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Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography

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With brilliant immediacy, Mr Clemens & Mark Twain brings to life a towering literary figure whose dual personae symbolized the emerging American conflict between down-to-earth morality & freewheeling ambition. As Mark Twain, he was the Mississippi riverboat pilot, the satirist with a fiery hatred of pretension, & the author of such classics as Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn With brilliant immediacy, Mr Clemens & Mark Twain brings to life a towering literary figure whose dual personae symbolized the emerging American conflict between down-to-earth morality & freewheeling ambition. As Mark Twain, he was the Mississippi riverboat pilot, the satirist with a fiery hatred of pretension, & the author of such classics as Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn. As Mr Clemens, he was the star who married an heiress, built a palatial estate, threw away fortunes on harebrained financial schemes & lived the extravagent life that Twain despised. Set against the richly drawn background of the post-Civil War period that Twain dubbed the "Gilded Age," Mr. Clemens & Mark Twain is sure to entertain & enlighten both general readers & scholars alike.


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With brilliant immediacy, Mr Clemens & Mark Twain brings to life a towering literary figure whose dual personae symbolized the emerging American conflict between down-to-earth morality & freewheeling ambition. As Mark Twain, he was the Mississippi riverboat pilot, the satirist with a fiery hatred of pretension, & the author of such classics as Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn With brilliant immediacy, Mr Clemens & Mark Twain brings to life a towering literary figure whose dual personae symbolized the emerging American conflict between down-to-earth morality & freewheeling ambition. As Mark Twain, he was the Mississippi riverboat pilot, the satirist with a fiery hatred of pretension, & the author of such classics as Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn. As Mr Clemens, he was the star who married an heiress, built a palatial estate, threw away fortunes on harebrained financial schemes & lived the extravagent life that Twain despised. Set against the richly drawn background of the post-Civil War period that Twain dubbed the "Gilded Age," Mr. Clemens & Mark Twain is sure to entertain & enlighten both general readers & scholars alike.

30 review for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Faith Justice

    This was a slog. I "speed-read" several passages. Howard Mumford Jones on the back says, "The richest, most subtle, and best-sustained analysis of Mark Twain anywhere to be found..." He may be right, but that's the trouble - this is a sustained analysis . The relentless psychological analysis bogged down the fascinating narrative of a complex life. Some books are written by scholars for other scholars. Others are written by scholars for general readership. This is one of the former. This book This was a slog. I "speed-read" several passages. Howard Mumford Jones on the back says, "The richest, most subtle, and best-sustained analysis of Mark Twain anywhere to be found..." He may be right, but that's the trouble - this is a sustained analysis . The relentless psychological analysis bogged down the fascinating narrative of a complex life. Some books are written by scholars for other scholars. Others are written by scholars for general readership. This is one of the former. This book could have been half its length and five times more entertaining, if Kaplan had spent more time on the story of a life, rather than psychological underpinnings. A little "why" goes a long way when you're interested in the "who" and "what."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I have to say, I was a bit dissapointed in this book for one reason which Justin Kaplan points out in the preface: the book does not cover Twain's childhood. I was anticipating reading about his life in MO as a young boy and comparing it to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but was let down. I think Kaplan's reasoning behind avoiding that first part of Twain's life makes sense - that Twain himself had already documented this early part of his life more aptly than anyone else could have. But in a book ab I have to say, I was a bit dissapointed in this book for one reason which Justin Kaplan points out in the preface: the book does not cover Twain's childhood. I was anticipating reading about his life in MO as a young boy and comparing it to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but was let down. I think Kaplan's reasoning behind avoiding that first part of Twain's life makes sense - that Twain himself had already documented this early part of his life more aptly than anyone else could have. But in a book about Twain, his childhood was the topic that interested me most. There were some dry moments in this book. But there were also some heart wrenching moments as well. I nearly cried when Twain went back to Hannibal, MO at the end of his life and looked at the house where he grew up. And when his (favorite) daughter Susy passed so unexpectedly. There were many tragedies in a life that was so full of humour. I've heard that it is often that way for comedians. Go figure.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Galen Kaback

    As excited as I was to read about Mark Twain, Kaplan's writing feels overtly wordy and unnecessarily flowery. It is as if he were trying to measure his own poetic and literary prowess with Twain himself. It also lacked linear clarity and jumped back and forth through his timeline in a frustrating way. Perhaps it is my own preference, but historical books, especially biographies, should have a chronological flow to them. Lacking this, the narrative of the work gets convoluted and the content suff As excited as I was to read about Mark Twain, Kaplan's writing feels overtly wordy and unnecessarily flowery. It is as if he were trying to measure his own poetic and literary prowess with Twain himself. It also lacked linear clarity and jumped back and forth through his timeline in a frustrating way. Perhaps it is my own preference, but historical books, especially biographies, should have a chronological flow to them. Lacking this, the narrative of the work gets convoluted and the content suffers. I'm not well versed on Mark Twain, I dont read Mark Twain particularly, but you Justin Kaplan are no Mark Twain. Long winded, blustery, written almost a half century later, with the same poppycock rambling prose Germain to the turn of the century, this book does less to illustrate the life and times of Twain and more to self satisfaction of the author, to the detriment of the readership. Also, a glaring falsehood in the books overarching premise is the illusion that you will experience some duality of Twain and Clemens, which does not come across. There is a passing reference sporadically shoehorned in as if the title and premise of this dual tempered person was an afterthought when the manuscript had been completed. Lastly, it unwittingly paints Twain as an asshole. I'm sure this is true of any turn of the century figures when looked at closely, but this recounting "speaks less to the heart and more to the sphincter" if I may quote Beavis of Beavis and Butthead. He of course was speaking about derivative grunge music and not poorly written biographies, but the comparison is apt and is more concise and descriptive than anything in this 300 some odd page of dribble. Worth a buy, if you are low on toilet paper during this crisis.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Still reading. Notes/excerpts: p 281: The Yankee and his machine "were twinned in his mind. Both were tests of a perfectible world in which, contrary to all his insights and experience, friction and mechanical difficulties were equivalents of ignorance and superstition. ... The ambivalences, disillusions, destructive fury, and finally, homicidal tantrums of the novel were fire drills in his imagination for the actual failure of the machine, machine values, and his dream of capitalist democracy in Still reading. Notes/excerpts: p 281: The Yankee and his machine "were twinned in his mind. Both were tests of a perfectible world in which, contrary to all his insights and experience, friction and mechanical difficulties were equivalents of ignorance and superstition. ... The ambivalences, disillusions, destructive fury, and finally, homicidal tantrums of the novel were fire drills in his imagination for the actual failure of the machine, machine values, and his dream of capitalist democracy in which he expected to be a tycoon among tycoons." p 293: Clemens managed to finish Yankee in May 1889, four and a half years after reading Morte d'Arthur p 298: Working 7 hours a day on his book, Clemens was tense and anxious, unable to sleep at night. He sat up late, smoking and thinking---"not pleasantly." "I want relief of mind," he complained ... "The fun, which was abounding in the Yankee up to 3 days ago, has slumped into funereal sadness, and this will not do---it will not answer at all. The very title of the book requires fun, and it must be furnished. But it can't be done, I see, while this cloud hangs over the [machine] workshop."

  5. 4 out of 5

    John

    I have to revisit a video of the old Hal Holbrook one man show to better appreciate it. As the book Preface says, this is about the "central drama of his mature literary life"...the "discovery of the usable past". It does not cover his early years in the south, on the river and in the west, but his "self-redefinition" starting in his thirties into Mark Twain, the humorist and writer. Its a great book about the "gilded age" and a very complicated man.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Keehr

    A biography of Sam Clemens. He was a very street smart reporter who had dreams of being fabulously wealthy, so he invested in a poorly constructed printing press which bankrupted him. He was a strange mix of brilliance and incredible naivete. 6-96

  7. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    Good literary biography of Mark Twain.

  8. 4 out of 5

    John E

    Excellent, if tiring book. Not strictly chronological, but a very intelligently written and fine biography. Well worth the time invested.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kim Zinkowski

    B. The story of the literary genius who defined post-Civil War America, a nation finding itself again. (I don't remember where I stole that sentence from!)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dan Blackley

    Biography about Mark Twain and the differences between the man and the writer.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    I enjoyed the book, however, I felt that it was almost too flourished to be a proper biography. It was more focused on Samuel Clemen's behavior, and less on what he had actually accomplished. Personally, I had never really had much information on Mark Twain, only the books that he was attributed to, long with the fact that he was born and died on Halley's Comet. As a result of this, I learned about Mark Twain's character, and Mark Twain versus Samuel Clemens. I definitely liked this unique and i I enjoyed the book, however, I felt that it was almost too flourished to be a proper biography. It was more focused on Samuel Clemen's behavior, and less on what he had actually accomplished. Personally, I had never really had much information on Mark Twain, only the books that he was attributed to, long with the fact that he was born and died on Halley's Comet. As a result of this, I learned about Mark Twain's character, and Mark Twain versus Samuel Clemens. I definitely liked this unique and intimate view of a fascinating and esoteric character. However, the downside of this was that I did not learn as much about what he actually contributed, or what else he released. Another issue that I had with this book was that there was no focus on his childhood. If this book chose to be a psychological study of Samuel Clemens, then the fact that this is lacking in his childhood makes it almost not as effective as the book could be. I believe that the childhood is almost essential to a psychological analysis of a figure. Also, the events start at a very late age of his life, where he is about prepared to adopt the name Mark Twain, and so on. This also was very bothersome, and even Kaplan's justification for the omission of these did not sway me. The writing style, although lengthy, was interesting and made it a much more interesting read than having to hear fact after fact after fact. Instead, the decorated descriptions made the read much more compelling.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain is certainly one of the most fascinating characters who ever lived in America. I give this 1966 bio only 3 stars as it skips over Clemens' youth and begins with him in his early 20s, on the brink of success. The author is making a point-that were two men, Twain and Clemens-and they were in conflict. We think of Twain, the man who had piloted steamboats on the Mississippi and who satirized society, opposing all hypocrisy and sham. but, then, there was Mr. Clemens, su Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain is certainly one of the most fascinating characters who ever lived in America. I give this 1966 bio only 3 stars as it skips over Clemens' youth and begins with him in his early 20s, on the brink of success. The author is making a point-that were two men, Twain and Clemens-and they were in conflict. We think of Twain, the man who had piloted steamboats on the Mississippi and who satirized society, opposing all hypocrisy and sham. but, then, there was Mr. Clemens, successful Literary man who built his great palace in Hartford and hobnobbed with the rich. He came to symbolize the very Gilded Age that he despised. A contradiction? Yes and a very American one. Interestingly, Clemens reached a high point in the early 1880s with his writing of HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Then, there was a downward trajectory mainly caused by the failure of his scheme supporting the Paige typesetting machine, which never worked. He sank a fortune into the monster-and it ruined him. But, by the end of his life, Mark Twain became the celebrated figure with white hair and a white suit and was known around the world. He became one of the first great world celebrities and a sage whom the press loved to interview. This is the picture we still retain of the man today.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Maher

    Very interesting examination of Twain's literary life. The biography begins when he started writing so there's nothing about his childhood in Missouri. It did a good job portraying a life lived in the tension between the Southern, non-conformist, backwoods, voice of the people and the celebrity writer who desired all that the gilded age had to offer. The book ends with the lines "To the end he remained as much an enigma and prodigy to himself as he was to the thousands at the Brick Presbyterian Very interesting examination of Twain's literary life. The biography begins when he started writing so there's nothing about his childhood in Missouri. It did a good job portraying a life lived in the tension between the Southern, non-conformist, backwoods, voice of the people and the celebrity writer who desired all that the gilded age had to offer. The book ends with the lines "To the end he remained as much an enigma and prodigy to himself as he was to the thousands at the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York who filed past the casket, topped with a single wreath of laurel, where he lay in a white suit." He was a complicated man who lived in a world of incongruity and paradox and this book communicates this well.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark Luongo

    Finally finished. It was one of the most difficult books I've ever read. It was so anecdotal and full of detail that you had to read it almost word for word. It was interesting in parts but dragged in others.I never realized what a "tormented" soul Clemens was. His critical decision making was at best suspect. The author tries to show the fine line between the real man Samuel Clemens and his alter ego, Mark Twain the humorist. The reader must decide and after plowing through a book like this I'm Finally finished. It was one of the most difficult books I've ever read. It was so anecdotal and full of detail that you had to read it almost word for word. It was interesting in parts but dragged in others.I never realized what a "tormented" soul Clemens was. His critical decision making was at best suspect. The author tries to show the fine line between the real man Samuel Clemens and his alter ego, Mark Twain the humorist. The reader must decide and after plowing through a book like this I'm not quite sure I can. My favorite part was the Grant memoirs and Twain's role in their publication.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Louis

    Written in 1966, it reads a little dry these days. I wish Kaplan had delved more into Clemens' personal demons and/or the content of his literature and its impact on Gilded Age culture and spent less time on his finances and correspondence with friends and confederates regarding same. The center of Clemens' story, in Kaplan's telling, is his obsessive and utterly doomed investment in an invention that he saw as revolutionary but was in fact outdated before it could even be perfected (which it ne Written in 1966, it reads a little dry these days. I wish Kaplan had delved more into Clemens' personal demons and/or the content of his literature and its impact on Gilded Age culture and spent less time on his finances and correspondence with friends and confederates regarding same. The center of Clemens' story, in Kaplan's telling, is his obsessive and utterly doomed investment in an invention that he saw as revolutionary but was in fact outdated before it could even be perfected (which it never was), the Paige typesetter. This emphasis, even more than the premature deaths of 3 of Clemens' 4 children, gives the book a tragic tone that sprinklings of Clemens' wit can't really alleviate.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Interesting bio in that it starts in medias res, with Twain already grown into his pseudonym and his vocation as a humorist, writing and working in San Francisco. Twain came to his vocation late, so this means that many years are skipped over. But it allows the biographer to focus more on the Twain we care about, and the one who in any event, mined his earlier years thoroughly for his stories. Still, if you were looking for a cradle-to-grave account, this ain't it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Anthony Sam

    This is a fascinating biography of the two characters invented by their author: Samuel Clemens & Mark Twain---and the Jekyll and Hyde relationship between the two. Clemens/Twain was a great humorist and at his best in some of his writings or onstage, something Hal Holbrook seems to capture well. But he was a bitter and angry man, too. If you want to read behind the personae created by Twain, this is a good and deep exploration. This is a fascinating biography of the two characters invented by their author: Samuel Clemens & Mark Twain---and the Jekyll and Hyde relationship between the two. Clemens/Twain was a great humorist and at his best in some of his writings or onstage, something Hal Holbrook seems to capture well. But he was a bitter and angry man, too. If you want to read behind the personae created by Twain, this is a good and deep exploration.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joe Rodeck

    A Mark Twain biography with most of its emphasis on the dollars and cents of his career; eg, goes on and on about his bad investment in a typesetting machine but the only thing he has to say about *Tom Sawyer* is that it didn't sell well. The writing and research level is top notch, but little to nothing about Twains's art.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Wolf

    A brilliantly written analysis of an author's life--a life that has to be closely studied to be believed. Twain was truly one of a kind--eccentric yet conformist, a southerner yet a northerner, in myriad ways a paradox of a human being. I just finished reading this book (7/3/11), and I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a greater appreciation for the art of biography.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Just finished last night. Lots of interesting details about Clemens and an interesting glimpse into that period of history in the U.S. A birthday present from Leslie--can't wait to dive into it tonight!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    If you like Twain, read this biography. It is excellent.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Decent biography; a bit more objective and far less Freudian than anything Van Wyck Brooks ever wrote.

  23. 5 out of 5

    George King

    Very Enjoyable

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chambers Stevens

    Kind of old school. There are better books out on Twain. But props to Justin Kaplan for being one of the first to tell the truth about Twain.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Chen

    Kind of a sad story. He goes bankrupt after he spends all his money on a typesetting machine. KEY LESSON: WRITERS SHOULD WRITE AND NOT GET DISTRACTED.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    The book is well researched but so ponderous and dry that I could not help feeling that it shared none of the passion that animated its subject and made him so beloved.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jim Elmquist

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Macgill

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shem

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jim French

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