At times, this biography resembles, as Powers calls The Innocents Abroad, "a grab bag of abrupt digression." Powers is best when he sticks to the specific details of Twain's long, troubled life. He is particularly good at reconstructing the courtship of Clemens and his future wife, Olivia Langdon. He skillfully retraces the complex publishing history of Twain's books, including the founding and failure of his own firm, which led to his bankruptcy. But Powers goes off-track with gratuitous information…Twain led a wild and untidy life that demands a strong, steady guide to shape it into a coherent biography, but Powers tends to meander along with his subject's violently shifting moods.
The Washington Post
If it is a huge challenge to achieve a humanely balanced yet dramatic account of this icon, Powers is formidably equipped by experience, geography, curiosity, patience and open-heartedness to succeed. He roots for his man, deploring his cruelty but giving him a second chance, then a third. Keeping his thumb off the scales that weigh Twain as great or overrated, he referees the weighing, verifying that the process is fair and that the scales are not defective.
The New York Times Book Review
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. Simultaneous release with the Free Press hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 1). (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Few American authors have attracted more biographical studies than Mark Twain. Many of those studies are excellent, though none has won recognition as the definitive biography. This new book by Powers is a strong contender for that title. Easily the best full-length biography of Twain in at least four decades, it draws on many previously unused primary sources, offers both breadth and depth, and is elegantly written. Powers is a distinguished writer in his own right and has previously written three other books on Twain. As a native of Hannibal, MO-Twain's hometown-the author adds a unique feeling for place to his skills as a writer and his feel for American voices. The Twain he reveals here is a fully rounded human being, whose triumphs and failings are chronicled in rich detail-and what a life he led! Libraries should acquire both the audio and print editions, but a special feature of the audio program is Powers's reading, and a superb job it is-a most unusual feat for an author. "Highly recommended" seems inadequate for an audiobook of this quality.-R. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"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
"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
"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
"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