Santa Claus: A Biography

ISBN: 0771015321
ISBN 13: 9780771015328
By: Gerry Bowler

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About this book

An entertaining, often surprising look at the life of the world’s most influential fictional character.He is the embodiment of charity and generosity, a creation of mythology, a tool of clever capitalists. The very idea of him is enduring and powerful.Santa Claus was born in early-nineteenth-century America, but his family tree goes back seven hundred years to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children. Intervening generations were shaggy and strange — whip-wielding menaces to naughty boys and girls. Yet as the raucous, outdoor, alcohol-fuelled holiday gave way to a more domestic, sentimental model, a new kind of gift-bringer was called for — a loveable elf, still judgmental but far less threatening.In this engaging social and cultural history, Gerry Bowler examines the place of Santa Claus in history, literature, advertising, and art. He traces his metamorphosis from a beardless youth into a red-suited peddler. He reveals the lesser-known aspects of the gift-bringer’s life — Santa’s involvement with social and political causes of all stripes (he enlisted on the Union side in the American Civil War), his starring role in the movies and as adman for gun-makers and insurance companies. And he demolishes the myths surrounding Santa Claus and Coca-Cola.Santa Claus: A Biography will stand as the classic work on the long-lived and multifarious Mr. Claus.

Reader's Thoughts




I've often wondered about the true origin and evolution of Santa Claus, and my interest sparked my impulsive buy of this biography this year. Much of what is discussed in this book is information I already knew to one extent or another, and the content I was most interested in--Santa Claus's appearance in history and his morph from a Catholic saint to a seemingly secular jolly old man--didn't encompass most of the book. The most interesting facts of the early days seemed glossed over to a certain extent for me, so while the commentary at times brought up good points, it wasn't as enlightening as I hoped.


This book starts off strong but loses its way about halfway through. The historical parts, from Santa's earliest origins to representations in the mid twentieth century, are very interesting, but after that the book meanders. Bowler has some frustrating habits, such as referring to events in a very roundabout way (calling a place 'a certain town', instead of naming the town, as if this will be universally understood), and being extremely inconsistent about his attributions. As history major myself, it made me cringe to see some quotes introduced simply as 'as one author wrote...', leaving the reader to find further information about the quote in the poorly formatted notes at the back of the book, while quotes from A Christmas Carol were attributed to Dickens, despite the fact that it's likely that more readers will immediately identify the author without needing to be told than they will the lesser known authors that Bowler leaves to the back pages. Bowler's writing style is also grating at times, with turns of phrase that seem self-consciously clever, but I could forgive all that if it weren't for the last twenty five pages, which feature a tonally out of place condemnation of 'political correctness', and an extremely sentimental and saccharine closing paragraph. The majority of the book seemed to be written as a history but it ends like a badly written op-ed. Thankfully I bought this at a second hand book store that was closing down, so I didn't pay very much for it.


An alright Christmas book, some of the earlier Christmas history was more interesting than the present day stuff. It got a bit list-y after a while. Still a fun read about the tradition that is Santa.

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