In the Bookcase


Book Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge //

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford (4 star review)

The Man Who Invented Christmas
How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits

written by Les Standiford

241 pages // published in 2008 // Christmas-themed Biography


As uplifting as the tale of Scrooge itself, this is the story of how one writer and one book revived the signal holiday of the Western world.

Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist.

The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all.

With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.

My Review

4 Star Rating

“Celebrating Christmas without some reference to A Christmas Carol seems impossible, a remarkable fact given that the book was published more than 150 years ago. Indeed, the resonance of the story has remained so strong through the generations that commentators have referred to Dickens as the man who invented Christmas.”

So, this book needs a change in its cover art. If you, like me, judged this book by its Christmasy cover, all red, green, and candy canes... and randomly thought it was a story with a plot featuring Dickens (and true-to-life facts about him), well, that's not accurate. To be clear, it's a biography, albeit, an interesting one that kept me turning the pages.

“No individual can claim credit for the creation of Christmas, of course – except, perhaps, the figure that the day is named for.... If Dickens did not invent Christmas, he certainly reinvented it.”

Dickens' childhood was cut short, as he had to work for his family. His parents spent more than they could earn. His father was held in court for his debts, and eventually the rest of the family too, even Charles and his siblings. As Dickens grew into adulthood, those days of debt and poverty always stayed with him, and is illustrated in many, if not most, of his writings. As the writer of this biography states, “It was as if, in writing this book [A Christmas Carol], he could will into existence a world of universal charity, empathy, and family harmony that he had not experienced in his life.”

Concerning A Christmas Carol, his publishers actually didn't believe in the success of the story, and they wouldn't take on the project to publish it themselves. So Dickens had it published, paying for all the costs, etc. He had to go to more extraordinary lengths than his other writings to get it published. In other words, it was the novel that almost wasn't. And this was all for a story that was about the Christmas holiday, which at the time, “ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day.”

There are 4 main parts to the book. But it is part 3 that piques my interest the most, and has the information I was waiting to read. Things like how traditions may not be the same without his little book entering the world. Or how we might not so easily recognize a Victorian Christmas as a quintessential time if we didn't have A Christmas Carol. In fact, Christmas was quite different in the 1840s than it is now. The biography writer brings this about to tell what the holiday was all about back then – and it usually was not gift-giving. Other notes of interest: People ate a Christmas goose – not a turkey or a ham. Christmas cards hadn't even appeared on the scene before. Christmas trees weren't commercially sold. There's quite a bit of interesting history to learn in part 3, and I loved reading all about it.

I found out much about Charles Dickens that I just didn't expect. Some of it is about his family life, some about his celebrity, some about his books. For example, Oliver Twist may just be the first novel to have a child as protagonist; it may also be the first Victorian novel. It was neat to hear about how Dickens kept writing more “Christmas” novels each year, and the annual history behind each. Something else I was quite surprised to hear about was that copyright almost didn't exist in Dickens' day. Publishers could pirate off their own versions of popular novels and make good money doing it. Authors usually didn't get paid (or paid well) when plays (dozens of them) were put together, based on an author's novel. It was one of Dickens' fights in life to see about copyright issues for every author. He was certainly a man who had many tricks (and creative ideas) up his sleeve.

Reading The Man Who Invented Christmas definitely will get you in the mood not only for A Christmas Carol, but many of Dickens' other works. Charles Dickens will remain in our hearts because of his use of goodwill, the pleasures of good friends, family, and charity in his stories. Because the topics he used in A Christmas Carol and his other works really get us our the heartstrings, that's why people still want to read his books. I know I can't wait to read more from him.

I'd recommend this as an adult read – teens could enjoy it too, but there is some minor alluding to some mature topics.

Available on Amazon in paperback, ebook, and audio format.

Add to Goodreads

P.S. Like and vote for this review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Want to participate in A Literary Christmas?

Link to your sign-up posts & reviews!


  1. I had no idea that Christmas wasn't a popular holiday in Dickens' time. That is really fascinating! I'm not one for non-fiction often, but this book sounds like it has some really interesting things in it!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. There are some really surprising things you might find out about the history of Christmas! It's almost not even the same holiday anymore when you make all the comparisons between then and now. :O

  2. Oh, my word! I saw this movie TWICE in the same weekend, I loved it so much! I had no idea it is a book. I must read it!

    1. Amy, I'm excited to see the movie myself. I think it is more fictionalized though, and the book reads more like a biography.

  3. Wow, sounds great. Thanks for the awesome review. I’ll check it out. 😁❤️

  4. I didn't get a sign-up done for this, but I have added a Christmas murder mystery review. Other Christmas-themed reviews coming (if I can get my reviewing mojo back....I'm WAY behind).

    1. Bev, that's great. Any Christmas book reviews you want to share with us will be awesome. I'm in the process of making next December's holiday reading list, so I'm still looking for recommendations. :)

  5. I need to get motivated for next year and a book about traditions might do the trick!

  6. interesting info