Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

ISBN: 0811201074
ISBN 13: 9780811201070
By: Henry Miller

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About this book

Whence Henry Miller's title for this, one of his most appealing books; first published in 1957, it tells the story of Miller's life on the Big Sur, a section of California coast where he lived for fifteen years.Big Sur is the portrait of a place one of the most colorful in the U.S. and of the extraordinary people Miller knew there: writers (and writers who didn't write), mystics seeking truth in meditation (and the not-so-saintly looking for sex-cults or celebrity), sophisticated children and adult innocents; geniuses, cranks and the unclassifiable.Henry Miller writes with a buoyancy and brimming energy that are infectious. He has a fine touch for comedy. But this is also a serious book the testament of a free spirit who has broken through the restraints and cliches of modern life to find within himself his own kind of paradise.

Reader's Thoughts


A favorite. I think it may have been the time of year- being trapped in a coffee shop, being called a barista- one who spent all of her tips on the used books- shelved three feet from the tip jar itself- but once again, a favorite. There is this part- Miller's wife leaves him and takes the children- he is lost. In reading those lines- I first considered my fathers heart. It was the first time it seemed to me a possibility that he might be lonely. This was big- obviously. And so was big sur- only a few months before- when I stood on the beach- collecting sea-bits. There was sand in the brie and cork in the wine. I swam. I got climbed cliffs to dunes.


The opening chapter was really invigorating - how inspiring the people who populate Big Sur are in theory. The subsequent sections, detailing their lives and explaining their lunch dates and gifts received were a little less so. I really enjoyed what I read, but I only got about halfway. I highly recommend that first section!


I love Henry Miller. Not a disciplined writer, but the gusto with which he approached life is transfered onto the page and is always invigorating. This is possibly the most spiritual of his books. It his him reflecting and being as still as he could be, rather than throwing himself at situations and people. But even when he's still, he is still with the same passion as when he is in motion. Tropic of Capricorn is my favorite book of him in motion (young), this is my favorite book of him being still (older).

Spencer Scott

I wrote a sort of review that will be easier to link to than to paste here. The full review can be found here: book loaded with wisdom, introspection, hypocrisy, and vivid, personal anecdotes. Henry Miller comes through as an outstandingly honest human with a warm heart, a deep intelligence, and a searching soul. What I take away from this book is that Miller strives for peace and arguably achieves it by being unashamedly honest with himself and with the world.


Big Sur is one of my favorite places. I was excited to find this book in a wonderful English-language bookstore in Budapest, but it is a crazy book. I'm not sure I would have managed to finish it were it not for the paucity of books available to me at the time. Unlike the many books that fade into distant memory within months of reading, this book - a stream-of-consciousness ramble - has stuck with me. He writes about the stories he made up for his kids, his relationship with a neighbor who has an interminable itch (literally), his views on "progress" (=not positive) and what makes a life well-lived (=vivid, like the oranges in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.)

Chris Woollet

One of my favorite books. This was my introduction to Henry Miller and so far my favorite. By this point in his life he had figured life out so to speak. He understood what is important and how to live a peaceful enjoyable life. A stark contrast from his early yearly of ramble rousing. Perhaps it took just that in his early life along with the misery of city life to bring him to this understanding and appreciation for the "good life" in Big Sur. And when reading this book, I kept finding myself agreeing with him- "Yes, that is what its all about!" The book takes a somewhat odd turn towards the end with the horrific house guest he takes in. Here, I wanted to grab Millers shoulders and shake him out of his kind stupor- "Get that freak out of your home!" Anyway, it all made for an interesting read. I rarely read books a second time but this is one I will go back to over and over. Miller is a modern day prophet and I appreciate his wisdom.

c lynn

i have no idea if I would love this book again as much as i did once- it was a book that i tried to read probably 7 times and could never get past the first 30 pages and then ond day- one mood- i read the whole thing and fell in love. it started me on a henry- thon- but this autobiography is still my favorite. He's too nasty and harsh for even me in his other books. Maybe he was the sex tarentino of the 60's-but somehow his style misses me now.

Michael Lipford

Miller covers his term of service in Big Sur, California after his return to America. He's always talking about the good life and this is no exception. Well written and some of the passages in the first 50 pages are among the best I've ever ready from anyone.

Leile Brittan

Henry, you old rascal, you finally figured out the whole deal. If this is what it's like to get old, I'm not scared at all. Helluva nice little collection here. Always merry and bright! You've helped me figure it out, time and time again. Right now I'm in my thirties so I'm kinda on that "Tropic" and "Rosy Crucifixion" mode. But the "Big Sur" stage is something I now look forward to, should I be lucky enough to make my way there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. In my best moments I'm already there now, usually when I'm smoking a cigarette by myself and looking at a sunset, or eating a good meal with my wife. Stand Still Like the Hummingbird...Remember to Remember. Thanks, homie.

Fred Poisson

Henry Miller is the reason I read as much as I do and this is the book that started it all for me, I have read everything the man has written and there is profundity even in the most profane of his works, there is not one piece of his writing that I would rate below five stars.


"Often, when following the trail which meanders over the hills, I pull myself up in an effort to encompass the glory and the grandeur which envelops the whole horizon. Often, when the clouds pile up in the north and the sea is churned with white caps, I say to myself: "This is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked out on from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look." "


After Colossus of Maroussi this was my second favorite book Miller. If you are looking for a story that begins at point A and ends somewhere around Z (in other words that has a plot), this isn't the book for you. If you love Big Sur, can enjoy the ranting of a man who i believe can weave any experience into a fascinating story then pick up this book.

Harish Venkatesan

I hadn't read any Miller before this, but this was a solid introduction to his writing and philosophy. Miller captures all the beauty of California/Big Sur culture (dedicated to ideals of individuality, self-determination, nonconformity, non-materialism, etc... a pure form of the "Beat" ethos, if you will), while making a case for art in one's life. The story, filled with invective against modern American culture, is still entertaining (the characters that live in Big Sur!), and always with an eye on reminding us of what matters... a book for the soul.on Big Sur- "This is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked out on from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."


I would give this book 10 stars if I could. One I come back to again and again and feel lucky to have found it. Much more readable than other Henry Miller.


So-so, though I'm not much of a Henry Miller fan. There's some generous and pleasant accounts of the land and people of Big Sur (some great pull quotes for tourist brochures). But the better part of this book is given over to Miller's philosophical musings, which are here meandering, muddled and silly. And boring.

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