16 May 2012

Mark Twain: Man in White; Michael Sheldon

Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final YearsMark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years by Michael Shelden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is about the last few years of Twain's life (the author consistently uses "Mark Twain", even when others might have called him "Samuel Clemmens" - for example, the New York Times).  He's coming out of his grieving for his daughter Susy and making his presence known as "The Man in White", setting up the persona we'll remember after he's gone.  Wit intact, finances restored, Twain is thinking about posterity and leaving his estate intact for his remaining daughters.

His concerns about copyright are interesting (he believed in perpetual copyright, which would have prevented The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead from being written), but his family wouldn't have benefited for very long, as none of his heirs lived past the mid-1960s.  As a business man he was a failure, allowing himself to be manipulated by his employees and investing in flawed companies and ideas.  This isn't the image of the Twain we think we know, is it?

As biographies go, this one is well written, allowing the personality of the biographee to come through while pointing out the flaws (Twain could be a bit petty).  If you want to know about Twain, however, this might not be the book for you as it only covers 1906-1910.

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