Book Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford

Last December, I sat down and read A Christmas Carol For the first time. Throughout the reading, I found myself musing on the familiarity of the text, the love I felt for Dickens' words before ever having read them, my new appreciation for the myriad film adaptations*. This year, I continued my newly-founded holiday tradition, and once again broke out my gorgeous edition of A Christmas Carol, a beautiful red leather-bound edition with gold-edged pages, and paper as smooth as velvet (which is sadly out of print).

Given my long-lasting and yet new love for Dickens' text, it seemed only natural that this December, I would turn my attention to the story behind the story, found in Les Standiford's slim history, The Man Who Invented Christmas, aptly subtitled How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.

What Standiford has done--and done quite well, I might add--is provide a history of Dickens' most beloved work within the context of his life as an author. Starting with Dickens' troubled childhood, and moving into his struggling career as an author, Standiford leaves no stone unturned in seeking motivations for Dickens' writing of A Christmas Carol. And once we've learned of its publishing, fans of the Victorian novelist are treated to insight into Dickens' pride over his work, his struggles to maintain its copyright, and its long-lasting impact on the Western world and our holiday traditions.

All of Dickens' feelings about iniquity, injustice, poverty, charity and a need for a shared sense of responsibility for those less fortunate than ourselves have flooded into A Christmas Carol, a book that Standiford maintains transformed a little-celebrated Christmas holiday into the full-fledged giving-fest that it is today. And as times today get tougher and tougher, and streets of occupiers cry for change, Dickens' messages of charity and goodwill become even more meaningful and important.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is one of the more successful literary histories I've read, though I cannot claim to have read many. The work is eminently readable and likeable, fact-filled but never dry; Standiford has a knack for color that many historians and biographers seem to lack, perfectly placing his quotes, trivia facts, and anecdotes in a way that keeps the story engaging. And its short length--just 220 or so pages--make it easy to fit in during the holiday season, even coupled with a re-read (or first read, as the case may be) of A Christmas Carol. Plus, now that I've re-read Dickens' original work and read The Man Who Invented Christmas, I figure I'm a pro at Dickens' Christmas writings,** and can flounce off to any literary party and show off with my new-found literary trivia tidbits.***


* I said it last year, and I'll say it again: the George C. Scott version of the movie is hands-down the best version ever made. Although lately The Muppet Christmas Carol has started making an appearance in this house as well.

**Not true, actually. Included in my lovely, out-of-print, gushworthy edition of A Christmas Carol are Dickens' two subsequent Christmas novels (he originally aimed to publish one each year): The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. While I've read these two, I have yet to read The Battle of Life or The Haunted Man.

*** Did you know, for example, that Dickens essentially self-published A Christmas Carol? Or that one of Mark Twain's first dates with his eventual wife was to a Dickens reading in the United States? See? Literary trivia tidbits abound. 


Thoughts from other bookworms:

Season's Readings
Books on the Nightstand
The LA Times Book Review


The Man Who Invented Christmas | Les Standiford | Crown Publishers  | 9780307405784 | $19.95 Hardcover | 241 pages | November 2008 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

1 comment

  1. I love this post! I am a huge fan of A Christmas Carol and read it every year. I enjoy the story and characters each time. I have not heard of the book you reviewed- but after reading what you wrote I am very interested in reading it soon! Thank you so much for sharing this. I can't wait to read it!



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