Mark Twain : a life /

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Main Author: Powers, Ron.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Free Press, c2005.
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Review by Choice Review

The convergence of American aspiration, politics, material development, and cultural growth provides a canvas on which Powers paints Mark Twain, the figure, playing out his role as the creation of Sam Clemens, the man. The comic figure expresses Clemens's democratic vision, his need for financial success, his love of family, and connected to this is his literary achievement and the changing notions of voice, style, and structure in the American canon. Whereas earlier biographers have seen Twain/Clemens as a split persona, here he is a crucial bridge from older to newer literature and a human being driven by the same urges as the rest of us. William Dean Howells is well placed as Clemens's friend and most exploited proofreader; Joseph Twitchell as his pastor, confidant, and exploited butt of his travel literature; Livy as editor, friend, and lover. Powers skillfully spins in details from medicine, finance, and geography, writing in a style that is spirited and engagingly comical. He chooses his facts well and includes an abundance of ancillary information. He interprets Twain's works with skill. Rich, interesting, fresh, accurate, and intelligent, this is a "page-turner" abounding in ideas and even a certain suspense. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All readers; all levels. D. E. Sloane University of New Haven

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

After dozens of biographies of Twain (1835-1910), one can fairly ask, "Why another?" But Powers, who wrote about Twain's Missouri childhood in Dangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, early on promises "interpretive portraiture," which entails doing something that has never quite been accomplished before: presenting the totality of the man in his many moods and phases of life, including acerbic son and brother, prank-prone youth, competitive writer, demanding friend, loving husband and, eventually, globe-trotting celebrity. In doing so, Powers succeeds in validating his own assertion that Twain became "the representative figure of his times." Powers demonstrates that Twain embodied America during the tumultuous latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, from the divided self of the Civil War, through the unstable prosperity of the Gilded Age, to the verge of WWI. All the while, Twain asserted in both literature and life his confidence in New World progress over Old World conservatism. Unlike Twain, whose prose Powers characterizes as "wild and woolly," the biographer is lucid and direct while maintaining a steady hand on the tiller of Twain's life as it courses a twisty path as wide and treacherous as the Mississippi itself. Powers, a wise, if loquacious captain, takes us on a wonderful journey from beginning to end. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Jim Hornfischer. (Sept. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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