I received a galley of this novel from NetGalley for review. This in no way affected my opinions.
I haven't read any other non-fiction book about the Brontë family, but I can tell you that this is the Brontë biography to start with. Yes, it's a tome, but it's oh so worth it. It completely erases the myths and legends surrounding the family, and relies on fact (or as close as you can get to fact) using letters and other documents.
This book may end up depressing some people who like to believe the embellished sensationalism that are rooted in rumor. However, for someone who wants to know the real Brontës, then this book is a dream. We're shown the family as they are, flaws and all, and believe me, none of them are perfect.
Stripped down are the words of Elizabeth Gaskell in her 'biography' of Charlotte, and even the words of Charlotte are examined, especially in reference to her sisters. Charlotte was grossly unfair of Anne in particular, and in Charlotte's letters, a view of Anne emerged that is untrue. The Brontës does justice to Anne, showing her as an intelligent being, when Charlotte gave her no credit in that regard. I must admit that I've always been sort of a defender of Anne; I always felt as if she got the short end of the stick, in no fault of her own.
This book is about all the Brontës, not just about the three sisters. Granted, I basically read this to read about the sisters, but reading about Patrick, and Branwell, as they truly were, was fascinating. The stereotype of Patrick being a strict tyrannical father was shot down. The view of Branwell always being a drunk and screw up is also diminished.
Of course, we also find out that some of the sensationalist events in Brontë lure were true, such as Branwell's affair with his employer's wife, and Charlotte's infatuation with Monsieur Heger. Reading the details of both gave shape to how these significant events shaped each respective sibling's life.
What was also fascinating, and something I never gave much thought to, was the imaginary worlds that the siblings created. Charlotte and Branwell with their Angria world, and Emily and Anne with their Gondal world. They created worlds and characters, wrote up histories for them, write poetry that were part of these worlds, and it's evident that the sisters' earlier work on these imaginary worlds were a huge part of their future novels. There are characters and events in the Angria and Gondal worlds that show up in disguise in the seven novels, along with personal events and real life people in their lives. Reading in detail about these worlds and the sisters' real life experiences gives me a new appreciation for their novels.
I could go on and on about everything I learned from the tremendously thorough biography, but I'll stop here. I don't think I need to do any more convincing.