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Mark Twain: A Life


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About the Author

Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, has studied and written about Mark Twain for many years. He is the author of ten books, including Dangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, and the coauthor of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers. He lives in Middlebury, Vermont.


After dozens of biographies of Twain (1835-1910), one can fairly ask, "Why another?" But Powers, who wrote about Twain's Missouri childhood in Dangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, early on promises "interpretive portraiture," which entails doing something that has never quite been accomplished before: presenting the totality of the man in his many moods and phases of life, including acerbic son and brother, prank-prone youth, competitive writer, demanding friend, loving husband and, eventually, globe-trotting celebrity. In doing so, Powers succeeds in validating his own assertion that Twain became "the representative figure of his times." Powers demonstrates that Twain embodied America during the tumultuous latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, from the divided self of the Civil War, through the unstable prosperity of the Gilded Age, to the verge of WWI. All the while, Twain asserted in both literature and life his confidence in New World progress over Old World conservatism. Unlike Twain, whose prose Powers characterizes as "wild and woolly," the biographer is lucid and direct while maintaining a steady hand on the tiller of Twain's life as it courses a twisty path as wide and treacherous as the Mississippi itself. Powers, a wise, if loquacious captain, takes us on a wonderful journey from beginning to end. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Jim Hornfischer. (Sept. 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Unlike some earlier Twain biographies (Justin Kaplan's 1966 Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, for instance), which organized the details of Twain's life according to an underlying but persistent single theory of personality, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Powers uses a positively Twainian approach: he simply tells the complex story of America's foremost storyteller. With considerable help from the new Mark Twain Project in Berkeley, CA (a veritable storehouse of Twain information consisting of books, letters, and documents hitherto unpublished), Powers has written a scholarly but refreshingly lively story, from time to time interrupting his straight narrative with a deft piece of wordplay ("operating, perhaps, on the proverbial theory that we cannot have `archaic'; and edit, too"). Instead of elaborating on a single major thesis, Powers develops topics neglected by other Twain biographers: the writer's genuinely mean late treatment of his bumbling brother, Orion; the negative impact of advancing technology on Twain's capacity for visual description; and his principled determination, late in life, to repay every cent he owed his creditors. The book offers a fresh commentary on all Twain's works and a lucid historical setting for them, too. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Charles C. Nash, formerly with English Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

A sweeping account of the personality and career of the man who, Powers writes, 'found a voice for his country'...Mr. Powers skillfully places his subject in historical context [and] quite rightly focuses on Twain's pitch-perfect ear and keen eye...A convincing portrait of Twain as a volatile, moody, guilt-ridden, desperately insecure man who was often a puzzle to himself.
-- The New York Times
A weighty and witty biography that comes as close as any to providing the essential biography...Powers makes Twain come alive as a three-dimensional, deeply flawed, immensely gifted and wonderfully intriguing writer.
-- The Cleveland Plain Dealer
An impressive achievement...This book earns an honored place on the shelf of essential works on Mark Twain...Ron Powers has done justice to an incomparably complex, rich, fruitful, and tangled life, and along the way he has granted us a glimpse into the heart of America, as well as the heart of America's greatest writer.
-- San Francisco Chronicle
Like Twain's greatest works, this is a book that transcends its boundaries, giving us not merely one man, but America itself. It is a tremendous achievement and anybody even vaguely interested in the subject should read it.
-- The London Telegraph
Magisterial...almost certainly will become the go-to guide.
-- The Denver Post
Powers has given us the whole man. We feel we know him, as well as we can, as well as his most perceptive friend and fellow writer William Dean Howells knew him. Along the way Powers brings to vivid life Twain's America...No biography of Mark Twain could do him full justice. Powers' comes as close as you can imagine.
-- Los Angeles Times

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