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Life on the Mississippi

By Mark Twain (0)

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Piloting a steamboat on the Mississippi in the 1860s afforded Samuel Clemens the legendary pen name, Mark Twain. Like many boys of his time and place, the child from Hannibal, Missouri, longed to join the world of men fleeing routine for adventure. A fascinating memoir of America before the Civil War, Life on the Mississippi offers an introduction to the river’s rich history, and a colorful account of the author’s years among the swaggering sailors, waterfront gamblers, and thieves, as he learns to master the great river. The river is not only a place of adventure, but of tragedy, with steamboat explosions claiming many lives. The second section of the autobiography describes Twain’s later journey, by steamboat, from St. Louis to New Orleans. He writes with characteristic humor and insight about Americans in transition from farms and small towns, to the bustling cities that sprang up in the age of industrialism. A sharp critic of materialism and shoddy values, Twain both admired and condemned the new age, and his writing here has considerable humor and clear-sightedness.