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4.2 out of 5 stars
Roughing It
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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
The genius of Mark Twain is that his work is still enjoyable, and funny, to this day. This book, originally published in 1871, is Twain's account of his journey from Missouri to Hawaii (called the Sandwich Islands in his day). He tells story after story of his adventures along the way, starting with the stagecoach ride on the Overland Stage Line to Carson City, Nevada, around 1861, and then telling of his stay in Nevada, then California, then his visit to Hawaii. The stories are informative, humorous, and all-around entertaining. He lampoons everybody he can--nobody is safe--including miners, pioneers (emigrants), politicians, Mormons, Blacks, American Indians, Chinese, newspaper reporters, "desperados", even himself on more than one occasion. Sometimes his stories are so outrageous that you wonder how much is true and how much is embellishment, or just outright fiction. Even he understands this by telling the reader on occasion that he has not made up a particular story, to demonstrate that truth is often stranger than fiction, but also to imply that he has taken liberties in other places in the book. (I wonder if the Mormon Church has ever banned this book for the things he says about them.) Even while he is being irreverent, however, he often demonstrates a sensitivity toward people, with an awareness of the situation of others that seems to me to be ahead of his time. For example, he has a chapter on the immigrant Chinese population in the West, and while he pokes fun at them in some respects, he spends the time detailing their lives and culture, as much as he could understand it, with a respect that was uncommon in his day.
I bought a copy of this book years ago because I am a native Californian, and knew that there was some material in here about California in the early days (my copy is an old hardcover published by Grosset and Dunlap). As Twain states in his Prefatory: "...There is quite a good deal of information in this book. I regret this very much, but really it could not be helped." I enjoyed reading about the "old West" from an eye-witness, although most of it deals with Nevada, not California. While some of it sounded familiar, like something from any Western-genre movie, other things were like nothing I had ever heard of before, describing the "Wild West" from an original point of view. In that respect, this book is a great resource.
This book falls short of five stars due to some minor flaws. He often digresses with text that is not only marginal to the point, but not even written by him, reprinting someone else's text. I skipped over some of that. He would also spend pages detailing coversations between other people that he could not have possibly remembered verbatim. While I understand that it was a common writing style of his day, it sounds like bad jounalism today. Those complaints aside, this is some great writing by Twain and some valuable American history.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This "Mark Twain Project" paperback edition of ROUGHING IT is by far the best version for most readers. It is an excellent value. The 200 pages of "Explanatory Notes" at the end, add greatly to the modern reader's understanding of the 1860's "Wild West". The Early Western Mining Frontier comes vividly and colorfully to life, thanks to the Explanatory Notes' full illumination of the fascinating, often hilarious, eyewitness account of young Sam Clemens.

The 21st century reader now sees the momentous impact of Samuel Colt's "Navy Revolver" on frontier society, fully comprehends a "Stamp Mill's" importance to the silver mines of the Comstock Lode, and is in complete agreement about the "thoroughbrace's" necessity to the Overland Stage traveler's comfort! This edition also contains all 304 first edition illustrations, another great aid allowing the modern reader to take a virtual walk into a vanished time.

In the "Foreword" to this edition, Editor Harriet Elinor Smith notes, " The vernacular style of ROUGHING IT often seems surprisingly fresh to modern readers.....". I'm betting that many readers, younger ones especially, may approach this book with dread, only to become immersed in the rollicking adventure, and reach the end of ROUGHING IT with regret. The readers who return for a second, third or more reading, will discover many levels of depth to ROUGHING IT that will continue to entertain and educate reading after reading, year after year.

From the "Foreword" to this edition, Editor Smith also observes, "Although readers have long been entertained by ROUGHING IT, it has gradually become part of all serious study of American culture. Students of history have come to rely on it for accurate information about the period, and it has played a major role in shaping the myth of the "Wild West".......No examination of American popular culture would be complete without Mark Twain's imaginative reminiscence of what it was like to be "on the ground in person"".

So, if you are tired of all this bickering between the North and South, and feel it may be healthier to get away from the tensions, I hear tell there's a great silver strike in a new territory called "Nevada", near a place called "Virginia City". It's July 1861 and there is an Overland Stage westbound, St Joseph, Missouri to Carson City, Nevada Territory.

Buckle on your Navy Colt and climb aboard!
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Twain is a storyteller in the old-fashioned sense of the word. He spins his tales, weaves his lies, and draws us in with the skill of a magician. Dividing fact from fiction is not always easy in a work such as this. "Roughing It" has moments of obvious hyperbole, grounded by stories of true difficulty. Yet throughout, Twain finds a way to make us smile, even laugh out loud. We are amused by the eccentric characters and turns of events which he describe, and find that we are not so far different as we might like to think.
The story follows Twain's journey as he travels west by stagecoach, train, wagon, horse, and ship. He meets surly frontiersmen, murderers, thieves, fortune-hunters, and men of ill-repute. Even here, he finds the good beneath the dirt. I especially enjoyed his anecdote of Scotty Briggs, a man trying to hire a minister to attend over his friend's funeral. Hilarious stuff! And so true to human nature.
Throughout his account, Twain makes a habit of degrading his own work ethic, nudging us in the ribs as he highlights his aversion to labor. With this in mind, the title seems to be a tongue-in-cheek affair. In fact, I found his accounts much less rustic and more modern than expected. Sure, we can travel across the U.S. quicker these days, but the politics and economics of Twain's age parallel our own. Will we never learn? Isn't this the point of history, to avoid repeating our errors?
Although criticized in his day for using coarse language and a working-class, Twain held to his guns and gave us some magnificent humor with which to swallow his pointed barbs. He was a master satirist, and even in a travelogue such as this, his views shine through. And thank goodness! A century and a half later, I'm thankful for his insights.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of travel logs, journals, reports, diaries, etc. that tell about the American West in the mid-nineteenth century. This book by Mark Twain, however, is both unique and one of the best. This is travel writing as it should be. Twain, traveling across the plains from Missouri to Nevada in the early 1860's, and spending seven years loafing about Nevada, California, and Hawaii, collected and compiled his experiences into this extraordinary book. One of the best things about Twain, of course, is his unique view on things. This tale is told in Twain's wry, humorous style, and is very enjoyable.

This book is not quite as pessimistic as Twain's other great travel writing, `The Innocents Abroad,' but it does include some interesting and unorthodox views which often prove hilarious. Twain spends time as a gold and silver seeker, a speculator, a journalist, and a vagabond (as he himself puts it), and puts a unique spin on each of these occupations. As far as travel writing goes, this book is indispensable, and it also proves quite valuable (odd as it may seem) in any thorough study of frontier life in the American West.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I became acquainted with ROUGHING IT as a high school sophomore. An otherwise fatally boring textbook on "World Geography", began the chapter on America's Rocky Mountain West, with an italicized excerpt from Chapter 43 of ROUGHING IT. That excerpt was Mark Twain's description of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode during the "Flush Times". At that time in the early 1970's, "Bonanza" was a popular TV western. I was surprised to discover that the Virginia City of Twain's experience, made "Bonanza's" Virginia City seem dull! I was hooked, and soon found a tattered old copy of ROUGHING IT at the public library to read. And I have re-read ROUGHING IT many times since, finding it one of those rare books revealing fresh nuggets with every prospecting trip.

ROUGHING IT is captivating in many ways, and on many levels. It's a journey into the real "Old West" on the Overland Stage, a journey on the road from youth to maturity, a journey to a time of wild, crazy events with colorful characters to match, and a journey of young Sam Clemens becoming Mark Twain, all written with the young , enthusiastic Twain's incomparable style and eye for detail and humor.

Twain's peerless storytelling is reason enough to read ROUGHING IT. The discerning reader will soon note one of ROUGHING IT's many levels, the level of being a historic gem. The Western Frontier's early mining era comes vividly to life in all its colorful and fascinating glory. The first 20 chapters are probably the best first-hand account of travel on the Overland Stage in existence. Walking the streets of early 1860's Virginia City, guided by Sam Clemens, and meeting, for example, the "Long-tailed heroes of the revolver" as he described the frock-coated pistoleers of that day, is of priceless historic value. For those with a morbid dread of history, rest assured that with Professor Twain instructing, the subject emerges with a fresh, new perspective that is irresistible.

ROUGHING IT leaves a reader wondering why Hollywood continues to focus on the Western Frontier's "cowboy era". The early mining era of the Western Frontier seems so much more colorful and interesting. Hopefully, someone will drop ROUGHING IT on a studio executive's head , before he commits "Legally Blond 15", "Terminator 25", or "Spiderman 10".

This classic book is often overlooked. That is difficult to understand, because ROUGHING IT reads as freshly as if written yesterday. ROUGHING IT is history properly taught, and the book belongs at the top of any classic book list. Incredibly enough however, ROUGHING IT would also belong at the top of a list of books which are fun to read. Although the terms "Fun to read", and "Classic", almost never describe the same book, ROUGHING IT is the exception, and is well worth the reader's effort.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A long-time fan of Mark Twain, I had still managed to make it past my fortieth birthday never having read this book. But recently, when I needed something to read (you know the kind of days I am talking about), I stumbled across this book and set to laughing.
The story-telling is magnificent. Few writers can take the small things of daily life and make them breathe -- but Twain possessed that gift, and uses it well. How many others went West the same time he did, and never saw the gold dust, sunsets, and taverns the way he wrote them into our consciousness?
And yet, and yet... As much as I loved the stories he told, I see "Roughing It" as important in a different manner. Even when the truth is slightly embellished to make us, his readers (of whom he is always very much aware), laugh out loud, it still truly presents the era and place he put down in black and white. We can be so bombarded with romanticized movies about the gold rush and settlers heading West, that we lose sight of them as genuine people with the same faults and virtues we know in 2001.
But with Mark Twain's keen eye, our history -- our American history -- comes to life. And suddenly, we "get it", we comprehend that all that stuff we had to learn in high school was done by people, not daguerrotypes.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is Mark Twain's semi-autobiographical narrative about a trip he and his brother took to the Far West soon after the Civil War began, first to the mining camps in Nevada, then San Francisco, and finally to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). He describes in very broad strokes unusual characters (all kinds of people from bandits to Brigham Young), tall tales heard along his journey, what life was like in the gold fields, and what it looked like everywhere he went.

The book came about after the great success of his INNOCENTS ABROAD in 1869. In books like these Twain established himself as a master of satirical (and self-deprecating) humor. The book is enormously entertaining and is one of the most representative books Twain wrote about himself and what he was about in literature: the Western frontier humorist who delighted in understated overexaggeration. It's a great book and a joy to read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
Okay, I'm going to give this book two stars, but it must be quickly pointed out that this book, especially in this fine edition, has a number of five star qualities. Or at least, it's got a string of five star chapters.

In a nutshell, this starts off being a terrific book. The opening chapters on Twain's stagecoach ride through the American west are laden with some of his best acerbic wit and the narrative is simple but compelling. The view you get from the stage coach is of another world, a bygone one that will never come back, and it's amazing. His chapter on the Mormon Bible is a masterpiece of understated satire. Indeed, a lot of his funniest stuff is subtle, a few words laced with a bit of irony.

But then the book takes a dive when his journey to the west lands him in Carson City, Nevada. From that point forward looking for nuggets of Twain's wit becomes a bit like panning for gold. Yes, it continues to be Twain, and his reportage and his humorist's eye continue to pull themselves together at intervals. Those interested in his life story will find intriguing details that have a bit of truth to them.

But unfortunately, one becomes aware that he is trying to write a very long book very quickly and there is way too much here that is padding or filler. It's a tough slog. And what happened to his sharp sense of humor? Suddenly it's become terribly broad, as if he's writing for a completely different audience than he wrote the first part of the book for.

The last bit of wind gets let out of the balloon when he takes a trip to Hawaii. There's a nice scene or two, but at this point the narrative loses any personal dimension at all. He's doing travel writing with a few odd jokes and observations tossed in. He's cribbing pages and pages from someone else's history of the Hawaiian people, who he seems not to have had any interactions with worth mentioning.

I'm no Twain scholar, I don't know what happened. Anyway, the first part of the book should be read by everyone, it's great. This edition is also really great. The notes are copious and interesting, the maps are useful. But I don't think anyone should hesitate to put the book aside a third of the way through, it's not worth it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I am a seventeen year old male, and I can say that I found this book to be very cool! When I first started reading it I figured it probably would be very dated and probably not hold my interest but I was wrong, I found it to be very engrossing. I did read Huckelberry finn, and though it is considered the great american novel it did not hold my interest like roughing it did. The book covers Twains adventures out west during the late 1800's. lots of adventure and humor.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
In 1861 a young Samuel Clemens heads west for a three month stay. Six years later he returns to write Roughing It. An account of his adventures and misadventures on the frontier from the mining camps of Nevada and California to the volcanoes of Hawaii it is what can be described, rather loosely, as a travelogue. There have been many first person accounts written about the old west but for originality of thought, ease of writing and that slightly off kelter point of view few can match this. Starting with a stage couch ride to Virginia City, Nevada good men, bad men, ordinary men, chinese, indians, miners all the flotsam and jetsam of the frontier come under Clemens gaze only to have their great virtues and their great flaws mercilessly exposed. All the while showing a sensitivity and respect for other people and their ways that lifts this above the thinking of his time. This is a sprawling work laced with jokes, insights, tall tails and outright lies all told with Clemens trade mark wit and gentle humor making this a very good read.

Written in the style of the 19th century this can be a hard book for a 21st century mind to follow. If you stick with him however you will get a rollicking ride through a time now lost. And if you take the trouble to listen to the words themselves you can step back in time and, even allowing for humorous excess, almost feel that you have entered that world yourself. At the same time if you watch closely you can just catch a glimpse of a drifting greenhorn and self proclaimed vagabond named Samuel Clemens turning into Mark Twain.
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