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Extended Audio Sample Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade Audiobook, by Justin Spring Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (639 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Justin Spring Narrator: Sean Runnette Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2015 ISBN: 9781504629317
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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 twentieth 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “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

  • “This is a rich and exuberant biography of a man who deserves to be better known.”

    Economist

  • “Justin Spring’s jaw-dropping Secret Historian reads like a novel probing a lifelong rebel’s courage, creativity, and ultimate sadness…Spring has reconstituted Steward, as Phil Andros might say, in flesh and blood and all sorts of bodily fluids.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Life in the closet proves boisterous indeed in this biography of an iconic figure of the pre-Stonewall gay demimonde…Spring’s sympathetic and entertaining story of a life registers the limitations imposed on homosexuals by a repressive society, but also celebrates the creativity and daring with which Steward tested them.”

    Publishers Weekly 

  • “Can a secret sex diary furnish an artistic legacy as meaningful as Emily Dickinson’s sewn-up bundles of poems, or the piles of paintings Theo van Gogh inherited after his brother’s premature demise? Samuel Steward may never have imagined it, but his erotic history raises the question…[This] extensive documentation—and the miraculous rescue of that documentation, recounted in the book’s preface—left his biographer material to reconstruct an emblematic homosexual life.”

    Harper’s

  • “A fascinating biography…[Steward] tackled life with awe-inspiring abandon.”

    Details

  • “Justin Spring documents the extraordinary life of one of Kinsey’s crucial gay witnesses, and reading Secret Historian is like reading Kinsey dramatized…A brave, fly-on-the-wall account of American homosexual subculture and persecution.”

    Martin Stannard, author of Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark: The Biography 

  • “A true page-turner—and a memorable act of historical reclamation. Sammy Steward is all but unknown except by a handful of historians, but Justin Spring’s lively biography…should put Sammy on the map, which is where he decidedly belongs.”

    Martin Duberman, author of Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey 

  • Secret Historian is a startlingly, unforgettably vivid glimpse into a life—and a world—that few of us can imagine.” 

    Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong 

  • “Samuel Steward, secret sexual historian, is a secret no longer…A major achievement.”

    Langdon Hammer, author of Hart Crane and Allen Tate 

  •  “This is a rare and important book. Secret Historian is a genuinely captivating combination of clear writing, a clean conscience, and more dirty stories than I ever imagined one life could hold.”

    Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

  • “[A] provocative biography…Generous excerpts from Steward’s journals and unpublished memoirs fortify an already comprehensive examination of a life lived with unabashed independence and homoerotic expression during the sexual rebellion of the pre-Stonewall era…A vivid, candid portrait.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “This sophisticated biography will appeal to both general and academic readers with an interest in LGBT issues.”

    Library Journal

  • “Sympathetic and entertaining.”

    Publishers Weekly 

  • One of 2010 Amazon Best Books of the Year for Biographies and Memoirs
  • New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books, 2010
  • Winner of the 2011 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography
  • A 2010 National Book Award Finalist

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Skye | 2/6/2014

    " Entertaining for the first 200 pages or so but then a total slog. Interesting man but not 450 pages interesting. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John Parker | 2/1/2014

    " A clear eyed unemotional view of being homosexual in the mid century as protrayed throught the life of a truly unique but tortured individual "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mark | 1/27/2014

    " I loved this book. The guy lived the life he wanted to independent of what anyone else thought in a time which was mostly marked by conformity. He put himself in some insane and dangerous situations and probably had a self-destructive streak, but you envy his total devotion to his appetites and passions. I was inspired by his bravery to be himself. Great book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jerry | 1/15/2014

    " A truly great look into the sexual history of the 20th century. Yes, Steward was a conflicted man, but it seems that since he wasn't a luminary we get a more honest portrait of an uncommon "common" man who actually possessed great powers of insight and creativity. So glad I finally read this. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Derekamorley | 1/12/2014

    " Started it and quit about 1/3 way in. I suppose the guy's life was interesting but if the idea goes in writing "Show. Don't tell", this guy just hear the "tell" part. "blah blah he grew up here, then he did this, then he did this, then this..." Maybe I'll give it another try sometime. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bradley | 1/11/2014

    " This book is an amazing look at life and gay sex in the pre-Stonewall era. Samuel Steward is amazing and he's become my new hero. This is a guy who taught for twenty years then became a tattoo artist making friends with the Hells Angels. He participated in Kinsey's groundbreaking sex survey. He knew and was friends with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. He wrote groundbreaking gay erotica under the pen name Phil Andros. Damn, I wish I had a time machine so I could visit him. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elizabeth | 1/10/2014

    " Facinating and well written. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Masokist | 12/13/2013

    " This was a fantastic book, but now I want to get into those Kinsey files. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 David J. Larkin, Jr. | 11/20/2013

    " Fascinating. Not always well written, but the story it tells--of a man who supplied Kinsey with a multitude of facts about his gay life--is riveting. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Adam | 5/5/2013

    " An evocative portrait of a strange, troubled, but ultimately honest life. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deidre | 4/30/2013

    " so gay and so out, way before it was even thinkable. this is who john waters wants to be! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathryn | 11/15/2012

    " Really wanted to like this book. Subject is very interesting but not a very engaging read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Michael Brown | 8/5/2012

    " Must read. Samuel Steward led a fascinating life and he documented every moment of it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Renee | 6/17/2012

    " Really interesting read....albiet a little too long. It was an interesting perspective into the life of a gay man during the changing times. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Gale | 1/9/2012

    " This book is wild. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Edward | 11/15/2011

    " Not someone I would have ever known by name but an interesting story nonetheless. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Rod | 4/21/2011

    " I loved this book. I love the subject, Sam Steward. I loved the writer. His research, commentary, and writing deserve the National Book award nomination he received. The best historical gay non-fiction I have read since Randy Shilts' books. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Hank | 4/3/2011

    " My favorite book of 2010. Despite the fact that material is, um, outre for many, I think this is an important and fascinating read for anyone who has ever had, or wanted have, lots of sex. For deeper thoughts, visit my one-man book club at hankstuever dot com. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Michael | 3/15/2011

    " Must read. Samuel Steward led a fascinating life and he documented every moment of it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathryn | 2/7/2011

    " Really wanted to like this book. Subject is very interesting but not a very engaging read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deidre | 1/12/2011

    " so gay and so out, way before it was even thinkable. this is who john waters wants to be! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John | 1/12/2011

    " A clear eyed unemotional view of being homosexual in the mid century as protrayed throught the life of a truly unique but tortured individual "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Fred | 12/31/2010

    " This one is right up there as one faves! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Sharon | 12/16/2010

    " Too academic for my taste. "

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About the Author
Author Justin Spring

Justin Spring is a writer specializing in twentieth-century American art and culture and the author of many books, monographs, catalogs, and museum publications.

About the Narrator

Sean Runnette, an Earphones Award–winning narrator, has also directed and produced more than two hundred audiobooks, including several Audie Award winners. He is a member of the American Repertory Theater company and has toured the United States and internationally with ART and Mabou Mines. His television and film appearances include Two If by Sea, Cop Land, Sex and the City, Law & Order, the award-winning film Easter, and numerous commercials.