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Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography    by Geoffrey C. Ward, Dayton Duncan & Ken Burns order for
Mark Twain
by Geoffrey C. Ward
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

One word springs to mind here: wow. This coffee-table biography of the great storyteller is so good, so well executed, that Twain's fans won't be able to resist it. Mark Twain - or, if you prefer to use his real name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens - was born November 30, 1835, in a shack near Hannibal, Missouri. He loved billiards and cats, wasn't so fond of exercise and opera. He was a riverboat pilot, an inventor (his self-pasting scrapbook was the only one that turned a profit), a cigar smoker, a world traveler.

He wrote for newspapers, lectured around the world, and gave us some wonderful books: The Innocents Abroad, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, the list goes on and on. (He also wrote a brilliant and little-known critique of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Scientists called, appropriately enough, Christian Science. It was published in 1907, after much trouble, and reprinted recently in paperback by Prometheus Books.)

This biography is the companion to the four-hour documentary directed by Burns (The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, etc.) and written by Duncan and Ward. It is, as the saying goes, lavishly illustrated - with rare photographs, documents, letters, and whatnot - and beautifully presented. The book's only flaw is that there is too little of it: its 269 pages go by way too quickly, and we wish there were more of them. Twain's life contains enough material for a much bigger book, and, speaking as a rather rabid Twain fan, I wish the authors had kept going. But what there is, is splendid.

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