His is the most famous phiz in American literature. With the overabundant mustache and unruly head of hair, the hawk eyes and hooked nose not to mention the genteel suits and potent stogies Mark Twain mixed an unmistakable personal image with literary genius in a way that made him one of our nation's first true celebrities. Now the subject of a new book, Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography, the companion volume to the television series that airs this month on PBS, the inimitable author receives reverent treatment from Ken Burns and collaborators Geoffrey Ward and Dayton Duncan, who have worked with the filmmaker before on projects like The Civil War and The West.

Celebrating Twain as novelist, journalist, humorist, creator of literary archetypes and founder of American letters, their latest endeavor honors a man who was unafraid to critique the politics and manners of the country he adored. Indeed, as the authors show, it seems that no writer ever loved America more. Who else but the man from Missouri would liken Venice to an overflowed Arkansas town? Or compare the Great Pyramid of Cheops to Hannibal's Holliday's Hill?

From his birth as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, to his rowdy days as a bachelor-reporter, to his rise as a writer and the adaptation of his literary alter-ego, Mark Twain traces the arc of the author's personal and artistic lives, while telling the stories behind books such as Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all produced during years of success and tragedy, marriage and, of course, travel. Twain, whose itinerant tendencies surfaced early (he stowed away on a steamboat as a boy), viewed himself as a vagabond and a rover, an unregenerate rascal whom his beloved wife Livy would reform. His humility and self-effacement, as well as the enormity of his contribution to American literature, are wonderfully reflected in this tribute a book that glitters with photographic gems, including pictures of the author at work, of his splendid Hartford, Connecticut, home, and close-up shots of his handwritten manuscripts. Documents like Clemens' riverboat pilot's certificate, issued in 1859, and newspaper clippings a snippet dated February 3, 1863, from Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise contains the first appearance in print of the name Mark Twain are among the book's visual riches. The text draws on Twain's diaries and private correspondence, and offers contributions from writers Ron Powers and Russell Banks.

A novel collection
A master of satire as well as more sober-minded fiction, Twain—ever the intrepid explorer—was not afraid to test his powers in disparate literary genres. His versatility as a writer is demonstrated in the sixth volume of the Library of America's authoritative collection of his work. Mark Twain: The Gilded Age and Later Novels, edited by Twain scholar Hamlin H. Hill, includes the amusing title novel a satirical take on Washington, D.C., bigwigs and its sequel, The American Claimant; Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective; and the complete version of Twain's final book, No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, a gothic adventure set (believe it or not) in a medieval Austrian village.

New spin on Huck Finn
Readers with a hankering for the more traditional Twain can try The Annotated Huckleberry Finn, the ultimate edition of a timeless classic. With notes by best-selling author Michael Patrick Hearn, this new version of the controversial narrative, originally published in 1885, contains archival photos and drawings, including maps of Hannibal, Missouri, and the Mississippi River, circa 1845. Hearn's thorough annotations, drawn from Twain's original manuscript, his revisions and correspondence, supplement the narrative. Reproduced for this edition, the novel's original illustrations by E. W. Kemble show an impish Huck, a raggedy Pap, a dour Miss Watson distinctly American images that are almost as unforgettable as Twain's own.

 

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