cover image American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad

American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad

Roy Morris, Jr.. Harvard Univ./Belknap, $27.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-674-41669-7

For readers not familiar with Mark Twain's travel literature, Morris (Declaring His Genius) will open up a new facet of his extensive writing career. Under the renowned Mark Twain pseudonym, Samuel Clemens wrote and lectured around the world, presenting the viewpoint of the semi-autobiographical "American Vandal," a "roving, independent, free-and-easy character of that class of traveling Americans... not elaborately educated, cultivated, and refined." The book's main strength lies in giving Clemens's entertaining travel stories historical context%E2%80%94the bubbling up of anti-Semitism in late 19th-century Austria, for example, or the U.S. financial failure of the early 1890s. Morris also brings the man (and the book) to life by filling in the backdrop of Clemens's family life, including mundane details about the family home in Hartford, Conn., and family deaths and tragedies. The book's first half shines, offering delightful vignettes such as Clemens's hilarious encounters with mountainside yodelers. The second half's tone is less carefree as Clemens struggles with the aftermath of bad financial decisions; at that point he was writing out of financial necessity, not love of travel. This lively overview provides an accessible entry point to the lesser-known works of a great American writer. (Mar.)