113 of 116 people found the following review helpful
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!
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2009
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.
61 of 69 people found the following review helpful
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.]
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2008
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.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2005
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.
42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
You might wonder what prompted Mark Twain to sidle from "straight" fiction into the realm of outright fantasy. Twain transports a Connecticut shop foreman twelve centuries into the past [and 5 000 kilometres!] to Camelot and Arthur's court. Initially confused and dismayed, Hank Morgan's Yankee practicality is quickly aroused and he becomes a major figure among the panopolied knights. With the title of The Boss, his rank equals The King or The Pope with its uniqueness. His elevation doesn't distract him from a more profound impulse, however. Hank's Yankee roots and wide experience evoke an ambition - nothing less than revolution. He wants to sweep away the monarchy and aristocracy and establish an American-style republic in Arthurian Britain.
Mark Twain's scathing criticism of the sham of hereditary monarchy bolstered by an Established Church makes this among his choicest writings. He resents the condition of a Church which "turned a nation of men into a nation of worms." A fervent believer in individual freedom, Twain uses Hank to voice his disdain of Britain's royalty. It's no more than might be expected of a man who boasted of but one ancestor - who sat on the jury that executed Charles I. Hank knows revolutions never succeed when implemented from above. Revolution be achieved only when the individual's attitude changes from meek acceptance to
self assertion. Hank's method reaches people through clandestine schools and factories, publication of a newspaper and establishment of a telephone system. These new forms of manufacture and communication become the foundation by which Hank expects to abolish the ancient, mis-named, chivalric tradition. Does he change the course of history?
Twain relocates the roots of American democracy from the heart of the frontier yeoman farmer to the brain of the urban industrial worker. Here the man of wide, practical experience shows how to survive compared to those with a formal education. Hank has a simple ambition - establishment of a republic - but utilizes a broad spectrum of ideas to bring it about. He would gladly replace the Established Church of Rome with his own Presbyterian ideals, but is aware that it would be swapping one evil for another. "Each man should select his own religion, or make one" he contends. Yet, finally, it is this dread force that impairs his desire for change. The final sequence stands as a peer to the biblical Armageddon, Twain wallowing in a frightful bloodletting unseen in any of his other works.
Mark Twain contrasts the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution with the centuries of slavery, serfdom, and poverty that killed countless more people than that spasm of excising of aristocracy. What else spurred him to write of human rights with such passion? He had written of slavery before, but this book is especially wrathful in describing the "peculiar institution" eliminated in his homeland but a generation before. He forces the king to experience the slave's condition, a form of degradation he would have all aristocrats endure. Every feature of the human condition is examined in this timeless treasure. He challenges you to follow his gaze, considering whether today's societies, monarchical or not, will endure the scrutiny.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
What a great novel! Twain is wonderfully funny, yet his scathing social commentary concerning his own times are as serious as a heart attack.
When a Connecticut Yankee gets sent back in time to King Arthur's Court, he decides his superior knowledge should be used to educate such an "ignorant race." Of course, we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if I didn't know better, I would say that the person who coined the phrase did so after finishing this novel. The story's main character, Hank Morgan, is a likeable, if not laughable character, yet as most of us already know: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once technology gets on a roll, the beast of civilization takes off running and Morgan cannot pull in the reigns. Total disaster ensues (incase you had not already guessed).
This was a fun read and a look at a problem that is still very much alive today. Too much civilization can be like a disease, especially when those who are working to spread it find that they are doing it for reasons other than altruism.
Also, do you remember the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when Indiana Jones whips out his gun to shoot the sword-wielding Sultan? That scene was surely lifted from this very book!
Trust me, this is a novel for thought, but one that will not bore you. Twain was a master and this is perhaps my favorite of his novels. Very highly recommended.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Kudos to Amazon for making "Life on the Mississippi" available for free for the Kindle and the iPhone Kindle application! Twain's book is a rambling affair, and in fact, its somewhat quirky form makes it read more like a present-day book than a product of its time. Twain's style is engaging. This might be clearest in the historical sections, where, if you think that all historical narratives are dry and academic, "Life on the Mississippi" will prove you wrong. As many other reviewers note, this is an entirely different view of Mark Twain's work than the novels that tend to find themselves relegated to study in the public schools, and in many ways both more informative and more fun. Thanks again to Amazon for making this and other important public domain books available for free download!
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2001
Life on the Mississippi is by far one of the most wonderful books ever written about the post Civil War era in America. Mark Twain takes the reader on a melancholy look at this period of time in history as you journey into the Mississippi of his youth, adulthood, and the people and the communities he knew so well. He conveys a miraculous picture of this lively river giving it the grandeur and prominence it deserves. He defines the river very much like a living organism with a power and personality all its own. As the book unfolds, he begins in his days when he grew up along the river and became a steam boat pilot, ending that career with the advent of the Civil War. Later he returns to the river after some twenty years and takes a journey as a writer from around St. Louis to New Orleans and back up the river into what is present day Minnesota. You learn about the different cultures along the river, its tributaries, as well as the remarkable people who become part of the forgotten history of our nation. Twain's anecdotes are sheer brilliance, and he has an incredible way of choosing just the right story to illustrate a particular point transporting the reader back into time as if it was the present day and you are standing beside Twain observing what he is seeing. His reflections of his times along the river and his descriptions of the people and places make this a true masterpiece of literature and I highly recommend it. I found myself only able to read short portions at a time, as I personally found the sheer beauty of the entire book was a work to be savored and digested rather than rapidly consumed as you would with any other book. As I poured through the book, I felt often as if I was traveling with Mark Twain as a companion along his charming and magnificent journey during a wonderful period of history.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2003
In Life on the Mississippi, Twain recounts his river experiences from boyhood to riverboat captain and beyond. Encompassing the years surrounding the Civil War, this book is an excellent source of 19th-century Americana as well as an anthology of the mighty river itself. Replete with rascally rivermen, riparian hazards, deluge, catastrophe, and charm, Life on the Mississippi is another of Twain's stellar literary achievements.
Wit and wisdom are expected from Twain and this book does not disappoint. It is equally valuable for it's period descriptions of the larger river cities (New Orleans, St. Louis, St. Paul), as well as the small town people and places ranging the length of America's imposing central watershed.
The advent of railroads signalled the end of the Mississipi's grand age of riverboat traffic, but, never fear, Life on the Mississippi brings it back for the reader as only Samuel Clemens can. Highly recommended.