Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Shelden illuminates Mark Twain’s twilight years in this brilliant account of the legendary author’s life. Drawing heavily on Twain’s own letters and journals, Mark Twain: Man in White recounts both Twain’s private family experiences and his larger-than-life public image.
©2010 Michael Shelden (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
"Here is a well-researched book for all Twainiacs as well as those coming to the subject's late years for the first time." (Publishers Weekly)
"[Twain's] wit ultimately reflects personal resilience in the face of financial reverses and family tragedy. Even on his deathbed, Twain rallies to bid farewell with wisecracks. Impressive scholarship delivers the authentic accents of a truly American voice." (Booklist)
Shelden's book about the last period of Mark Twain's life is one of the best books about Twain I've ever read. Incidents that are often reduced to summary sentences (like the burglary of Twain's home Stormfield) are here given full (and exciting) narrative treatment. The people surrounding Twain, usually treated as second-class citizens or even footnotes, emerge as living people: his surviving daughters, Clara and Jean; his secretary Isabel Lyon; his financial champion Henry Rogers; even the two men who break into Stormfield, only to flee in a hail of gunfire. (They were later caught and tried, and Twain testified at the trial.)
Shelden goes to great lengths to counter the image of Twain as a bitter and isolated old man. This was no King Lear, raging at the gods in broken grandeur. Yes, there were dark moments in Twain's writing, and they grew darker as he grew older, and Shelden takes it into account; but he also traces Twain's movements and interactions in great detail: and Twain was a man who, to the end of his life, was ALWAYS moving and interacting. Shelden also gains perspective by comparing some of these darker writings to similar attitudes expressed throughout Twain's life. The contrast isn't so much between Twain the young and happy humorist and Twain the old and bitter philosopher; it's between Twain the life-long bitter philosopher and Twain the convivial host, cat-lover, and incorrigible practical joker.
Andrew Garman's narration is excellent. I highly recommend the book.
My only regret is that one of the loveliest images in the published book didn't, and couldn't, make it into the audiobook. The book includes a photograph of Twain on Rogers' yacht -- he actually did a fair amount of sailing with Rogers in those last years -- teeth clamped down on a cigar, bowler hat on head, grinning like a monkey. Some misanthrope.
The book is well researched and beautifully written. The author has a deep understanding and appreciation of Twain. The story arc is a sad but rich one--the older Twain facing the prospect of his own death and trying to live out his remaining days as fully as he can. Twain's exuberance and irrepressible wit crash continually against the realities of illness, betrayals of trust, the death of friends, and the struggles of children. There is a great sense of humanity in the book that I found interesting and enriching, in addition to the insight it offers into the life of one America's most interesting men. The narration was close to perfect.
Michael Shelden in "Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years" has made a welcome addition to what I label the "sunset years genre." In this book, Sheldon follows Mark Twain in his last few years of life allowing the reader to catch a glimpse of how a great man and author spent his last days on earth. The first half of the book digresses a few times relating stories of individuals who had a tangential entrrance into Twain's life, but those are also interesting. Most interesting is the second half which relates how Twain was cheated by trusted associates and family difficulties which he faced. The final chapters detailing his angina and final death are touching. Another book which relates the last years of an individual is David Eisenhower's memoir "Going Home to Glory" about his grandfather's post presidential years and his death. This book is also available from Audible and well worth the reader's time. Andrew Garman does an outstanding job reading "Mark Twain: Man in White."
This is an excellent book on the later years of Mark Twain's life. The anecdotes and tracking of Twain's later years inspired in me a new appreciation for the man and his brand of comedy. It created in interest in his stories that I did not previously have. The story is well read by Mr. Garman and he does not make a mockery of Twain nor of the book. Worth the listen to writers and fans of Mark Twain's work.
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