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A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade
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A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  217 ratings  ·  64 reviews
A surprising and scandalous story of how the interaction within a group of exceptional and uniquely talented characters shaped and changed American thought

At the close of the Civil War, the United States took a deep breath to lick wounds and consider the damage done. A Summer of Hummingbirds reveals how, at that tender moment, the lives of some of our most noted writers,
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 17th 2008 by Penguin Press HC, The
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(showing 1-30 of 623)
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James Murphy
When I finished this book the word delicate came to mind, suited to a work in which hummingbirds play so big a part. It's a pleasure to read criticism as delicate as this and as magical as a hummingbird's flight. Benfey describes an age of American art and letters and society and history focusing on the lives and work of Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Martin Johnson Heade, and Emily Dickinson as well as various lives around them. He finds what they all have in common and shows how those enth ...more
Kathleen
This is one that I return to...a little hard to do, if I am looking for a particular thing, as it weaves together all those people so intricately. I was amazed at all the coincidences, who knew whom, who slept with whom, etc. But there is an index!

I felt connected somehow to almost all the people in the book, amazing, since the book is about how they are connected to each other. Sort of a six degrees of Emily Dickinson kind of game. Loved it.
Trixi
So I finally finished this one and it was good, nice little inside glimpse into these peoples lives.
Marla Glenn
What a delightful idea!
Christopher H.
I found this very well-written and interesting book the other day on the bargain table at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Christopher Benfey’s A Summer of Hummingbirds, while just a touch over 250 pages in length, is a fascinating look at a series of seemingly unconnected historical events involving a group of prominent literary, theological, scientific, and artistic Americans during the late-1860s through the 1880s. Interestingly, what seems to link these persons together was their unmit ...more
Rj
Just finished reading Christopher Benfey's new book, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art and Scandal in the Interesting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe & Martin Johnson Heade (New York: Penguin Press, 2008). Benfey is one of the magical authors who is able to take a simple idea, hummingbirds and uses them to weave together a narrative of post-Civil War America. Hummingbirds become a symbol of dynamism and beauty for a new generation of authors. His books are beau ...more
Jared
Christopher Benfey takes a promising premise--the differing relations of many prominent 19th century authors and artists (Emily Dickinson, Austin Dickinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Martin Johnson Heade, and several others) who are united (he argues) over their loves of the hummingbird. While many of these individuals did have relationships with the others (though none with all), he provides little other than a few references by most of the characters to birds to unite their stories. T ...more
Meredyth
I LOVED this book. It was utterly fascinating. Benfey is one of those rare nonfiction writers that manages to educate you and entertain you at the same time. I couldn't put this book down. I learned SO much and feel like I have a much clearer understanding of what these authors' lives were like and how they were connected. I'm starting another book of his shortly and cannot wait to read it. Can't recommend it highly enough!
Christina O'reilly
the book is built on a nontraditional structure which could get in the way for some people. it flits from one person to the next, from one theme to the next, from one art form to the next. layering upon layering, but when i walked away i had a rich experiential feeling of american culture as it shifted after the shock of the civil war. useful for the troubles we're looking at now.
Colleen Reilly
Not really surprising, or scandalous, but a fascinating frame with which to examine somewhat overlooked,but formative years in the nation's history. Not exactly action packed, but a fine read for anyone who has time to ruminate on hummingbirds.
Carol
Aug 05, 2008 Carol rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2008
This sounded like a great book but for me, when all is said and done I wondered what was the point? The title was much more provocative then the actual story. I think academic types are just in love with discovering a new twist.
Jenny Poole
Absolutely beautiful read! Highly rec for your summer reading.
C.J. Shane
This book is a departure from what I usually read in my very limited spare time. I enjoyed it despite some real shortcomings.

Written by Christopher Benfrey, a professor of English at Mount Holyoke College, it is an exploration of the lives of some important Americans whose paths crossed in the second half of the 19th century, and in particular, in the summer of 1882 in Amherst, MA. Chief among them is Emily Dickinson, her older brother Austin, her literary mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson (abo
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Linda
This ravishing scholarly work put lots of literary pieces together for me. Emily Dickinson's poems are explicated with academic precision and it is astonishing what layers and layers of meaning and cross references I have missed over the years. All of the authors and artists Benfey writes about are intertwined in one another's lives and oddly all of these stellar talents are crazy about hummingbirds. Some of the book's primary locations are Amherst, Massachusetts, Florida and Brazil. Hummingbird ...more
Annie Garvey
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Janet
Finally finished this after setting it aside several times. I liked it but there's no real narrative so it jumps around making connections among all the people in the book. I felt like I needed a chart to keep track of how all these 19th century celebrities knew each other.



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Months ago:



Just bought this. Same book binge as The Last Fish Tale. Love Benfey's The Great Wave. Some of the same people like Emily Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd appear in bot
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Rae
Benfey captures New England's Gilded Age most famous literary, scientific, and artistic figures like hummingbirds in a net. All brought together in the summer of 1882 during a very literal and figurative "Transit of Venus" These sort of crossing of paths happen every hundred or so years... say 8 years apart. Ha- I breezed through it and came to love Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain even more through the reviewed letters and interactions they had with their contemporaries in this book. I highly rec ...more
Cj
This would be a hard book to recommend. The use of hummingbirds as a bridge to connect artistic luminaries that flourished during the period following the Civil War was a rather rickety construct. The writing style reminded me of the gossip columns of early Hollywood. Instead of being about Greta Garbo or Mary Pickford, the catty commentary is about Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain. But the book is short, I like this era, and the almost malign treatment of the time and the lives of the historical ...more
Sharon
lovely read - ending with Joseph Cornell's works dedicated to Emily D was touching and reaffirmed the connection between artists that extends beyond their own place & time
James
I found this book alternately fascinating and boring. The book mostly follows the lives of Dickinson and Heade, with a good helping of Harriet Beecher Stowe and almost nothing about Mark Twain - contrary to the book cover's claims. Benfey is particularly enamored of Dickinson's poetry, but I found the forays into poetry analysis jolting. They interrupted the story. How the American civil war impacted Stowe and Dickinson was particularly engrossing. The last chapter was terrible. It had little to ...more
Lynne
Dec 04, 2008 Lynne rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lynne by: Monitor Review
Shelves: 2007-2008, biography
I found this frustratingly fragmented. There are many intertwining biographic snippets from an interesting period in US history, but none given the fullness I wanted. That is why I read novels...they go where biographers can't. I visited Emily Dickinson's home with my sister last spring so was especially interested. I confess I still can't wrap my head around her poetry. There is an interesting connection to the boxes of Joseph Cornell in the epilogue (another fragment). Sometimes I went "tsk ts ...more
Donna
The subtitle of this book: "Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade," intrigued me, as I knew very little about these people and how their lives might be connected. The author described how the lives of these people were intertwined during the nineteenth century after the Civil War. While somewhat interesting at times, overall, it did not hold my attention and I had to push myself to finish it.
Christie
Interesting picture of post-Civil War New England characters. Gives flesh to famous names.
Karima
from Publisher's Weekly:
Here the author turns to the more familiar territory of the 19th-century literary renaissance in New England. He focuses on some of the era's most famous writers, as well as lesser-known figures—as the subtitle indicates: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Johnson Heade—all of whom found inspiration and self-expression in flowers and birds, the hummingbird above all.
From Karima:
Some very inte
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Emily-Jane Orford
I found this book very interesting. Oh! the complicated lives of writers and artists! And how the hummingbird, a fragile, tiny thing of immense beauty, can be an inspiration, a connection, even, between creative and passionate minds. It certainly has me thinking - especially now that our hummingbirds have returned for the summer. Good quotes from some of my favourite authors, including Emily Dickinson. Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford, award winning author of "The Whistling Bishop" and "F-Sto ...more
Helen
An interesting study of how the lives of Dickinson, Twain, Stowe, and Heade intersected in their love of hummingbirds. I would have liked more of a conclusion on what this interest might mean as far as the mentality of the post Civil War era, for example it is alluded to that the hummingbird might symbolize freedom, but it isn't fully explored. The author instead seems to focus more on the scandal and the love, hoping to titillate modern readers on the sex lives of those 19th century elite.
Melissa
disappointingly dull. As a history and american studies major who went on to do graduate work in art history, I really wanted to like this book, but I could barely finish it. The connections were there, yes, but they were tangential. It needed a good editor.
Chaybee
So, I think I liked this book. If nothing else it opened my eyes to a world of writers and Authors I knew very little about. That exposed my deficiencies as an American Studies major. Admittedly, my focus was on twentieth century literature and art, but still, I felt in adequate not having read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or much of Emily Dickinson's works. If you have an interest in seeing how the literati of the later 19th century interacted, this one's for you.
Gary Land
This book provides a very interesting perspective on changing American values, at least among an elite group of writers and artists, after the Civil War. Although most of these people--Stowe, Head, Dickinson, and others--had an interest in Hummingbirds, which the author interprets as a symbol of freedom, I am not sure that it bears the weight of his argument. Nonetheless, the book is well worth reading for anyone interested in nineteenth century American culture.
Rachel
I do not normally go for biography, but was completely drawn in by the social connections, local and long-distance relationships, and the scandal and gossip that all characterize this book. There is something about certain places and times that seem to have more than there fair share of brilliant minds (ah, 1920s Shanghai), or at least local color, to create such novel appeal when viewed in hindsight... or just from the perspective of a skilled author.
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