Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Excerpt from Michael Dirda's review of new Mark Twain biography, American Vandal


Washington Post
"If you’re a scholar of Mark Twain, there’s probably nothing terribly new in “American Vandal.” But for the rest of us, Morris is a first-rate tour guide. He knows his subject, cites other authorities with respect and presents a good deal of information with easygoing, professional smoothness. His entertaining and — despite its title — eminently civilized book is just slightly marred by an occasional typo or mistake (e.g., it’s Sir Edward Grey, not Gray, who said at the outbreak of World War I that the lamps, not the lights, are going out all over Europe). I found it particularly pleasing to learn that Twain, who knew Civil War veterans Ulysses S. Grant and Ambrose Bierce, also met Lewis Carroll and shook hands with Sigmund Freud. He was even introduced to such lesser folk as Czar Alexander II, Kaiser Wilhelm II and King Edward VII.
As readers of Twain’s “Great Dark” writings know, his later years were heartbreaking. At the end of his world tour, his eldest daughter Susy died suddenly of spinal meningitis. In 1904 his beloved wife, Olivia, succumbed to heart disease. In 1909, his youngest daughter, who suffered from epilepsy, drowned in a bathtub at age 29. “How poor I am,” he wrote, “who was once so rich!”"

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