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Santa: A Life

liked it 3.0  ·  Rating Details ·  53 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
Santa Claus began as Nicholas, a Byzantine bishop whose anonymous acts of nighttime charity would turn him into the most popular and enduring of all saints. Jeremy Seal's journey follows Nicholas's all-conquering expansion west from Turkey to the Crusader ports of Bari and Venice, and thence to 16th century Amsterdam. Seal records his subject's 20th century rebirth in the ...more
Paperback, 291 pages
Published November 3rd 2006 by Picador (first published January 1st 2005)
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Dec 03, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
This book suffers from two enormous errors made by its author: (1) he wrongly assumes that his own person is interesting enough to be inserted into the narrative; (2) he wrongly decides to resurrect Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, and turn him into a fame seeking opportunist, hell bent on securing his rightful place in a secular world (this latter move is so grotesque it isn't even worth the time it would take to explain it).

Nevertheless, as its topic is intrinsically fascinating, I was glad that I r
Nov 08, 2011 Jessica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, christmas
Allow me to describe this book as one would a fine wine: Dry yet fruity, with not-too-subtle sarcastic notes.

What I had hoped would be a straightforward history of Santa Claus, his origins as a Turkish bishop and Christian saint, leading up to the current world-wide icon, is instead a chance for Jeremy Seal to show off. The man doesn't so much write about Saint Nicholas as tap dance around and over him. Each paragraph is a dizzying spiral that requires careful reading to discern any point. And o
I was hoping for a history of the transformation of Nicholas, itinerant Bishop of Myra, into Santa Claus, movie star and bringer of toys around the world.

Sadly not in this book. There's lots of information in here if you can wade through Seal's personal travelogue. While I'm sure he enjoyed visiting the various sites associated with Nicholas (and probably claiming them as expenses associated with writing the book), they're often intrusive to the story. On top of this he refers to Nicholas as som
The title is misleading. Rather than the history of how a 4th Century bishop became a Coca-Cola drinking, 20th Century, pop culture icon, this is a world travelogue heavily seasoned with autobiography. The author visits a variety of places associated with both St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, but he tends to get lost in own musings about his own life instead of focusing upon the mysterious transformation of his research subject.
If the reader is willing to wade through the author's creative nonfict
Mar 02, 2009 Gerund rated it liked it
Santa: A Life, by British writer Jeremy Seal, opens with the definitive scene from the life of St Nicholas, a Byzantine priest who lived during the 4th century. St Nicholas is seen secretly passing an object through an open window, into a house where three girls are huddled. They are the daughters of a fallen nobleman, and are in despair because their father, not having money for their dowries, has no choice but to sell them into prostitution.

They are saved from this fate, however, by the steal
May 19, 2014 Liz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did not enjoy this book. Which is a shame, because I had very high hopes for it.

The history of Christmas is one of my hobby topics. Probably because of the varied histories that came into play in the creation of this holiday: religion, paganism, brand marketing, popular literature (Re: Charles Dickens). The list goes on.

Also, I just love winter. The happy bite of snow. The bright lights of the holidays. Cheer. Giving. PRESENTS.

I bought this book last year at the Ann Arbor Book Show. I was re
Dec 19, 2015 Iset rated it liked it

All in all, not what I was expecting. I was looking forward to reading this book and thought it would be a fascinating blend of the history of this well known figure, combined with a look at his variations and incarnations across the world - such as "Father Frost" in Russia, the "Yule men" in Scandinavian folk tales, and "Papa Noel" in various countries.

Instead the book turned out to be a fusion of the history and travelogue on the part of the author as he follows in the footsteps of Saint Nicho
Paul Pensom
This was an interesting but also a frustrating book; a record of the mythical journey from Saint to Santa taken by the 4th century Turkish bishop St. Nicholas, it was exasperating because the author used the story as the pretext to write a rather tedious Levantine travelogue.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I'd known that was what I was reading, but since it was Santa I was after, it quickly became annoying. Also, the balance of the book was wrong: there was far too much time spent in th
I read this in the days leading up to Christmas 2016. It had been haunting my shelves for a few years now, and I am relieved that I've finally knocked it over.

Essentially the story of St. Nicholas of Myra - a Byzantine christian saint.

Really, this is the story of the all christian saints, their lives recorded, rerecorded, celebrated and revered, the passing on of knowledge and the preservation of knowledge, fact and story.

This really would make a great television documentary. I could imagine J
Dec 26, 2009 Rosanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: yes
The descriptions of Turkey are wonderful! It was nice to feel as though I was traveling while reading a book. I especially like the author's visit to the rooftop chapel, Lapland, and the bus ride through England. The descriptions of Italy could have been better.

I thought that the narration was a bit strange. The author has written the book as though St. Nicholas intended to become famous and morph into Santa Claus.

I would not recommend this book for children because it makes several references t
Suzie Grogan
Nov 12, 2011 Suzie Grogan rated it really liked it
Shelves: christmas
This is not a typical Christmas book. it is a well researched 'biography' of Santa which spends two thirds of its length discussing his origins as St Nicholas and how that venerable saint managed to manouevre himself into the right places at the right times to become the 'father' of Christmas. Fascinating, rich in detail and ultimately a book that really does convince, despite all the current commercialisation, that there is an element of truth in the genuine goodness of the season.
Matt Spaulding
Nov 08, 2015 Matt Spaulding rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't even make it through a dozen chapters. Dry prose and a strange perspective make this a very tough read. The author forces his uninteresting personal travel into the narrative and frames St. Nicholas as a glory hound.

Much better histories of the legend of Santa Claus have been written. I suggest you find them.
Dec 02, 2011 Mimi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
Like other reviewers have said, this book is very odd in perspective and writing style. Dense paragraphs that you need to read more than once, a travelogue with the author prominently inserted into the narrative, and the character of St. Nicholas is seen as intentionally manipulating his hagiography.
Interesting for the history and for the places, but not absorbing, and not one I'd recommend.
Not really about "SANTA," this book traces the history of the spread of influence of St. Nicholas from present-day Turkey to Greece, Italy, and Russia, and then into the Netherlands. Only then, in the closing chapters of the book, does the concept of the gift-giving "SANTA" come into play. Interesting, but a bit misleading as to the title and cover. The history of Santa is only briefly covered.
Crazy Uncle Ryan
Jan 28, 2008 Crazy Uncle Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christmas, history
This book was extremely good. The author traced the origins of the Santa Claus myth with a high degree of scholarship and I really liked how it was formatted in such a way as to make me really feel like I was along for the journey. This book is great for anyone who is interested in learning more about how we got the icon we know as Santa Claus.
Joshua Duffy
Pretty impressive journey this guy went on to write the book, and it was a decent book; but I didn't much care for his writing style, and it just didn't keep my interest much. Personal preferences kept me from enjoying this one more, I guess.
Paul Valente
At times interesting at times rather dull travel book focusing on the genesis of Santa Claus, with too much analysis on his origins as St Nicholas in Myra, and too little on the transformation to more modern incarnations.
Dec 22, 2008 Lara marked it as started-stopped  ·  review of another edition
I tried to get into this book, but I couldn't.
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Nov 03, 2008
Valerio rated it it was amazing
Dec 06, 2014
Lisa S
Lisa S rated it really liked it
May 14, 2016
Rachael-Chloe rated it it was ok
Nov 10, 2013
Katy rated it really liked it
Oct 14, 2008
Angel Frazier
Angel Frazier rated it did not like it
Jan 14, 2015
Elaine rated it it was ok
Jun 28, 2016
Jamie Collins
Jamie Collins rated it it was amazing
Aug 14, 2015
Jack rated it it was amazing
Apr 23, 2009
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Jeremy Seal is a writer and broadcaster. His first book, A Fez of the Heart, was shortlisted for the 1995 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. He is also the author of The Snakebite Survivors' Club and The Wreck at Sharpnose Point, and presenter of Channel 4's ‘Wreck Detectives’. He lives in Bath with his wife and daughters.
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