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

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Overview

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 ...

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

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An enthusiastic performance.…Fans of Twain and Graysmith will find it a fascinating and fun listen." —-Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Audio
Tom Sawyer wasn’t just a character in two of Mark Twain’s classic novels—he was also a real person and friend of the famous author. In San Francisco in 1863, Twain met Sawyer, who, years earlier, had served as a torch boy for the local volunteer firemen when a serial arsonist known as the Lightkeeper was terrorizing the city. This audio edition of the book that details Twain and Sawyer’s friendship and the fires of Gold Rush–era San Francisco is narrated by Robert Graysmith. Although the author offers up an enthusiastic performance, reads in a pleasant voice, and subtly differentiates between character voices, his narration suffers from slow pacing. Additionally, Graysmith’s pauses during and between sentences often last a beat too long. And while this bogs down the audiobook at times, fans of Twain and Graysmith will find it a fascinating and fun listen. A Crown hardcover. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452639253
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Robert Graysmith is the New York Times bestselling author of a number of true crime books, including Zodiac, The Laughing Gorilla, and The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2013

    This is a reference result

    Result two main camp. Result three is bios. Result four is barracks and armory. Result five is training and sparing ground result six is battleground and missions. Result seven is comms room where we get our missions and orders from oni d the unsc high command also the briefing room.

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  • Posted January 22, 2013

    I'm not familiar with Graysmith's other books, but I must say I

    I'm not familiar with Graysmith's other books, but I must say I am astonished a published writer would produce a work that is so clumsy. While there is a lot of interesting information in this work, it's so scrambled in its presentation that it drives you nuts. He jumps around in time and space, repeats things, wanders, rambles, leaves some things unexplained and extends others to the point of irrelevance. If you've got the patience it's all right, but this book screams for an editor.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent

    great story of early San Francisco and its hard life there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    Great depiction of Goldrush era San Francisco

    Really enjoyed this book. Great eccentric characters and amazing details I never knew about SF? Not to mention, six incredible fires.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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