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Dangerous Water: A Biography Of The Boy Who Became Mark Twain Paperback – October 16, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306810867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306810862
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,552,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow," opined Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). Here, Powers (The Cruel Radiance) follows Twain's genius to its source, illuminating both the sorrow and the exhilaration of a boyhood that provided a lifetime of inspiration. The saga, framed by two anecdotes from Twain's old age, begins with the westward journeys of his grandparents and parents and the arrival of the Clemens family in Missouri just before his birth in 1835 ("I do not remember just when, for I was not then born and cared nothing for such things," remarked Twain). It ends with the death of his brother Henry in 1858. Young Sam's life was a m?lange of horrors, pleasures and difficulties. He was haunted, among other things, by a distant father who moved ever closer to bankruptcy while pursuing dreams of wealth, and by images of the self-immolation of a drunk to whom he had supplied matches. He found great solace in smoking a good cigarAhe began at age sevenAand in the tales and songs he heard around the fire in the slave quarters. Powers regularly draws convincing links between Twain's early life and events and characters in his fiction, locating Twain's greatness as a humorist in the dynamics of his family, the tragedies that surrounded him, the literary currents of the time and a lifelong love for the varieties of spoken language. At times, Powers strains for significance, for instance marking the end of Twain's boyhood four disparate times. But he demonstrates convincingly that "the sunlit parts of [Twain's] childhood cast deep shadows... and in those shadows lay the dark artifacts that would torment and compel him to his masterpieces..-- childhood cast deep shadows... and in those shadows lay the dark artifacts that would torment and compel him to his masterpieces."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An eloquent portrait of the American Renaissances greatest writer as a young man. Powers is the Pulitzer Prizewinning author of eight books. His expertise in popular culture, mass media, history, and the American small town is in evidence here as in Far from Home: Life and Loss in Two American Towns (1991). Powers, who also grew up in Hannibal, Mo., sees Mark Twain as Americas first popular, media-fed superstar who knew how to dress for the photo op. Powers exposes Clemenss mirth for the flip side of the mans many tragedies. ``Sammy'' was a premature baby and sickly toddler who grew up into the barefoot boy who showed off for the girl wed know as Becky Thatcher. Far from a protected and fanciful Tom Sawyer, Clemens, as a three-year-old sleepwalker, tugged at his sisters blanket a few days before she died. She was one of several siblings Sam would lose. Unsuccessful but not evil like Huck Finns papy, Samuels father was relatively bland, passing on only his tendency toward bad debts and investments. Powers shows that young Sam was fascinated by the spoken word (whether of preachers or slaves) and by books, from the Bible (despite his famous heresy) to Cooper, because his reality was so painful. The biographer notes an inner conflict that is the key to Clemenss appeal: ``the Connecticut literary gent contending with the western roughneck.'' After adolescence, itching to light out for the territories, young Clemens ``made the break from his landlocked life'' and talked himself to the captains wheel on riverboats. Powers feels the Mark Twain pseudonym helped free Clemens to become the ages most celebrated humorist, traveler, lecturer and novelist. There are 20 pages of chapter notes, but this biography is too good to be confused with literary criticism. Powers calls out ``mark twain'' and leads us on Samuel Clemenss dangerous, poignant, and delightful voyage against the current. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Billy Gibbs on December 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Dangerous Water A Biography by Sam Powers
Dangerous Waters by Ron Powers is a Biography of the boy who became Mark Twain. The book is an insight into the genealogy of Samuel Clemens. Powers tells how the Family finally came to settle in Hannibal, Missouri after living in various other places in the growing United States. The book also goes into great detail about some of the origins of the style with which Clemens wrote. There is no doubt that the time that young Clemens spent in the slave quarters at his fathers home shaped him in many ways. Hearing slave spirituals such as "Better Day A-Comin" and "You Gonna Reap Just What You Sow" played a big part in shaping the man who would write about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin. Powers goes on to write about how Clemens managed to go from being one of the literary elite in the 1800s to bankruptcy at the turn of the century. He tells of Clemens' life in a European society where he was welcomed but never really was at home. The book also covers Clemens' rise out of bankruptcy by traveling the world and giving lectured in places like Ceylon and South Africa and many other far off places that most Americans could only dream about. Even through this, the low point in his life, Clemens managed to catch the attention of the American society with a sort of neo-pioneer commitment to claw his way back to the life he had grown to love in his homeland. Overall I found the descriptions of the life of Samuel Clemens to be very exciting and a joy to learn. The vividness with which Powers tells the stories of Clemens' life as a young man in Hannibal made the tales interesting and captivating. However in some parts of the book, I found Powers to be somewhat wordy and hard to follow.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "matrixzine" on December 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Most biographies on Sam Clemens deal with him as the writer Mark Twain, but as Hannibal native Ron Powers points out there was the boy Sam Clemens who lived in Hannibal, Missouri and that is where the stories came from. The town of Hannibal on the banks of the Mississippi had an important impact on the making of the boy who would become a writer and it takes somebody who lived in Hannibal as a boy to understand the pull of the town and the river. Ron Powers paints a portrait of the boy, his family, the town, and the river and how he became the man the world knows. This biography will be an important part of the canon of Mark Twain as was the Justin Kaplan biography and all that followed.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I do not know of a writer who parses the American cultural landscape with as much intelligence and wisdom as Ron Powers. If you care about America's soul, and how it is faring as forces of modernity encroach upon it, you simply must become acquainted with Ron Powers's writing. This journey through the boyhood days of Sam Clemens is Powers at the height of his form.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great read for the Mark Twain enthusiast. A little wordy at times but a thorough examination of Samuel Clemens' childhood and its impact upon his writings.
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