Title: Life on the Mississippi

Author: Mark Twain

ISBN: 9780451528179
Pages: 384
I first read this book fifty years ago when I was in high school, and I recalled Twain’s account of his days as a Mississippi steamboat pilot’s apprentice as a work of great humor and style with quintessentially American themes, equal in power to Huckleberry Finn. A recent re-reading has left me both gratified and disappointed: gratified because Twain’s history and description of the ever-changing Mississippi and his account of his life as a young river pilot are just good as I remembered them, but disappointed because this account occupies only the first third of the book.

The other two-thirds has moments of equal power–Twain’s account of his return to his boyhood home Hannibal, for example–but most of it is a casually organized travelogue of a trip up the Mississippi by the fifty-year-old Twain, interrupted by random anecdotes and tall tales. This second two-thirds is uneven but entertaining, full of characteristic Twain humor; it is as good as “Roughing It,” a book I like and admire.

Nevertheless, it nowhere equals the power of the first hundred pages. And a book the ends worse than it began is always a disappointment.
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