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

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

Robert Graysmith / Nov 12, 2019

Black Fire The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush Era San Francisco The first biography of the little known real life Tom Sawyer who Mark Twain met during his brief tenure as a California newspaper reporter told through a harrowing account of Sawyer s involvement in

  • Title: Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer--and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush-Era San Francisco
  • Author: Robert Graysmith
  • ISBN: 9780307720566
  • Page: 496
  • Format: Hardcover
  • The first biography of the little known real life Tom Sawyer who Mark Twain met 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 on the loose in mid nineteenth century San Francisco When 28 year old San Francisco Daily Morning Call reporter Mark Twain met Tom Sawyer aThe first biography of the little known real life Tom Sawyer who Mark Twain met 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 on the loose in mid nineteenth century San Francisco When 28 year old San Francisco Daily Morning Call reporter Mark Twain met Tom Sawyer at San Francisco s steam baths 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 eighteen year old New York born Sawyer had been a Torch Boy, one of the young men who raced ahead of the volunteer firemen s hand drawn engines 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 In fact, at that time, a mysterious serial arsonist known 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 Drawing on deep archival sources such as actual San Francisco newspaper interviews with the original Tom 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, terrorized by an arsonist and simultaneously overrun with gunfighters, gangs, hordes of gold prospectors, crooked politicians, and vigilantes By chronicling the story of how Sawyer took it upon himself to investigate, expose, and stop the arsonist, Black Fire tells for the first time the true story of 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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      Published :2019-07-13T05:28:46+00:00

    About "Robert Graysmith"

      • Robert Graysmith

        Robert Graysmith was born in Pensacola, Florida as Robert Gray Smith He changed his name to Graysmith in 1976.Graysmith is a true crime author of the books Zodiac Zodiac Unmasked The Identity of America s Most Elusive Serial Killer Unabomber A Desire to Kill The Sleeping Lady The Trailside Murders Above the Golden Gate The Murder of Bob Crane Who Killed the Star of Hogan s Heroes The Bell Tower The Case of Jack the Ripper Finally Solved Amerithrax The Hunt for the Anthrax Killer The Laughing Gorilla The True Story of the Hunt for One of America s First Serial Killers and The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock s Shower.Graysmith s latest book Black Fire The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush Era San Francisco is out now Also available as an audio book read by the author Graysmith has written on the Zodiac Killer case He first became involved in the case when he was a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle In his book Serial Killers and Their Victims, Graysmith blames the Zodiac murders on one time suspect Arthur Leigh Allen Graysmith based his book and case on actual police files.Two films have been based on his books Auto Focus and Zodiac Graysmith is portrayed in the film Zodiac by Jake Gyllenhaal.


    156 Comments

    1. I loved this book. I learned SO much about San Francisco's early days, and as that is already one of my favorite cities, that was fun and enlightening. I may have also liked the book because I might possibly maybe have a crush on a man who died in 1859. David Broderick was just my kind of guy! I adored how he was a working-man's man, but secretly read books, and that he was so gung-ho about firefighting and a strong abolitionist. So every time he was mentioned in the book, I am sure that added f [...]


    2. Did you know that Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer was based on a real person? Sawyer is just one of the fascinating historical characters in Black Fire, a new book by Robert Graysmith that explores the rollicking world of San Francisco circa 1850 when an arsonist dubbed the Lightkeeper was on the loose in the quickly growing city. In the thick of it all was Tom Sawyer, volunteer firefighter, adventurer and sailor not from the South but from Brooklyn. Twain and Sawyer later played cards in the steam room [...]


    3. I found Black Fire to be engaging, well-written, well-organized and well-illustrated. Graysmith also uses what, to me, seems a unique and intriguing and approach to his subject: Although the subtitle refers to "the Original Tom Sawyer" – a San Francisco firefighter who claimed that Mark Twain's classic character was named for him – Mark Twain himself does not enter prominently into the narrative until the second half of the book. First comes an account of "the original" Sawyer's adventures a [...]


    4. I can't say enough great things about this book. It transported me to the birth of this city that I love. To a time when men ate bear steaks, when fire fighters fought each other as much as they fought fires. When the streets were death traps of mud and sand, and when torch bearing boys were needed to light a path to blazing buildings. It's a time that is mythical to our modern era. When arsonists torched buildings daily just to loot and rob, or to deplete surplus commodities and drive up prices [...]


    5. I liked it much more than I anticipated! It's primarily about the fires that destroyed San Francisco and the fire fighters that worked to stop them (they helped but not enough---I mean the city burned down about 3 times over the course of I think 2 years). Tom Sawyer is one of the fire fighters (hence the real Tom Sawyer). There isn't too much of Mark Twain in it, but I think that isn't too bad since I really does focus on the fire fighters. Very good book.


    6. Really interesting and completely unreadable at the same time. A hard book to stick with (I gave up) - every 20 pages or so you find some truly fascinating fact about 1850s San Francisco, but the rest is a complete hodgepodge with a narrative structure that just doesn't work.


    7. Edifying romp thru early San Francisco loosely following the real friendship of Mark Twain & Tom Sawyer. Loved the historical info on the city & it's fire department- enjoyable, well written & researched, only drawback is it's not a series. Will read author again. Highly recommended for all ages!


    8. A LOT of primary source information about fire fighting in early San Francisco. Not so much about Tom Sawyer except the name. Interesting look at a tent city laid out in an unyielding grid over hilly terrain and a harbor full of abandoned "ghost ships" whose crews have fled to the gold fields.


    9. So very difficult to readere was some interesting information buried within the bookrely there is a better written book out there regarding this period of history in San Francisco!


    10. I would honestly give this book 2.5/5. For a piece of non-fiction regarding the true story of Tom Sawyer, I thought this book was somewhat convoluted. The book certainly did go into the story of Samuel Clemens' (Mark Twain's) development of the character Tom Sawyer who was based on a rascally firefighter by the same name in San Francisco's infancy. However, this story of such a famous character's development seemed like almost an afterthought. It's misleading that "the Original Tom Sawyer" appea [...]


    11. In a period of 18 months, ending in June 1851, the boom town of San Francisco was burned down six times. All six conflagrations were started by arsonists, most likely members of the City's community of Australian ticket of leave men, the Sydney Ducks. A dozen volunteer fire departments, mostly staffed by brawling, larger than life thugs, sprang up to combat the flames (when they weren't too busy battling each of the other companies). Amongst their number was a young Brooklynite named Tom Sawyer. [...]


    12. I think I had Stockholm Syndrome with this book. Something about the writing style of the author made it incredibly slow going for me even though I wasn't really bored with what I was reading. The amount of detail here is pretty incredible and there are story threads in here. It is kind of like reading an encyclopedia but not that tedious. I can't put my finger on it. I compare this book to Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, Low Life: L [...]


    13. I'm not sure what it was about this book except that I never really got involved in the story. It always felt disjointed. It starts with Mark Twain playing cards with Tom Sawyer, a real life volunteer fireman in 1850s San Francisco, then basically goes totally away from the two characters to tell the story of the development of volunteer firefighters in the city and the arsonist that set numerous fires to the ramshackle town. Two many characters, two many different stories told and then when the [...]


    14. While I found the information about early San Francisco interesting, the concept of a real life Tom Sawyer was a major draw. However compelling the subject matter, the use by the author of what historical characters were thinking at the moment, the small moments when characters were described by the author to be walking down the street, eating a snack, smiling to themselves etc. felt too much like a non-fiction/fiction line was being crossed. Too often it felt like Tom Sawyer had been left in th [...]


    15. I love reading about San Francisco history and Black Fire is no exception. The book focused on the repeated fires that kept on burning San Francisco to the ground. Mark Twain lived in San Francisco and wrote stories for newspapers back east. It was in San Francisco that Twain became friends with Tom Sawyer, a teenager from New York who volunteered at one of the fire houses. sawyer end up being the motivation for Mark Twains first book.It was fun to read about all these pople who I only know as s [...]


    16. Doesn't really cover a lot of what you'd think it would, regarding the "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" aspects of Sawyer's life. Mostly it's about firefighters in the early days of San Francisco, which is certainly interesting enough on its own. Probably more of a 3.5 star book, but it doesn't really deserve the very low rating that it currently has, so I've bumped it up to try and balance that out.Additionally, the audiobook reader in the Overdrive library edition is not the best. He's fairly clear, [...]


    17. I thought the book was good. Getting some facts and story were interesting. There were several times I got confused as the writer/author would jump back and forth so there were times it was tough to follow. I managed to get thru the whole book as I was interested in knowing this part of SF History that I never heard until I picked up the book. Mind you this was way before 1906. Overall, the book could have been written much better yet, give kudos to the writer who managed to get this book out an [...]


    18. This book was very well researched and informative. That would normally merit five stars, however the subtitle declared it to be a biography of Tom Sawyer and the details regarding Tom Sawyer himself were very sparse. I would have read and enjoyed it just as much if it had beeen billed as the history of the San Fransisco fires of the early 1850's. It was this much more than a biography of Tom Sawyer.


    19. Got through 15% before checkout expired & couldn't renew. Will try again this summer during vacation reading. This book is one of 2 listed for the town of Crockett's One City, One Book read for 2014. It looked interesting, so I checked it out of a different library. If I can make it to the library on Saturday they are giving away free copies. This was a public library eBook check-out, not a book purchase for me. (Okld)


    20. I couldn't even finish this, which is an extremely rare thing for me. Badly needed an editor, and (I suspect) a fact-checker: instead of reading like a work of history, it read like a novel, implausibly certain of things that were said and things that went on that were highly unlikely to be documented. Shame, because it is an interesting period of the city's history - it deserves a better book.


    21. The title of this book about the early days of San Francisco basically says it all. Black Fire is a true story of the author Mark Twain, the real Tom Sawyer, arson and San Francisco. During a two year period during the Gold Rush, San Francisco burned to the ground no less than six times. Read this for a great history of an unbelievable city.Recommended by Mark


    22. An excellent account of the creation of the great city of San Francisco with all the problems of a boom town fed by the gold rush of 1849. Meet the real Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain and see how their lives were interwoven in the building of this great city. Read about how Mark Twain got this name and why Tom Sawyer became a character in his books.


    23. An overglorified true story of the real life Tom Sawyer. More like a well researched, repetitive story of how horrible 1800's San Francisco was. I did my best to read this for the book group, but tapped out after the author shared a lengthy passage about a bunch of over weight, privileged guys sat down to a meal and gorged themselves, for hours, on decadent foods. No thanks.


    24. Wonderful book! Learned so much of the beginnings of San Francisco and the harrowing times they went through. The history portion was spell-binding - but also a great side story on how Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain actually got to know each other.


    25. One of the best, most enjoyable US History boks I've read. Absolutely fascinating, enjoyable. Like not-so-well-known facts about famous US places & cities? Then this one about San Francisco in early gold ruch era is a MUST read.


    26. As others have noted, in the hands of another writer the story of Twain, San Francisco, destructive fires, a man hunt, and early fire fighters could have been a compelling book. Alas it was a bit of a slog.


    27. If you are reading it because of the Mark Twain/Tom Sawyer connection, you may be disappointed. I enjoyed the study of San Francisco at the time and of fire fighting in general , but felt a little cheated as I had been hooked by hopes of Twain stories


    28. What a great yarn about the wild and wooly early days of San Francisco and the avocation of fire fighting. Well worth the read for that. But the connection to Tom Sawyer is really just a mention, and the whole narrative lacks organization and focus.


    29. I didn't even get through the first chapter. Many paragraphs, even sometimes sentences, seemed to have no relation to the preceding. Unless you're James Joyce, don't make me work that hard to follow your story.


    30. 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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