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Publisher's Summary

Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the 20th century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on and documented these experiences in brilliantly vivid and often very funny detail.

After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicago’s notorious South State Street, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his name and identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat, pro-homosexual pornography under the name of Phil Andros.

Until today he has been known only as Phil Sparrow, but an extraordinary archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided the material for an exceptionally compassionate and brilliantly illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life long before Stonewall and gay liberation.

Justin Spring is a writer specializing in 20th-century American art and culture and is the author of many monographs, catalogs, museum publications, and books, including Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art and Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude.

©2010 Justin Spring (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Astonishing….The probity and expansive vision of Spring’s work is a reminder that a great, outspread terrain of gay history remains to be mapped.” ( New York Times Book Review)
“Jaw-dropping…. Reads like a novel probing a lifelong rebel’s courage, creativity, and ultimate sadness.” ( San Francisco Chronicle)
“This is a rich and exuberant biography of a man who deserves to be better known.” ( The Economist)

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  • Jeffrey
  • Austin Texas, United States
  • 12-17-14

Stark, Revealing, Honest, Sad

Just a few of the words I would use to describe the life of Samuel Steward, the object of Justin Spring's amazing work, Secret Historian. Just as some today use blogs and emails to nowadays reveal, communicate, inform and archive, folk used to write letters on real paper with real ink. It's a breeze to collect data now compared to then. Mr. Spring's extensive research, compilation and final literary revelation of Mr. Steward's obsessive life and writings is a thing of beauty unto itself. No matter what else you think of Mr. Steward's life, it was his and his alone and one gawks at the man's dedication to be and do what he was and what he did. Incredible and yes, inspiring on all fronts. Mr. Runnette's narration was perfect, unerring and smooth as glass, a pleasure to listen to.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very Revealing and Secretive Indeed

What made the experience of listening to Secret Historian the most enjoyable?

First and foremost, its content, which has been very under-chronicled. Secondly, the narrator, who has has a very clear voice, and speaks at a good speed. He sounds educated and a bit literary. All good points.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Samuel himself for being such a magical child and adult. The big cheese in the Chicago homo wrestling scene (I forget his name now), Alice B Tolkas and more.

Have you listened to any of Sean Runnette’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Sorry to say that I haven't

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Absolutely !!!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Thomas
  • Auberry, CA, United States
  • 06-11-18

Thought Provoking and a Touch Depressing

I bought this book to get a feeling of gay life before Stonewall and it delivered. Following Sam Steward through his life was enlightening, thought provoking, and depressing. The book focused on his sexual appetites and I wish there was more about his daily life and friendships; however, the author worked with what he had.

Definitely an excellent read and I feel more rounded by having been exposed to each step of his struggle during very difficult times.

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Important part of American history

I have just finished this extraordinary work and want to immediately start again. I was constantly pausing to google and make note of other works of literature and film that I needed to consume. This man was truly a renaissance man of our times and while literally a star-f*cker those connections ended up making him like a Forrest Gump of the Western cultural avant-garde.
I have one caution: Steward was fluent in French and several passages are spoken beautifully by the narrator but do not include a translation. Indeed as he was a very educated scholar, there are also Latin and Greek quotes and phrases used (and not just ones typically peppered in English narrative) where no translation is supplied and I just had to assume were profound.
I am definitely buying the print version, but this is great in audio version as well as I exclaimed and laughed repeatedly as the story unfolded.

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Superb biography

Very thorough telling of the life and works of a most important 20th century gay man. Appreciated learning about this man.