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Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story Hardcover – April 23, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Product Description
A groundbreaking new look at an American icon, The Wizard of Oz. Finding Oz tells the remarkable tale behind one of the world's most enduring and best loved stories. Offering profound new insights into the true origins and meaning of L. Frank Baum's 1900 masterwork, it delves into the personal turmoil and spiritual transformation that fueled Baum's fantastical parable of the American Dream. Prior to becoming an impresario of children's adventure tales--the J. K. Rowling of his age--Baum failed at a series of careers and nearly lost his soul before setting out on a journey of discovery that would lead to the Land of Oz. Drawing on original research, Evan Schwartz debunks popular misconceptions and shows how the people, places, and events in Baum's life gave birth to his unforgettable images and characters. The Yellow Brick Road was real, the Emerald City evoked the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and Baum's mother-in-law, the radical women's rights leader Matilda Joslyn Gage, inspired his dual view of witches--as good and wicked. A narrative that sweeps across late nineteenth-century America, Finding Oz ultimately reveals how failure and heartbreak can sometimes lead to redemption and bliss, and how one individual can ignite the imagination of the entire world.

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Framed pencil stub in Baum's Chicago home, 1899 The world of Oz, as created by L. Frank Baum.

From Publishers Weekly

Author and former business journalist Schwartz (The Last Lone Inventor) presents the life story of L. Frank Baum, focusing on the invention and development of his classic 1900 children's tale, The Wizard of Oz. Schwartz reveals how Baum's early interest in theatre, tall tales, and entertaining an audience led the restless young man through a string of doomed careers, including actor, playwright, castor oil salesman, and shop owner (trading in knickknacks and toys). In spite of pressure to support his family (his mother-in-law was the radical women's rights activist Matilda Gage), Baum maintained a passion for the fantastical, and sought pleasure in every venture he undertook, often by way of his talent for yarn-spinning (famously embellishing the properties and popularity of his dismal castor oil). Falling on hard times again and again, Baum had little to keep him going besides love for his growing family and for storytelling; fortunately, those were just the ingredients necessary to find his place as an author (he published the first Oz title when he was 44) and, ultimately, as a children's lit icon. A dad himself, Schwartz tells Baum's story with understanding and wit, perfect for anyone with fond memories from over the rainbow.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

We're Off to See the Wizard
Read the prologue from Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (April 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547055102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547055107
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is not so much a biography as it is an examination of the roots of one of America's best-loved stories. I found it very interesting, but at the same time, it disappointed me.

For one thing, several sections of the book seemed disjointed. Schwartz would start talking about a particular event, and to make it more interesting, he would fill in details about what MIGHT have happened. PERHAPS Baum felt like this, and MAYBE his wife, Maud, told him that, and IT IS LIKELY that they took such-and-such with them, etc. etc. I wish Schwartz would have just written a disclaimer at the beginning of the book saying that he filled in a few minor details to make his book flow better.

However, the major quibble that I have with this book is it's premise. It is an analysis of how the events in the life of one man, L. Frank Baum, translated into his greatest work. Because of this, I felt that the book was more tedious than necessary, and some of it even seemed pretty far-fetched to me. Baum is not here any more to interview, so many of the points made by the author were guesses, which I didn't appreciate. Personally, I would rather read the story of Baum's life and draw my own conclusions. Perhaps the author could make a few hints about what sort of things influenced his writings, but much of the time, the book just became very repetitive.

The thing that ANNOYED me most of all was that after the publication of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the story pretty much ended. There is one more chapter about the rest of L. Frank Baum's life, and that's it. His Oz sequels and other books are dismissed as being uninspired and mostly irrelevant, which as a fan of the whole Oz series, I found pretty insulting. "The Wizard of Oz" was the end point. Period.
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Format: Hardcover
Frankly, although I have watched the film version of The Wizard of Oz dozens of times, I never gave much thought to its author. Then I saw a review of Evan Schwartz's book, Finding Oz, and its subtitle caught my eye: "How L. Frank Baum discovered the great American story." As I began to read this biography, I began to make all manner of connections between Baum's life and the themes in the two versions (i.e. print and cinematic) of one of the most popular books in American children's literature. For example, like Dorothy Gale but throughout much of his life, Baum struggled to find his own "Oz." Along the way, like Dorothy, he encountered all manner of obstacles and was frequently in harm's way. Also like Dorothy, he was not alone during his perilous journey, accompanied by his wife Maud and their four sons. Finally, with the immediate and profitable success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, he achieved the happiness and harmony that had eluded him for decades.

As Schwartz explains in the Epilogue, "And so L. Frank Baum [at age 44] achieved true happiness, a state of bliss available to everyone in this life even thought only the lucky few ever reach it. Frank radiated his happiness for the rest of his days, creating concentric circles of joy, spreading from Maude and the boys, to his extended family, rippling through space and time, continuing for eternity. `Every one loved him, he loved every one, and he was therefore as happy as the day was long,' Frank wrote of the Tin Woodman." That was seldom the case in the preceding years as each of Baum's career moves failed, one after another. He was a chicken farmer, an actor, a seller of machinery lubricants, a purveyor of novelty goods, and a newspaper publisher. Despite all these setbacks, Baum continued to write constantly (e.g.
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Format: Hardcover
Between the movie and the book, I've always been transported by "The Wizard of Oz." The imagery that L. Frank Baum created has always resonated with my imagination, but until reading "Finding Oz", I had never really thought about the life events that inspired Baum. This amazing book by Evan Schwartz reveals Baum's life and journey - the trials, events and people that planted the seed that germinated in Oz. The powerful setting of Oz comes from Baum's own travels - from his upbringing in upstate New York, through the oil fields of Pennsylvania to the dusty farmlands of Kansas to the gleaming White City of the 1898 Chicago World's Fair, Baum searched for his own personal success through a variety of careers, before finding within himself, his power as an author. Schwartz draws forth the traits of the famous and infamous newsmakers of Baum's time that come together in his characters. Can you guess who combines the power of Rockefeller, the genius of Edison and the razzle dazzle of P. T. Barnum? Finally, I loved the thoughtful discussion of the religious and philosophical underpinnings that created the geography of Oz as well as the traits and meaning of Dorothy's companions. This amazing book took my understanding and appreciation of Oz to a whole new level!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am the proud possesser of all 41 of the "OZ" books. My mother purchased them for me when they came out during the 30's and 40's. After reading "Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story" I decided to reread the original "Oz" books. How eye opening! They are very political. How clever he was to talk about the "pinheads" and deal with politics at the same time. I am enjoying the books much more now that I did when I was a child.
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