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Download Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer---and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush-Era San Francisco Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer---and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush-Era San Francisco Audiobook, by Robert Graysmith Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (34 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Robert Graysmith Narrator: Robert Graysmith Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2012 ISBN: 9781452679259
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The first biography of the little-known real-life Tom Sawyer (a friend of Mark Twain during his brief tenure as a California newspaper reporter), told through a harrowing account of Sawyer’s involvement in the hunt for a serial arsonist who terrorized mid-nineteenth-century San Francisco

When twenty-eight-year-old San Francisco Daily Morning Call reporter Mark Twain met Tom Sawyer at a local bathhouse in 1863, he was seeking a subject for his first novel. As Twain steamed, played cards, and drank beer with Sawyer (a volunteer firefighter, customs inspector, and local hero responsible for having saved ninety lives at sea), he had second thoughts about Shirley Tempest, his proposed book about a local girl firefighter, and began to envision a novel of wider scope. Twain learned that a dozen years earlier, the then-eighteen-year-old New York–born Sawyer had been a “Torch Boy,” one of the youths who raced ahead of the volunteer firemen’s hand-drawn engines at night carrying torches to light the way, always aware that a single spark could reduce the all-wood city of San Francisco to ashes in an instant. At that time a mysterious serial arsonist known by some as “The Lightkeeper” was in the process of burning San Francisco to the ground six times in eighteen months—the most disastrous and costly series of fires ever experienced by any American metropolis.

Black Fire is the most thorough and accurate account of Sawyer’s relationship with Mark Twain and of the six devastating incendiary fires that baptized one of the modern world’s favorite cities. Set amid a scorched landscape of burning roads, melting iron warehouses, exploding buildings, and deadly gangs who extorted and ruled by fear, it includes the never-before-told stories of Sawyer’s heroism during the sinking of the steamship Independence and the crucial role Sawyer and the Torch Boys played in solving the mystery of the Lightkeeper.

Drawing on archival sources such as actual San Francisco newspaper interviews with Sawyer and the handwritten police depositions of the arrest of the Lightkeeper, bestselling author Robert Graysmith vividly portrays the gritty, corrupt, and violent world of Gold Rush-era San Francisco, overrun with gunfighters, hooligans, hordes of gold prospectors, crooked politicians, and vigilantes. By chronicling how Sawyer took it upon himself to investigate, expose, and stop the arsonist, Black Fire details—for the first time—Sawyer’s remarkable life and illustrates why Twain would later feel compelled to name his iconic character after his San Francisco buddy when he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A wild and woolly tale of Gold Rush times…Graysmith conjures up a city of fire, gold, glory, and ignominy, along with larger-than-life citizens, adding a valuable chapter to San Francisco’s already rich history and legend…[A] darkly menacing, brightly illuminated slice of the city’s fiery history.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “The journalist delved deep into archival material to find the connection between Mark Twain and a heroic San Francisco firefighter named Tom Sawyer, who became the model for one of Twain’s most beloved characters.”

    Sacramento Bee

  • “Graysmith has amassed an impressive amount of historical detail….A well-researched work about community and fire.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “An enthusiastic performance…Fans of Twain and Graysmith will find it a fascinating and fun listen.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Mark Twain fanatics and firefighter-history buffs alike will flock to the tale of the real-life Tom Sawyer’s adventures fighting fires in the Gold Rush Era city, depicted in remarkable detail by Graysmith….Black Fire captures the spirit of rugged adventure so beloved in Twain’s work and so characteristic of the undaunted city built—time and time again—on the hopes of fortune-hunters.”


  • “Rich…lively, and chock-full of eye-opening tidbits.”

    Kirkus Reviews

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Casey Bowman | 9/29/2013

    " This is a great, fun book on the early history of the city of San Francisco. It paints quite an image. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Blake Charlton | 9/4/2013

    " fascinating research about early san francisco and firefighting in 1800s america. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ed | 7/24/2013

    " I found his writing tedious and hard to concentrate on. Good stories though. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Rob Cohen | 4/6/2013

    " I enjoyed it but thought it could have been a lot better. Not as much drama and tension, but a ton of research clearly. "

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About the Author
Author Robert Graysmith

Robert Graysmith, national bestselling author of Zodiac, The Sleeping Lady, and The Murder of Bob Crane, was on the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when the Zodiac killer’s first letter arrived. His work as a political cartoonist was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.