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Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby
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Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  405 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Includes an afterword by the author

Harry Crosby was the godson of J. P. Morgan and a friend of Ernest Hemingway. Living in Paris in the twenties and directing the Black Sun Press, which published James Joyce among others, Crosby was at the center of the wild life of the lost generation. Drugs, drink, sex, gambling, the deliberate derangement of the senses in the pursuit o
Paperback, 379 pages
Published August 31st 2003 by NYRB Classics (first published August 1st 1976)
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Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
WW1 left Harry brutally shell-shocked. He was rich, handsome, charming and supported the arts while taking drugs and experimenting sexually. This bio, packed w trivia, has a Puritan-American tone, but who can't be wild about Harry?

Biographer Wolff offers exact reflections on the French, as Harry lived in Paris throughout the 20s : "The French have elevated toleration of eccentricity to the estate of a creed," he notes, while being basically conventional seekers of form and balance. The French ar
Mike Lester
Sep 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This guy had it all. Money, mansions, cars, planes, his own small press, lavish parties with famous friends, a beautiful wife, a beautiful mistress, even a dog named Clytoris. He also had a death wish. Black Sun is a fascinating look at the the life and lifestyle of Harry Crosby, the original Jim Morrison. Harry wanted to fly his plane straight into the sun. Jim wanted to break on through to the other side. Well, if he had, he would have found Harry sitting there, relaxing, drink in hand, saying ...more
Jeanne Thornton
I've owned this book for many years because how could one not see this book and immediately buy it with intent to read? It is about a small-time publisher, poet, and mystic who leads a violent crazy life that culminates in murder-suicide on the cusp of the Great Depression!!! Hart Crane and Kay Boyle are in it and James Joyce makes a cameo even!!!!

The problem is that Harry Crosby is actually not that interesting. The story is riven with a single deus ex machina--the inexhaustible fortune of Harr
Mar 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2009
Stellar writing on Wolff's part, though you have to tolerate the subject because he's a bit of an ass. It's the old separating art from artist thing, only in this case, separating biography from subject. Enjoyed best the setting (20s Paris, for the most part) and the cast of characters (lots of Lost Generation folk, to whom I feel an affinity of sorts).
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well, Mr. Wolff sure brings Harry Crosby to life! A little ways in I was starting to get real annoyed at the condescension the author kept leveling at his subject. A little ways further, I was amused at how the author had, in this, assumed the role of The Sun-- the object of Harry's worship and obsession-- in bringing its subject to life but also pitilessly withering him with that same light. By the end, it was clear that Wolff's often-harsh judgements of Crosby are a product of his incredible a ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it liked it
5 for life interestingness, 3 for book interestingness.

I haven't even attended one interesting orgy or done any of the more interesting drugs or written any interesting terrible poetry -- boy, this guy sure was interestinger than me.
Sarah Beth
Jun 10, 2015 rated it really liked it

Born in 1898 to a wealthy and prominent Boston family, Harry Crosby did indeed live a mad and extravagant life. He hated conventions, was famously generous, and never imperious. He hated holidays because "they were arbitrary periods of freedom which were given rather than taken, and because they were occasions for artificial merriment" (104). He always dressed in black and was repelled by the touch of s
Rachel Hope
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is biography as written by a novelist, not a historian. Wolff is a masterful wordsmith. His biography is unconventional and elliptical, often eschewing chronology by circling back over the same times again and again. Wolff describes himself as working within the romantic biographical tradition in the book's 2003 afterword, which is definitely worth reading by anyone interested in biography as a genre. The result of his approach is fascinating and wonderfully readable. The subject, Harry Cro ...more
Nick Guzan
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent and incredibly well-researched account of Harry Crosby - and, to an extent, his ebullient and far shrewder wife Caresse.

I wasn't a big fan of the non-linear layout; once Harry had left his job at the bank, each chapter takes a sprawling approach at covering one certain aspect of his life for his few remaining years. Despite this, I learned much more about the fascinating yet "minor" place that Harry and Caresse Crosby occupied among the true artists of the 1920s Lost Generation.

I appr
This book had about 100 interesting pages in it. Unfortunately, flipping through and finding them was a challenge. It took me an unbelievable amount of time to finish, because it literally put me to sleep more times than I can count. Also, Harry Crosby was a total dirtbag, privileged misogynist asshole.
Aug 17, 2010 rated it liked it
This is the story of a little known would be publisher and writer/sun worshiper/Gatsby like playboy and all around freak who tore up Paris in the twenties. It's a very cool book especially if you have any interest in that period
Dec 06, 2017 rated it liked it
"Dead man walking" - that's what prisoners call out as a man is escorted to the execution chamber.
If anyone was ever a literal a dead man walking, it was Harry Crosby, who spent 10 years after WWI
living it up - and down - until his suicide in 1929. Rich, handsome, earnest in pursuit of whatever he did from sex to drugs to philosophizing, he lacked that spark of genius that true writers have in spite of the reams of poetry and memoir he produced. He surrounded himself with artists, but wasn't on
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Best written biography I've read. The research is very good as well. Harry Crosby is not an appealing character, but I read this as a study of the lost generation ex-pats and their Paris literary enclave. By centering his research on someone who was on the fringes, Wolff gives us a different perspective than that provided by studies of the better known and more successful participants.
Mark Feltskog
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating topic from the pen of a superlative nonfiction stylist; highly recommended if you're interested in a representative figure in the expatriate community in 1920s Paris.
Frank McAdam
Ironically, if I had read this book when it was first published in 1976 my reaction would have been much more positive. I would most likely have viewed Harry Crosby's brief life in the same manner as does his biographer, i.e., from a purely literary point of view. As such, it makes for a great story. Here is the narrative of a proper Bostonian (nephew of J.P. Morgan no less) gone rogue, a charter member of the "lost generation" who returned to Europe after the war to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle ...more
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wolff's memoir of his con man father, The Duke of Deception, is one of my 10 favorite books, so I will read anything else by him. This book's well written, but I don't think Crosby, notorious for his death in an apparent suicide pact, was worth Wolff's efforts. W. sees C. as fundamentally different from other suicides: not depressed or "of unsound mind." Rather, he had always said he would kill himself, & not alone, and that's what he did. Crosby: "Death: the hand that opens the door to our ...more
Aug 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Sometimes biographers talk about falling in love with their subjects, noting that it's hard to spend all that time with someone, researching and writing, whom they don't like. I don't know if Wolff fell in love with Crosby in any sense, but he sure finds him interesting. As do I, although I think I find Crosby rather more annoying and silly than Wolff did (although he admits to those qualities, too). He certainly doesn't claim major importance for Crosby, who was, at best, a minor writer. Wolff ...more
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
It may have been Bukowski's correspondence with Caresse Crosby that led me to seeking more about this "Lost Generation" character, or some other tangent I've now forgotten. This is the second, counting Cowley, and likely last biography of the minor poet Harry Crosby. (Aside, minor figures do not get much new treatment). Bearing this in mind, it becomes more important to take in the story with a skeptical eye. Is it definitive? In the face of the author's research against our lack of it, we can o ...more
Courtney Skelton
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Compelling! A very in-depth story of the a tormented young man. Had Harry Crosby been born after the internet, he would have gone viral beyond belief. The tragedy of it is he only scratched the surface on what he could have done in his life. Through out the story, I could not decide if I liked or disliked Harry. The ending of the book is just like Harry's life. It is so peppered with so many question marks that what really happened and what drove Harry through out his life is unknown. Even now i ...more
Aug 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Harry Crosby was always one of my favorite modernists, and not just because he walked a lobster to a party on a leash; not just because he committed a double suicide with his mistress; not just because he was committed worshipper of the SUN; but because he was a genuine avant-gardist who tried concrete poetry, he tried the prose poem (a form in which he excelled); he wrote copious amounts of caca, but he also wrote some of the most remarkable poems of his era, and he has been virtually forgotten ...more
Sep 04, 2007 added it
p. 254
His hair had gone gray, and he was obliged to roam farther and hunt harder to bag the sailors whose temporary affections he cherished, and which seemed to deflate his self-regard. He had been precocious in all things. He left his Ohio home when he was seventeen to begin his career as a poet, and once in New York immediately succeeded in making a reputation with Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, Malcolm Cowley, Waldo Frank and Sherwood Anderson. But as he ripened, so did he spoil, quickly and luxur
Xan Asher
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Anyone reading this is going to be left with the feeling (hell, I was anyway) of wondering just what made Harry Crosby tick. Possibly (!!) madness. Great portrait of a generation post WW1, Paris in the twenties, and an all-round ultimately homicidal fascinating character. His wife had an amazing post-Harry life; Lisa St. Aubin de Teran wrote a novel based on him, Black Idol. For anyone who enjoys biographies about the quirkier unsung names.
Nov 15, 2012 added it
Shelves: memoir-bio
Rich, bored and American in Paris, Harry Crosby drank, drugged, and debauched his way through the 1920's and '30's. Surrounding himself with artists, writers, and bohemians, he established a small publishing house and gained notoriety not only for his flamboyance, but the writers he supported including James Joyce. An odd, sad story of a bright, narcissistic Peter Pan.
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
Bit of a slog. Interesting bits. I did not share the author's fascination with Crosby at the end and was happy to be done with the whole thing. Picked it up after reading Wolfe's The Duke of Deception wherein Black Sun was mentioned.
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
I wanted to read this book over my curiosity with Henry Crosby's life but got bored a few chapters into it. I realized that the important (and interesting) facets of his life (namely his marriage and death), I had already read about online.
Oct 30, 2009 rated it liked it
My one issue with the book is that Harry Crosby is an asshole, which is not the author's fault. But well-written, and interesting, and Wolff is very wary of any cliched approach, either to the form of biography or to the Lost Generation history.
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was an interesting biography. It does raise the question as to whether Harry Crosby was simple a product of his times or if he was set to self destruct no matter what happened. Wolff doesn't try to force an answer on his reader.
Aug 02, 2015 added it
After 5 years, finally finished it! Pretty good read. Nice perspective on ex pats in Paris in the 20s, if you're into that thing. Interesting meditations on suicide. Wolff does a nice job of making Harry Crosby's otherwise forgotten existence to life.
May 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: suicidal-obssessed
This is the definitive book to read to satiate all curiosity on Harry Crosby. He will not be remembered for his literary contributions, but rather for his sordid eccentricities and his scandalous suicide.
Feb 22, 2011 added it
Enjoy biographies and loved learning about the Crosbys
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