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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Geoffrey C. Ward, Dayton Duncan, and Ken Burns have written a touching and heartfelt look at the life and career of the man who is, arguably, the greatest writer in American history: Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. This is a glorious and beautiful illustrated book, drawing on Twain's works, diaries, and letters -- it's ideal as a companion to the four-hour PBS series on Twain.
What's most remarkable about Twain's life is the amount of personal loss he went through, and the degree to which he blamed himself for it. His brother Henry, a steamboat clerk, died in an explosion on the Mississippi in 1858; Twain felt responsible because he hadn't been there for his younger brother when he needed him. He and his beloved wife, Livy, lost a prematurely born son, Langdon, in 1872; again, Twain felt responsible, blaming himself for allowing the baby to catch cold. His daughter Susy died of an infection at the tender age of 23; Clemens blamed the death on the stress caused by the family's chronic bankruptcy. When Livy herself succumbed in 1904 (a loss that devastated Clemens, who adored the woman who so often inspired his writing), their daughter Clara suffered a nervous breakdown.
How did a man who has written some of the wittiest and most trenchant social commentary cope with so much intense misfortune? Perhaps it was his very "American-ness"; he clearly had that zest for adventure that sums up the spirit of the country. On the other hand, when one looks at the evolution of his writing over the years, there is a definite darkening in tone, a negativity that reflects Twain's personal misery. Either way, this illustrated look at the great humorist is a wonderful read. (Nicholas Sinisi)
Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes&Noble.com Nonfiction Editor.