Mark Twain grew up with America. Born in 1835, he reached adulthood as the country was expanding and threatening to splinter all at once. Along with his towering talent and personality, his timing and instinct for finding the action allowed him to play a major role in pushing the boundaries of American culture and mythology by creating a new approach to literature. "Breaching the ranks of New England literary culture was Clemens's most important achievement (short of his actual works), and a signal liberating event in the country's imaginative history," writes Ron Powers in this dazzling biography. Not only did he observe and chronicle this cultural shift, he participated in it, allowing him to report "from the yeasty perspective of the common man." While still Sam Clemens, he worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River and experienced the Wild West of the Nevada Territory as a miner, land prospector, and newspaperman. Later, while still the people's champion, he married into wealth and ran with the moneyed class of the Gilded Age--until his money ran out--and toured the world meeting with the famous and powerful at every stop. He was, as Powers puts it, "the nation's first rock star." But Twain was more than just a writer and Powers strives to cover all sides of this complex man. Employing an approach he calls "interpretive portraiture," he explores Twain's personal relations, temperament, religious skepticism, and psychology as closely as his written work. He discusses Twain's zeal for life along with his "chronic insecurity," and describes how this eternally optimistic and forward-looking man was prone to spells of nihilism and despair. Powers is a talented and lively writer clearly up to the task of covering this American legend, and his book vividly and thoroughly explains why Twain was "the
representative figure of his nation and his century." --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
Many readers of Powers's biography of Mark Twain noted the historian's remarkable sensitivity to the use of rhetoric, dialect and drama in Twain's work. As the audio's narrator, Powers proves he intuitively understands Twain's flair for language and drama because he possesses those gifts himself. Few authors could pull off a credible oral rendition of Twain's life, yet Powers manages it with humor and pathos. His voice is accessible, with a gravelly, down-home feel that fits the subject perfectly. His rendering of Twain's famous Missouri drawl never descends into caricature, and he obviously has a wonderful time imagining how Twain might have imitated other people's voices. Powers has a well-honed sense of humor, and listeners can almost see the twinkle in his eye as he recounts Twain's more acerbic observations. Gentle guitar and banjo music provide appropriately folksy interludes between sections of the book. The enhanced CD features Thomas Edison's three-minute silent film of Mark Twain, which is the only known footage of the white-suited satirist. Even in old age, his famous swaggering gait is on full display.
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