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Life on the Mississippi

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  12,291 ratings  ·  722 reviews
A stirring account of America's vanished past...
The book that earned Mark Twain his first recognition as a serious writer...

Discover the magic of life on the Mississippi.

At once a romantic history of a mighty river, an autobiographical account of Mark Twain's early steamboat days, and a storehouse of humorous anecdotes and sketches, Life on the Mississippi is the raw
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 2001 by Signet Classics (first published 1883)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  12,291 ratings  ·  722 reviews

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Bill Kerwin
May 21, 2007 rated it really liked it

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,
Ahmad Sharabiani
Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain
Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War, and also a travel book, recounting his trip along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans many years after the War. The book begins with a brief history of the river as reported by Europeans and Americans, beginning with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1542. It continues with anecdotes of Twain's
Feb 20, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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
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 another pilot's nom de plume, "Mark Twain!" was a depth reading to help the pilot not to run the ship aground and so was well on his way to becoming a writer.

He reflects at one a moment whe
Roy Lotz
And, mind you, emotions are among the toughest things in the world to manufacture out of whole cloth; it is easier to manufacture seven facts than one emotion.

This is an awkward book to review, since it consists of so many, varied sections. Yet it can be neatly divided between the first third and the remaining portion. After a few brief chapters about the mighty river and its history, the beginning section focuses on Twain’s young days as a steersman aboard Mississippi River steamboats. Thes
Dec 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

I'm so very glad I read this. I've been meaning to read more by Twain for decades of course, but my move to Missouri motivated me enough to finally choose this one. I thought it might be a bit of a task, leavened by some history and some wit. It was the reverse. Lots of wit, lots of history, very accessible prose (only a few bits of slang were unfamiliar, and only a few sentences were structured in such a way that I had trouble following them), and almost no
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life on the Mississippi is like a time capsule as Twain revisits many of his earlier haunts and remarks on how the towns have changed. The book is equal parts travelogue, history, nostalgia and yarns.

I really love this book even though it was written some 130 years ago.

Twain exhibits his characteristic wit throughout the book but he is more often wistful. I feel that Twain exhibits a great intuition for when his audience might be getting bored with the subject at hand and he is able to quickly w
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
Daniel Silveyra
Jul 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
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
Nandakishore Varma
Sep 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, classic
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.
Memoir, travel, history, humor, fiction served up in deceptively folksy prose (which is in fact as sharp as it is funny) to evoke the 19th century Mississippi in all its glory and heartbreak. Admittedly there were a few too many tall tales for my taste or they went on too long, yarns not being my favorite reading, but I concede their necessity in creating the larger truth here. Evocative and endlessly gripping and droll.
Greta Nettleton
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Thom Swennes
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like the river it commemorates, this books has its long stretches, its vistas of tedium, its drowsy numbness-inducing disquisitions on the life aquatic; but every once in a while you come across a passage like this:

"The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book--a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be thrown
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
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
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
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Of the first fifteen chapters of the book, twelve are reprinted from “The Atlantic.” In the three introductory ones which precede these, the physical character of the river is sketched. The book was published in 1883. The book begins with a brief history of the river beginning with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto then on the French Marquette and La Salle.

The most engrossing section describes the author’s education as a steamboat pilot. Vivid details and anecdotes link the story of life on
Karen Chung
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Will Mego
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
I love this book. My NE Arkansan family lived and worked on the Mississippi River for generations, so the bond goes deep. I love the historical detail, the descriptions of the characters and mores of that era, the details about piloting the steamboats, everything. His tone and humor are just so engaging, even in nonfiction.
Only got three because it was Twain. Definitely not his best.
Chris Gager
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Was supposed to read this in the summer for high school. I tried ...
A book as varied, wide, deep, and muddy as the Mississippi river. The first half of Life on the Mississippi rolls with consistent engrossing adventures sprinkled with insight, humor, and power. Twain's passion and wonder for steamboating is quite a joy to share. The second half of the book has a few more eddies and dead spots, yet it still has its delightful moments. Overall, the marginalia of history -- some stretched -- of the Mississippi (and America) is worth exploring throughout this book.  ...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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