Read Mark Twain by Ron Powers Online


Ron Powers’s tour de force has been widely acclaimed as the best life and times, filled with Mark Twain’s voice, and as a great American story.Samuel Clemens, the man known as Mark Twain, invented the American voice and became one of our greatest celebrities. His life mirrored his country's, as he grew from a Mississippi River boyhood in the days of the frontier, to a WildRon Powers’s tour de force has been widely acclaimed as the best life and times, filled with Mark Twain’s voice, and as a great American story.Samuel Clemens, the man known as Mark Twain, invented the American voice and became one of our greatest celebrities. His life mirrored his country's, as he grew from a Mississippi River boyhood in the days of the frontier, to a Wild-West journalist during the Gold Rush, to become the king of the eastern establishment and a global celebrity as America became an international power. Along the way, Mark Twain keenly observed the characters and voices that filled the growing country, and left us our first authentically American literature. Ron Powers's magnificent biography offers the definitive life of the founding father of our culture....

Title : Mark Twain
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780743249010
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 736 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Mark Twain Reviews

  • Doug
    2019-01-03 12:18

    For someone like me who has never studied the life of Mark Twain, nor 19th century history, at least not my attempts to not learn history in high school, this tome is quite an education. Thoroughly covers Mark Twain's life, including commentary on past writings by other authors about him. Why is it that most creative geniuses seem to be dysfunctional in everyday life? Maybe genius is part of a mental and/or emotional pathology. Anyway, not having read very many biographies, I can't say whether this one is exceptional or not, but it held my interest. The book provides plenty of information along with insight about its primary subject as well as how his life affected and was affected by the times. Well written and highly recommended.

  • Christine Boyer
    2018-12-21 09:03

    Wow, this is a huge book and it took me two months to finish! So right off the bat, if you're not into biographies, put this book back on the shelf and check out something else. Secondly, if you're not into Twain or have never read one of his books, or you're not into the writing process and publishing, again, put it back on the shelf. This thing is a commitment!Mark Twain is my favorite author. I've read most of his books and some of his essays and sketches. I was familiar with his writing and his personal life before reading this book. So from that perspective, what has Ron Powers done with the subject? Well, a lot. The first part of Twain's youth in Hannibal is pretty short and Powers takes the reader right into the beginnings of Twain becoming "a writer". One thing that made this biography unique is how Powers doesn't just tell you what Twain did or how he did it, but he includes history from the time period (specifically the 1870s-1880's) so I felt transported back to post-Civil war American culture. I had forgotten what a unique time ("The Gilded Age") that was with regard to industrialism, all the new inventions, and new ways of thinking in medicine, science, and politics. Powers does a great job of reminding us that Twain was an author who was famous in his own time. The only reason I gave it 4 stars rather than 5 is because I did feel like it dragged in a few sections. Powers included a lot of the details of how publishing houses worked at that time, more than I wanted to know. All in all, if you like Twain and want to know more - and you have a couple months to spare - enjoy!

  • Arminius
    2019-01-03 10:54

    I did not finish this book so here is my impression. One striking thing about Mark Twain is the way events in his life made an indelible impression. It something like when a child sees a rather ordinary event as an extraordinary event while an adult will view the same event as commonplace. The child will always remember the event while the adult may forget it. Twain had the gift of remembering in detail the events of his life. He recreated these impressions into print and turned into a prolific writer.

  • Sherry Sharpnack
    2019-01-12 07:23

    Mark Twain has long been my favorite American literary personality, and this excellent, often witty and wry, biography delineates why. We learn in this biography about Clemens’ boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri; his introduction to the written word in a printing shop, and his lifelong obsession w/ typesetting; his life on the Mississippi River, both as a boy and as a riverboat pilot; his aborted participation in a “secesh” unit that led to him “lighting out for the territory”—Nevada; where he became a typesetter for a Virginia City newspaper, a miner, a newspaper writer, a lecturer, and finally, the inventor of “Mark Twain,” the first American rock star.We also see him pissing off nearly everyone he ever meets, even close friends and family, at one time or another, w/ his intolerance for fools and hypocrites, and his pathetic need for eastern “approval,” which leads to his ruinous investments in inventions that never pan out and his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy, New York businessman. However, he and Livy lead a happy life and have four children, only one of which dies in childhood.The author devotes entire chapters to certain books, mostly the early, career-making ones. I esp enjoyed the chapter about “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which is my favorite Twain book. Many people don’t realize that Twain’s turn to dark themes in his writing in the last quarter of his life were actually inside him all along. He long doubted God’s existence, but upon the death of his eldest daughter in 1896, while the rest of the family was in Europe, he finally started giving vent to the darkness. The death of his wife fully 10 years before he died sent him over the edge in his writing. The death of his youngest daughter in her bathtub after an epileptic seizure in 1909 completed his own denouement. He developed heart problems and died five months after her.I’m from Mizzou so feel a kinship w/ Twain b/c I could recognize his rural boyhood. I could also relate to his struggle w/ racism, and really appreciate Huck’s dawning understanding of Jim as a man, not just a “nigger.” I also understand his ambivalence and avoidance of the Civil War, as that is still a loaded subject in Mizzou. And I definitely understand Twain’s giving in to despair after the loss of his daughters and his wife. I, too, have lost a daughter after she had an epileptic seizure.This biography of Mark Twain brought him to life, insecurities, faults, and all. Thank you for the gift, Mr. Powers. I wish I could give you more than five stars. Sorry, not sorry, for the long review.

  • Edward
    2018-12-25 05:21

    Ron Powers has written a powerful, masterful biography of a towering figure in American literature. He tells not only the story of Twain's life, but delves into the innumerable facets of his character that made him the man he was - husband, father, riverboat pilot, entrepreneur, internationally recognized celebrity and terrible money manager. When I finally put the book down, I felt like I had met the man. Truly a five star story!

  • Dorothy
    2019-01-03 11:18

    This is a truly magnificent biography. I give it four rather than five stars only because there were so many bits of trivia about other people who merely crossed Twain's path that they occasionally bogged down an otherwise fascinating and well-executed biography of this man and his myth. Powers is a gifted and eloquent writer and his prose flows beautifully. For those who have not read all Twain's works or have dim memories of grade-school readings the author does a marvelous job of contextualizing characters, plot, and places so the reader is not lost amid the many references and stories about Twain's enormous body of work. I had no idea that he was a man of such volatility and guilts nor that he was a terrible speculator who risked financial ruin repeatedly. His moral progression from a southern son of slave-holding parents to a hectoring anti-imperialist is detailed here with clear eyes and without fawning praise. Clemens was cranky and cantankerous while funny, acerbic and tempestuous. Powers is meticulous in uncovering and demonstrating Twain's uncanny ear for dialect and meaning as well as his struggles with toning down his love for slang, swearing and drinking hard. The sheer energy Twain deployed with his travels and writing of tens of thousand of words (by pen and paper of course) are preternatural. His adoration of his wife who could alone tame him was endearing. His many losses of brothers and children tragic. A steadfast and loyal friend he was quick to merciless revenge on those who he believed betrayed him and he was notoriously thin-skinned while happy to poke others. He was a humorist who was frequently very angry. He was a humorist who shattered literary conventions with seriousness of purpose.He had wished to be a clergyman but he wasn't sure about God and was less sure about any religion. "If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be--a Christian." He was indifferent to the boundary between fact and fiction and his recollections and his stories were entwined messily. Nuggets: He slipped bats and snakes into his mother's sewing basket and she told him tales of brutal and sadistic Indian attacks on her mother's people. He castigated the Bible as "blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.""Next I am privileged to infer that is far more goodness than ungoodness in man, for if it were not so man would have exterminated himself before this...I detest Man, but nevertheless this is true of him.""There are many humorous,things in the world; among them the white man's notion that he is less savage than other savages." "Wrinkles should merely show where the smiles have been." Written by his friend, editor, confidant and fellow writer William Howells about Twain, "...the paradoxical charm of Mr. Clemens's best humor. It's wildest extravagance [springs from ] a deep feeling, a wrath with some folly which disquiets him worse than other men, a personal hatred for some humbug or pretension that embitters him beyond anything but laughter...At the bottom of his heart he has often the grimness of a reformer; his wit is turned...upon things that are out of joint, that are unfair or ...ignoble and cry out to his love of justice or discipline."

  • Terry Cornell
    2019-01-06 12:10

    The book deserves a three and a half star rating. A long read, but very detailed. The only thing that kept me from giving the book a four star rating, is the author seemed to have a 'word of the day' requirement. Thankfully, I read the Kindle version, so the built in dictionary was quite useful. I enjoyed how the author described advancements and happenings in the world in conjunction with the events in Twain's life. A couple of the most interesting things I learned, was that Twain owned a publishing company, and that company published President Grant's autobiography. Twain was bankrupt for a time, but managed to work his way back to prosperity through his writings and lecture circuit. There were many tragedies in his life, and he met many personalities of the day. If you're interested in the man, his writings, or the time period a highly recommended read.

  • Constantine
    2018-12-22 08:58

    Thought it was one of the best biographies I've read. Good window into American mindset, history, nuances of 19th Century. Here is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend right after finishing the bio(subjective and a little self aggrandizing, I know...but it reveals how the bio affected me...):Just finished the Twain bio. The trouble with biographies...they bring me way down.WAY DOWN! They immerse you in the arc of life, so there is always the verve and whoosh of the ascending curve as you vicariously relive the great man's rise to a pinnacle of sunlit accomplishment. Savor it for what it is, because the inevitable descent towards the grave awaits, the curve of decline, old age, bitter disappointment and final dissolution. There is usually some foreshadowing wherin the biographer lets the reader know that the subject's best notes have been sung and the last chords are being strummed...if you're lucky, there will be a bit of saving grace and beauty in the swan song. Still, the slippery downslope is never fun to read about, especially now that I am sliding rapidly within my own arc...but what ads so much weight and thrust to the net effect of despair that biography, without fail, evokes in me... is the fact that my own arc is so ...looking for the right word(s) here......hmmmm, can't find it....some word that would reveal my accomplishments as nil, my song banal, my time as frittered away in the dubious persuit of the trivial, my soul as niggardly, my vision as blurred, my mind as shallow and chaotic......what is the sum of me in a word?

  • Nina
    2018-12-22 06:02

    I am currently reading this book for my book critique group. I doubt I get it finished in time for our meeting but not because it isn't interesting. Whenever I snatch a few minutes I'm into Twain. Great writing and didn't I think I knew most everything I needed to know about him? Yes, but I was wrong; even after the excellent PBS segment on Twain and visiting his home in Hartford, CT I am amazed at all I have learned in a few short sections of the book. I recommend it even though I am not finished. I have been a fan since I got my first copy of "Tom Sawyer," as a young child. At seven years of age I stood in awe of the fence at Hannibal. And much later stood where the exact spot of the Calaveras Jumping Frog episode took place. He remains my hero. Oh, yes one more mention; I read the book, "Mark and Libby," many years ago and it too was excellent. Especially when they were in Rome.

  • Colleen Semanek
    2018-12-28 11:55

    I did enjoy this book even though it took months and months to read it. It was really funny throughout, but it was a struggle to get through it at times. It was certainly written at a higher level than I am used to. I haven't read a book with so many unfamiliar words in years; that explains part of the struggle, but it was neat to learn new words. Apparently I had no real understanding of all of the struggles he encountered during his fascinating life. Plus, i love learning of all the intersections of historical figures - who knew he was friends with US Grant? And that's just one example.I'm definitely glad to have spent the time reading this.

  • Terry Clague
    2019-01-15 07:06

    "A dog is der Hund the dog; a women is die Frau the wom[an]; a horse is das Pferd, the horse; now you put that dog in the Genitive case, & is he the same dog he was before? No sir; he is das Hundes; put him in the Dative case & what is he? Why, he is dem Hund. Now you snatch him into the accusative case & how is it with him? Why he is den Hunden? ... Read moreBut suppose he happens to be twins & you have to pluralize him – what then? Why sir they’ll swap that twin dog around thro’ the four cases till he’ll think he’s an entire International Dog Show all in his own person. I don’t like dogs, but I wouldn’t treat a dog like that. I wouldn’t even treat a borrowed dog that way.”

  • John
    2019-01-01 09:15

    Another of those extraordinary biographies that gifted writers have given us lately, one that focuses on personality, affect and responses to the subject's world. A more insightful (and engaging) biography of Mark Twain is hard to imagine. Either Powers adopted Train's sense of humor or he wrote of Twain because he responded to a personality like his own. In either case, Powers gives us more that a goodly share of laughing matter. Again one of those books that I only allow myself to read slowly, no more than 50 pages a day.

  • Michael Baranowski
    2019-01-11 11:06

    I knew Mark Twain was always hustling for money, and I knew he was more than a little bit bitter and angry toward the end of his life, but until I read Powers' biography, I had no idea how deep Twain's (largely self-imposed) financial woes went, and how incredibly bitter and angry he became.

  • Mary-Ellen
    2018-12-21 08:17

    This book is more interesting if the index is used to find topics of interest. I find that I pick up the book every now and then and will do this. Whatever I read is interesting. But when I read the book from the beginning, it seemed tedious. Twain is an interesting life, no doubt.

  • Hudson
    2019-01-11 08:12

    Just could not get in to this, dropped it at 20% or so.

  • C.K.
    2019-01-15 05:22

    An adventurous life filled with tragic losses and much success.

  • Cory
    2018-12-31 13:23

    Power's exhaustive Twain biography well researched and well cited. Much of the material was gleaned and quoted from correspondence among Clemons, his friends, and family members. The first half of the book is fast moving and entertaining, especially his steam boat days and early newspaperman feuds in Carson City, Nevada. Somewhere around two-thirds of the way through the book, the pace becomes tedious and oppressive. Perhaps this is not the fault of Powers, as the time period covered in this portion of the book runs parallel to Clemons depressingly unending business misadventures followed by the necessary scrapping and tramping to stave off bankruptcy. This was a period of time in which Twain's writing quality mostly suffered. I enjoyed the last few chapters, particularly with respect to Twain's anti-imperialist writings which were unpublished at the time, such as "The War Prayer." I felt that the book would have benefited from quotes and excerpts from Twain's anti-imperialist writings, as well in some other sections of the book where less well-known articles or books were mentioned.

  • Mike
    2019-01-10 07:23

    Heavy as a full loaded barge and as slow as one navigating down the Mississippi River that Samuel Clemens so famously wrote about, Ron Powers' Mark Twain is just that. Heavy and a slow read. However, much like the valuable resources barges tote, Powers' lengthy biography of a man who helped Ulysses S Grant write his memoirs, is THE resource for everything Twain(outside of Twain's own autobiography).Distractions perhaps caused the reading to be so lengthy, as it took two months to finish 722 pages of material, putting one way behind on their reading goal, but it was well worth the journey.From the beginning in 1835 to the end in 1910, Powers' chronicles and examines Twain's life both at home and abroad.Through bad investments, friendships, family, travels and of course the books, Powers tells how Twain piloted himself up and down the literary river, heavy with satirical humor leaving us with a barge-full of stories and classic novels.

  • Russel Henderson
    2019-01-02 05:05

    A decent read. It lacked the penetrating insight of the best literary biographers, nor did it provide the empathetic treatment of the best biographies. It is fair to say that the life of Clemens is such that reducing it to in-depth analysis of his three or four preeminent works would have been at least as unsatisfying, but I still finished 600-odd pages without feelings as though I got the measure of the man. The attempts at Twainsian humor were occasionally funny but the references to the present-day were not; some are already dated and they injected a bit of politics into a life lived in time that was, politically, quite different. The author's asides about the literati of the day provided useful context without being tangential. Perhaps my take on the biography owes something to my opinion of its subject, parts admiration and parts disdain.

  • Rick
    2019-01-09 13:06

    This was the most comprehensive book about Mark Twain's life that I could find. And it is a rather complex book to read by my standards. It's quite thick and filled with long involved sentences. Ron Powers is quite the writer and Mark Twain is a complicated subject to write about.

  • Hank Pharis
    2018-12-29 05:57

    This is a good biography focusing on the middle portion of Twain's life. It is good but I enjoyed Michael Shelden's Mark Twain: Man in White on his later years more.

  • Billy Connard
    2019-01-01 09:01

    It was a good read. A lot of information. Good but seems a little slow at times.

  • George
    2019-01-02 13:14

    A lively, well informed study with choice details from Twain's very rich life. Good attention to the historical context.

  • Amanda McDougle
    2018-12-29 13:00

    On page 38, a quote defines Mark Twain quite well. From Powers book, Twain wrote, "When I was a boy everybody was poor but didn't know it, and everybody was comfortable and didn't know it." In his journal 1883, Twain asked what the difference between an Englishmen and an American were. When Samual Langhorne Clemens entered this world on November 30, 1835, the prognosis was not too positive for his childhood. Even Jane Clemens, Sam's mother, did not see potential in her son. Powers provides an explanation that premature babies often live in between a dream world and reality. Perhaps Sam's creativity originated as a premature baby. Jane Clemens was wrong about her son's expectations in this world. Sam was born into a large family. The father, John Marshall Clemens, reminds me of the Father from Sherwood Anderson's short story "The Egg." Both men had high ambitions of finding the American dream. In each story, both men were unsuccessful. The Clemens did not live the large, lavish Victorian lifestyle that was predominate in that time period. In fact, the Clemens were a poor frontier family that suffered from fatalities resulting from early deaths of their children. Jane made her children touch the face of their deceased siblings. Powers assumes this ritual came from Jane's Kentucky background. After the deaths of more children, Jane decided her children needed some Jesus. So, she took her children to a Presbyterian church. As a boy, Sam did not flourish well in the Church. In fact, the fire and brimstone approach scared young Sam. There did not seem to be much communication in the family in this area. Sam already felt guilty for his siblings' deaths. This new religious persecution confirmed his worst fears. Orion, Sam, Pamela, and Henry survived past adolescence. There was no mention of the Clemens seeing their grandparents. If so, this was never recorded. Marshall doted on Orion, the eldest, the way Sam doted on his eldest daughter, Susie, before her untimely death. Henry Clemens was seriously injured from the worst steamboat explosion in history and passed away. Orion made business ventures that turned out to be dead ends like his father. One thing I did admire about Orion's political campaign was his determination in supporting the prohibition movement. He was not too popular afterwards, however.In later years, Sam married a lady named Olivia, who went by Livy. As I read about the Clemens marriage, I realize the pair was not a good match. Livy was born into the Victorian lifestyle. She grew up surrounded by books, the arts, music, and wealth. Victorian values did not fit Sam too well. Sam made his living being Mark Twain. As an author, Twain was a traveling lecturer. As a woman, Livy lived with a physical disability. Livy needed a husband who would be at home at night and provide physical love to the family. Instead, she would be rushed to a city with her husband or sent home to rest.I don't understand Jane at all. I think Jane may have thought Livy was not good enough for her son, so she kept a distance. There is no mention of Jane being a loving grandmother to her grandchildren. I think the grandchildren and children were afraid of Jane. She seemed like a difficult person to relate to and get along with. When Jane sees Sam as an older adult, she is unable to recognize him.I think if Jane had not made her son promise to not further his education, Sam would have been an entirely different person and never been a writer. Sam loved his Mississippi ties. This is evident in his great American literature. I also believe if Sam had been single and free of obligations as an older man, he would have bought a house on the Mississippi where mud was mud. The Mississippi symbolizes a naturalism. This is where Sam can be free of death, debt, slander, and lawsuits. This is his wealth and comfort. Memories run free and active.

  • Casey
    2018-12-30 11:03

    I finally slogged through the 600 odd pages of this book. It was work. I did not enjoy reading this. I did not leave with changed feelings or impressions of Mark Twain. In kind of feel I might have been equally served by reading a Wikipedia entry about his life, or better served as I would have invested less time. Ron Powers is clearly a fan but I wasn't even convinced that I should also admire Mark Twain. The book is well researched and the writer is earnest. It is an exhaustive account of the life of Samuel Clemens. I wish he had selected a different thesis as he covered such interesting shifts in culture and has so much research material to work with he might have produced something sharper. He did cover some very interesting ground of the world of publishing, newspapers and copyrights and changes to the structure over time. I found this very fascinating and wish the book had been structured around that subject.

  • Greg
    2019-01-01 12:20

    So it took me over a year to finish this book. I think that has more to do with my lukewarm attitude towards nonfiction in general than it has to do with this book in particular, but nonetheless I don't think anyone would call it a page-turner.This is the first biography of Twain I have read, and I have yet to read much of Twain's work itself, so I came into this thing pretty ignorant. I think that ignorance diminished my appreciation of the book, because I got the sense that Powers was responding to/dialoguing with a lot of other Twain scholarship. Also, he expected a certain threshold knowledge of Twain's work that in many cases I lacked. So I would more heartily recommend this book for experienced Twain-o-philes. For relative newbies like me, it may not be the best place to start.What I liked: Powers treats his subject as a regular person, neither hiding Twain's flaws nor unnecessarily extolling his virtues. His love for Twain as a writer and Clemens as a person is evident, but he comes off as more of a lifelong pal who is exasperated with (though tolerant of) Twain's/Clemens' foibles. He also spends a good deal of time (but not too much) providing cultural/political/religious/racial context for Twain's major works, which I needed and appreciated.What I didn't like: Powers treats his subject as a regular person. This perspective cuts both ways: while I appreciate Powers' objectivity and honesty, I don't want to read hundreds of pages focused on Clemens' business failures and financial struggles. Perhaps this is an area previously ignored in Twain scholarship, but I think it absorbs too much of the book's focus, particularly in the second half of the book. Give me more discussions of Twain's work and Clemens' relationships with people, less discussions of his bank account.

  • Karen
    2018-12-28 07:14

    What a terrific biography! I read so much of Twain when I was taking literature the first time I went to college. We also had to read him in high school, but I don't think I appreciated him back then. I would suggest to literature teachers to recommend this biography to students who are studying him, because it really helped to understand his writings. Powers so easily entwined Twain's writings in this book, and all the letters he wrote to so many people really made a huge difference in understanding the man. Twain was a complicated guy. He was funny, irreverent, cynical, and in spite of all this, he was a man who was a wonderful husband. His relationships with other people besides his wife, were less easy to nail down. His daughters worshipped him, he had some good friends that thought the world of him, while he kind of took them for granted. He was absolutely terrible to his brother, who he thought was a wimp. Powers brings all of this information and insight into Twain/Clemens into such a readable whole book, that many times, I was loathe to put the thing down. I actually was grateful to getting sick, so I would have an opportunity to finish the whole book.Powers doesn't gloss over the bad things that Clemens did or said. But he really made it clear through the book how much the author thought and felt for this unusual man. Powers gives so much background that explains why Samuel Clemens was the kind of person he was...I really need to go back and read some of his writings over again, to understand his books from what I know now. Too bad he isn't here now. We could certainly use his humor and his honesty in our politics and our foolish preoccupation with 'celebrities'. Even though he was very much a celebrity in his time, and he enjoyed being one, I think he would make short shrift of our current world, and put many people back in their rightful place!

  • Caroline
    2018-12-31 06:20

    I'm really not sure what I made of this book. I think my reaction to it definitely says more about me than it does the author or his approach. I felt curiously detached from it; I never at any point came to care about Samuel Clemens, alias Mark Twain. He didn't come alive for me in these pages. In fact, he felt very much more like a character from one of his own books than a real living, breathing person, and not an entirely likeable one either.I certainly think a lot of that can be ascribed to Powers' style - this book was as full of humourous asides and dramatic foreshadowing and wry commentary as any of Mark Twain's writings. And certainly if ever there was a subject who would suit that kind of approach it would be Mark Twain. Perhaps that was the point? Or perhaps, given the duality of Sam Clemens/Mark Twain and his shifting, mischievous, subtle nature, it would be impossible to really get to the heart of him in any biography, regardless of the approach.I suppose I'm used to the more straight-forward form of biography, hence why I hesitate to lay any blame at the author's feet. Powers certainly knows his subject - the level of research that must have gone into this is quite impressive - and his admiration for Mark Twain's work and his influence on the emerging American 'voice' clearly knows no bounds. Another area where we differ, and perhaps something else that impacted on my enjoyment. As I said, I think this is one where it very much comes down to personal taste, much like Twain's book. So perhaps in that sense it is a biography admirably fitted to its subject.

  • Joyce
    2019-01-04 11:53

    Powers's profile is much more nuanced than the common image of Twain as a genial wit. He certainly was flawed; Powers doesn't leave anything out. Twain was alternately supportive and hugely cruel to his hapless brother, Orion, whose particular talent was finding ways to lose money. I wonder if this ever caused Twain a twinge later, when he himself had to be rescued from financial peril by the industrialist Henry Rogers. It seems to me that Twain's books were driven more by commercial necessity than by artistic inspiration. He was a total 'quant' when it came to literature: assessed his progress by the number of words written, and seemed never to start a book without predicting the number he'd sell.Still, he was a brilliant aphorist and on the 'right' side of many issues. His attitudes towards racism were complex, but he saw and spoke out against anti-semitism in Austria at the turn of the century, and condemned US imperialism in the Phillipines.He convinced General Grant to write his memoirs; his publishing firm (during one of its rare periods of financial stability) actually brought out the book.Powers is a readable, playful writer. In an early newspaper story Twain is described as 'absquatulating' after insulting the Lady's Sanitary Commission in Nevada. Powers manages to find at least 5 more sentences where 'absquatulate' is the necessary word.This is a whole lotta Twain (627 pages not counting the footnotes), but worth it.

  • Miles
    2019-01-11 10:05

    This was an incredible and witty biography, illuminating the man and through him the entire 19th century. I found wonderment and amusement and new understanding. Ron Powers is a wit who, in writing about the 19th century's great wit, does him justice. I enjoyed this book deeply. We see in it the panorama of a life richly lived. It's an unusual life, a Zelig-like tale, that continually finds Mark Twain at the center of his age. We learn that Clemmons was the original rock star, a performer. We experience his business failures and his general incompetence as a business man. Along the way, we explore writing as art and writing as commerce. We come to understand that he was not a nice man, but an angry cuss, and somehow beautiful for it. We learn that for all his opposition to religion and Christianity, it is not entirely clear that he ceased to believe in the possibility of communicating with the dead or the spirit world. (No wonder that the sister of my great grandfather Adolphus Schmidt thought she could write a Mark Twain novel, the unreadable Jap Heron, on the Ouija board - this kind of thing was just up Twain's alley.) We learn of his loves (first Laura, and then Libby, his spouse), his daughters and his friendships and are impressed somehow by his capacity to love. He seems to embody the character of the Victorian age - when we successfully imagine what made people laugh, we understand an era, and an entire lost world. I loved this book.December 8 2009