Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America's First Bohemians

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$27.99  $26.03
Da Capo Press
Publish Date
6.4 X 9.0 X 1.5 inches | 1.25 pounds

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About the Author

Justin Martin is the author of several books, with his two most recent titles covering Civil War-era subjects. Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America's First Bohemians, selected as the outstanding biography of 2014 by the Victoria Society, New York, and as a finalist for the Marfield Prize, was also picked as one of the best books of that year by both the Kansas City Star and Choice magazine. Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted was also met with many plaudits and glowing reviews nationally. Martin lives with his wife and twin sons in Forest Hills Gardens, New York.


"Whitman now is a central figure in the American canon, but his Pfaff's pals are all but forgotten. In Rebel Souls, biographer Justin Martin brings them wonderfully to life in his enjoyable romp through the milieu. Whitman is the emotional core of the book - Martin's passages on Whitman's romantic travails and his experiences tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War are unforgettably moving. But the other members of the Pfaff's coterie almost steal the show."--Boston Globe
"The book is a veritable who's who of the 19th-century's movers and shakers."--Cape Cod Times
"Martin's historical scope and elegiac prose, laced through with parlance of the period, is not only grandly entertaining to read, it rescues this bit of cultural history and gives Whitman a more human dimension past the iconic image."--New York Journal of Books
"Anyone who loves history, and particularly literary history, will want to read this book."
--Hudson Valley News
"Fascinating and eye-opening."--Waterbury Republican-American
"In this captivating study, Martin transports the reader to the 1850s inside smoky Pfaff's saloon-the meeting place of the US's first Bohemians...Thanks to meticulous research, Martin was able to re-create the Bohemian scene, and Whitman's place in it, in vivid detail. This book is a lively and entertaining read for students of American literature, history, and culture...Summing Up: Essential. All readers."--Choice
"[A] well-written account of the New York Bohemians who gravitated around Pfaff's Saloon on Broadway...A lively tale, informative and well-told."--Mark Twain Forum
"Does a great service in shining light on the younger man who still had a lot of hard-dues-paying years before he sauntered into legend and the ages...A valuable-and very readable-addition to the body of critical work about America's greatest poet."--Internet Review of Books
"Places are ever-changing, Manhattan real estate most especially. But, as Rebel Souls proves, biography can play a provocative role in preserving their mystique and also their impact."--New Books in Biography
"Martin takes us into the scintillating world of Pfaff's saloon in the 19th century...What happened in Pfaff's saloon in the 1850s is stuff of literary legend...The Greenwich Village saloon was finally paid the homage it deserves with the release of Rebel Souls."--New York Press
"[A] compelling, insightful group biography...Vividly describes not only Pfaff's heyday, but also how Clapp's coterie, once it was dispersed by the chaos, duties, and opportunities brought by the Civil War, came to define an unmistakably American species of rebel artist...Martin sets himself an ambitious task, and rises to it in the structure and reach of his telling. In 1860, the war scatters his protagonists, whose fates he follows for the latter two-thirds of Rebel Souls like a literary LoJack...Martin's done a remarkable job bringing 'those times, that place' very much alive through his painstaking research...Pfaff's rebel souls, Martin makes plain, are all around us."--Los Angeles Review of Books
"A highly informative look at the very first attempt here in America where novelists, poets, actors, dancers, visual artists and journalists, came together and tried to create a society...Martin does an excellent job in Rebel Souls, in drawing insightful portraits of some of the main characters like Whitman, which is the heart of his book."--Neworld Review
"What a cable TV series this would make."--Buffalo News
"Engaging...The idea of the artist as outsider or rebel (at least the American version of it)-and, indeed, the thing that, a century later, would be called a counterculture-can be traced to Clapp and Pfaff's. Martin's book is a lively and intelligent entree into that heretofore mostly forgotten world."--Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A vibrant and well-researched tale that shows how this first bohemian culture seeded and nurtured an American tradition of rebel art that continues to this day."
"Martin has blown the dust off of the New York City of the pre-Civil War era. He's magically made both the period and the people who inhabited it relevant, stirring and captivating with his true account of a New York City bar and its clientele."--Decatur Tribune
"[An] entertaining cultural history...The author's solid research into the connections of these curiously varied men and women makes this a wonderful story of one of the world's odd little cultural cliques."--Kirkus Reviews, BEA & ALA Book Guide
"An engaging history of a literary underground...Though Walt Whitman is the best-known of the group, readers may find themselves drawn to his lesser-known comrades...Martin's writing rises to the occasion...A worthwhile read...Introduces armchair literary historians to a dazzling cast of eccentrics."--Publishers Weekly
"This is popular history the way it should be, well-researched and authoritative yet demotic in idiom and unpretentious in presentation, a darn good read."--Booklist, starred review
"Martin brings the legendary group to life, painting a vibrant portrait of the radical artists who frequented Pfaff's saloon...Rebel Souls is a curious beast of a book: it is in part American history circa 1850's, part biography and, to a lesser degree, part a critical examination of Whitman's poems...Historically accurate and painstakingly researched...It is easy to get lost in this book: the descriptions mixed with remarkably well retained dialogue are occasionally so powerful that they transport the reader to their own seat in Henry Clapp's circle...An invigorating read."--The Journal
"Long before New York artists and writers convened regularly at the Algonquin and, later, Elaine's, an eclectic group distinguished largely by crushing poverty and creative potential gravitated to a subterranean saloon-decidedly not a salon-named Pfaff's. In Rebel Souls, Justin Martin invites readers to belly up to this forgotten basement bar...Almost every page provides an intoxicating high without the hangover."--New York Times
"The story of how a subterranean New York City saloon helped alter the course of Whitman's life."
"Martin convincingly shows that although only Whitman attained literary longevity, Manhattan's bohemians nevertheless succeeded in pioneering a mode of existence which still reverberates today."--Times Literary Supplement
"[Martin] is a fine historian and great writer...This is a wonderful book about bohemian culture, a fascinating history that reverberates yet today. Thanks to Mr. Martin for his painstaking research and the obvious care of his subject that come out so nicely in his writing."
"Rebel Souls illuminates an intriguing but poorly documented page in American cultural history."--Santa Fe New Mexican
"A convincing case that Walt Whitman's drinking buddies were an 1800s version of the Beats and that all their bending elbows actually improved their work."--Kansas City Star
"[A] biography of the man and his eclectic counter-culture, a model for artistic, intellectual non-conformity well into the twentieth century."--Curled Up with a Good Book
"Whitman is that iconic American poet but [Martin has] really humanized him in [his] book."--Sullivan Street Press
"Elaine's, the Algonquin Hotel, the White Horse and Cedar taverns: These and a few other Manhattan establishments have become legendary as places for writers and artists...On the evidence of Justin Martin's Rebel Souls, the long-defunct watering hole Pfaff's deserves similar fame...[Martin] is a fluent, companionable writer, and he manages to weave his many biographical strands into an engaging narrative-no mean feat...The experience of reading Rebel Souls is a bit like hovering on the sidewalk near the entrance to Pfaff's, listening to the sounds of jollity and vehemence wash up from the basement below. Mr. Martin does a fine job of making us feel that we're back on antebellum Broadway."--Wall Street Journal
"Martin's sharp and elegiac prose follows the lives of the Bohemians, many who meet tragic ends. Their stories are grandly entertaining to read, and Martin rescues a large chunk of our cultural history."--EDGE
"It's rare for a book to conjure the feeling of being in a bar with one's rowdiest and most interesting friends. Rebel Souls...does just that."--The ARTery
"[A] well-researched, sometimes breezy history of Clapp's circle."--Washington Independent Review of Books
"Brightly written, and funny and heartbreaking by turns...Thomas Aldrich, a poet that was in the circle, included in his poem 'At the Cafe' the line, 'We were all very merry at Pfaff's.' Let us be grateful that Rebel Souls has brought a touch of the merriment back."--Columbus Dispatch
"Meticulously researched and absolutely fascinating. This book featuring this quirky cast of characters with Whitman at the center really brings the bohemian group of American romantic artists to life."--Betsy Reads Books
"Rebel Souls is at once a recreation of New York during the mid-19th century and a group biography of people who changed the way Americans viewed art, politics and themselves...A muralesque portrait of a group of intentional misfits who would, in the middle of the 19th century, help transform American literature, theater and journalism and forever alter the way we look at ourselves and our society."--Roanoke Times
"Shed[s] light on the untold story of the Pfaff's set and its ample reverberations through the last 150 years of creative culture...Rebel Souls is an enormously absorbing read in its entirety, exploring the blossoming of Whitman's literary legacy, the tantalizing group of artists, writers, and performers who populated Pfaff's and influenced one another, and how they made their way West to meet Mark Twain's Bohemians of Silicon Valley."--Brain Pickings
"Rife with...scintillating anecdotes...This period in Whitman's development is often skated over in biographies of the Good Gray Poet, and Martin has done us a favor by bringing it, along with a host of other artistic connections, amusingly and indelibly back to life."--Washington Post