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The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography
"One of the difficulties confronting a Twain biographer is the sheer volume of ink the man expended on his own doings. One needs a persuasive reason for preferring a secondhand account of an episode that is already available in the original....Kaplan's prose is something less than an unalloyed joy to read, and its faults are such that one can sometimes not be certain when, or if, he is joking." Fred Kaplan, the Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
One of our most distinguished biographers offers a bold, revisionist life of the inimitable Mark Twain.
"Kaplan's readable and sympathetic work celebrates Sam Clemens...over the celebrity figure of Mark Twain, even as he asserts their ultimate unity." Publishers Weekly
"Like Kaplan's acclaimed biographies of Carlyle, Dickens, and James, this book will enlighten specialists and delight general readers." Booklist
"No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic." Kirkus Reviews
Book News Annotation:
The fact that Samuel Langhorne Clemens came to use his pen name, Mark Twain, in his personal letters and in his personal life is significant to Kaplan (English literature, Queens College) because it demonstrates the extent to which he was a unified, singular, individual, integrating his life and his art. In Kaplan's sympathetic biography, charges of racism are countered by descriptions of the growth of Twain's progressivism (as well as his anti-imperialism), especially during his later years in virtual exile from the United States.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Includes bibliographical references (p. -699) and index.
One of our most distinguished biographers offers a bold, revisionist view of the inimitable Mark Twain.
Mark Twain invented American literature. His humor, his fearless evocation of how ordinary people live and speak, his ferocious social criticism, all make him the progenitor of a truly national literature. And his extraordinary books—including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Gilded Age, Innocents Abroad, Life on the Mississippi—were drawn from his extraordinary life. Based on original research, including access to previously unpublished correspondence, The Singular Mark Twain presents the first fully integrated portrait of this great American icon.
Few Americans, let alone American writers, lived such a large and eventful life. From his idyllic Hannibal, Missouri, childhood to his days as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi, from his wildcat-mining life in the Nevada territory to his reporting job in wide-open Barbary Coast San Francisco, Twain’s early life was one of restless adventure. He traveled the world, and his dispatches to the United States made him famous, and wealthy.
With maturity and success, Twain grew tremendously as an artist and as a social critic. Fred Kaplan shows definitively that Twain’s ferociously progressive ideas about race informed all his later works and absolve him from absurd charges of racism laid in recent years. Kaplan also details the darker side of Twain’s story—the illnesses and death that plagued his family and darkened his vision, his almost comically terrible business sense that lost him his great fortune, and his paranoid sensitivity to slights and betrayals.
No American writer is more appealing, funnier, or more universally admired than Mark Twain. The Singular Mark Twain brings him to life as never before. Like the bestselling books of H.W. Brands, David McCullough, and Edmund Morris, The Singular Mark Twain is a masterful blend of history and biography, at once erudite, eye-opening, and highly entertaining.
About the Author
FRED KAPLAN is Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City of New York. He is the author of the critically acclaimed biographies of Gore Vidal, Henry James, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Carlyle, which was nominated for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He has held Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and was a Fellow of the National Humanities Center. He lives in Boothbay, Maine.
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