June 15, 2012
Mark Twain: A Life. Ron Powers. New York: Free Press, 2005.
Any curious reader wanting a capsule biography of Mark Twain should probably steer clear of this voluminous entry on the famous writer's life and work. If, however, you are attempting to get a more thorough look at the man-then this might be the book for you.
Ron Powers' book, Mark Twain: A Life is an exhaustive look at one of this country's most famous and noteworthy authors. Twain, of course, was more than an author. He lived such an exciting and extravagant life that his fame nearly eclipsed the popular book he is most remembered for: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Powers demonstrates that Twain embodied America during the tumultuous latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries and feels strongly that Twain asserted in both literature and life his confidence in New World progress over Old World conservatism.
As a young man, Twain worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River and experienced the Wild West of the Nevada Territory as a miner, land prospector, and newspaperman. Later he married into wealth and associated with the upper class Gilded Age people--until his money ran out--and toured the world, meeting with the famous and powerful at every stop. He was, as Powers puts it, "the nation's first rock star."
But Twain was more than just a writer and Powers strives to cover all sides of this complex man. He explores Twain's personal relationships, temperament, religious skepticism, and psychology as closely as his written work. He discusses Twain's zeal for life along with his chronic insecurity, and delves into both his eternal optimism and spells of despair. Powers is a talented writer and does an expert job at covering this American legend. His book vividly and thoroughly explains why Twain was "the representative figure of his nation and his century."