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Posted February 4, 2004
A comprehensive evocation of a complex and much-loved American icon
Fred Kaplan¿s perceptive and entertaining biography of America¿s premier writer brings to life not only the familiar Mark Twain the humorist and man of letters, but all of his other manifold aspects (or ¿selves,¿ as the author liked to call them) as well: the devoted family man who (like all successful men, according to Dwight Eisenhower) had married above his station and remained faithful and passionately affectionate to a loving, responsive woman who joined him in defying Victorian strictures to the extent of occasionally holding hands in public, and who, like Abigail Adams, shared his professional life, reading and vetting everything he wrote, and also raised and disciplined their daughters, managed his household, tolerated and sometimes even enjoyed his profanity, and to a degree came to share his indifference to religion; the self-made writer who won acceptance into the highest ranks of the nation¿s literary, cultural, political, and professional life; the world traveler who became widely venerated abroad; the impulsive, chronically unsuccessful businessman who lost a fortune investing in printing ¿compositors¿ and hairpins but rebuffed an invitation to purchase shares in the nascent telecommunications industry; the political liberal, who loved ¿Negro¿ culture and often sang ¿Swing Low, Sweet Chariot¿ and, in bereft moments, Stephen Foster¿s ¿Why Do The Beautiful Die,¿ and who deplored slavery and suppression of the lower classes not only in America but also in the Congo and Russia; the sensualist who admired the unselfconscious naturalness of uninhibited peoples in Hawaii, Fiji, and Nicaragua; the iconoclast who believed that Jesus was born but not raised and would never return to a randomly cruel world in which one incarnation was sufficient for anyone, and who agreed with an overheard slave¿s prayer, ¿Come yo¿self, Lord, an¿ doan be sendin¿ yo¿ son, ¿cause this ain¿t no time fo¿ chillun¿; and the survivor, who saw his infant son and eventually his fragile wife succumb to heart disease, a daughter to meningitis, and a second daughter to epilepsy, leaving only a third daughter to survive him ¿ and, even more sadly, although unknown to him, one whose own daughter was to commit suicide at age fifty-four, ending the line.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.