelist, biographer, poet, and reviewer, was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, and Yale. He worked on the Spectator (1973–82), and became chief book reviewer on The Times in 1986. Many of the poems of his early collections were republished in The Diversions of Purley (1987). He published two pieces of cultural criticism, Notes for a New Culture (1976, an essay on Modernism) and Dressing Up (1979, a study on transvestism); and Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (2002). He has written highly acclaimed lives of Pound (1980), T. S. Eliot (1984), Dickens (1990), Sir T. More (1998), and Shakespeare (2005); and London: The Biography (2000).
His novels explore active relationships between the present and the historical past. In The Great Fire of London (1982), the relationship focuses on a plan to film Dickens's Little Dorrit, while his gift for historical reconstruction is demonstrated in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983). In Hawksmoor (1985) Detective Nicholas Hawksmoor (namesake of the 18th‐cent. architect) investigates a series of murders in London churches that become linked to the rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire of 1666. In Chatterton (1987) a similar dynamic is set up, with modern events being related to the death of the poet Chatterton and the marriage of George Meredith. Ackroyd's blending of genres continued in the visionary autobiography English Music (1992), and in The House of Dr Dee (1993). Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (1994) is set in 1880 and centres on a series of grisly murders in the East End of London. Milton in America (1996) transports Milton to the New World in 1660.