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Books: BIOGRAPHY; Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers (Scribner, pounds 25).

Byline: Michael Wood

AT THE end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain), with his wild curly red hair and luxuriant moustache, was quite simply the most recognisable figure on the planet. He'd lived a life worthy of a Boys' Own story - Mississippi steamboat pilot, gold prospector, reporter and public speaker whose drawling delivery and wit reportedly had his audiences in hysterics.

Biographer Ron Powers describes him as the first rock star.

Yet, he somehow found time to produce some great literature - in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn he wrote what some consider to be the finest novel in the English language. Yet even that is seen as a flawed masterpiece with a final few chapters that sit awkwardly with what has gone before.

His life was also riven by great failure and tragedy. His inexpert business dabblings came close to bankrupting him, while his life was overshadowed by the deaths of several people close to him, including his brother and three children. Touchingly, he also maintained a long and lasting love for his wife Livy.

Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Powers' monumental, comprehensive and authoritative biography brings the man to life. Testament to his powers of story-telling is that we mourn the sad decline of Clemens/Twain's final years as if it were yesterday. *****
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 18, 2006
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