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Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade [Hardcover]

Justin Spring
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 478 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1 edition (17 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281342
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 607,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Secret Historian Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, this work is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the 20th century. Full description

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Biography Of A Secret Life 19 Mar 2012
By bagoas
Format:Paperback
Secret Historian, The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist and sexual renegade, is one of the best biographies I've ever read. Largely the allure of the book owns, of course, to the extraordinary life of its subject. But the author's effort is also out of the ordinary. Dealing with a rich documental collection, Justin Spring makes a very close reading and a careful and complete examination of what was Steward's life, and how Steward lived it.

In other words, we know not only the events and episodes that constituted his life, but also his reflections, his desires, how he rationalized what happened to him, and his opinions and reactions to either aspects of his personal life or related to what was happening around him. The analysis of Steward's papers was complemented with numerous interviews, and with analysis of the papers of other protagonists in his life.

Samuel Steward lived so intensely and even wildly, his sexuality and his homosexuality. Especially at a time when moral repression was strong, and homosexuals were illegal and underground. From these experiences, it's registering and it's context, Justin Spring wrote a history of homosexuality in America (but not only, as it follows the adventures of Steward in Europe, particularly in Paris and in Rome), that is particularly relevant in regard of the years before Stonewall, i.e. before the gay liberation movement that grows from 1969 on.

The quality of the writing is notable, and the text is never heavy or monotonous. On the contrary, there is a successful balance between narrative and other more reflective snippets, between the comment and the testimony, between the more historic analysis and the hottest episodes from Stewards' life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is really a ground-breaking book. Before reading it I wondered why he kept such detailed records of his sexual encounters, but after learning that he was working with Kinsey it was less awkward. His "Lifetime documentation of his sexual activity was something he began simply as a way of creating order and sense out of his daily experience of the world" and something he later successfully mined for his fiction work. In the end his "Studfile" consisted of 746 cards and documented the years 1924-1974. After finishing the book I wonder if it was indeed too much: too many intimate details about sex, diseases, oxygen tanks and human emotions and failings. But Steward would probably be amused - if he did not want this to happen he would not have written it ALL down. This is a story that we can all learn from and that would please Steward.

Born in Ohio, raised by two maiden aunts, he wanted to become a writer and had an auspicious start, but never made it to the next level. He used his love of language to became a professor of English and taught for around twenty years at universities in Chicago. He seems to have been liked by his students, but working at religious universities eventually got the better of him. Besides all of his sexual adventures, he started to tattoo on the side! It was during his time in Chicago that he was introduced to Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Kinsey's "Sexual Response in the Human Male" had just come out and made him famous. He was very interested in Steward and his complete openness. The Dr. and his team were allowed to have copies of much of the Studfile for research purposes.

Police entrapment, interrogation, bribes and blackmail of gay men were becoming ever more common. Eisenhower even prohibited homosexuals from working in the civil service.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our history 17 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover
A wonderfully researched, captivating read of times and persons some of us still remember. The writer deserves great thanks for recording an important segment of our history that was in danger of disappearing for ever. An academic study, but written with wit and compassion. Highly recommended!
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