Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In 1867, after successfully marketing accounts of his Mideast travels to several newspapers, Mark Twain wrote to his mother, "Am pretty well known now. Intend to be better known." But he could hardly have anticipated the meteoric rise that would rapidly make him America's most prominent citizen. Next January, Twain will be subjected to that conclusive proof of American significance, the Ken Burns documentary. The inevitable cross-merchandising will include this illustrated biography, which, happily, stands on its own merits as a fascinating account of Twain's extraordinary career. All Burns productions center on a good story, and this is a plain, very human tale: rags, riches, and the rest. The authors (Ward and Duncan are frequent collaborators with Burns) thoroughly examine Twain's disastrous business sense, his horrid temper, his unlikely courtship of the heiress Olivia Langdon, his climb out of bankruptcy at the age of 60, the loss of three of his four children, his global celebrity. Even amid tragedy, Twain could make a stone laugh, but it was his rare frankness in confronting racism, and the publication of the controversial Huckleberry Finn, that would secure his fame beyond national borders and his own time. As one might expect, the Burns team has done magnificent archival detective work and unearthed a treasure trove of rare Twain photographs. This should appeal to a vast potential readership eager to learn more about this manic, profound, daft and provocative mad genius of American culture. (Nov. 20) Forecast: Shelve this with The Annotated Huckleberry Finn (Forecasts, Sept. 10) and sales should soar during the holidays, even before the TV documentary airs. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
What comes after baseball, the Civil War, and jazz? Mark Twain, of course. Burns and Company are back with a four-hour PBS television series on America's favorite riverboat captain and author. The companion volume, assuredly an attempt to cash in further on all that research, is nonetheless an enticing edition in its own right. It offers a sumptuous collection of photographs, reproductions of original documents, and illustrations that capture the rough-and-tumble of Twain's life and career. Scholars in the audience might turn their noses up at the crisply informal bits of biography-some recreated so vividly that they seem ready for the stage-but even the most curmudgeonly will be enraptured by the scores of photos. General audiences will be beguiled by yet another heaping dose of Burns et al.'s sprawling yet intimate portraiture. The arc of Twain's life is captured with sweeping flourishes of fact supplemented by intimate details of his home and family life. The letter he wrote to his children as Santa Claus, his grief over his son's death from diphtheria, and his joy when the public library of Concord, Massachusetts, banned Huckleberry Finn illuminate the private life of 19th-century America's most public figure. Twain's trademark wanderlust kept the adventures coming during his life, and they make for fascinating reading today. Russell Banks, John Boyer, Jocelyn Chadwick, Hal Holbrook, and Ron Powers also contribute to the volume; the best of this bunch is Chadwick's meditation on Twain's use of the word "nigger" as she ponders the intersections of yesterday's racial politics, their present-day afterlife, and the ways they affect Twain's writing. Pick this cornucopia up for the pictures and you'll probably end up reading the whole thing. A coffee-table volume that someone might actually read-and enjoy. The wonders of Burns and Company never cease. (110 b&w and 40 color illustrations) First printing of 100,000
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