A richly illustrated life of an American icon.
Former Library of Congress curator Katz (Civil War Sketch Book, 2012, etc.) has reached deeply into the library’s archives for this commemoration of the enormously popular and prolific author. Besides offering a detailed—if familiar—narrative of Twain’s work, family and personality, Katz traces social, political and economic changes from 1850, when Twain first began publishing, until his death in 1910. After a few years in newspaper work in Hannibal, Missouri, 20-year-old Samuel Clemens set out to become a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, but when the Civil War stopped river traffic, he decided to avoid the conflict by heading West. In Nevada and California, he became a miner, prospector and newspaper reporter, all while writing his own stories. His tall tale “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in 1865 under his pen name, won accolades, leading to a multicity lecture tour. A political and cultural gadfly, Twain “challenged monarchies, autocracies, plutocracies, and leaders of the civilized world to free, educate, and employ their subjects,” writes Katz. “He railed against his Christian God…for fostering ignorance and suffering, creating havoc in the lives of humankind.” He became “a cultural lightning rod” and an outspoken shaper of public opinion. Twain loved performing, but he also depended on tours for money. Notoriously bad with finances, he repeatedly made unsound investments and ended up in debt, despite his book earnings. By the time The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn appeared in 1885—generating immediate controversy—Twain had already cemented his reputation with Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), The Gilded Age (1873), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), and volumes of stories and sketches.
Written with verve, Katz’s history is distinguished from a trove of Twain biographies by its 300 illustrations, including photographs, cartoons and artwork, drawn from the LOC’s inestimable collection.