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Santa Claus: A Biography

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An entertaining, often surprising look at the life of the world’s most influential fictional character. He is the embodiment of charity and generosity, a creation of mythology, a tool of clever capitalists. The very idea of him is enduring and powerful. Santa Claus was born in early-nineteenth-century America, but his family tree goes back seven hundred years to Saint Nichol An entertaining, often surprising look at the life of the world’s most influential fictional character. He is the embodiment of charity and generosity, a creation of mythology, a tool of clever capitalists. The very idea of him is enduring and powerful. Santa Claus was born in early-nineteenth-century America, but his family tree goes back seven hundred years to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children. Intervening generations were shaggy and strange — whip-wielding menaces to naughty boys and girls. Yet as the raucous, outdoor, alcohol-fuelled holiday gave way to a more domestic, sentimental model, a new kind of gift-bringer was called for — a loveable elf, still judgmental but far less threatening. In this engaging social and cultural history, Gerry Bowler examines the place of Santa Claus in history, literature, advertising, and art. He traces his metamorphosis from a beardless youth into a red-suited peddler. He reveals the lesser-known aspects of the gift-bringer’s life — Santa’s involvement with social and political causes of all stripes (he enlisted on the Union side in the American Civil War), his starring role in the movies and as adman for gun-makers and insurance companies. And he demolishes the myths surrounding Santa Claus and Coca-Cola. Santa Claus: A Biography will stand as the classic work on the long-lived and multifarious Mr. Claus. From the Hardcover edition.


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An entertaining, often surprising look at the life of the world’s most influential fictional character. He is the embodiment of charity and generosity, a creation of mythology, a tool of clever capitalists. The very idea of him is enduring and powerful. Santa Claus was born in early-nineteenth-century America, but his family tree goes back seven hundred years to Saint Nichol An entertaining, often surprising look at the life of the world’s most influential fictional character. He is the embodiment of charity and generosity, a creation of mythology, a tool of clever capitalists. The very idea of him is enduring and powerful. Santa Claus was born in early-nineteenth-century America, but his family tree goes back seven hundred years to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children. Intervening generations were shaggy and strange — whip-wielding menaces to naughty boys and girls. Yet as the raucous, outdoor, alcohol-fuelled holiday gave way to a more domestic, sentimental model, a new kind of gift-bringer was called for — a loveable elf, still judgmental but far less threatening. In this engaging social and cultural history, Gerry Bowler examines the place of Santa Claus in history, literature, advertising, and art. He traces his metamorphosis from a beardless youth into a red-suited peddler. He reveals the lesser-known aspects of the gift-bringer’s life — Santa’s involvement with social and political causes of all stripes (he enlisted on the Union side in the American Civil War), his starring role in the movies and as adman for gun-makers and insurance companies. And he demolishes the myths surrounding Santa Claus and Coca-Cola. Santa Claus: A Biography will stand as the classic work on the long-lived and multifarious Mr. Claus. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Santa Claus: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This book starts off strong but loses its way about halfway through. The historical parts, from Santa's earliest origins to representations in the mid twentieth century, are very interesting, but after that the book meanders. Bowler has some frustrating habits, such as referring to events in a very roundabout way (calling a place 'a certain town', instead of naming the town, as if this will be universally understood), and being extremely inconsistent about his attributions. As history major myse This book starts off strong but loses its way about halfway through. The historical parts, from Santa's earliest origins to representations in the mid twentieth century, are very interesting, but after that the book meanders. Bowler has some frustrating habits, such as referring to events in a very roundabout way (calling a place 'a certain town', instead of naming the town, as if this will be universally understood), and being extremely inconsistent about his attributions. As history major myself, it made me cringe to see some quotes introduced simply as 'as one author wrote...', leaving the reader to find further information about the quote in the poorly formatted notes at the back of the book, while quotes from A Christmas Carol were attributed to Dickens, despite the fact that it's likely that more readers will immediately identify the author without needing to be told than they will the lesser known authors that Bowler leaves to the back pages. Bowler's writing style is also grating at times, with turns of phrase that seem self-consciously clever, but I could forgive all that if it weren't for the last twenty five pages, which feature a tonally out of place condemnation of 'political correctness', and an extremely sentimental and saccharine closing paragraph. The majority of the book seemed to be written as a history but it ends like a badly written op-ed. Thankfully I bought this at a second hand book store that was closing down, so I didn't pay very much for it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Bongiorno

    95% of this book was a cute, mostly trivia laden, history of the Santa Claus myth. I was going to give it 4 stars until the final chapter. The final chapter is an angry partisan treatise on the Jon existent "war on Christmas." The author abandons all third person detachment and open mocks atheists, psychiatry, liberalism, and even the field of women's studies. What a disgusting end to an otherwise pleasant read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Good, not great. It was a very thoughtful rendering of the whole of the Santa Claus legend and I did learn a few things. I really enjoyed that there were illustrations throughout that are referenced. Unfortunately, though because the illustrations are grouped together, I didn't know that they would be shown and it would have been nice to read the explanation and immediately look at the picture. My main frustration was that the information didn't feel well ordered to me and there were definite po Good, not great. It was a very thoughtful rendering of the whole of the Santa Claus legend and I did learn a few things. I really enjoyed that there were illustrations throughout that are referenced. Unfortunately, though because the illustrations are grouped together, I didn't know that they would be shown and it would have been nice to read the explanation and immediately look at the picture. My main frustration was that the information didn't feel well ordered to me and there were definite points of repetition. Interesting read but nothing I'd pick up for a reread.

  4. 5 out of 5

    casey

    Not bad, some information was a little sad, especially when you want to read a Christmas book. I did think there was some interesting information though.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rizwan

    The book had a lot of potentials but it is badly organized. Like another reviewer, I would also say that it started off really well but it got disorganized later on.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Soleil

    Had to read for school and while it had a lot of interesting history, the formatting made it difficult to read when it would quote passages and such.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    I've often wondered about the true origin and evolution of Santa Claus, and my interest sparked my impulsive buy of this biography this year. Much of what is discussed in this book is information I already knew to one extent or another, and the content I was most interested in--Santa Claus's appearance in history and his morph from a Catholic saint to a seemingly secular jolly old man--didn't encompass most of the book. The most interesting facts of the early days seemed glossed over to a certai I've often wondered about the true origin and evolution of Santa Claus, and my interest sparked my impulsive buy of this biography this year. Much of what is discussed in this book is information I already knew to one extent or another, and the content I was most interested in--Santa Claus's appearance in history and his morph from a Catholic saint to a seemingly secular jolly old man--didn't encompass most of the book. The most interesting facts of the early days seemed glossed over to a certain extent for me, so while the commentary at times brought up good points, it wasn't as enlightening as I hoped.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This is really 2.5 stars. Not the most entertaining biographical boom I have ever read. It had some interesting stuff, but a lot of not very interesting stuff too. I loved the ironical story of the modern age grinches protesting the amount of money spent at Christmas by buying a $1200 billboard to say so. It was eye opening to realize that not only do some religious people dislike Santa because he is not the true reason for the season, but he is also attacked by non Christians because he represe This is really 2.5 stars. Not the most entertaining biographical boom I have ever read. It had some interesting stuff, but a lot of not very interesting stuff too. I loved the ironical story of the modern age grinches protesting the amount of money spent at Christmas by buying a $1200 billboard to say so. It was eye opening to realize that not only do some religious people dislike Santa because he is not the true reason for the season, but he is also attacked by non Christians because he represents a religious holiday. The guy just can't get a break.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Kahn

    Probably more 3.5 stars. It was an entertaining read. I enjoyed the early chapter on the history of Santa Claus and the last chapter on the future of Santa. I found that some of the middle chapters - advertising featuring Santa, movies about Santa - became little more than lists in their efforts to be all-inclusive. Overall, it was a fun read, made me laugh out loud in a couple of places, and left me with a smile on my face. And isn't that what Santa's all about?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    I still believe in Santa, and loved having a read through Gerry Bowler's research on the man, and his history throughout the years. No one will ever change my view that every child should know the spirit of Santa, red suit or otherwise.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    An alright Christmas book, some of the earlier Christmas history was more interesting than the present day stuff. It got a bit list-y after a while. Still a fun read about the tradition that is Santa.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Foreign

    UK: Toby Mundy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Krampus!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Diane Heyden

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

  16. 5 out of 5

    Emma Cook

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

  19. 5 out of 5

    Monica

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emily Herberich

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chris Kelly

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sabre

  23. 4 out of 5

    T

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kim

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paula

  26. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paula Montoya

  30. 4 out of 5

    Annie

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