Monday, December 5, 2011

Mark Twain: Man in white — The grand adventure of his final years

By Michael Shelden

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

If your desire is to spend time with an entertaining book, written by a gifted writer, about an American icon, that is not only engaging and insightful but well-researched and thorough, enhanced by black-and-white photographs throughout, this would be a superb choice.  There are 35 pages of notes in addition to seven pages of “Sources and Bibliography” (all typed in a small font).  There are 417 pages of text, and you wish there were more.  The author uses many of Twain’s own journals and letters to offer readers numerous, previously unpublished, fresh insights into Twain’s final four years.

Shelden, using eloquent vibrant prose, provides an engaging, readable, entertaining, and moving narrative.  He, by using vivid and thorough evidence, persuasively proves his claim that Twain was more alive during his final years than at any other time of his life.

When you complete this book you will fully realize that Twain was a lively, engaged, very funny man of enormous talent, surprising wit, and astonishing energy.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in their review of the book, wrote: “The definitive work on this controversial period. . . . Shelden's engagingly written, admirably balanced and thoroughly documented biography is as convincing as it is entertaining."

In your choice of this book, you will not be disappointed.  I gave it to my father-in-law, Edgar E. Willis, to read.  Willis is the author of two recent books: Civilian in an Ill-fitting Uniform: A Memoir of World War II, and a second book, How to be Funny on Purpose: Creating and Consuming Humor.  In the latter book, Willis makes 18 references to Mark Twain and offers readers one of my favorite Twain quotes: “The difference between the nearly right word and the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug” (p. 251).  A quotation like this one by Twain, however, is dwarfed by the hundreds of witty sayings and remarks by Twain in Shelden’s book.

Willis was so moved by Shelden’s book he wrote a personal letter to him.  He ended his letter by saying, “In closing, let me say again that reading your book provided me with a wonderfully enriching experience.”  It could not be said more accurately or succinctly.  

This book is available at Mark Twain: Man in white — The grand adventure of his final years

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