May 19, 08
Read in May, 2008
This is a deep, incisive, and insightful biography of Mark Twain, told largely through his letters, and notebooks. It does engage in remote psychoanalysis, but at least has the decency to support its conclusions with exhaustive citation. A few of the vignettes came close to brining me to tears. Twain seems to have really lived most of the great and lasting images of Antebellum, post-bellum, and Gilded Age America.
I learned a few interesting things from the book. First, that Twain was generally unhappy for most of his life, which likely accounts for his humor; that he got caught up in the waves of post-war get-rich-quick entrepreneurship, often with disastrous results; and that he was a staunch anti-imperialist whose last solid writing was a series of anti-imperial polemics. (Personally, I can recommend Twain's "War Prayer," which I originally thought was written about the Civil War, as an example of this body of work.)