In 1652 he took up ploughing and bell-ringing. In the Life he speaks of himself and his family as Wood or à Wood, the last form being a pedantic return to old usage adopted by himself and "having had from his most tender years an extraordinary ravishing delight in music," began to teach himself the violin, and took his B.A. examinations. He engaged a music-master, and obtained permission to use the Bodleian, "which he took to be the happiness of his life." He became an M.A. in 1655, and in the following year published a volume of sermons by his late brother Edward.
On 22 October 1669, he was sent for by the delegates of the press, "that whereas he had taken a great deal of paines in writing the Hist. and Antiq. of the Universitie of Oxon, they would for his paines give him an 100 li. for his copie, conditionally, that he would suffer the book to be translated into Latine." He accepted the offer and set to work to prepare his English manuscript for the translators, Richard Peers and Richard Reeve, both appointed by Dr. Fell, dean of Christ Church, who undertook the expense of printing. In 1674 appeared Historia, et antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis, handsomely reprinted "e Theatro Sheldoniano," in two folio volumes, the first devoted to the university in general and the second to the colleges. Copies were widely distributed, and university and author received much praise. On the other hand, Bishop Barlow told a correspondent that "not only the Latine but the history itself is in many things ridiculously false" (Genuine Remains, 1693, p. 183).
In 1678 the university registers which had been in his custody for eighteen years were removed, as it was feared that he would be implicated in the Popish Plot. To relieve himself from suspicion he took the oaths of supremacy and allegiance. During this time he had been gradually completing his great work, which was produced by a London publisher in 1691-1692, 2 vols. folio, Athenae Oxonienses: an Exact History of all the Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in the University of Oxford from 1500 to 1690, to which are added the Fasti, or Annals for the said time.
On 29 July 1693 he was condemned in the vice-chancellor's court for certain libels against the late Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, fined, banished from the university until he recanted, and the offending pages burnt. The proceedings were printed in a volume of Miscellanies published by Edmund Curll in 1714. Wood was attacked by Bishop Burnet in a Letter to the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1693), and defended by his nephew Dr Thomas Wood, in a Vindication of the Historiographer, to which is added the Historiographer's Answer (1693), reproduced in the subsequent editions of the Athenae. The nephew also defended his uncle in An Appendix to the Life of Bishop Selh Ward, 1697. After a short illness he died, and was buried in the outer chapel of St John Baptist (Merton College), in Oxford, where he had superintended the digging of his own grave only a few days before.
He is described as "a very strong lusty man," of uncouth manners and appearance, not so deaf as he pretended, of reserved and temperate habits, not avaricious and a despiser of honours. He received no recognition from the university which owed so much to his labours. He never married, and led a life of self-denial, entirely devoted to antiquarian research. Bell-ringing and music were his chief relaxations. His literary style is poor, and his taste and judgment are frequently warped by prejudice, but his two great works and unpublished collections form a priceless source of information on Oxford and her worthies. He was always suspected of being a Roman Catholic, and invariably treated Jacobites and Papists better than Dissenters in the Athenae, but he died in communion with the Church of England.
Wood's original manuscript (purchased by the Bodleian in 1846) was first published by John Gutch as The History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls in the University of Oxford, with a continuation (1786-1790, 2 vols. 4to), and The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford (1792-1796, 3 vols. 410), with portrait of Wood. To these should be added The Antient and Present State of the City of Oxford, chiefly collected by A. à Wood, with additions by the Rev. Sir J. Peshall (1773, 4to; the text is garbled and the editing very imperfect). An admirable edition of the Survey of the Antiquities of the City of Oxford, composed in 1661-66 by Anthony Wood, edited by Andrew Clark, was issued by the Oxford Historical Society (1889-1899, 3 vols. 8vo). Modius Salium, a Collection of Pieces of Humour, chiefly ill-natured personal stories, was published at Oxford in 1751, 12mo.
Some letters between Aubrey and Wood were given in the Gentleman's Magazine (3rd ser., ix. x. xi.). Wood consulted Dr Hudson about getting a third volume of the Athenae printed in the Netherlands, saying, "When this volume comes put I'll make you laugh again" (Reliq. Hearnianae, i. 59). This was included in a second edition of the Athenae published by R. Knaplock and J Tonson in 1721 (2 vols. folio), "very much corrected and enlarged, with the addition of above 500 new lines." The third appeared as "a new edition, with additions, and a continuation by Philip Bliss" (1813-1820, 4 vols. 4to). The Ecclesiastical History Society proposed to bring out a fourth edition, which stopped at the Life, ed. by Bliss (1848, 8vo; see Cent. Mag., N.S., xxix. 135, 268). Bliss's interleaved copy is in the Bodleian, and Dr Griffiths announced in 1859 that a new edition was contemplated by the Press, and asked for additional matter (see Notes and Queries, 2nd ser., vii. 514, and 6th ser., vi. 5, 51).
Wood bequeathed his library (127 manuscripts and 970 printed books) to the Ashmolean Museum, and the keeper, William Huddesford, printed a catalogue of the manuscripts in 1761. In 1858 the whole collection was transferred to the Bodleian, where 25 volumes of Wood's manuscripts had been since 1690. Many of the original papers from which the Athenae was written, as well as several large volumes of Wood's correspondence and all his diaries, are in the Bodleian.