This is a wonderful book both for the lay reader and for the musically knowledgeable. It says a great deal about how well written this book is that someone like me who knows nothing about music could still enjoy the book so much. Mr. Cairns takes the tale from the birth of Berlioz in 1803 up until 1832, when he was in his late 20's. You learn about his relationship with his parents, who were opposed to his choice of composer for a career, and his sisters. We are very fortunate that this was a great age for letter writing. Mr. Cairns makes judicious use of the correspondence between Berlioz and his family and friends to the point where you almost feel yourself to be a friend or family member. You get inside the young composer's mind as he tries to convince his parents that his desire to write music is not just a "whim", but something that he is absolutely passionate about and must do. Berlioz was also extremely sensitive and romantic. After seeing the English actress Harriet Smithson perform on stage in several works by Shakespeare he developed an obsessive love for her, even though he had never met her. He had an apartment across the street from where she lived and would longingly watch her comings and goings. He eventually wrote her several notes expressing his feelings but she rebuffed him, quite understandably one would think! (She had also heard a rumor, which was untrue, that he was an epileptic.) Shortly after coming to the realization that Smithson was unattainable Berlioz met the virtuoso pianist Camille Moke and they fell in love with each other and eventually got engaged. Alas, when poor Hector had to go to Rome to live in order to receive grant money from winning the Prix de Rome, Camille dumped him and opted for security by marrying a wealthy man. This soured Hector on women for awhile but did not diminish his love for music, nature and life. Mr. Cairns has been a professional music critic and is also a scholar, so he understands and ably explains the technical aspects of Berlioz's music. I was totally lost in these sections but my ignorance did not diminish my enjoyment of this sympathetic and wonderfully written book.