The Bohemians
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The Bohemians : Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature

3.76 (484 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

An extraordinary portrait of a fast-changing America--and the Western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity
At once an intimate portrait of an unforgettable group of writers and a history of a cultural revolution in America, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment on the far western frontier changed our culture forever. Beginning with Mark Twain's arrival in San Francisco in 1863, this group biography introduces readers to the other young eccentric writers seeking to create a new American voice at the country's edge--literary golden boy Bret Harte; struggling gay poet Charles Warren Stoddard; and beautiful, haunted Ina Coolbrith, poet and protector of the group. Ben Tarnoff's elegant, atmospheric history reveals how these four pioneering writers helped spread the Bohemian movement throughout the world, transforming American literature along the way.
"Tarnoff's book sings with the humor and expansiveness of his subjects' prose, capturing the intoxicating atmosphere of possibility that defined, for a time, America's frontier." -- The New Yorker
"Rich hauls of historical research, deeply excavated but lightly borne.... Mr. Tarnoff's ultimate thesis is a strong one, strongly expressed: that together these writers 'helped pry American literature away from its provincial origins in New England and push it into a broader current'." -- Wall Street Journal
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Product details

  • Paperback | 324 pages
  • 140 x 213 x 27mm | 306g
  • Penguin USA
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 1 Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0143126962
  • 9780143126966
  • 1,391,871

Review quote

The New Yorker
Tarnoff s book sings with the humor and expansiveness of his subjects prose, capturing the intoxicating atmosphere of possibility that defined, for a time, America s frontier.
San Francisco Chronicle
Tarnoff breathes fresh life into his narrative with vivid details from the archives giving us a rich portrait of a lost world overflowing with new wealth and new talent... [A] stylish and fast-paced literary history.
Chicago Tribune
Engrossing... By skillfully tracking the friendships and fortunes of this unusual quartet, Tarnoff narrates the awakening of a powerful new sensibility in American literature.... Tarnoff powerfully evokes the western landscapes, local cultures and youthful friendships that helped shape Twain. He has a talent for selecting details that animate the past.
Wall Street Journal
Rich hauls of historical research, deeply excavated but lightly borne.... Mr. Tarnoff s ultimate thesis is a strong one, strongly expressed: that together these writers helped pry American literature away from its provincial origins in New England and push it into a broader current .
Boston Globe
Delightful.... Adeptly wrapping a wonderful story around these young writers, Tarnoff glides smoothly along, never dwelling too long and never claiming too much. He stacks fifty pages of endnotes at the back of the book but such archival sweat doesn t show in the prose.
Washington Post
Tarnoff is a good storyteller and character-portraitist, with a deep knowledge of the West Coat.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Meticulously researched and exhilarating Twain may be the main draw of Tarnoff s book, but Tarnoff s writing about a few of Twain s contemporaries Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Ina Coolbrith is just as engaging.
Kansas City Star
Tarnoff successfully contributes to the compendium [of Twain scholarship] with a fresh take on Twain s San Francisco circle, which was akin to the Algonquin Roundtable in Manhattan or Lost Generation of writers in Paris.
The Daily Beast
Lively Tarnoff draws a vivid contrast between sardonic, sophisticated, and sartorially dapper [Bret] Harte, San Francisco s literary star, and the unkempt, uncouth Mark Twain who rolled into town in 1863, a scuffling newspaperman looking to move on and up from provincial Virginia City, Nevada.
The New Yorker's Page-Turner blog
Tarnoff provides a fascinating snapshot of the era, when the city s prosperity and unique international character (he points out that in 1860 almost two-thirds of the city s adult males were foreign-born) brought about a thrilling, if chaotic, admixture of idealism and fun.
The Oregonian
Deftly written, wholly absorbing.
Publishers Weekly
Tarnoff s glimmering prose lends grandeur to this account of four writers (Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith) who built an extraordinary literary scene in the frontier boom town of 1860s San Francisco .The lively historical detail and loving tone of the interwoven biographies make a highly readable story of this formative time in American letters, starring San Francisco as the city that lifted Twain to literary greatness .
Booklist
Tarnoff energetically portrays this irresistible quartet within a vital historical setting, tracking the controversies they sparked and the struggles they endured, bringing forward an underappreciated facet of American literature. We see Twain in a revealing new light, but most affecting are Tarnoff s insights into Harte s downward spiral, Stoddard s faltering, and persevering Coolbrith s triumph as California s first poet laureate. "
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About Ben Tarnoff

BEN TARNOFF is the author of A Counterfeiter's Paradise. He has written for the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
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Rating details

484 ratings
3.76 out of 5 stars
5 21% (102)
4 44% (212)
3 28% (134)
2 6% (28)
1 2% (8)
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