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Life on the Mississippi

March 14th, 2011

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out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

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  1. L. Verduyn
    March 15th, 2011 at 16:41 | #1


    My first copy of this absorbing work was a small, compact edition published by the Oxford University Press. I read it by candle-light and found myself borne into another world, transported. In the early chapters, Twain focuses on his introduction to steamboating – he wears his YOUTH on his sleeve, recounting his cub-piloting experiences with the delight of a child. In the latter chapters, set in the post Civil-War era, Twain focuses on his returning impressions – he wears his HEART on his sleeve, remembering the world of his youth, burdened by sweet nostalgia, and a sense of finality and loss. If you have ever been young, you will laugh, and if you have a heart, you will probably shed a tear. No other writer in American literature has so completely combined a genius for wit and humanity. This is one of those rare books that can be read more than once, and enjoyed even more the second time.

  2. Michael Delaware
    March 16th, 2011 at 13:58 | #2


    Life on the Mississippi is by far one of the most wonderful books ever written about the post Civil War era in America. Mark Twain takes the reader on a melancholy look at this period of time in history as you journey into the Mississippi of his youth, adulthood, and the people and the communities he knew so well. He conveys a miraculous picture of this lively river giving it the grandeur and prominence it deserves. He defines the river very much like a living organism with a power and personality all its own. As the book unfolds, he begins in his days when he grew up along the river and became a steam boat pilot, ending that career with the advent of the Civil War. Later he returns to the river after some twenty years and takes a journey as a writer from around St. Louis to New Orleans and back up the river into what is present day Minnesota. You learn about the different cultures along the river, its tributaries, as well as the remarkable people who become part of the forgotten history of our nation. Twain’s anecdotes are sheer brilliance, and he has an incredible way of choosing just the right story to illustrate a particular point transporting the reader back into time as if it was the present day and you are standing beside Twain observing what he is seeing. His reflections of his times along the river and his descriptions of the people and places make this a true masterpiece of literature and I highly recommend it. I found myself only able to read short portions at a time, as I personally found the sheer beauty of the entire book was a work to be savored and digested rather than rapidly consumed as you would with any other book. As I poured through the book, I felt often as if I was traveling with Mark Twain as a companion along his charming and magnificent journey during a wonderful period of history.

  3. M. Allen Greenbaum
    March 17th, 2011 at 10:49 | #3


    This book–at times disjointed, rambling, self-referential, and irreverent–is decades ahead of its time. It’s an interdisciplinarian’s dream as Twain takes on economics, geography, politics, ancient and contemporary history, and folklore with equal ease. Mostly though, one appreciates his knack for exaggeration, the tall tale, and the outright lie. It’s a triumph of tone, as he lets you in on his wild wit, his keen observation, and his penchant for bending the truth without losing his credibility as a guide.

    The book’s structure is also modern: He recounts his days as a paddlewheel steam boat “cub,” piloting the hundreds of miles of the Mississippi before the Civil War, then, in Part 2, returns to retrace his paddleboat route. Although a few of his many digressions don’t work (they sometimes sound formulaic or too detailed) most of the narrative is extremely entertaining. Twain seems caught between admiration and disdain for the “modern” age-but he also rejects over-sentimentality over the past. He writes with beauty and cynicism, verve and humor. Very highly recommended!

  4. T. W. Fuller
    March 18th, 2011 at 13:29 | #4


    “Life On the Mississippi” is Mark Twain’s tribute to the Mississippi River, which surrounded the earlier part of his life. Mark Twain had been in awe of the river for many years; and inspired him to become a river boat pilot – explained in length in this book; much of which is quite humorous, while other parts are heartbreaking, including that of the horrible death of his brother, Henry.

    One of the main complaints about this book that some people have is that is uses too many facts and figures, which tends to bog the reader down. This is true. Yet, the avid reader, and Mark Twain enthusiast, will not bypass these chapters. We will revel in them, and read them with inspired intent; simply because the Mississippi River has been such an integral part of Mark Twain’s life, that the more we get to know about the river, the more we get to know about the real Mark Twain.

    “Life on the Mississippi” is a work of nonfiction; perhaps Twain’s truest account of historical fact concerning his life. For those who are just getting interested in knowing about Mark Twain’s writings, I would recommend reading “Roughing It”; as it is humurous throughout. “Life on the Mississippi” would be the second book I would recommend.

  5. S. G. Fortosis
    March 19th, 2011 at 04:58 | #5


    To me, this book seemed like several rather disjointed chunks of writing about Twain’s Mississippi experience. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he compiled all his scraps of material about this period and threw them together, not bothering with transitions or filling in gaps, or smoothing out the narrative flow.

    In any case, I found the writing delightful and in places laugh-aloud funny. I even typed out several large passages in a letter I was writing to my brother. The letter must have taken me an hour to write but I just had to share those passages with someone. That’s how good Twain is. You want to share him with others who enjoy fine writing.

    I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this is Twain’s finest book. But it is well worth reading and it lays out in detail perhaps the cross section of Twain’s life that he enjoyed most.

  6. nto62
    March 19th, 2011 at 11:50 | #6


    In Life on the Mississippi, Twain recounts his river experiences from boyhood to riverboat captain and beyond. Encompassing the years surrounding the Civil War, this book is an excellent source of 19th-century Americana as well as an anthology of the mighty river itself. Replete with rascally rivermen, riparian hazards, deluge, catastrophe, and charm, Life on the Mississippi is another of Twain’s stellar literary achievements.

    Wit and wisdom are expected from Twain and this book does not disappoint. It is equally valuable for it’s period descriptions of the larger river cities (New Orleans, St. Louis, St. Paul), as well as the small town people and places ranging the length of America’s imposing central watershed.

    The advent of railroads signalled the end of the Mississipi’s grand age of riverboat traffic, but, never fear, Life on the Mississippi brings it back for the reader as only Samuel Clemens can. Highly recommended.

  7. Margaret Fiore
    March 20th, 2011 at 20:27 | #7


    Mark Twain, the most globally recognised of the greatest American writers, comes closest to autobiography in this odd and fascinating book. This is the story of part of his life at least, and lays out much of his unique moral and political philosophy.

    As a book, Life on the Mississippi lacks a truly coherent story line after the half-way point; it tells the story of Twain’s training as a Mississippi steamboat pilot, then, when he returns to the river years later as a successful writer, it drops off into anecdotes as Twain travels down the great river, and can be a deadly bore for some readers.

    But, oh, what a picture of Twain it draws! There are great tales of characters he meets along the river, told in his inimitably funny style, wonderful bits of his childhood – like the tale of his insomniac guilt and terror when the match he loans a drunk ends up causing the jail to burn down, killing the drunk – and insightful portraits of the towns and villages along the river.

    This is a characteristically American book, about progress and independence as well as the greatest American river, written by this most characteristically American writer. It is a true classic (a thing Twain despised! He said, “Classics are books that everybody praises, but nobody reads.”), a book that will remain a delight for the foreseeable future.

  8. R. Martin
    March 23rd, 2011 at 21:32 | #8


    I’ve been reading a lot of classic literature recently, and I also recently saw the Mississippi River for the first time…so this book seemed liked the perfect one for me to read right now.

    This is a “non-fictional” book by Mark Twain. (I guess that means based on some truth but embelished in various ways?) In it he recalls the years he spent during his youth as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Then he suddenly jumps forward many years in the book to when he is an older man. As an older man, he decides to go back and travel on the Mississippi River again. He finds the river much changed. The course of time (the Civil War has come and gone, the expansion of the railroad, and the forces of nature) have greatly changed life on the river. The once thriving steamboat trade has almost disapeared.

    Besides his personal recollections, he also includes other interesting stories,history,folklore, talltales, and such. It is written in typical Mark Twain style – his dry sense of humor will bring a smile to your face. I really enjoyed this book.

  9. JBOLAND1@aol.com
    March 24th, 2011 at 10:45 | #9


    He picks you up off the spot where you are sitting and places you standing on the deck of a Mississippi riverboat in pre-Civil War America. His writing craft is so vivid, detailed, and compelling that you feel as if you yourself have followed each bend and turn, avoided each logjam, and squinted over the bow each starlit night of a journey down the mighty Mississippi River. Additionally, he adds context to the voyage, in the form of digressions about the times, the way peole thought and acted, real items from newspapers of the era, and his own opinions and observations of human nature. It is not a novel. It is non-fiction, but it’s writing style makes it as readable as a novel. It was pure pleasure

  10. Curtis Lane
    March 24th, 2011 at 16:09 | #10


    The best work by Twain I’ve read to date. This combination history, memoir, travelogue, and collection of sketches is both humorous and entertaining. I have also learned a great deal about Twain, his time, and the history of steamboating and the Mississippi. Written later in his life, this work is mature in style as well as content in spite of its loose organization and focus. Highly recommended.

  11. Bomojaz
    March 25th, 2011 at 06:47 | #11


    This is the book that Mark Twain himself thought to be his greatest. It is basically a memoir in two parts of his life spent on the river with historical sketches, statistics, and other matters thrown in.

    The first part of the book tells of Twain’s early years as a riverboat pilot. He talks about being a cub pilot, about learning about the intricacies of the river and the difficulties of navigating it, and about his mentor Horace Bixby. Twain’s love of the river and his pride in “mastering” it are made obvious in these chapters.

    The second part recounts Twain’s return to the river in 1882, mainly to “see it again” in preparation of writing this book. Starting in St. Louis, he first goes south through Baton Rouge to New Orleans. He spends a bit of time there and describes life as he sees it in the city (there’s a funny chapter regarding the above-ground cemeteries and an argument about cremation). Then he heads north on the steamboat City of Baton Rouge, piloted by his old mentor Horace Bixby. He stops off in Hannibal for three days, just enough time to see how much the town and some old acquaintances have changed, and then continues all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota.

    Twain’s humor, as he recounts conversations with people, sights seen, reminiscences dredged up, and a myriad of other matters that fill the book, is always evident. It’s one of the great books on the mighty river, and whether you are a lover of the works of Mark Twain or interested in the Mississippi River during the time period just before and after the Civil War, you will enjoy this book.

  12. StoryReader
    March 25th, 2011 at 09:51 | #12


    I found this to likely be the most interesting book I have ever read. The attention to detail and description place you within the story. This book is actually, I believe, an autobiography of Mark Twain’s (Samuel Clemmons) life as a young man piloting steamboats up and down the Mississippi River.

    Whether the man, Mark Twain, interests you or not, Life on the Mississippi, is an eye opening look at America in an earlier era.

    In my (humble) opinion this is Mark Twain’s best work.

  13. Kiwi
    March 26th, 2011 at 11:56 | #13


    When you do the “Look Inside” thing, you’ll read “This view is of the Mass Market Paperback edition (1983) from Bantam Classics. The Paperback edition (2010) from General Books LLC that you originally viewed is the one you’ll receive if you click the Add to Cart button at left.” And that’s correct. The General Books LLC version is a completely different book. To wit….

    General Books LLC puts together books using an OCR automated scanning device which can miss complete pages. There are many many Typos and no table of contents. There books receive NO EDITING of any kind, also, the OCR scanning is done by a robot (which the publishers website outright says can miss pages). This is all stated on the publishers web site (google them and read for yourself to get all the details). Almost every review of books published by General Books LLC (around 500,000 of them from one imprint or another now listed on Amazon) by buyers is negative, many are extremely so.

    As the General Books LLC version has reviews of other publishers versions associated with it, you need to be very careful to make sure you’ve bought a decent version. If you have bought the version from General Books LLC by mistake, you can return to Amazon within 30 days(but check Amazon’s Return Policy for the details).

  14. Corinne H. Smith
    March 27th, 2011 at 19:38 | #14


    Let me guess: your total exposure to Mark Twain came in high school, when you were forced to read about the antics of Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, right? Well, now that you’ve reached adulthood, you should make time to read _Life on the Mississippi_. It’s mandatory reading if you live in a state that borders the great river, anywhere from Minnesota down to Louisiana. It’s mandatory reading if you have come to that point in life when you can suddenly appreciate American history and post-Civil War stories written by someone who lived through that time.

    Writing in the first half of the 1870s, Twain retraces the steps of his youth: the watery highway he knew when he trained to be a riverboat pilot nearly 20 years earlier. He speaks of how life _was_ along the river, and what life _became_. It’s almost a “you can’t go home again” experience for him, while the reader gets the benefit of discovering both time periods.

    I have two favorite parts that I share with others. Chapter IX includes a wonderful dissertation about how learning the navigational intricacies of the river caused Twain to lose the ability to see its natural beauty. And Chapter XLV includes an assessment of how the people of the North and the South reacted differently to the war experience. If I were a social studies teacher, I’d use that last passage in a unit on the reconstruction period. So put this title on your vacation reading list, and don’t fret: the chapters are short and are many — 60! — but you can stop at any time, and the words go by fast. _Life on the Mississippi_ should make you forget all about any Twain trauma and report-writing you may have suffered as a teenager. [This reviewer was an Illinois resident when these comments were written.]

  15. D. Cloyce Smith
    March 29th, 2011 at 04:43 | #15


    Twain’s account of his years on the Mississippi is part travel book, part memoir, and part historical work, with a few sketches, stories, and tall tales tossed in for good measure. There is even an outtake from the not-yet-published “Huckleberry Finn,” along with extensive excerpts from historical and contemporary accounts by other authors. This smorgasbord of material makes for an uneven book, but much of it shows Mark Twain at his humorous and humanistic best.

    The kernel of the volume (and its best, most cohesive section) is in chapters 4 through 17; this material appeared in the Atlantic magazine in 1875 and recalls his early life as a crew member on steamboats in the early 1850s. His adventures as a young man are fraught with danger, full of comedy, populated by a number of ornery, mischievous, and reckless characters, and occasionally embellished (although Twain is a bit obvious when he’s fobbing off a yarn). As Twain later wrote in “Puddn’head Wilson, “if there was anything better in this world than steamboating, it was the glory to be got by telling about it.”

    After he published the series in the Atlantic, Twain added another 46 chapters; much of it an account of his homecoming (incognito–or so he’d hoped) to the Mississippi River in 1882, when the steamboat had been rendered obsolete by the railroad. Many of these descriptions are unusually (for Twain) melancholy; he remarks upon the relatively emptiness of the river traffic and notes the transformations to the river and its banks that had made steamboat travel safer but less adventurous. His new journey provides opportunities to relate a number of stories–some allegedly told to him on the river and a few unpublished tales that he deemed relevant and worthy of inclusion.

    The material from other sources, unfortunately, tends to bog things down–and there are about 10,000 words of it commingled in the text and included as appendices. Twain gathered newspaper articles and historical documents; he also included travel writing from earlier visitors, primarily Europeans distracted by how Americans and their homes were horribly uncouth and dirty. (You almost get the feeling that Twain would have smacked “the once renowned and vigorously hated” Frances Trollope upside the head if he’d had the chance; she provides Twain with the most interesting, if snooty, descriptions of traveling along the Mississippi early in the century.)

    The material Twain wrote, however, more than compensates for the dryness of the extraneous stuff. As always, he is quotable, witty, amusing, and provocative. In spite of its excesses, nobody has done the Mississippi better.

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