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The unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity The Bohemians begins in 1860s San Francisco. The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, the city at the western edge roars. A global seaport, home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco h The unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity The Bohemians begins in 1860s San Francisco. The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, the city at the western edge roars. A global seaport, home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco has become a complex urban society virtually overnight. The bards of the moment are the Bohemians: a young Mark Twain, fleeing the draft and seeking adventure; literary golden boy Bret Harte; struggling gay poet Charles Warren Stoddard; and beautiful, haunted Ina Coolbrith, poet and protectorate of the group. Ben Tarnoff’s elegant, atmospheric history reveals how these four pioneering western writers would together create a new American literature, unfettered by the heavy European influence that dominated the East. Twain arrives by stagecoach in San Francisco in 1863 and is fast drunk on champagne, oysters, and the city’s intoxicating energy. He finds that the war has only made California richer: the economy booms, newspapers and magazines thrive, and the dream of transcontinental train travel promises to soon become a reality. Twain and the Bohemians find inspiration in their surroundings: the dark ironies of frontier humor, the extravagant tales told around the campfires, and the youthful irreverence of the new world being formed in the west. The star of the moment is Bret Harte, a rising figure on the national scene and mentor to both Stoddard and Coolbrith. Young and ambitious, Twain and Harte form the Bohemian core. But as Harte’s star ascends—drawing attention from eastern taste makers such as the Atlantic Monthly—Twain flounders, questioning whether he should be a writer at all.  The Bohemian moment would continue in Boston, New York, and London, and would achieve immortality in the writings of Mark Twain. San Francisco gave him his education as a writer and helped inspire the astonishing innovations that radically reimagined American literature. At once an intimate portrait of an eclectic, unforgettable group of writers and a history of a cultural revolution in America, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment on the western frontier changed our country forever.


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The unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity The Bohemians begins in 1860s San Francisco. The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, the city at the western edge roars. A global seaport, home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco h The unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity The Bohemians begins in 1860s San Francisco. The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, the city at the western edge roars. A global seaport, home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco has become a complex urban society virtually overnight. The bards of the moment are the Bohemians: a young Mark Twain, fleeing the draft and seeking adventure; literary golden boy Bret Harte; struggling gay poet Charles Warren Stoddard; and beautiful, haunted Ina Coolbrith, poet and protectorate of the group. Ben Tarnoff’s elegant, atmospheric history reveals how these four pioneering western writers would together create a new American literature, unfettered by the heavy European influence that dominated the East. Twain arrives by stagecoach in San Francisco in 1863 and is fast drunk on champagne, oysters, and the city’s intoxicating energy. He finds that the war has only made California richer: the economy booms, newspapers and magazines thrive, and the dream of transcontinental train travel promises to soon become a reality. Twain and the Bohemians find inspiration in their surroundings: the dark ironies of frontier humor, the extravagant tales told around the campfires, and the youthful irreverence of the new world being formed in the west. The star of the moment is Bret Harte, a rising figure on the national scene and mentor to both Stoddard and Coolbrith. Young and ambitious, Twain and Harte form the Bohemian core. But as Harte’s star ascends—drawing attention from eastern taste makers such as the Atlantic Monthly—Twain flounders, questioning whether he should be a writer at all.  The Bohemian moment would continue in Boston, New York, and London, and would achieve immortality in the writings of Mark Twain. San Francisco gave him his education as a writer and helped inspire the astonishing innovations that radically reimagined American literature. At once an intimate portrait of an eclectic, unforgettable group of writers and a history of a cultural revolution in America, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment on the western frontier changed our country forever.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW In The Bohemians, Ben Tarnoff describes how Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith interacted with and were influenced both personally and professionally by one another in San Francisco during and immediately after the Civil War before transforming American literature. It is not only the story of four writers of cultural significance, but of the shining, optimistic early history of California and Far West in relation to the established East GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW In The Bohemians, Ben Tarnoff describes how Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith interacted with and were influenced both personally and professionally by one another in San Francisco during and immediately after the Civil War before transforming American literature. It is not only the story of four writers of cultural significance, but of the shining, optimistic early history of California and Far West in relation to the established East. The main focus of the book as stated clearly in the subtitle is Twain with Harte as the clear secondary focus. Tarnoff describes the lives of both men before their meeting in San Francisco, their working relationship with one another, their mutual influences on one another, and their at first subtle then overt rivalry. The book’s narrative essentially ends when Harte leaves for Europe in 1878, never to return to the United States. If Tarnoff had written about the two men who brought the western literary tradition into acceptance in the New England-dominated American literary establishment only to veer off into different directions, he would have succeeded. However the inclusion of and subsequence failure to properly include Stoddard and Coolbrith into the account undermines Tarnoff’s work. Both Stoddard and Coolbrith come off by the end of the book as very minor in their work and accomplishments, which in the case of Coolbrith is literally a slap in the face. While Stoddard had a working relationship in some capacity to both Twain and Harte as well as his own poetry and prose, Coolbrith’s later elevation to California poet laureate as well as her interesting friendships and experiences both inside and outside her domestic cage are ignored. In the end their inclusion comes off as being due to sexual orientation and gender than their actual achievements. The Bohemians gives an insight into how the western branch of American literature sprung up and was intertwined with that of the Eastern establishment to create the cultural landscape we experience today. Twain, Harte, and the early history of California and the Far West are highlights of the book, however the use of Stoddard and Coolbrith as glorified window-dressing is the major downside. If given the option I would have given 3 ½ stars, after careful consideration I thought 4 would have been too high.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    The Bohemians includes a young Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Stoddard and Ina Coolbirth, though this book really only gives one an in depth view of Harte and Twain. What I liked most about this book was the wonderful history presented within. San Francisco, mid eighteen hundreds, many arrive fleeing the Civil War and the need to fight. The changes wrought by the power of the written word as newspapers and literary journals abound, providing unlimited access to the news as well as current literature. Th The Bohemians includes a young Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Stoddard and Ina Coolbirth, though this book really only gives one an in depth view of Harte and Twain. What I liked most about this book was the wonderful history presented within. San Francisco, mid eighteen hundreds, many arrive fleeing the Civil War and the need to fight. The changes wrought by the power of the written word as newspapers and literary journals abound, providing unlimited access to the news as well as current literature. The advent of the railroad, making everything so much more accessible and the flock of people who know make their living and lives in the west. So many characters make the west the place to be. The drinking, the parties, gambling and of course prostitution make it easy to fulfill every desire. Follows the lives of Twain, and Harter from their arrival through to their eventual departure. This stay in San Francisco at this time would forever mark the way they wrote and the things they wrote about. Interesting facts. Entertaining reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Juliana

    How fitting that I picked this book up in San Francisco at Alexander's Book Company. This is a well-researched look at a point in time in California's history and the beginning of a new kind of American literature. The focus is on Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard and Ina Coolbrith and the main focus is on the 1860s between the Civil War and the depression of 1870s. How fitting that I picked this book up in San Francisco at Alexander's Book Company. This is a well-researched look at a point in time in California's history and the beginning of a new kind of American literature. The focus is on Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard and Ina Coolbrith and the main focus is on the 1860s between the Civil War and the depression of 1870s.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tam May

    I love San Francisco/Bay Area history so when I saw this book was not only about SF history but also about writers, I grabbed it. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Tarnoff struck a good balance between describing the history of the area long with the lives of the Bohemian writers of the mid-19th century who lived and discovered their literary voices there. I also appreciated that Tarnoff wrote a more straight-forward book rather than the more creative nonfiction type of book that seems to be popular I love San Francisco/Bay Area history so when I saw this book was not only about SF history but also about writers, I grabbed it. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Tarnoff struck a good balance between describing the history of the area long with the lives of the Bohemian writers of the mid-19th century who lived and discovered their literary voices there. I also appreciated that Tarnoff wrote a more straight-forward book rather than the more creative nonfiction type of book that seems to be popular these days where authors make up a lot of the dialogue and events that happened as if it were a story (which can sometimes get a little annoying for me). I saw a side of Mark Twain in this book that I didn't realize he had (and it wasn't always a nice one). My only complaint is that the last 30% of the book (at least my version) was all notes and acknowledgements which made for a much shorter book than promised. But definitely worth a read for anyone interested in literary societies of the past or in San Francisco Bay Area history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review. This book describes the lives of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard. They were the main writers of the “Bohemian” movement in San Francisco in the late 19th century. Location 42: By the 1860s, the city had spawned on extraordinary literary scene - a band of outsiders called the Bohemians. Twain joined their ranks, and the encounter would shape the entire current I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review. This book describes the lives of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard. They were the main writers of the “Bohemian” movement in San Francisco in the late 19th century. Location 42: By the 1860s, the city had spawned on extraordinary literary scene - a band of outsiders called the Bohemians. Twain joined their ranks, and the encounter would shape the entire current of his life. Despite the fact that the author gave a certain emphasis on Mark Twain’s literary career, their work progressed as well as Twain’s. About the Bohemians: Location 54: The Bohemians were nonconformists by choice or by circumstance, and they eased their isolation by forming intense friendships with one another. Location 64: The Bohemians would bring a fresh spirit to American writing, drawn from the new world being formed in the Far West. If the gold guard of American literature was genteel, moralistic, grandiose, then the Bohemians would be ironic and irreverent. Location 762: Together they would do more than anyone of the era to put the Far West on the national stage. Location 3213: A group called the Bohemian Club started in 1872, had briefly offered hope of keeping San Francisco’s creative energy alive. Location 3219: By the time Oscar Wilde stopped by in 1882, the transformation was complete. “I never saw so many well-dressed, welled, business-looking Bohemians in my life,” he remarked. About Mark Twain: Location 113: —“mark twain” meant “two fathoms,” a phrase that could signal safety or danger depending on the ship’s location. Location 1602: But Hawaii wasn’t purely a vacation: it also gave Twain invaluable training in travel writing, the genre that would produce his first major book, The Innocents Abroad. Location 2617: Roughing It would be part fiction, part fact: the story of the six most formative years of his life, beginning with that fateful day in 1861 when he boarded a stagecoach with his brother Orion and fled the Civil War for the far frontier beyond the plains. Location 2881: No wonder Twain loved England: it gave him the legitimacy he always wanted. Location 2903: If The Innocents Abroad and Roughing IT showed a young country struggling up to adulthood, The Gilded Age would be the story of its growing pains. Location 2971-72: Yet for all its faults, The Gilded Age represented a major step forward for Twain. It was his first novel, and his first published attempt to put his boyhood memories into a full-length work of fiction. About Bret Harte: Location 2443: In the coming years, the The Heathen Chinee would become a rallying cry and a recruiting tool for the crusade against Chinese immigration. Location 2719: For years, he had mentored them. He had given them a platform,a Bohemia to belong to. Then he went East and slammed the door shut behind him. Location 3024-28: Harte had lost his sense of early California as a cosmic joke. He now eulogized the pruners with the same rhetoric he once ridiculed. In fact, his description of the miners of 1849 - an “Argonaut brotherhood” of “jauntily insolent” young Americans - sounded curiously like another frontier fraternity: the Bohemians of the Pacific coast. About Ina Coolbrith: Location 440: Tragedy changed her. It bred a depressive streak that tempered the wilder impulses of her girlhood, made her reticent, yet also unusually solicitous toward people in pain. About Charles Warren Stoddard: Location 1437: “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” still reads brilliantly, but it’s not as funny now as it was when it first appeared. Location 2749: South-Sea Idyls would be an anti-travelogue in the tradition of Twain’s Roughing It. Concluding remarks: Location 3218: Bt becoming “Bohemians,” California’s postwar parvenus could playact at glamorous poverty. They could pretend that art, not money, was what united them. Location 3272: For Harte, Stoddard and Coolbrith, Bohemia had meant the best years of their lives. I found this book a masterpiece of the American literary criticism, to be read by all fans of American fiction.

  6. 5 out of 5

    claire

    What a treat! A story of San Francisco and its evanescent literary class as it endeavored to become a proper city in the 1860s and 70s, The Bohemians is in so many ways still the story of San Francisco today -- cheeky upstart boom town hustling to eclipse its stodgy East Coast roots and rivals. The most fun part of the book for me was how successfully Tarnoff brings alive the 19th century streets of San Francisco -- reading this I felt like I was transplanted there, queuing up for one of Mark Tw What a treat! A story of San Francisco and its evanescent literary class as it endeavored to become a proper city in the 1860s and 70s, The Bohemians is in so many ways still the story of San Francisco today -- cheeky upstart boom town hustling to eclipse its stodgy East Coast roots and rivals. The most fun part of the book for me was how successfully Tarnoff brings alive the 19th century streets of San Francisco -- reading this I felt like I was transplanted there, queuing up for one of Mark Twain's sold out lectures, chatting to all hours at Ina Coolbrith's place in Russian Hill, looking east to the countryside of Berkeley.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Kolwinska

    This was an interesting read, centered in the literary movement of San Francisco during the late Civil War years until the 1880s. Lots of details about the four characters who are the focus of the book: Mark Twain, Brett Harte, Charles Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith. Tarnoff does a fine job of weaving these lives together into a coherent whole. The interplay between the personalities that Tarnhoff creates is engaging, yet scholarly in its depth. For me, the relationship of Harte and Twain was most This was an interesting read, centered in the literary movement of San Francisco during the late Civil War years until the 1880s. Lots of details about the four characters who are the focus of the book: Mark Twain, Brett Harte, Charles Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith. Tarnoff does a fine job of weaving these lives together into a coherent whole. The interplay between the personalities that Tarnhoff creates is engaging, yet scholarly in its depth. For me, the relationship of Harte and Twain was most fascinating. To see one man’s struggle to reinvent himself, and do so successfully (Twain), and to see the other fail in that attempt really added to my understanding of both authors. Coolbrith and Stoddard were unknowns for me, yet they contributed to the literary milieu of the period in subtle ways. The book significantly enhanced my understanding of the relationship of Twain and W. D. Howells. The PBS special on Twain illuminated some of this relationship, but Tarnoff’s research brings a light to bear on the two men that I think is important for any student of Twain. For any aspiring writers, the struggles of these authors to find their voice would be instructive. Four stars simply because the book isn’t a spell-binder. You have to read it deliberately, but the journey will be rewarding for a student of American literature.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael Anderson

    Interesting book about Twain's early writing career in California. But, basically, not enough Twain and too much Harte and Stoddard. Interesting book about Twain's early writing career in California. But, basically, not enough Twain and too much Harte and Stoddard.

  9. 5 out of 5

    The Bookend Family

    That the Civil War was a watershed moment in American history goes without saying. It was also a harbinger of many changes, both societal and psychological that helped define the Industrial Era. The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff tells the tale of a revolution that is just as important to people who love books and literature, American or not. Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, is one of four people featured in this fascinating p That the Civil War was a watershed moment in American history goes without saying. It was also a harbinger of many changes, both societal and psychological that helped define the Industrial Era. The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff tells the tale of a revolution that is just as important to people who love books and literature, American or not. Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, is one of four people featured in this fascinating piece of history. Lesser known to us now, but not so then, we also get the inter-twined tales of Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard and Ina Coolbrith. Mr. Tarnoff takes us from the early careers and lives of these writers and editors who helped shape the new literary landscape, and shows us the ways that their lives and careers took shape in the crucible of San Francisco, a city that was at once sophisticated and rough-and-tumble at the same time. Mr. Tarnoff does a great job of sharing time between all of his varied characters, showing their faults and foibles alongside their triumphs, and placing them in their proper context as the leaders of a movement that would shift American literature away from stuffy New England classrooms to the mining camps and raucous cities of the West and mid-West. Despite his fairness and even-handedness Twain ends up dominating the book, and it is no fault of the author's, or the characters about whom he writes. All of the featured characters stories are interesting and often moving, particularly Ms. Coolbrith, but Twain was a once in a lifetime talent, with a personality to match. It is a testament to Mr. Tarnoff's skill that the rest of the Bohemians hold their own with one of America's Great writers. This book is well-researched but reads like a novel, never letting the story lag so that the author can pontificate about an historical point he wishes to make. Of particular interest are the early days of the forming of the Bohemians, when all of these disparate characters, and many others who the writer brings to life deftly, all come together at the end of the Civil War. The literary scene of that time was to me both stunningly and amusing rowdy, with fact and fiction mingling with an extent that borders on being called Gonzo. The same can be said of the behavior of many of the writers, in particular Twain, who seems to have spent almost as much time fighting and feuding as he did writing. As the book continues Mr. Tarnoff shows us how each of his principle characters left an indelible footprint on the making of modern American Literature, and he makes it all a great deal of fun. They may seem rather undignified for a book about History and Literature to some, but seems perfect for a book about this group of Bohemians. Review by: Mark Palm

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Frazier

    Having lived in San Francisco for several years during my twenties, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of this group of writers who gave voice to the burgeoning American west during the 1860s, when each of them was in his or her twenties. Featuring Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard, it focuses primarily on the first two who, in turn, focused on the Golden State and the panoply of migrants and immigrants who made the west home in the years shortly after the Gold R Having lived in San Francisco for several years during my twenties, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of this group of writers who gave voice to the burgeoning American west during the 1860s, when each of them was in his or her twenties. Featuring Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard, it focuses primarily on the first two who, in turn, focused on the Golden State and the panoply of migrants and immigrants who made the west home in the years shortly after the Gold Rush. All four were friends who, unbeknownst to them, would comprise "The Bohemians,"a small clique struggling to give voice to a region heretofore without a literary identity, most of them struggling to support families through more traditional means as well. Of the four, it was only Twain, a former steam boat pilot from Missouri, who didn't have a regular full-time job. As a reporter for various newspapers and magazines based in Nevada and San Francisco, it was his depiction of "Jim Smiley and the Jumping Frog" a tale that he'd heard about in a California mining camp, that captured the attention of readers and publishers near and far. Known for his ability to capture and create an authentic dialect for his characters, this tale was well received on the East Coast as well, as many publishers sought to chronicle--and cash in on--a literary manifest destiny. Harte, whose name I would've expected to hear more during my years in San Francisco, was Twain's primary foil for attention, and the two engaged in friendly and not-so-friendly competition for publishers and editing positions as they struggled to establish themselves and their places in American Letters. (At times each even served as the editor of the other's work.) Author Ban Tarnoff does an excellent job of researching and portraying the steps and missteps of all involved. While it would've been easy to concentrate on their successes--which eventually were much more plentiful and rewarding for Twain--he exposes the vulnerabilities and insecurities that all great authors seem to harbor, without prejudice or judgment. In fact, this story pretty much ends before Twain has even authored the two Adventures (of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) for which he would earn his greatest acclaim (not to mention remuneration). I am now determined not only to reread those classics, but others authored by this group as well. Frankly, I'm not sure there can be any greater recommendation for this biography than that.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    A New Literature for a unique place and time The subtitle: “The Bohemians” refers to a group of four writers, two poets Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard and two prose writers, Bret Harte and Mark Twain, who were either born in California or lived there for a large chunk of time. San Francisco was where they met, bonded and formed a group they labeled ‘The Bohemians’. They fashioned themselves after a New York group with the same ideals and goals which were to live their lives through art A New Literature for a unique place and time The subtitle: “The Bohemians” refers to a group of four writers, two poets Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard and two prose writers, Bret Harte and Mark Twain, who were either born in California or lived there for a large chunk of time. San Francisco was where they met, bonded and formed a group they labeled ‘The Bohemians’. They fashioned themselves after a New York group with the same ideals and goals which were to live their lives through art. They met weekly, encouraged one another, helped one another and in Harte’s and Twain’s case, competed ruthlessly at times. Together they created a unique voice, a voice representative of a new Western way of life and thought. Many of the Eastern Literati looked down on them for being crude and less than intellectual. The East looked to Europe as the ideal in literature and sought to immolate those writers. The West made things up as they went along and as necessity dictated or sometimes simply on a whim or just to have fun. Their writing reflects a unique vernacular. And then the transcontinental railroad was built joining both ends of the country. Regional idiosyncrasies in thought and speech and outlook began to dissolve. Twain and then Harte moved to the Northeast and their innovative group scattered. They took what they learned from one another and the West with them however. Currently Mark Twain is the undisputed star of this group but to their contemporaries that place was held by Harte. Harte founded journals, helped edit his friends’ work, published their pieces. And personally he was at the peak of his writing ability. Sadly, he began to devote more time to drinking than to his writing and things spectacularly fell apart for him. According to Tarnoff the secret to Twain’s success was his relentlessness. I agree but would also add that Twain had a knack for learning from his abundant mistakes and the ability to reinvent himself. He also knew how to relate to people, to get them on his side, persuade them to publish his work and to back his speaking career. He was lovable and entertaining. He was an undaunted original. Tarnoff’s “The Bohemians” is a biographical, historical, and a literary analysis. It’s also plain fun to read. This review is based on an Advance Readers Copy furnished by the publisher. (Disclaimer given as required by the FTC.)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Disclaimer: I received my copy for free as a first reads giveaway. My biggest complaint about the book is the font chosen to identify the photographs picked in the book. I have scary good vision, but even I had to use a bit of effort to read the descriptions. Now for the actual material. Overall, I thought it was a good book. The material was interesting. I learned more about Twain than I knew and I honestly knew nothing about the bohemians of San Francisco prior to reading this book. There were t Disclaimer: I received my copy for free as a first reads giveaway. My biggest complaint about the book is the font chosen to identify the photographs picked in the book. I have scary good vision, but even I had to use a bit of effort to read the descriptions. Now for the actual material. Overall, I thought it was a good book. The material was interesting. I learned more about Twain than I knew and I honestly knew nothing about the bohemians of San Francisco prior to reading this book. There were times the book slogged along and I think that has more to do with a slow point in the history than the writing. I wish there had been more about the individuals all in one chunk, but that is just because I find it easier to get a feeling for a person that way rather than bits and pieces. It helped to figure of the group dynamic this way, but less about the individuals. Also, perhaps because they had more interesting histories, most of the book seemed to be Twain/Harte. I would definitely recommend the book for anyone who is a fan of the individuals of the book or the era.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Dalessandro

    This is a first rate piece of research and writing. I have long been devoted to studying and writing about San Francisco's remarkable history, and it's a pleasure to find a book that is smart, insightful and well written. Ben Tarnoff has done something wonderful: given us fresh insights and understanding into the marvelous character of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Stoddard and Ina Coolbirth. I can never get enough of Twain, but of particular interest to me was Coolbirth - one of the great nam This is a first rate piece of research and writing. I have long been devoted to studying and writing about San Francisco's remarkable history, and it's a pleasure to find a book that is smart, insightful and well written. Ben Tarnoff has done something wonderful: given us fresh insights and understanding into the marvelous character of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Stoddard and Ina Coolbirth. I can never get enough of Twain, but of particular interest to me was Coolbirth - one of the great names, literally. This is the woman who taught Jack London to become a voracious reader when he was only 10 years old and trying to escape his crazy mother. I have also admired Bret Harte, and learned much from this book. The most revealing was Charles Stoddard; shame on me, but I knew little of him before this book. I cater to the whacky notion that the San Francisco Bay Area is the true literary capital of America: Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Dashiell Hammett, William Saroyan, Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Thank you, Mr. Tarnoff.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Guinevere

    A well-written examination of a fascinating time in the development of our country in so many ways - I learned quite a bit and enjoyed myself while doing so. Getting a different glimpse of Twain in developmental years really opens up how I view what he writes in later years - honestly I did not realize the breadth of world/life experiences he had. I also enjoyed learning about Ina Coolbrith - this book offers a view of a brilliant and talented young woman who had no qualms about not fitting into A well-written examination of a fascinating time in the development of our country in so many ways - I learned quite a bit and enjoyed myself while doing so. Getting a different glimpse of Twain in developmental years really opens up how I view what he writes in later years - honestly I did not realize the breadth of world/life experiences he had. I also enjoyed learning about Ina Coolbrith - this book offers a view of a brilliant and talented young woman who had no qualms about not fitting into the mold in a time where that was not easy to do. (Tho honestly, there are so many situations where that could be compared throughout time, including now - books like this reinforce the relevance of the cyclical nature of history/development.) I received an advance proof of this book through a Goodreads give-away and I am happy to add this great book to my own library!

  15. 4 out of 5

    wade

    A well done but narrow audience book relevant to American literary history. The book focuses on the story of a cluster of young authors that were friends in San Francisco some of which will become literary icons and others who did not. Mark Twain and Bret Harte and their friendship and rivalry are sketched out in much detail. Also, a principle theme is the difficulty that the Western authors had gaining respect in the East with their more folksy subjects. English majors and teachers will get a A well done but narrow audience book relevant to American literary history. The book focuses on the story of a cluster of young authors that were friends in San Francisco some of which will become literary icons and others who did not. Mark Twain and Bret Harte and their friendship and rivalry are sketched out in much detail. Also, a principle theme is the difficulty that the Western authors had gaining respect in the East with their more folksy subjects. English majors and teachers will get a lot out of this but there is not a lot of crossover to the general reader.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I really wanted to like this book, but I found it to be ho hum. Laden with repetitive details that just didn't interest me and the writing style didn't captivate me. Blah, blah, blah. Glad to know San Francisco was as unique and eccentric in the 1850's as it is today. The rest of the book - whatever. The change agents were Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Stoddard, Ina Coolbrith, Olivia Langdon Clemens, William Dean Howells. http://blog.sfgate.com/thebigevent/20... I really wanted to like this book, but I found it to be ho hum. Laden with repetitive details that just didn't interest me and the writing style didn't captivate me. Blah, blah, blah. Glad to know San Francisco was as unique and eccentric in the 1850's as it is today. The rest of the book - whatever. The change agents were Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Stoddard, Ina Coolbrith, Olivia Langdon Clemens, William Dean Howells. http://blog.sfgate.com/thebigevent/20...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I didn't know a lot about that time and place in history (1860-1880 in San Francisco) or those people (Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith, Charles Warren Stoddard) so it was very interesting to read about post-Gold Rush California and the amazing people who lived and wrote there. The author mentioned Jessie Benton Frémont briefly and I would love to know more about her too. I didn't know a lot about that time and place in history (1860-1880 in San Francisco) or those people (Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith, Charles Warren Stoddard) so it was very interesting to read about post-Gold Rush California and the amazing people who lived and wrote there. The author mentioned Jessie Benton Frémont briefly and I would love to know more about her too.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    Ina Coolbrith is the quiet hero in the background, a schoolteacher, a librarian, she had less freedom to roam than the other writers of the West, like Twain, and goes almost unnoticed in this collective biography. She ends up becoming California's first poet laureate, finally staking her claim on the male-dominated frontier. Ina Coolbrith is the quiet hero in the background, a schoolteacher, a librarian, she had less freedom to roam than the other writers of the West, like Twain, and goes almost unnoticed in this collective biography. She ends up becoming California's first poet laureate, finally staking her claim on the male-dominated frontier.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heather Fryling

    The Bohemians is the kind of history that's easy to read, where hard facts and softer interpretation are interwoven to create an accessible narrative. The book is a love song to San Francisco, the old west, and the writers they produced. The Bohemians is the kind of history that's easy to read, where hard facts and softer interpretation are interwoven to create an accessible narrative. The book is a love song to San Francisco, the old west, and the writers they produced.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I want to go back and read all of Twain again! Learning about his circle of friends in San Francisco was fascinating. Very well done.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    Lots of incessant jawing without insight to the writers. I really don't care how often Twain traveled from Carson City to San Francisco and back. Lots of incessant jawing without insight to the writers. I really don't care how often Twain traveled from Carson City to San Francisco and back.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sharry

    Thoroughly enjoyable. Well written history of a group of writers and poets who befriended and supported each other during their earliest years in San Francisco.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve Shilstone

    Four literary wannabes meet and interact in San Francisco of the 1860s. One roars to fame, one flames out, and two murmur more quietly.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charly

    July 2nd of this year, I took a Lyft round-trip from San Jose to Big Sur and back. My driver was an immigrant from Vietnam, had lived in the Santa Cruz area for nearly his whole adult life but had never been to the Bixby Canyon Bridge. As I gazed out over the Pacific, I had the distinct thought come to me, "You can do anything you want." (Yes, I was probably in the midst of some low-level mania.) Apparently, that was the day I entered this book into my queue. It seems à propos: did you know that M July 2nd of this year, I took a Lyft round-trip from San Jose to Big Sur and back. My driver was an immigrant from Vietnam, had lived in the Santa Cruz area for nearly his whole adult life but had never been to the Bixby Canyon Bridge. As I gazed out over the Pacific, I had the distinct thought come to me, "You can do anything you want." (Yes, I was probably in the midst of some low-level mania.) Apparently, that was the day I entered this book into my queue. It seems à propos: did you know that Mark Twain was suicidal and debt-ridden when he was 29/30? That one of his closest friends was an ex-Mo woman who worked in a library for half the rate of her male peers? I'm pretty sure I first picked this up in Boulder, in 2016, when I thought that I would move there and work at their Shakespeare festival and write a thesis on Ina Coolbrith and hike every morning. I was at an English conference, which has diverged from the great American literary tradition sharply, in that it's mostly arguing about semiotics, and I skipped it to go to Avery Brewing in Gun Barrel. That was the weekend the Comey letter hit. That was the beginning of the end. The nineteenth century was a period where melancholy, decades-long despair, the reality that you might just be single and trapped forever and ever, were very much a part of the fabric of a possible life, not something to be medicated or dismissed or manifested. In my home stretch of this book, lying on the igneous benches on the East Bench of my hometown bursting randomly into tears (yes I was probably low-key depressed which to paraphrase Joan Didion seems like a reasonable response to 2018), having a description of Salt Lake City engraved by Mark Twain feet away seemed like a small slice of hope. I was feeling particularly self-pitying about my parents (one dead, one absent) tonight, and snapped at the crisis worker or robot or whatever dystopia we live in (I had a cortado in San Francisco served by a robot, Twain, come save us from our stupidity) and thought about the Stoics' "Open Door" and their stance that if you don't throw yourself from the Golden Gate well, don't complain, you're in the game. Unlike Ina, being an ex-Mo who's unencumbered by relatives, I should view it as a blessing in disguise. Maybe I could find a literary community in San Francisco, pitch a memoir, take up the torch of flowery poetry as a singer-songwriter, talk my way into a consular job in Germany and never look back. I left Great Salt Lake a good deal confused as to what state of things existed there and sometimes even questioning in my own mind whether a state of things existed there at all or not, said Twain. Suicidal or no, he certainly was sane and the writer we need in our blinkered age. Maybe, just maybe, I Can Do Whatever I Want.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bookreader

    I'm glad I read this book. It was an interesting view of the time-period not just of the west coast but of the country in general and of the east coast in particular. I found it entertaining. And I quite enjoyed Twain's trip to England as well and the peak at Europe of the time. Tarnoff does a worthy job supporting the claim that these San Francisco writers "Reinvented American Literature" but I still think the claim is somewhat overstated. Perhaps the publisher pushed for a book title that would I'm glad I read this book. It was an interesting view of the time-period not just of the west coast but of the country in general and of the east coast in particular. I found it entertaining. And I quite enjoyed Twain's trip to England as well and the peak at Europe of the time. Tarnoff does a worthy job supporting the claim that these San Francisco writers "Reinvented American Literature" but I still think the claim is somewhat overstated. Perhaps the publisher pushed for a book title that would tie the manuscript up with a bright and tidy bow. I understand better how Clemens became the Mark Twain that most of us are familiar with and his evolution as a man and as an author was quite interesting.. Unfortunately, I liked him less as a result of reading this book. He was often, though not always, not as well-intentioned as I had thought him to be. In other ways, his personality was as I had thought it: big and bold. And he did dislike injustice. Perhaps it was the drinking that, in part at least, fueled some of his vindictiveness. I feel inspired to read some of his works mentioned in the book that I had not previously read like Innocents Abroad. Bret Harte is described as an excellent editor. Perhaps if he had stuck to that profession he would have had a more stable successful life. I do intend to read the story he's best known for and maybe even the play he wrote with Twain although it is lamentably anti-Chinese. Twain baffled and disappointed me with his change from sympathy for the Chinese working and living in America to his later racist depiction of them in that play. I wasn't as impressed with the quality of the poetry (Ina Coolbrith somewhat better than Charles Stoddard) in the book. There wasn't much to sample of their work in the book and I did find some of their work on the internet and sampled a little on my own. I do intend to read more of their work to give them a fairer chance. (I think it says something that Stoddard is better known for his Polynesian travel writings.) What was interesting was how their lives played out during that period of time. I like how the male writers in their circle treated Ina Coolbrith, yet her life was circumscribed because she was a woman. And Stoddard, a gay man, lived a closeted life as did every other gay man at the time. I was surprised that Ambrose Bierce was hardly discussed. He knew the other writers discussed herein and he wrote for one of the same publications.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    On my vacation trips I try really hard to visit local bookstores and pick up something from the Read Local section. Recently I was in San Francisco and visited City of Lights Bookstore and bought this book. Loved the store and really liked the book. Also purchased a few others for the next review. The subtitle is "Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature". I admit that I am a fan of what little Mark Twain I have read. Did not know he basically got his start repo On my vacation trips I try really hard to visit local bookstores and pick up something from the Read Local section. Recently I was in San Francisco and visited City of Lights Bookstore and bought this book. Loved the store and really liked the book. Also purchased a few others for the next review. The subtitle is "Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature". I admit that I am a fan of what little Mark Twain I have read. Did not know he basically got his start reporting for newspapers and lecturing in San Francisco. He did a series of articles on his trip to Hawaii which in those days was a minimum 3 month jaunt. Got that book at Kona Bay Books when we visited the Big Island. Anyway to continue it is an entertaining read about a group of writers in SF who started newspapers, magazines and literary groups that developed and acquainted the rest of the world with Western Literature. Eye opener to the kind of person and writer Mark Twain was. It was unfortunate that the end of the book started to stall out a little and thus the 4 stars. Well worth the read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I'm between two and three stars for this one. I was really excited about it and it kind of let me down. My son lived in San Francisco for a few years and I loved visiting and sight seeing there. What a wonderful city. And actually the reason I went to three stars was mostly about the history of the city and the far west which I found fascinating. As far as the premise of the book it just didn't seem like there was enough there to write a book about. It didn't seem like a solidified group. It was I'm between two and three stars for this one. I was really excited about it and it kind of let me down. My son lived in San Francisco for a few years and I loved visiting and sight seeing there. What a wonderful city. And actually the reason I went to three stars was mostly about the history of the city and the far west which I found fascinating. As far as the premise of the book it just didn't seem like there was enough there to write a book about. It didn't seem like a solidified group. It was more like four friends - well three friends and Mark Twain - who visited with each other now and again. Nothing like the Algonquin Round Table. It just seemed kind of loosey-goosey. The richest material seemed to be the relationship between Twain and Harte - maybe he could have just concentrated on that and put together a tighter story. Kudos to Tarnoff on all of his research though. The good thing that has come out of this is that I am definitely going to look for the biography of Ina Coolbrith mentioned in some of the other comments here!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mrk Bnt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I read The Bohemians because of my interest in Ina Coolbrith and her connection to the Joseph Smith family and Mormonism. Although I remain a bit skeptical of Tarnoff's assertions regarding the maturation of Mark Twain in San Francisco, I much enjoyed reading Tarnoff's accounts of the principal literary figures and their experiences in early California: Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith. At the Western edge of Golden Gate Park is the Beach Chalet building, with a I read The Bohemians because of my interest in Ina Coolbrith and her connection to the Joseph Smith family and Mormonism. Although I remain a bit skeptical of Tarnoff's assertions regarding the maturation of Mark Twain in San Francisco, I much enjoyed reading Tarnoff's accounts of the principal literary figures and their experiences in early California: Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith. At the Western edge of Golden Gate Park is the Beach Chalet building, with a large entry foyer with WPA murals from 1925, and four doors in the middle of the foyer's four walls. Each door is capped with a quote from early California writers. The East door is Ina Coolbrith: "Fair City of my Love and Desire." Bret Harte: "Serene, Indifferent of fate, Thou Sittest at the Western Gate." George Sterling: "At the end of our streets are Stars." Joaquin Miller: "Sails are furled from farthest corners of the world."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chao

    The book was a microscopic focus on its topic, with both advantages (in-depth) and disadvantages (can be tedious) of that approach. On one hand, I feel like the story delivered what it was supposed to be about, so it should be a 4-star. And the people and story felt real-real in all their faults and vices and downfalls or plain misfortunes, instead of chicken soup happy ending nice. On the other hand, it wasn't really a pleasant experience finishing the book; upon finishing, I just felt sad. So The book was a microscopic focus on its topic, with both advantages (in-depth) and disadvantages (can be tedious) of that approach. On one hand, I feel like the story delivered what it was supposed to be about, so it should be a 4-star. And the people and story felt real-real in all their faults and vices and downfalls or plain misfortunes, instead of chicken soup happy ending nice. On the other hand, it wasn't really a pleasant experience finishing the book; upon finishing, I just felt sad. So it was a 3-star experience. But maybe that in itself means the book was effective (e.g. don't sugarcoat something that didn't turn out). And despite that at times his writing style was overly flowery, it was obvious that the Tarnoff did loads of research, especially on topics so little known.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Fiza Pathan

    'The Bohemians' was a very interesting & suspenseful read. I enjoyed reading the true life stories of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard & Ina Coolbrith. It was an engaging book & really brought out in a story form the lives of these four Bohemians of San Francisco (California). I hope to read more non-fiction books about these individuals in the near future. In this book, I was most interested in the personality of Mark Twain but realized the other characters were also equally wond 'The Bohemians' was a very interesting & suspenseful read. I enjoyed reading the true life stories of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard & Ina Coolbrith. It was an engaging book & really brought out in a story form the lives of these four Bohemians of San Francisco (California). I hope to read more non-fiction books about these individuals in the near future. In this book, I was most interested in the personality of Mark Twain but realized the other characters were also equally wonderful writers & deserving of all praise. It was an informative & engaging book. I love to read books about writers who are 'the other' or who don't follow conventional norms in society & this book fit my taste in that category. Kudos to Ben Tarnoff on a job well done. 'The Bohemians' get 5 stars from me.

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