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Huck Finn's America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece Hardcover – December 30, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Astute…[Levy’s] discussion of Twain’s equivocal progressivism is a noble-hearted attempt to rescue as well as reproach a book saturated with ambivalence, which Levy rightly acknowledges as the legacy of Twain—and America.” (New York Times Book Review)

"Original and illuminating...a deft and skillful piece of cultural analysis..." (Walter Russell Mead Foreign Affairs)

"Common readings of the book are now trapped in the same sanctimonious clichés that Twain both punctured and perpetuated. Levy blends cultural history, biography, and perceptive readings to reveal the shadowy complexity of a novel Americans compulsively simplify. Toni Morrison once described Huck Finn as “an amazing, troubling book,” and Levy’s book shows precisely how and why this remains true." (The Daily Beast)

"Insightful...devotees of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will surely want to read this thorough and informative book..." (Providence Journal)

"Levy’s work is thoughtful and provocative, and offers a different perspective on a classic work of American literature. Any book that accomplishes this is certainly worth reading." (Book Reporter)

“Levy explores the soul of Mark Twain's enduring achievement with the utmost self-awareness. … An eloquent argument, wrapped up in rich biographical detail and historical fact.” (USA Today)

"Capacious, companionable...Levy is excellent on Twain, on his drawl, his gait, his evolution on race matters...and even better on his contradictions." (The New York Times)

“Levy’s subtle take on Mark Twain and his great book is a welcome addition to our understanding of both.” (The Boston Globe)

“Groundbreaking. …Levy’s arguments are detailed and intricately woven.” (Dallas Morning News)

“A richly researched, copiously annotated, fascinating argument. … Levy does an exceptional job [and] like any good biographer, he is adept at arranging information, even not strictly chronologically, so that it adheres naturally to a meaningful frame.” (NPR)

"Provocative. . . [Levy is] an excellent, aphoristic writer." (Salon)

“A scholarly masterpiece. … Huck Finn’s America is a must-use complement to any study of Huckleberry Finn.” (Fort Worth Star Telegram)

“An intensely relevant study that brings Huck Finn into the 21st century, by firmly placing it in the 19th.” (MacLeans)

“Levy argues persuasively [and] has steered the conversation of Huck Finn in a fresh, profitable direction, toward an intensive scrutiny of its roots." (Buffalo News)

"Ambitious in scope and depth...Levy makes a beautiful and convincing case that Huckleberry Finn provides sharp insight into our ambivalence about children and 'the disconnection between our children’s inner lives and our ways of raising and teaching them.'” (Christian Science Monitor)

"Levy...succeeds brilliantly by drawing together the large body of existing critical analysis of Mark Twain's masterpiece, brightening the beams of those insights by focusing them together,and then broadening the resulting illumination with flashes of insight of his own. The seasoned Mark Twain scholar will blink in pleasant surprise to see familiar themes in new ways, and the general reader may very well be blinded by the light. Every reader will appreciate Levy's graceful fluid writing style--free of scholarly jargon and peppered with elegant turns of phrase--that achieves an admirable level of concision and clarity." (Mark Twain Forum)

"A remarkable companion piece to Mark Twain’s Great American Novel." (Weld for Birmingham)

"Levy’s study makes a compelling argument that once‘seen can’t be unseen’ when understanding Huckleberry Finn. … An important newopinion to be considered in any serious discussion of not only Huck Finn but ofTwain and the topic of race." (Library Journal (starred review))

“A boldly revisionist reading of Twain’s HuckleberryFinn. … Twain’s masterpiece emerges as a compelling depiction ofnineteenth-century troubles still all too familiar in the twenty-firstcentury.” (Booklist (starred review))

"[Levy] manages to offer fresh insights about the novel's two central themes-children and race-by investigating Twain's life and times and the changing cultural contexts in which the book has been read...Delving deeply into 19th-century sources, generations of readers' responses and a wide range of Twain's writing, Levy complicates the possibilities of what the novel meant for its contemporaries and what it might mean for readers today." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Despite the wealth of books and essays about Mark Twain and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, here is a new perspective that is absolutely fresh, original, provocative, and a joy to read. In Huck Finn's America Twain comes vividly alive in his own day, and in ours, in ways never seen before." (Eric J. Sundquist, author of King's Dream and To Wake the Nations)

“With great charm and intelligence, Andrew Levy breathes new life into an American classic, giving modern readers a fresh understanding of Huck Finn's colorful world. Here is Mark Twain's creation in all its original, subversive glory, stirring up trouble in every quarter--then and now--and reminding us of just how wonderfully dangerous a great novel can be.” (Michael Shelden, author of Mark Twain: Man in White)

“Andrew Levy has done something that even Mark Twain's greatest admirers might not have thought possible: he has given us fresh eyes with which to encounter America's best-loved and most notorious novel. This artfully written and profoundly engaging book offers a new appreciation for Mark Twain's art and, just as provocatively, a new understanding of American culture's enduring fascination with his greatest work.” (Henry B. Wonham, author of Mark Twain and the Tall Tale and Playing the Races: Ethnic Caricature and American Literary Realism)

"Levy’s analysis of Twain’s racial politics is …captivating.” (Publishers Weekly)

"A minstrel show? A bad boy book? Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is—complexly, contradictorily, contentiously—both of these. So argues Andrew Levy in his dazzling and engaging Huck Finn’s America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece. Drawing on a broad range of nineteenth-century newspapers and also biographical materials about Twain, Levy unearths how Twain’s novel speaks to the ways in which we think about race (a connection much discussed in recent decades) and childhood (almost never)." (Beverly Lyon Clark, author of Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America)

“This intriguing, thoroughly researched book asks us to read Huck Finn anew, an exercise worth undertaking.” (Shelf Awareness)

About the Author

Andrew Levy is Edna Cooper Chair in English at Butler University. He is author of the critically acclaimed Brain Wider Than the Sky, and the award-winning biography The First Emancipator.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (December 30, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439186960
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439186961
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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A brilliant masterpiece of literary criticism -- possible the best that has ever been written on HUCKLEBERRY FINN. It is a "must read" for every Twain scholar and is a recommended addition to school libraries. It will be impossible for future scholars to write on the topic without considering what Levy has had to say. His style is highly readable and entertaining without the burden of academic jargon and he proves you will never understand Twain's intent without understanding the culture which surrounded the composition of his American classic. Levy's bibliography is perhaps one of the most comprehensive ever put together-- including books and journal articles on ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN and would be a standalone reference guide in and by itself. If you are a teacher, or literary researcher, or just a casual Twain fan -- you ignore this book at your own peril.
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Format: Hardcover
Levy is doing something rare in academic scholarship: attack the conventional interpretation of Huckleberry Finn, the most widely read book in American schools. Detailed research into Mark Twain's era, and specifically his formative years in Hannibal, Missouri, has led to his conclusion that most readers, and even teachers, completely miss Twain's satire and settle for a boy's adventure story. The irony would not be lost on Twain were he to be interviewed by Jonathan Stewart. The idea that current readers lionize a "bad boy" who would be treated for ADHD today is satire even Twain didn't conceive.
Levy is asking interesting questions about American culture and values. He also pursues the ways in which history repeats itself. This is a book that should interest all teachers and parents involved in passing our values to the next generation, and it should be a caution to critics who interpret literature in the context of their own experience.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the best book, of any kind, that I've read in a very long time. It's an excellent example of simplicity, clarity, and ease of expression combined with complex and unique analysis. Meaning, it's a scholarly book that anyone can easily enjoy.

I love history, and I love good literature. This book blends the two to elucidate something stunning about this country's past, as well as its present, and even its future. How unusual it is to find a book that actually expresses something new, old tropes that have been considered in a new and unique way. And, as with all great thinking, once it has been explained, it seems so very obvious and true, making a person wonder why no one thought of it earlier.

If you are deeply interested in this country, in its past, present, and future, if you are looking to grasp some heretofore undiscovered wisdom to explain it a little better, then you must, must, must read this book.

Andrew Levy, you are my new hero!
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Format: Hardcover
A special thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Andrew Levy’s Huck Finn's America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece delivers an exploration of the character with a fresh new contemporary look of the American literary Classic Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. Have we missed some critical points in the classic and controversial novel over the years?

“Maybe we have misread Huck Finn on matters of race and children especially, for the same reason we repeat the cultural and political schema of the Gilded Age-because the appealing idea that every generation is better off than the one before conceals our foreboding that we live in a land of echos. And yet we read, after all these years, because the foreboding speaks to us anyway. “

There was a serious debate about how to raise and educate children in the American 1880s. Twain was contributing something more than a lighthearted boy’s book to that debate. He was thinking and speaking about literacy, popular culture, compulsory education, juvenile delinquency, at-risk children, and the different ways we raise boys from girls, and rich from poor. There was also a serious debate about the future of race relations in the American 1880s, as well. But possibly not as much a part of it as we tend to think.

Twain offered Huck Finn to a country where parents, educators, and politicians worried that children, especially boys were too exposed to violent media, that they were too susceptible to amoral market forces that made them violent themselves. The twenty-first century reader lives in a country worried about the exact same things, only with fresher media. In fact, Levy reiterates the debate over children has changed so little over the last century.
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Format: Hardcover
Dick Cavett was recently interviewed for “By the Book,” a regular New York Times Book Review feature in which well-known celebrities answer questions about their reading likes, dislikes and habits. When asked “What’s your favorite book of all time?” Cavett replied, “Easy, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, need I name the author?” Mark Twain’s novel about a young boy and a runaway slave escaping down the Mississippi River is the most frequently read American classic in schools across the nation. Nearly every list of influential American novels includes it, and its influence is recognized in Ernest Hemingway’s quote that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain, HUCKLEBERRY FINN.”

HUCK FINN’S AMERICA offers a fresh and provocative new interpretation of the book. Andrew Levy’s argument is that most students and critics miss one of its important themes. In addition to focusing on the story as a childhood adventure novel or as a serious tome about race relations, Levy adds to the mix the theme that the book is a dark comedy about how history repeats itself. He comes to this conclusion after 20 years of research into Mark Twain’s life and the events during the time when the story was written. His literary criticism is as much a historical look at the era when HUCKLEBERRY FINN was published as it is a discussion of the novel itself.

Published in America in 1885, HUCKLEBERRY FINN was Twain’s sequel to TOM SAWYER. The book has always been controversial, with libraries banning it from shelves because of coarse language and debating whether it’s racist or anti-racist. Senator Joe McCarthy called for the book’s banning in 1949, because he believed it did substantial harm to the reputation of the South.
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