Thursday, March 19, 2015

A New Biography Of The Most Famous American Of His Time: Mark Twain

Michael Dirda reviews Roy Morris Jr.'s book, American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad.

There are probably more studies and biographies of Mark Twain — the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) — than of any other figure in American literature. And why not?

After all, Twain produced at least three or four titles that rank high on almost everyone’s list of favorite books. “Huckleberry Finn” is a leading contender in the The Great American Novel sweepstakes. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” as biographer Roy Morris Jr. observes, “seems to take place in perpetual summer” and conveys an “ineffable magic.” Twain’s own favorites, if no one else’s, were “The Prince and the Pauper” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Instead of those “English” novels, I would argue for “Life on the Mississippi.”

However, Mark Twain was more than just an author. The barefoot boy from hardscrabble Hannibal, Mo., rose to become a global celebrity, the most famous American of his time, rivaled only by Teddy Roosevelt (whom he once derided as the “Tom Sawyer of the political world”). His quips and yarn-filled performances in “Mark Twain at Home” took him to lyceums, opera halls and auditoriums around the world. In fact, as “American Vandal” reminds us, he spent more than a dozen years of his adult life outside the United States.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:


  1. Now there is a book that I will be reading! In fact, after I finish my current reading schedule -- as outlined at Beyond Eastrod a couple of days ago -- I will be moving on to American realists with Mr. Twain being front and center in the reading plan. So, Paul, tell me about your Twain favorites. If you were offering a "must read" list, what would you include?

  2. R.T.,

    Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers.

    My top three Mark Twain books are "Huckleberry Finn," "Roughing It," and "Life on the Mississippi" (as a former sailor you should like this one).


    PS: How's your health? How are you feeling, old shipmate?

    1. Another round of treatments today. Awaiting biopsies. Ain't life a kick in the ass! But I'm still buying green bananas (i.e., I refuse to let my mind go to the dark side).

      I will make a mental note of your Rx for Twain. However, given my current plan for the Romanticists -- Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman -- my shift to Realists and Twain will be months away. Let us make sure we compare notes when I begin commenting on MT.

  3. R.T.,

    Will do.

    Stay well, old shipmate.