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Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Shelden (Orwell) centers on the writer's signature white suit—which first raised a ruckus when he donned it in the wintery month of December 1906 for an event at the Library of Congress. Shelden also sets the record straight with respect to Twain's continuing humor into his old age in spite of the deaths of his beloved wife and his epileptic daughter, Jean, and his often tempestuous relations with musical daughter Clara. Twain's last years were chock-full, including a feud with Mary Baker Eddy and encounters with Bram Stoker, Bernard Shaw, Helen Keller, and others. Much of the emotional void was filled by Twain's complex but seemingly platonic relationships with a series of girls. The last part of Twain's life was cynically managed by a team of his secretary, Isabel Lyon, and business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. Here is a well-researched book for all Twainiacs as well as those coming to the subject's late years for the first time. 46 photos. (Apr. 20)
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*Starred Review* Of Mark Twain in his final years, William Dean Howells remarks, “His literature grew less and less and his life more and more.” In Twain’s remarkable late-life surge in vitality, Sheldon discerns the surprising origin of the author’s iconic image. Challenging the widespread belief that Twain dwindled into impotent despair, Sheldon chronicles his last years as the triumph of an exuberant showman. This, after all, is the man who unexpectedly appears for a Congressional hearing clad in a stunning white suit and who never thereafter abandons his new sartorial luster. This, too, is the comic genius who in his seventies still sparkles with irreverent wit. Though it flashes through a few final published works (including a spoof on the afterlife and an iconoclastic swipe at Shakespeare), Twain’s septuagenarian wit mostly serves to punctuate an amazing range of nonliterary enterprises: building a new family mansion, waging legal battles to secure his legacy, underwriting a theater for impoverished children, claiming an honorary degree from Oxford. Yet, as Shelden recognizes, that wit ultimately reflects personal resilience in the face of financial reverses and family tragedy. Even on his deathbed, Twain rallies to bid farewell with wisecracks. Impressive scholarship delivers the authentic accents of a truly American voice. --Bryce Christensen
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Top Customer Reviews
Shelden tells a wonderful story of a lunch between Twain and George Bernard Shaw. After the lunch reporters questioned Shaw about his take on Twain. Even though they had just recently met Shaw answered that he felt he and Twain had known each other all their lives because of Twain's "complete gift of intimacy." Michael Shelden's pen has a similar gift.
Professor Shelden's incredible telling of the story of Twain's last years, primarily between 1906 and 1910 changed all that for me. I laughed out loud at Twain's one liners and wit many times throughout this book. Twain may very well have been living his finest moments during this time period. It is very easy for me to see why he was "the most popular man in America" at the turn of the 20th Century. His devotion to causes of charity and concern for the lives of those less fortunate is very moving.
However, the best part of this book is how Shelden immerses the reader into the time period of the book. I actually felt like I was in H.H. Rogers office in the Standard Oil Building. His descriptions of interiors and exteriors of buildings, ships quarters and train passages made me feel as if I was standing there witnessing every aspect of this story. It also intrigued me to realize how little difference there is between people in 1910 and 2010. The same insecurities, emotions, politics and anger. The comparison of today's financial crisis to the "Knickerbocker bank rush" of Twain's period is beyond frightening and reminds one of how history "repeats itself".
I don't think I have read a better book of non-fiction about a historical character since "On Undaunted Courage". Both books took me right back to the time of their primary characters. I could not put this book down and I certainly did not want it to end. I will be waiting for Michael Shelden's next book with open arms.
Sherman's account is well-written and well-researched.
It was a fabulously interesting book. I hope to have that kind of fun when I'm 70-something. I gained new appreciation for how funny and smart he was. How I would have liked to sit down with him for an hour or two and argued about copyright and literature! And apparently I could have sold him a bridge or two for a tidy profit.