life on the mississippi
Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi is the Wall Street Journal Book Club choice for April. I hadn’t read Life on the Mississippi before but I had a copy on my shelves for years so I figured I’d read it now. The big attraction of the book is the process Mark Twain goes through to become a pilot of a riverboat. Twain has to learn 1,200 miles of river in order to maneuver his steamboat to its destination. And, then Twain has to learn another 1,200 miles of river to get back to the beginning! Life on the river back in the 1860s is wild and varied. Sadly, by the end of the Civil War, the economy of the Mississippi completely changed and Twain had to find a new profession. You can read more about Life on the Mississippi here. This is the first non-fiction book the Wall Street Journal Book Club picked for its readers. I enjoyed it. Do you have a favorite Mark Twain book?

20 thoughts on “LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI By Mark Twain

  1. Wolf Böhrendt

    Normally I would of course say the adventures of Huckleberry Finn which I read as a child – but later I found his reports on his travels through Europe and those were really hilarious!
    Since my wife just called me for lunch, I’ll look up the title later.

    Everybody have a nice weekend!

      1. Wolf Böhrendt

        I just had to look him up – it was th description of his first journey: The Innocents abroad. And of course his later works on his problems with the German language, things like gender …

        And then of course his SF “comedy” – actually a very thoughtful book, I was really surprised to see this side of Twain:
        A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

        I consider this also a masterpiece.

        PS and a bit OT:

        Did you know that the Hungarian language has no gender concept? For example he, she it is translated the same:
        The same goes for his and hers etc …
        It was very funny when I met my wife’s family and her son who speaks good English and helped us a lot, because my Hungarian was as limited as her German in translating for us always spoke of “his things” – until I realised that he was talking of his mother …
        So this is a problem eg when synchronising US films: He went there or she went there is translated the same but can have different meanings of course.

        I wonder what twain would have made of that language – German and English at least have common roots (and many common words) though of course there are pitfalls like “When will I become the hamburger?” (in German bekommen = get …)

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, translation problems are always a concern. Twain loved to travel. He left his home of Hannibal as soon as he could. Like Huck Finn, he embodied the need to move on: ” I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    Huckleberry Finn. I reread it a few years ago – probably the first book I read on the computer other than short stories. I’ve never read LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI either.

  3. Bill Crider

    The part of the book about Twain’s becoming a river pilot are great. The rest of the book is pretty dull.

    Roughing It is also uneven, but it has some good stuff about Twain’s time in the west. The Innocents Abroad is the one about European travel, and it also has some sparkling parts and some clunky ones.

  4. Patti Abbott

    I have read very little beyond Tom and Huck. A whole in my education, I am sure. But another writer who seemed like he was writing for boys when I was a kid. Oh, wait I did read THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER.

  5. mary mason

    I don’t remember what Twain I’ve read, but i did like the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. When I was in the Navy reserves, one of the reservists at a school I went to for training was a council member Of Calveras county

  6. Deb

    Huck Finn–truly one of the great American novels. Definitely not a kids’ book, although written from the p-o-v of a child. Very insightful especially on the subject of slavery.

    1. george Post author

      Deb, I agree with you: HUCK FINN is a very subtle book. Its treatment of slavery is very moving. Yet, HUCK FINN gets banned from schools.

      1. Wolf Böhrendt

        I remember a site “US banned book week” or similar and when I looked it up I was astonished how many and what kind of famous books had been banned in the USA by different states, cities or libraries …
        Found it here (thanks, google):
        And Huckleberry Finn is the first book mentioned!

        Followed by
        Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953
        For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, 1940
        declared unmailable by the US post office …

        Life is strange!

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, there’s a strong strain in American Culture to suppress books. Ideas are powerful…and dangerous.

  7. Jerry House

    George, when I was a kid I loved TOM SAWYER and read it four or five times. It wasn’t until I got older I discovered what a great novel HUCKLEBERRY FINN was. CONNECTICUT YANKEE. PUDDINHEAD WILSON, CAPTAIN STORMFIELD, and others were interesting in part but Twain’s short stories did more for me. I tried to get into LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI several times in high school but couldn’t get through it. It may be time to revisit it.

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI is one of Twain’s “fix-up” books. Part of the book was written as a history. But then the publisher wanted more pages so Twain wrote Part II was a sort of memoir of growing up on the Mississippi. As Bill Crider pointed out, LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI has some dull parts as a result.

  8. Cap'n Bob

    If I’m remembering the title correctly, it’s Letters From the Earth! The Classic Comic of Connecticut Yankee was pretty good, too!

    1. george Post author

      Bob, CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT was one of my favorites as a kid. And, I’m referring to the Classic Comic version! I didn’t read the actual novel until years later.


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