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Life on the Mississippi

598 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0939495795
ISBN-10: 0939495791
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Review

Memoir of the steamboat era on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War by Mark Twain, published in 1883. The book begins with a brief history of the river from its discovery by Hernando de Soto in 1541. Chapters 4-22 describe Twain's career as a Mississippi steamboat pilot, the fulfillment of a childhood dream. The second half of Life on the Mississippi tells of Twain's return, many years after, to travel the river from St. Louis to New Orleans. By then the competition from railroads had made steamboats passe, in spite of improvements in navigation and boat construction. Twain sees new, large cities on the river, and records his observations on greed, gullibility, tragedy, and bad architecture. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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8 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 558 pages
  • Publisher: North Books (April 1965)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0939495791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0939495795
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (598 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,822,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 113 people found the following review helpful By M. Allen Greenbaum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 14, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book--at times disjointed, rambling, self-referential, and irreverent--is decades ahead of its time. It's an interdisciplinarian's dream as Twain takes on economics, geography, politics, ancient and contemporary history, and folklore with equal ease. Mostly though, one appreciates his knack for exaggeration, the tall tale, and the outright lie. It's a triumph of tone, as he lets you in on his wild wit, his keen observation, and his penchant for bending the truth without losing his credibility as a guide.
The book's structure is also modern: He recounts his days as a paddlewheel steam boat "cub," piloting the hundreds of miles of the Mississippi before the Civil War, then, in Part 2, returns to retrace his paddleboat route. Although a few of his many digressions don't work (they sometimes sound formulaic or too detailed) most of the narrative is extremely entertaining. Twain seems caught between admiration and disdain for the "modern" age-but he also rejects over-sentimentality over the past. He writes with beauty and cynicism, verve and humor. Very highly recommended!
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on March 7, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Let me guess: your total exposure to Mark Twain came in high school, when you were forced to read about the antics of Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, right? Well, now that you've reached adulthood, you should make time to read _Life on the Mississippi_. It's mandatory reading if you live in a state that borders the great river, anywhere from Minnesota down to Louisiana. It's mandatory reading if you have come to that point in life when you can suddenly appreciate American history and post-Civil War stories written by someone who lived through that time.
Writing in the first half of the 1870s, Twain retraces the steps of his youth: the watery highway he knew when he trained to be a riverboat pilot nearly 20 years earlier. He speaks of how life _was_ along the river, and what life _became_. It's almost a "you can't go home again" experience for him, while the reader gets the benefit of discovering both time periods.
I have two favorite parts that I share with others. Chapter IX includes a wonderful dissertation about how learning the navigational intricacies of the river caused Twain to lose the ability to see its natural beauty. And Chapter XLV includes an assessment of how the people of the North and the South reacted differently to the war experience. If I were a social studies teacher, I'd use that last passage in a unit on the reconstruction period. So put this title on your vacation reading list, and don't fret: the chapters are short and are many -- 60! -- but you can stop at any time, and the words go by fast. _Life on the Mississippi_ should make you forget all about any Twain trauma and report-writing you may have suffered as a teenager. [This reviewer was an Illinois resident when these comments were written.]
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By StoryReader on December 9, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this to likely be the most interesting book I have ever read. The attention to detail and description place you within the story. This book is actually, I believe, an autobiography of Mark Twain's (Samuel Clemmons) life as a young man piloting steamboats up and down the Mississippi River.

Whether the man, Mark Twain, interests you or not, Life on the Mississippi, is an eye opening look at America in an earlier era.

In my (humble) opinion this is Mark Twain's best work.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By BigT on February 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
As with all of Mark Twain's work this book works on two very different levels. The first of course is a simple adventure story the second is a bitingly satiric work that unmasks many of the hypocracies of "conventional wisdom".

I have to believe that most of his readers of his time (and ours) did not understand his underlying messages regarding society and its institutions. For me, it was hard to miss the way he unmasked the church, the state and society as a whole. I had to laugh out loud at some of the ways he managed to expose the absurdities of government and religion.

This book is a quick read and is immensely satisfying if the reader takes the time to follow Twain's logic to its natural conclusions.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bomojaz on December 2, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the book that Mark Twain himself thought to be his greatest. It is basically a memoir in two parts of his life spent on the river with historical sketches, statistics, and other matters thrown in.

The first part of the book tells of Twain's early years as a riverboat pilot. He talks about being a cub pilot, about learning about the intricacies of the river and the difficulties of navigating it, and about his mentor Horace Bixby. Twain's love of the river and his pride in "mastering" it are made obvious in these chapters.

The second part recounts Twain's return to the river in 1882, mainly to "see it again" in preparation of writing this book. Starting in St. Louis, he first goes south through Baton Rouge to New Orleans. He spends a bit of time there and describes life as he sees it in the city (there's a funny chapter regarding the above-ground cemeteries and an argument about cremation). Then he heads north on the steamboat City of Baton Rouge, piloted by his old mentor Horace Bixby. He stops off in Hannibal for three days, just enough time to see how much the town and some old acquaintances have changed, and then continues all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Twain's humor, as he recounts conversations with people, sights seen, reminiscences dredged up, and a myriad of other matters that fill the book, is always evident. It's one of the great books on the mighty river, and whether you are a lover of the works of Mark Twain or interested in the Mississippi River during the time period just before and after the Civil War, you will enjoy this book.
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