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The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  294 ratings  ·  70 reviews
Before the charismatic John Duval Gluck, Jr. came along, letters from New York City children to Santa Claus were destroyed, unopened, by the U.S. Post Office. Gluck saw an opportunity, and created the Santa Claus Association. The effort delighted the public, and for 15 years money and gifts flowed to the only group authorized to answer Santa’s mail. Gluck became a Jazz Age ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (first published October 1st 2015)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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Dec 27, 2016 added it
I came across The Santa Claus Man: The Rise And Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man And The Invention of Christmas In New York in Bas Bleu Catalog, where you can find a myriad of unusual bookish gifts. Bas Bleu’s byline says it all. ”Champion of the odd little book...and wellspring of inspired gifts for readers.”

The title warned me that all would not be merry and bright but it also sparked my curiosity to know who this Santa was and what made him special. Alex Palmer, the author also was intrigued by thi
I don't give star ratings to books my company publishes.

This is a crazy story. If you have any interest in how Americans have come to celebrate Christmas as we do, check it out.
Nov 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is not just a biography but also a history of NYC and Santa Claus.

Not many people would recognize the name John Duval Gluck but for almost 15 years he was “Santa Claus” to the poor and underprivileged children of New York City. John Gluck started out working in the Customs and Brokerage business his father had founded and although he was good at his job (as he proved to be in all his undertakings) his heart was not in the work. He tried his hand briefly as a Public Relations and Promot
Laura Harrison
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful read. Exciting, informative, well-written. One of my favorite books of 2015.
Jim Dooley
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book from beginning to end. This is not only the story of a marketing con man who fashioned a comfortable living out of appealing to public empathy, but also the story of the creation, growth and marketing of Santa Claus and a merchandising direction for Christmas. A very lively writing style keeps this story engaging throughout. It would be a natural for a motion picture ... are you there, Tom Hanks?

I was amazed to learn how influential New York has been in forming the Christmas
Lori Shafer
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love a good story about history, especially when they are about topics I have never heard of before. This book is a good example. I have always wondered what happens to letter sent to Santa. Palmer takes you back in time when one man tries to make everyone's Christmas a little brighter. But with most tales, the best of intentions can lead to trouble. Some of the stories are so heartwarming. Learning how complete strangers help a mother reunite with her son after he was kidnapped by his father. ...more
Shari Suarez
Sep 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful non-fiction book that reads like fiction. John Duval Gluck was a charity promoter in the 1920's who agreed to take the letters that children wrote to Santa Claus and fulfill their wishes. It is a great portrait of the rise of Christmas and Santa Claus in New York during the 1920's. The author is a relative of Gluck's so there are some great photos in the book. ...more
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Originally published on my blog at:

Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review.

The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York by Alex Palmer
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015
Nonfiction; 320 pgs

In my holiday-themed book craze mood, I decided to add The Santa Claus Man to my list of books to read this Christmas season, wanting something to break up the more sentimental and traditional fi
Jay R. shepard
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
*****A captivating and brilliant historical account about Christmas and a hustler.*****

I thought "The Santa Clause Man" was an amazingly well researched story peppered with interesting photographs and facts about a man, John Duval Gluck Jr., who, with the best of intentions, tries to rekindle the spirit of Christmas by answering Santa's "dead" letters.

Author, Alex Palmer, has written a very captivating and brilliant historical account about the resurrection of the spirit of Christmas and Santa C
Drew Zagorski
Oct 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, true-crime
Palmer does a great job of delivering narrative that brings the reader into the context of Manhattan at the time the story takes place. The story has several layers to it and several threads throughout, and Palmer expertly weaves them into the fabric of the story. There's a lot here for a reader to take in, so if you love reading history and true crime The Santa Clause man will be sure to please. As a former Boy Scout, I was particularly fascinated about the competition between the BSA and Unite ...more
Casey Koester
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2019, books-i-own
Throughly researched and presented with care, The Santa Claus Man surprised me by sucking me into this world of a turn of the century con-man with a soft spot for Christmas. The author takes a few detours to explore his subject's other pet projects, like the now defunct United States Boy Scout - the competitor to Boy Scouts of America at this time. The colorful cast of famous New Yorkers who make appearances in the narrative add to the depth of the history.

Check this out - it's truly a fun read
Far be it from me to be part of "Christmas creep"; I'm as nauseated as anyone to see holiday decorations dominating stores and Christmas-themed commercials cropping up on tv. But this book was published in, and I read it in, October, and – well, after all, this is how it all began…

I roll my eyes at sentimental movies. That part in the Two Towers film where the whole theatre was filled with the sound of sniffling found me sitting in a boiling fury at the ridiculous schmaltz of it all. I cry at H
Jun 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
The Santa Claus Man by Alex Palmer Before the charismatic John Duval Gluck, Jr. came along, letters from New York City children to Santa Claus were destroyed, unopened, by the U.S. Post Office. Gluck saw an opportunity, and created the Santa Claus Association. The effort delighted the public, and for 15 years money and gifts flowed to the only group authorized to answer Santa’s mail.
This book is not only about John Gluck and the Santa Claus Association but also about New York City history. Ther
Laura Roberts
Following the rise and fall of John Duval Gluck, Jr., aka The Santa Claus Man, Alex Palmer’s new book offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at some of the people who first organized the kinds of Christmas celebrations we’ve all come to know and love.

From humble beginnings, operating out of a back room in Henkel’s Chop House, Gluck first took on the task of responding to hundreds of letters addressed to Santa by area children with a sense of pride and the Christmas spirit. But, as with all tales
Karen Laird
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
The Santa Claus Man is an excellent accounting of both how Santa became an intricate part of the American Christmas Scene and also was great telling of the story of the first Santa Claus of New York with the ups and downs of the charitable organization he built to bring Santa to New York in the 1920s. The story is well written. The book is filled with pictures procured from newspapers and organizational filfilesI found The Santa Claus Man to be well worth the read. This book received a FOUR STAR ...more
Jeffrey Williams
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Alex Palmer hit a home run with his book The Santa Claus Man. His focus is primarily on John Duval Gluck, the man who created (and ruined) the Santa Claus Association in New York, though he does provide context to other areas of Christmas traditions and the history of Santa Claus. The book it witty, suspenseful and it makes you both empathize and dislike Gluck for his actions. Even though Palmer is related to Gluck, he writes it in such a way as to be neutral and let the character take care of h ...more
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
I've had this book for months and months as an ARC from NetGalley and I'm finally finishing it now. Once I got into the actual story about the Santa Claus Association, MY interest was piqued. Full review to come.


See my full review on my blog at or
Jeffrey Fossi
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read for the Christmas season! This fit my interest and passion for learning about early 20th century New York, and a little known character of questionable objectives. The Santa Claus Man highlights the life of
John Duval Gluck jr. who created The Santa Claus Association. I will leave it up to my fellow readers if "Santa's secretary" belongs on the naughty or nice list.
nikkia neil
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Very crazy stuff that nowadays could never happen. There is no more whimzy crime now that technology has evaded our lives. Its even worse stuff that happens now!
Cindy Koch-Krol
Jul 08, 2019 rated it liked it
What could be more innocuous than a letter to Santa? And then for such letters to be used by this man to further his own agenda. I had no sympathy for this man Gloch in hearing his sometimes hilarious and other times tragic story. But what did keep me reading was the evolution of Christmas as at first a German holiday that was trying to make in-roads into the American culture. The fact that it succeeded is witnessed every year at Thanksgiving with the onset of not just a holiday that takes place ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it liked it
The Santa Claus Man, John Gluck, Jr., was a fraud. He was also a distant relative of the author who goes easy on him in this book. Mr. Gluck had delusions of greatness. He persuaded the New York City post office to deliver children's letters to Santa directly to his organization, formed for the purpose of fulfilling wishes of the underprivileged. For 15 years he continued lining his own pockets with the donations of kindly New Yorkers. He also had other schemes going. In the early twentieth cent ...more
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not quite 4 stars, but definitely more than 3, and even more than 3.5, so 4 stars it is.

I picked this up in The Strand, NYC's famous bookstore, because I was looking for a book to do with the city's history. This seemed like a good option.

This is a non-fiction account of the public relations guy who got the NYC post office to give his "charity" all the Santa letters that were going to the Dead Letter Office. Starting with noble intentions, and a genuine desire to help poor kids, his legitimate c
Glenn G
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating slice of plum pudding that breezes through the exploits of a shrewd marketeer during the birth of New York City’s commercialization of Christmas. Palmer’s fluid writing is a breezy read, yet still exhaustively researched. He keeps the narrative entertaining and, although he is exposing the antics of a distant relative, manages to remain unbiased in his chronicle of his great-granduncle’s often nefarious exploits. A fine holiday addition to the stories and history of NYC’s most amazin ...more
Scott Delgado
Dec 20, 2020 rated it liked it
While I did get some interesting facts from this book, I think I'd only give it 2.5 stars. I just found it kind of jumped around from time to time and was sluggish at points. I learned some things, but it wasn't the most enjoyable read for me. However, people who knew about the con man before reading this would possibly enjoy it more than I did as it is a deep dive into a subject that I'm sure interests some. ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting history about a man who established the Santa Claus Association in New York in the early 1900's. Gluck started off with such a great, charitable idea but, through greed or delusion (the book doesn't really delve too deeply into his possible motives), eventually dissolved. The book talked about history surrounding the Santa Claus Association and Gluck which at times was interesting but other times made me think "why does this matter." The bits about the history of Santa Claus in Ameri ...more
Elise Noorda
Nov 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting story about the early part of the 20th Century in New York. Charitable giving and its oversight, the Boy Scouts of America and their competition, and how Christmas grew to be celebrated in largely the manner it is today - insight into all of these. It felt really long, though, and I was glad to finish it.
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting but cluttered

The subject of this book is fascinating! My main complaint though is that the narrative is a bit disjointed and takes frequent asides to track about side adventures of the man in question, or even a third party who happened to be tangentially related to the story.
Susan Hopkins
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting look into how one man "championed" Santa Claus for needy kids/families in NYC in the 1920's. (Mild spoiler) Gluck may have started off with good intentions, but I ended the book wondering if the ease of which he raised money from the NYC elite through multiple fundraising efforts padded his own pocketbook more than it should have. ...more
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing style was easy, facts were incorporated seamlessly into the narrative and made for an enjoyable read. I found the story itself to be very entertaining and I especially liked the interesting side stories that Palmer inserted to really give context to the era.
Rick Lee Lee James
Love this book

So much about our modern way of celebrating Christmas has its roots in the story told here, both the good and the scandalous. A fascinating read that I highly recommend. Mister Santa Claus was anything but.
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Alex Palmer is the author of five nonfiction books including New York Times bestseller The Santa Claus Man and the forthcoming Happiness Hacks. A journalist and excavator of fascinating facts, he is also the author of Weird-o-pedia, Alternative Facts, and Literary Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Literature.

His writing has also appeared in Esquire, Best Life, Slate, Mental Fl

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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
62 likes · 17 comments
“Gluck asserted that the poor were not simple downtrodden innocents as the Santa Claus Association had for years presented them. They were time bombs, ready to detonate as soon as conditions worsened. He suggested to Tumulty that the United States create a surveillance system that would “keep tabs” on the poor, and poor Germans in particular, without their knowledge—and that he should oversee the whole thing.” 2 likes
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