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Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October 28, 2008

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143105477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143105473
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1975. The novel, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, is a self-described "comic book about death," whose title character is modeled on the self-destructive lyric poet Delmore Schwartz. Charlie Citrine, an intellectual, middle-aged author of award-winning biographies and plays, contemplates two significant figures and philosophies in his life: Von Humboldt Fleisher, a dead poet who had been his mentor, and Rinaldo Cantabile, a very-much-alive minor mafioso who has been the bane of Humboldt's existence. Humboldt had taught Charlie that art is powerful and that one should be true to one's creative spirit. Rinaldo, Charlie's self-appointed financial adviser, has always urged Charlie to use his art to turn a profit. At the novel's end, Charlie has managed to set his own course. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Saul Bellow's dazzling career as a novelist has been marked with numerous literary prizes, including the 1976 Nobel Prize, and the Gold Medal for the Novel. His other books include Dangling Man, The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, More Die of Heartbreak, Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories, Mr Sammler's Planet, Seize The Day and The Victim. Saul Bellow died in 2005. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Saul Bellow won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel HUMBOLDT'S GIFT in 1975, and in 1976 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 'for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work.' He is the only novelist to receive three National Book Awards, for THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH, HERZOG, and MR. SAMMLER'S PLANET

Customer Reviews

This is one of the funniest books I've ever read.
R. M. Diguette
Sometimes these further the story or provide more depth to a character, other times they seem like extraneous rambling.
J. Jacobs
Along with Roth and Updike, Bellow has to be one of the greatest 20th century writers.
Marvin A. Zimmer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on November 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
As in Bellow's "Herzog" and "Seize the Day," the protagonist of "Humboldt's Gift" is a highly educated late-middle-aged man who's made a minor mess of his life but weathers the storm with any resources of which he can avail himself. Charlie Citrine, an Appleton, Wisconsin, native transplanted to Chicago, is an author and a briefly successful playwright who spends the novel reminiscing about his longtime friendship with the late poet Von Humboldt Fleisher, an eccentric genius and self-diagnosed manic depressive, and describing the people and events in his life that somehow seem to shape themselves around his relationship with Humboldt.
Humboldt once had a goal to raise the esteem of the poet's role in American society. In 1952 he believed an Adlai Stevenson presidency would allow the involvement of more intellectuals in government; when this hope crumbled, he sought and won an ephemeral poetry chair at Princeton, where he and Citrine concocted a strangely Sophoclean movie treatment about a doomed Arctic expedition and a man who became a cannibal. This was not the last of their show business aspirations; Citrine's play, "Von Trenck," based loosely on Humboldt's life and therefore vexatious to Humboldt, was a hit on the theater circuit and was made into a movie.
Citrine's dubious fortune attracts all kinds of problems with love and money. His ex-wife Denise is straining him over an uncomfortable divorce settlement; his new girlfriend, a much younger woman named Renata, takes advantage of him and leaves him stranded in Madrid to babysit her son. A simple poker night results in an undesirable association with a small-time gangster named Rinaldo Cantabile from which he can't seem to extricate himself.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Tim Poe (timpoe@alltel.net) on November 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
I think this is Bellow's materwork. An author who has always searched for evidence of the human soul in contemporary society, the questions Bellow raised in each of the novels leading to this point (Herzog particularly), finally find a resolution in this book, his last novel before winning the Nobel Prize.
This is a story of Charlie Citrine, a sucessful author who finds himself struggling for meaning while confronting the ghosts of memory, particularly in the relationship with his friend, mentor; and, at many points, antagonist, Von Humboldt Fletcher. Curiously, the novel is thrown into action and suspense through Citrine's dealings with a minor gangster, Cantible. The relationship, though, turns out to be one that brings Citrine back to the "here and now." Just as he is on the brink of being lost in transcendental wanderings, Citrine is snapped back to his resposibility by Cantible.
And, from such an unlikely source, the novel begins its reach towards resolution: to be fully human, Citrine must be spiritual but remain part of the world. Meaning and true spirituality come through compassion, empathy, caring. Once Citrine and the reader discover this, the novel reaches a resolution that marked the end of an era in many of Bellow's themes. This novel is simply a must for anyone who has enjoyed any of Bellow's earlier works, as well as for anyone who, like Chalie Citrine, struggle to find a place for the soul, the human spirit, in a world that seems to have forgotten such a thing may exist.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on July 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have a hard time understanding what there is not to like about this novel. The only thing that I can think of is that it is a book very uncontemporary in its style, but I find this to be one of its greatest strengths. I find that so many contemporary fiction writers have been overwhelmed by the presence of movies and TV that they are no longer able to write novels, but instead are forced to create what amounts to screenplays without stage directions.
Humboldt's Gift is not this. It takes the time to revel in the sheer joy of words. The characters are developed in depth. Bellow prevents them from becoming interchangeable, and this is as it should be, for people are not interchangeable. Bellow is obsessed with bringing every nuance and quirk of his characters to your doorstep. You could probably even pick them out on the street. What's more, Bellow has succeeded in bridging the amorphous world of high-minded ideas and the tangible world of reality with a prose style that is conversational and wise. You are learning something about what it means to be alive here. You are learning something about the breadth of the human condition. You are learning something about what it means to be American and what that means given the backdrop of the rest of history. If you would find such a journey tedious, don't bother reading this book. If you are anxious to take such a trip, take this book with you as a map.
Some of Bellow's books -- Sammler's Planet and Henderson the Rain King, in parts -- can be overly pendantic and essay-ish. But not this one. This one is a masterpiece of English literature. You are missing an American experience -- love it or leave -- if you are not reading this book.
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Wordsworth on September 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Transcendental. Profound. Scholarly. Challenging. Invigorating. Agile. A literary treasure. Citrine lives and breathes with the perspective of a real writer surging against great existential issues like Walt Whitman's ultimate question. Humboldt is brilliant, pitiful, hilarious and, ultimately, victorious from the grave. The gangster, Cantabile, is Citrine's cosmic foil: the Dionysius of Nietzsche to Citrine's Apollo. This is potentially a life-altering work: it can change your outlook on life and death. Bellow redeems late 20th century American literature with writing so rich it has bestowed upon him a mantle of immortality. He will be long remembered as one of America's most brilliant 20th century writers. This novel confirms Bellow's consistent gift for writing as evidenced by his prolific virtuosity in Herzog, The Adventures of Augie March and Henderson the Rain King. What a masterful literary legacy Bellow has left us! Bag the NY Times Best Seller List and Oprah's mind numbing, witless wonders and read Bellow. Hardly anything this substantive is likely to be created hereafter.
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