Tolkien hated biography, at least as a method of literary criticism. As such, you would be best to avoid this volume if your goal is to better understand Tolkien's Legendarium. While a recorded history of the author's life is bound to shed some light on things that are to be found in his work, to view his work through the glass of his life is like viewing the world through tinted, smudged glasses.While this book won't make LotR any more understandable, it will shed some light on the person of Tolkien, and his particularly unremarkable yet fascinating life.Carpenter has made every effort to portray Tolkien from cradle to grave, showing each hurdle he had to overcome to get what he wanted, and how a simple fascination with languages at a young age led to one of the most memorable and quintessential fantasy works ever written. It's definitely a must for those who can't get enough Tolkien.The passage I was most struck by was the description involving the unauthorized Ace publication of The Lord of the Rings in the United States. While a US audience was awaiting the procrastinating Tolkien's revision of his books for publication here, Ace went ahead and published their own copy with arguably better cover art and a cheaper cover price than the eventual Ballantine first edition. Tolkien did not sue them, though it apparently angered him. It led, however, to a sort of crazed fandom in the US of Tolkien's work. Tolkien remedied this unauthorized snafu by telling all of his fans (via a blurb on the cover of the Ballantine edition and through responses to fan mail) that the Ballantine edition was the only one published in the US with his consent. This led to various groups in the US pressuring Ace to cease distribution (including the SFWA), and in turn, Ace offered to make reparations with Tolkien and ceased publication of their edition. But by then, the damage was done: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings had sold millions of copies (with the Ballantine edition soon outpacing the Ace), and pretty much all of America was ready to buy anything else with his name on it.Oh wait, that's not damage. That's good. It's my humble opinion, that in the light of recent books and other works featuring Tolkien or Tolkienian subjects, that the estate of Tolkien should instead embrace the value that its adds to its collective intellectual property, and not try to kill it for whatever stretches of IP law they wish to try to leverage on severely confused courts.As a biography, though, well written, and quite interesting!