Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years
Random House, Hardcover, 9780679448006, 528pp.
Publication Date: January 26, 2010
One day in late 1906, seventy-one-year-old Mark Twain attended a meeting on copyright law at the Library of Congress. The arrival of the famous author caused the usual stir—but then Twain took off his overcoat to reveal a "snow-white" tailored suit and scandalized the room. His shocking outfit appalled and delighted his contemporaries, but far more than that, as Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Shelden shows in this wonderful new biography, Twain had brilliantly staged this act of showmanship to cement his image, and his personal legend, in the public's imagination. That afternoon in Washington, less than four years before his death, marked the beginning of a vibrant, tumultuous period in Twain's life that would shape much of the now-famous image by which he has come to be known—America's indomitable icon, the Man in White.
Although Mark Twain has long been one of our most beloved literary figures—Time magazine has declared him "our original superstar"—his final years have been largely misunderstood. Despite family tragedies, Twain's last half- decade was among the most dynamic periods in the author's life. With the spirit and vigor of a man fifty years younger, he continued to stir up trouble, perfecting his skill for living large. Writing ceaselessly and always ready with one of his legendary quips, Twain would risk his fortune, become the willing victim of a lost-at-sea hoax, and pick fights with King Leopold of Belgium and Mary Baker Eddy.
Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be published), Mark Twain: Man in White brings the legendary author's twilight years vividly to life, offering surprising insights, including an intimate, tender look at his family life. Filled with first-rate scholarship, rare and never-published Twain photos, delightful anecdotes, and memorable quotes, including numerous recovered Twainisms, this definitive biography of Twain's last years provides a remarkable portrait of the man himself and of the unforgettable era in American letters that, in many ways, he helped to create.
Michael Shelden is the author of three previous biographies, including Orwell, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He was a correspondent for The Daily Telegraph (London) and a critic for the Baltimore Sun. He is currently a professor of English at Indiana State University.
"Vivid and immersive and enormously readable, Man in White seems to me the liveliest and best work of Twain biography in recent memory."—Jon Clinch, author of Finn
"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
"Marvelous, haunting …A powerful evocation of a man full of vigor, charm, charisma, and above all humor, even in the midst of life's storms and earthquakes. Shelden weaves it all together masterfully with detective-like curiosity…a cunning critical sensibility and a deep historical and scholarly expertise… A very fine piece of biographical storytelling–and a pleasure to read."–Harold K. Bush, author of Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age
"A genuine breakthrough in Mark Twain biography. Entirely revises our thinking about Twain's final years, and does so in eloquent, moving prose that brings every scene into vivid focus."–Alan Gribben, American Literary Scholarship
"Shelden uses unpublished sources, including Twain’s journals and letters, to document the iconic author’s later years."—USA Today
"This superb biography, told in a nonacademic tone, is saturated with sadness, but every reader will be grateful that, finally, Mark Twain appears before us, warts and all. Highly recommended."—Library Journal, starred
“Impressive scholarship delivers the authentic accents of a truly American voice.”—Booklist, starred
Mark Twain remains a beloved literary figure even a century after his death, but in his new book, Mark Twain: Man In White, Michael Shelden says the author's last years were extremely tumultuous — and widely misunderstood. Shelden explores Twain's emotional struggles and triumphs, and describes the complex relationships in the years before his death. More at NPR.org
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