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Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biographyby Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Synopses & Reviews
Ernest Hemingway called Huckleberry Finn "the best book we?ve ever had. There was nothing before. There?s been nothing as good since." Critical opinion of this book hasn?t dimmed since Hemingway uttered these words; as author Russell Banks says in these pages, Twain "makes possible an American literature which would otherwise not have been possible." He was the most famous American of his day, and remains in ours the most universally revered American writer. Here the master storytellers Geoffrey Ward, Ken Burns, and Dayton Duncan give us the first fully illustrated biography of Mark Twain, American literature?s touchstone, its funniest and most inventive figure.
This book pulls together material from a variety of published and unpublished sources. It examines not merely his justly famous novels, stories, travelogues, and lectures, but also his diaries, letters, and 275 illustrations and photographs from throughout his life. The authors take us from Samuel Langhorne Clemens?s boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri, to his time as a riverboat worker when he adopted the sobriquet "Mark Twain" to his varied careers as a newspaperman, printer, and author. They follow him from the home he built in Hartford, Connecticut, to his peripatetic travels across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. We see Twain grieve over his favorite daughter?s death, and we see him writing and noticing everything.
Twain believed that "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven." This paradox fueled his hilarity and lay at the core of this irreverent yet profoundly serious author. With essays by Russell Banks, Jocelyn Chadwick, Ron Powers, and John Boyer, as well as an interview with actor and frequent Twain portrayer Hal Holbrook, this book provides a full and rich portrayal of the first figure of American letters.
"In 1867, after successfully marketing accounts of his Mideast travels to several newspapers, Mark Twain wrote to his mother, 'Am pretty well known now. Intend to be better known.' But he could hardly have anticipated the meteoric rise that would rapidly make him America's most prominent citizen. [Now] Twain will be subjected to that conclusive proof of American significance, the Ken Burns documentary....[H]appily, [this book] stands on its own merits as a fascinating account of Twain's extraordinary career. All Burns productions center on a good story, and this is a plain, very human tale: rags, riches, and the rest....As one might expect, the Burns team has done magnificent archival detective work and unearthed a treasure trove of rare Twain photographs. This should appeal to a vast potential readership eager to learn more about this manic, profound, daft, and provocative mad genius of American culture." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"What comes after baseball, the Civil War, and jazz? Mark Twain, of course. Burns and Company are back with a four-hour PBS television series on America's favorite riverboat captain and author. The companion volume...[is] an enticing edition in its own right. It offers a sumptuous collection of photographs, reproductions of original documents, and illustrations that capture the rough-and-tumble of Twain's life and career. Scholars in the audience might turn their noses up at the crisply informal bits of biography some recreated so vividly that they seem ready for the stage but even the most curmudgeonly will be enraptured by the scores of photos. General audiences will be beguiled by yet another heaping dose of Burns et al.'s sprawling yet intimate portraiture....Russell Banks, John Boyer, Jocelyn Chadwick, Hal Holbrook, and Ron Powers also contribute to the volume; the best of this bunch is Chadwick's meditation on Twain's use of the word 'nigger' as she ponders the intersections of yesterday's racial politics, their present-day afterlife, and the ways they affect Twain's writing....A coffee-table volume that someone might actually read and enjoy. The wonders of Burns and Company never cease." Kirkus Reviews
"Celebrated documentarian Ken Burns, along with distinguished writers Geoffrey Ward and Dayton Duncan, turns his attention to the most prominent literary figure in American history. Their film tribute to Mark Twain, due to air on PBS in January 2002, is sure to appeal to the same culturally diverse cross section of fans that doted on The Civil War, Jazz, and Baseball....[T]his fascinating [companion volume] contains a treasure trove of photographs and pictures illustrating the incredible life of Samuel Clemens. Most interesting of all, the narrative successfully strives to communicate the essential tension that existed between the public Mark Twain and the private Samuel Clemens. Although the dichotomy that existed between these two radically different personas contributed to an often troubled private life, it was also largely responsible for fueling the imagination of a tremendously gifted writer, humorist, and lecturer. Worthy enough to stand on its own merits, this illuminating chronicle is sure to be in great demand by viewers of the documentary." Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
About the Author
Geoffrey C. Ward is the author of twelve books, including A First-Class Temperament, which won the 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 1990 Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians. He has written or co-written many documentary films, including The Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz.
Dayton Duncan is the author of five books, including Out West: An American Journey and Lewis & Clark (with Ken Burns). He has been a consultant on many of Ken Burns's films, including Lewis & Clark, and was also the co-writer and consulting producer of the PBS series The West.
Ken Burns, founder of Florentine Films, is a director, producer, and writer who has been making documentaries for more than twenty years. His landmark film The Civil War was the highest-rated series in the history of American public television, and his work has won numerous prizes, including the Emmy and Peabody Awards.
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