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Humboldt's Gift

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,307 Ratings  ·  384 Reviews
The novel, for which Bellow won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 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 Humbold ...more
Paperback, 487 pages
Published June 1st 1996 by Penguin Classics (first published 1975)
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Jan 31, 2015 William1 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, us, 20-ce
I'm going to rave a little here. Do forgive me in advance. This is my second reading of this masterpiece. It was shortly after publication of Humboldt's Gift that Bellow won the Nobel Prize. That in itself usually doesn't mean much, mostly the literature awards are given out for political reasons these days, but I think in the case of Bellow Oslo got it right. From the start the storytelling is brilliant and it never flags. Charlie Citrine, a young man filled with a love of literature, writes to ...more
Sep 03, 2007 Eric rated it it was amazing
Last night I dreamt that Saul Bellow was still alive, and that I met him. (Met him at the Chicago branch of something called the Hitler-Piedmont Bank--I know, I know, it was a dream, so it had to be a little fucked up.) I started to gush, but of all the phrases, characters and scenes of his that I admire, the only thing I praised was his description, in this novel, of Humboldt's mud-bespattered station wagon as looking like "a Flanders staff-car."
Aug 04, 2012 matt rated it really liked it

I don't know what it is, but Bellow's books just go down easy for me. I can (and have) read them in one or two or five very long sittings, enjoying myself enough to just refuse to take my eyes off the page.

There's something about his protagonists- the nervy, learned, spunky, earthy, thoughtful and hyper-attentive 30-40 year old males which seems to resonate with me over and over again. I seriously thought about making a special category on my bookshelves for "old-drunk-wannabe-writer" books (a
David Lentz
Jun 21, 2011 David Lentz rated it it was amazing
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 a ...more
Oct 08, 2015 Simona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Un romanzo come "Il dono di Humboldt" è difficile da riassumere perché non ha una vera e propria trama. Necessita di tempo per essere assimilato, capito e vissuto.
E' un lungo stream of consciousness, un flusso di coscienza di pensieri, di sensazioni, sentimenti e poesia. E' un lungo e denso monologo interiore, in cui i dialoghi sono brevi o quasi del tutto inesistenti.
E' un compendio di rapporti umani, di bellezza, di poesia, di letteratura, quella vera, pura e salvifica. E' l'arte che si fa cap
Feb 11, 2009 Denis rated it did not like it
It's interesting how passionate I get when I dislike a book. Maybe I feel ripped off? My expectations were high and that no doubt plays into it.

The setup is interesting and has great potential. A man is on a quest to make sense of his life in a world that's lost its way. The theme: Culture, the arts, advanced learning and thinking, (the only raisons-d'être for man's existence don't you know) are being quashed by modern society and its trappings. From the get-go, there are quotes or mention of zi
Sep 17, 2013 AC rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is not much need for me to review this book, as it is well known, and as I already wrote substantial reviews of Herzog and Sammler's. As a young man, when I read this, I adored it (5-stars); this time, I saw also its flaws (4-stars).

All the threads of Herzog, Seize the Day, and Sammler come together here in near perfection... 'near'. A picaresque comedy, Charlie Citrine is throroughly modern, and romps through the latter part of the 20th century, trying valiently... like Harry Houdini ( --
Apr 11, 2016 Cosimo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Con la tua poesia di dolce verità

“Ma l'amore è una divinità che non può lasciarci in pace. Non può, perché dobbiamo la vita a atti d'amore compiuti prima della nostra nascita; poiché l'amore è un debito contratto dalla nostra anima”.

L'alter ego di Saul Bellow in questo romanzo è uno scrittore nevrotico, amletico e donnaiolo di nome Charlie Citrine, figlio di emigrati ebrei dell'Europa dell'est, con una grande inclinazione al pensiero filosofico e speculativo, uno humour inestinguibile e una natu
Nov 16, 2009 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is divided into sections of uneven length, each section probably best described as a chapter, unnumbered. The narrative is in the first person, told by the writer Charlie Citrine, the erstwhile friend and protégé of Von Humboldt Fleisher, a poet whose greatest fame occurred in the Thirties, after which the friendship shattered as Humboldt’s reputation declined and Charlie’s rose. The syntax, at the beginning, is simple declarative sentences, but it becomes far more florid during long ...more
Jason Pettus
Mar 19, 2010 Jason Pettus rated it liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called literary "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label

Essay #38: Humboldt's Gift (1975), by Saul Bellow

The story in a nutshell:
In good Postmodernist fashion, Saul Bellow's 1975 Humboldt's Gift is a semi-autobio
Jennifer Ochoa
I mostly loved this novel, but there were spots of tedium here and there. The novel starts out a bit slow-to-read, but as it gets into the action of the plot, the pace picks up.

The story takes place over a short span of time, but the narrator Charlie Citrine frequently recollects his past, giving temporal depth to the story. The subject of much of his remembrance is his former mentor, Humboldt Fleisher, now deceased. Their relationship was rocky, ended badly, and Charlie seems to be working thr
Feb 07, 2015 Io? rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Un'onda che tutto travolge. Impetuosa, ruggente, una tragica e comica nona sinfonia di Beethoven trascritta in forma di romanzo

[stringo con forza questo cordone ombelicale, e ti ringrazio]
I voli pindarici di Citrine sono i Miei voli pindarici)
i suoi castelli di carta sono i Miei castelli)
il suo rimorso per non avere avuto il coraggio di attraversare la strada e incontrare Von Humboldt Fleisher è il Mio rimorso per non aver trovato quel coraggio)
Ci parla a
Luís Blue Coltrane
"(..) I thought of Humboldt more seriously and suffering than may appear in this response. I did not like so many people like that. He could have the luxury of losing someone. An infallible sign of love was the fact I dream often with Humboldt. Every time I saw him, was tremendously moved and cried in my sleep. I once dreamed that in found in Whelan's Drugstore on the corner of Sixth Street with Eight in Greenwich Village. He was not the man bloated, heavy and broken that I had seen on the stree ...more
May 27, 2012 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-novels
This is the first Bellow I have read and I enjoyed the experience. It concerns Charlie Citrine, a chap in his 50s, a writer and intellectual who has an ongoing divorce, an unpredictable girlfriend, an acquaintance in the mob who decides he quite likes Charlie, various bloodsucking lawyers, friends who want money for hare-brained schemes and his relationship with his old mentor (now dead), the poet Von Humboldt Fleischer. It is an erudite book with lots of ideas in play and Bellow has great fun w ...more
Mar 12, 2015 [P] rated it liked it
I keep getting drawn back to Saul Bellow’s novels like a crazy-ass bee to a barren flower. I must love the disappointment, the confusion, the frustration. I’m a literature masochist. Bellow sees my eagerness, my dog-like enthusiasm, beckons me in closer...and then smacks me on the nose. His novels are never truly satisfying; they almost enrage me. How could a man be so talented, such a great writer, and yet churn out such flawed books? In truth, I don’t know how to review Humbodt’s Gift. It defe ...more
May 20, 2013 Rayroy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"...There are two graves left.You wouldn't want to buy mine, would you? I'm not going to lie around. I'm having myself cremated. I need action. I'd rather go into the atmosphere. Look for me in the weather reports."

"Moreover I was convinced that there was nothing in the material world to account for the more delicate desires and perceptions of human beings.

I met to write a full review but too much time has past to write a good one, this is just a book about an author that fears culture and arts
Oct 23, 2013 Kristen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
The country is proud of its dead poets. It takes terrific satisfaction in the poets’ testimony that the USA is too tough, too big, too much, too rugged, that American reality is overpowering. And to be a poet is a school thing, a skirt thing, a church thing. The weakness of the spiritual powers is proved in the childishness, madness, drunkenness, and despair of these martyrs. Orpheus moved stones and trees. But a poet can’t perform a hysterectomy or send a vehicle out of the solar system. Miracl ...more
Apr 15, 2008 Bridge rated it it was ok
I almost gave up on this book because it was so annoying and I found no pleasure or interest whatsoever in any part of it including any of the characters, but I finished it for my brother. I guesss I'm glad I did, so that I can add it to my list and write a review having known that I did read the whole book and didn't miss anything in the last half that would change my opinion of the book. I didn't learn anything and was confused at times. This book was just not for me.
Mar 15, 2016 J.M. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: human beings and Chicagoans
Shelves: classic, chicago, fiction
"'...The common crisis is real enough. Read the papers-- all that criminality and filth, murder, perversity and horror. We can't get enough of it-- we call it the human thing, the human scale.'
'But what else is there?'

Do you know Saul Bellow? Let's talk about him for a little bit. He was a celebrity novelist-- and one of the quintessential 'Chicago' writers-- before it was cool. Okay, scratch that, it's always been cool to be a celebrity novelist, but yeah. If you're the type of person who read
Eric Kibler
Oct 16, 2015 Eric Kibler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Charlie Citrine is a decorated writer and what they used to call a swell, living the high life in Chicago. He has it all. A Mercedes, a high maintenance girlfriend, the best of everything. But all is not as great as it seems. He's on the brink of financial ruin. His ex-wife has sued him for more alimony, his expensive girlfriend is pushing him to marry her, and now he's run into the orbit of a smalltime hoodlum who aspires to get involved with Charlie and his affluent, intellectual life.

Sep 29, 2012 Manray9 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-lit
When Bellow’s main character, Charlie Citrine’s, lover Renata said “When you get to the story let me know, I’m not big on philosophy,” she hit the bullseye. I have never before read a more pretentious glob of self-indulgent philosophizing, high-brow name-dropping, and conceited intellectualism. You realize a novel isn’t working when you catch yourself frequently checking how many pages remain. I kept at it only out of respect for Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, as the autho ...more
Vit Babenco
Nov 29, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When the idealism and pragmatism collide those are the ideals that get shattered.
“In The Ark we were going to publish brilliant things. Where were we to find such brilliancy? We knew it must be there. It was an insult to a civilized nation and to humankind to assume that it was not. Everything possible must be done to restore the credit and authority of art, the seriousness of thought, the integrity of culture, the dignity of style.”
It is better to be rich and healthy maintains the pragmatic doc
May 23, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Shelves: american, fiction
So close to being a 5-star.

Fantastic, lyrical, excellent when both comic and tragic, plaintive and descriptive, and there are a few ugly spots which almost spoil the whole thing (the rant about divorce/women) and made me have to stop. Still a very good examination of the role of writing and consumerism in American culture, if you want me to retreat to my usual sterile descriptions.
Jun 29, 2015 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, fiction

The title suggests that Von Humboldt Fleisher, poet and sometime academic, best friend of Charlie Citrine, is the protagonist, but this is mainly Charlie's story. Charlie, a playwright, has had one huge Broadway hit and is living mostly off its fumes. He is pulled in two opposite directions: the gritty, ugly, immigrant city of Chicago, and the life of the mind, the philosophers and poets, and the mysticism of Rudolf Steiner.

Divorced from Denise, who is taking him to the cleaners in a settlement,
Christopher Roth
Maybe I just read this at the wrong time of life. The only other Bellow I'd read were Herzog many many years ago, plus scattered short stories. More vivid in my mind is Brent Staples' brilliant University of Chicago memoir "Parallel Time: Growing up In Black and White," in which Staples confesses, hilariously, to stalking, even terrorizing, Bellow after his novel "Ravelstein," with its portrayal of blacks that many found racist, appeared. And I must say, the African-Americans in "Humboldt's Gift ...more
Nov 09, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
I have mixed feelings about the overall literary quality of this book, but I'm glad I read it because Bellow is a good teacher, very good at mixing abstract thought (here death, the soul, and the possibility of a vital American poetry are the biggest concerns) with the plot, action, character, and the other stuff of life and novels. Really, Humboldt's Gift reads like a clinic on this novelistic skill, but more in the way of an exercise book than a masterpiece. The two writers I thought of most w ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Vishal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Saul Bellow writes so beautifully about the state of anything - in this case, the complacent slumber of the soul and the artistic instinct that was brought on by the growth of crass capitalism in America in the 1970's - that I am almost ready to forgive him (in this book certainly) for coming across as a pompous, self-indulgent, often-times times cringe-inducing, preening uber-intellectual wannabe name-dropper. And boy is he trying to recreate his long-gone waning adolescent powers, writing with ...more
Greg Z
Feb 29, 2016 Greg Z rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
I enjoyed the first half of this book. Then it slowed down. And then it felt like a different story: a few hundred pages of any ol' thing, issues repeatedly discussed by the angst-ridden narrator (the appearance of a diaphragm peaking out of a woman's luggage, for example) and then finally we are treated to the explanation of the title. Tighter editing would have helped, and did we really need lines like, "In my private vocabulary she was a little 'nole me tangerine'"? Lots of intellectual refer ...more
Jul 07, 2014 Fabian rated it liked it
The labyrinthine mental processes of an exceptional man of letters--challenging, uneven, extremely self conscious and, of course, literary.

"I have snoozed through many a crisis (while millions died)" laments our hero. Our overthinking, overcompensating, overwhelming hero. He's a regular Danish prince--indeed most of his life is seen through a Shakespearean filter that has more to do with complications than tragedy or romance.

There are amazing sentences and exuberant prose in this, a lauded Pulit
Jun 19, 2016 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal, in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago, received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, and served in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

Mr. Bellow's first novel, Dangling Man, was pu
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“She's very pretty but she's honey from the icebox, if you know what I mean. Cold sweets won't spread.” 28 likes
“Boredom is an instrument of social control. Power is the power to impose boredom, to command stasis, to combine this stasis with anguish. The real tedium, deep tedium, is seasoned with terror and with death.” 26 likes
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