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Life on the Mississippi

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  10,273 Ratings  ·  568 Reviews
Life on the Mississippi is a memoir by Mark Twain detailing his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before & after the American Civil War. The book begins with a brief history of the river from its discovery by Hernando de Soto in 1541. It continues with anecdotes about training as a steamboat pilot, as the 'cub' of an experienced pilot. He describes, wi ...more
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 1883)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Bill  Kerwin
May 21, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I first read this book fifty years ago when I was in high school, and I recalled Twain's account of his days as a Mississippi steamboat pilot's apprentice as a work of great humor and style with quintessentially American themes, equal in power to Huckleberry Finn. A recent re-reading has left me both gratified and disappointed: gratified because Twain's history and description of the ever-changing Mississippi and his account of his life as a young river pilot are just good as I remembered them,
...more
Lyn
Feb 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain was first published in 1883 and describes his apprenticeship and success as a Mississippi River pilot and then returning to the river more than twenty years later. At its heart this is a travel book, but really more than that this is a portrait of America in the 19th century. Told with Twain’s inimitable wit and charm, this contains histrionic and speculative facts, half-truths, wild exaggerations and tall tales. Written by anyone else, this would have been ...more
Teresa
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So often my reading seems to unintentionally reflect upon itself. I’ve been doing a very slow read of the Michael Slater biography of Dickens and had finished the account of his first American tour when I started this after a friend asked me to read it with her. Almost immediately I encountered a mention of Dickens and then references to two earlier British travel writers, Captain Marryat and Captain Basil Hall. Dickens read the works of the two captains in preparation for his own trip to the U. ...more
Jan-Maat
Back in the day before pesky child labour laws stole the liberty of a hard dreaming child to go forth and make their way in the world, running the risk of boiler explosions, sinking paddle-steamers, and night time collisions. Young Samuel Clemens worked his way up to the dizzying heights of river pilot, stole someone else's nom de plume and so was well on his way to becoming a writer.

He reflects at one a moment when a traveller looks out over the Mississippi at night and drinks in the romance of
...more
Aaron
Dec 20, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Twain on the river as a kid. Twain back on the river again as a sneaky pete writer. I wanted to like this book, which is why, I suppose, I hung in for 350-odd pages before setting it aside. The book is entertaining intermittantly and occasionally sharp and funny but it meanders. I should probably have my keyboard revoked for using the word 'meander' in a review about a book about a river, but clearly I can't help myself. Seriously, tho, Twain needed an editor with a heavy hand for this one.
Christopher
What I wish: Oh!, to live my life as a steamboat captain on the Mississippi in the nineteenth century of the year of our Lord!

How I'm living: Alas!, to have been born in Kentucky in the 1980s!

WIW: To float down the Mississippi, smoking a corn cob pipe, piratical, unruly, and barbarous!

HIL: Sitting at a desk, cultivating carpal tunnel as a professional button pusher and microwaving leftovers for lunch.

WIW: To take my turn at the helm, dodging rocks and aiming for smaller crafts, yelling out "qua
...more
Nandakishore Varma
I have a love-hate relationship with this book. When I read it originally in my schooldays, I couldn't digest half of it. When I read it subsequently as an adult, I loved the steamboat experience but hated the patently untruthful yarns and the rather long-winded expositions. I will rate Mark Twain's fiction above his factual prose anytime.
Ahmad Sharabiani
عنوان: زندگی بر روی می سی سی پی؛ مترجم: ابوالقاسم حالت؛
Hadrian
Mark Twain enjoys the distinction of being one of the wittiest and most charming of American authors, and this book is one of his best, perhaps up there with Huck Finn and Roughing It.

It starts off with history, then meanders through biography, anecdotal stories of his youth and travels on the Mississippi, descriptions of steamboats and the countryside, the Civil War, New Orleans, cemeteries, Mardi Gras, and all in between. If I may make a bold and yet now-hackneyed comparison, this book IS the
...more
Greta Nettleton
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another book I've read over and over--It's free on Kindle in the old edition, which is fun to read because of its authentic touches. America's 1880s are my current decade of choice, having spent years mired in research about the period, and Life on the Mississippi captures the rapid change in this country that took place after the Civil War, as it changed from a land of bucolic wilderness filled with independent workingmen to one of safer, duller regulated organized industrialization and automat ...more
Thom Swennes
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starting with a humorous and informative history of the river, Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain continues to describe piloting that waterway. In the same home-down style established by all of his more well known works, Twain paints a brightly-colored portrait of that long river with all its twists, turns, rapids, shallows and landmarks. The book traces river travel from the time that the river pilot was almost a god to their downfall with the building of levees, dykes and the placing of lig ...more
Daniel Silveyra
I didn't finish this book - I stopped around page 220 in my edition.

As much as I love Mark Twain, and as much as he can write...the book is about a river. The first few chapters are about Twain's days as an apprentice steamboat pilot, and they are interesting and fun to to read.

After them, however, begin a series of chapters regarding how the towns on the Mississippi have changed, what European travelers of old said of them, what the different prices of shipping through rail or train were, and
...more
Katy Harris
Jun 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wonderful
This book sparked my love for the Mississipi River a few years back. As a person whose eyes glaze over when someone talks about science, Twain's very detailed description of geological aspects of the Mississippi River was surprisingly fascinating. His stories about the people on the steamboats of the river are hilarious, and there is a great appendix of a few beautiful Native American stories that I will never forget. I also love the historical bend to the book, but I love so many things...
One l
...more
KOMET
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By turns, this book served as a travelogue, a history of the Mississippi, and as a source for Twain's reminiscences of his life as a steamboat pilot on the same river in the antebellum era. Of all these functions, I enjoyed most reading about Twain's return to the Mississippi in the early 1880s and his younger days working on steamboats from Cairo, Illinois to New Orleans. Only the latter part of the Appendix I felt was a little superfluous and out-of-place. It pains me to say that as a Mark Twa ...more
Ryan Lawson
I love Mark Twain, I really do. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as well as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are just classic. He was a satirist (a brilliant one at that). He was a story-teller. He was so good at being a satirical orator that he made a living of it! He travelled the world. He was a celebrity if there ever was one.

Maybe it was because I read his fiction first, maybe it was because I idolized him, but good god this was a hard book to get through for me. This wasn't his first book. I
...more
Kevin
Mar 18, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, this has been on my To Read list for a while, and a recent perusal of my bookshelves turned it up so i picked it up. Having spent a fair amount of time in Missouri, i'm glad i read it. The book is a conglomeration of different pieces, patched together into a volume containing much information related to the Mississippi River from the perspective of the famous author Mark Twain. I enjoyed his insight into the skills and knowledge required of the steamboat pilot, an occupation he had earlier ...more
Karen Chung
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anybody who enjoys Mark Twain or who has a serious interest in American literature.
This is my favorite Twain work so far. I find with Twain that the more he is telling the truth, the more I like a work. I'm just not as crazy about his outlandish fictional concoctions.

This book has helped me make better sense of Twain's frequent unflinching treatment of death. This was certainly the result of years of brooding over certain experiences of his early life, as revealed in many passages in this book. The final chapters confirm that Tom Sawyer is indeed to a great extent autobiograph
...more
Melanti
Not a big fan.

The first 40% or so is a memoir of Twain's personal experience on the river when he was 20-25 years old.

This part, is good, and I'd recommend it. Not as much as his Huck Fin, but it's still worth reading.

The rest is his travel notes from when he returns to the river decades later and is comparing the differences to the river he remembers from his younger days.

A lot of that travelouge is fairly dry. However, it's interpsersed with a handful of tall tales and fun witticisms that are
...more
Will
Dec 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The parts I enjoyed, I enjoyed greatly. The parts I did not, I very much did not. My only criticism of this book is it's amazing propensity to ramble. Where Twain rambles into a story, it's captivating. Where he rambles to describe some endless feature of a forgotten passage of the great river, not so much. He keeps the reader from ever really sinking into the narration, from ever finally succumbing to the great man's storytelling, but like continually waking someone on the verge of slumber, eve ...more
Rebekah
Only got three because it was Twain. Definitely not his best.
Chana
Mostly I really enjoyed this book which is a combination of autobiography, history and tall tales. I love reading about the early steamboat days on the Mississippi. What an amazing and challenging job it must have been to pilot one of these boats before all the "improvements" to the river such as making cuts to make it shorter and electric lights to see where one is going. Well I suppose they were improvements in the sense of bringing the river and boating into the modern age and making it a who ...more
Katrice
It took me a long time to finish this book. It's not necessary a commentary on Mr. Twain's writing but more two personal problems.

First, it's very technical. Twain goes into detail as to how piloting a steamboat actually works. On one hand, fascinating. But on the other hand. . . eyes glaze over and am not sure I really took anything away from the paragraph I just read other then, steamboat piloting a elaborate and elegant art.

It's probably a testament to Twain's prose, and a big part of the re
...more
Tyler Jones
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like the river it describes, this book is long and meandering, possesses a great deal of nostalgic charm and is capable of sudden bursts of violence. The first few chapters tell a highly opinionated version of the history of the rivers discovery (by the Europeans anyway), then it quickly changes into a personal reminiscence of Twain's years as a cub-pilot, then full fledged pilot. Midway through the book there is a leap of some thirty years, and Twain, now the famous author, returns a to the riv ...more
Krystina D.
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors: he gave birth to my favorite little town of St. Petersburg and fueled my appreciation for a genre I thought I'd never like: historical fiction. That was what drove me to read "Life on the Mississippi" (as well as a good friend's recommendation). It's easy to see from the bits and pieces he writes down what he drew from in his fictions. I found myself laughing more than once just at the way he describes things like the way someone says something or the ex ...more
Jennifer Walker
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. It gives a fascinating look at life in the mid-late 19th Century via Twain's memories and musings. The book takes you on a journey from his days as a youth apprenticed to a pilot on a steamboat to latter years when he revisits the sites of his youth. It is educational, yet exciting, sentimental, yet droll. A worthy addition to your bookshelf!
Leslie
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grover Gardner did an excellent job narrating this memoir. However there were a few section that I just couldn't focus on in audio and had to read in my Kindle edition (the section about Vicksburg, for example).
Mary
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for the rollicking picaresque of something like Huckleberry Finn, you may be disappointed. But if you're looking to take a slow journey into Twain's past, and into the history of his beloved river, then you'll probably enjoy this tremendously (I did.)
Arlomisty
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great, not well known Mark Twain book.... he details his early life as a steamboat apprentice pilot... then, the book breaks up about halfway and fast forwards to when he is about 80 years old and goes up the Mississippi again remembering how things used to be... a very pleasant, enjoyable read.
Michelle Sibley
I really struggled with this, it's a long wordy book that is basically about a river and nothing apart from the river. It's a very detailed account of said river and wasn't what I was expecting at all, it is however another classic off the list!
wally
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: twain
I've read a number of Twain's stories...thought I saw something about "non-fiction" for this one, but this is Twain...so....

Starts out with this sub-title:

Life on the Mississippi
By MARK TWAIN
THE 'BODY OF THE NATION'


Begins;
But the basin of the Mississippi is the BODY OF THE NATION. All the other parts are but members, important in themselves, yet more important in their relations to this. Exclusive of the Lake basin and of 300,000 square miles in Texas and New Mexico, which in many aspects form
...more
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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), called "the Great American Novel", and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later provide the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He apprenticed with a printer. He also work
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“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” 318 likes
“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” 48 likes
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