3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Great Biography Of A Secret Life,
This review is from: Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade (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. But what definitely marks the text is how Spring constantly refers to Stewards' own writings, giving the book an almost autobiographical tone. The volume is complete with extensive notes to reference the text, and with the indispensable name and bio-bibliographic indexes.
The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, which not only says well of its interest beyond the restricted gay universe, but also does some justice to Samuel Steward, getting him back from the anonymous obscurity in which he lived his life and in which history was preparing to forget him.
Justin Spring has a website that is largely dedicated to the book and a Facebook page.