cover image Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Became Mark Twain

Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Became Mark Twain

Roy Morris, JR.. Simon & Schuster, $26 (282pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-9866-4

His 1872 Roughing It was Mark Twain's sanitized version of his trip west between 1861 and 1866, and Morris (Fraud of the Century ) utilizes contemporaneous letters and diaries to separate fact from fiction about a watershed odyssey that transformed an itinerant printer, Mississippi riverboat pilot, and Confederate guerrilla into journalist, author, and stage performer. Unsuited to soldiering, fun-loving 25-year-old Samuel Clemens accompanied his older brother Orion cross-country by stagecoach from Missouri to Orion's patronage appointment in the newly created Nevada Territory. Clemens's encounters included notorious gunfighter Jack Slade, with whom he shared an innocuous cup of coffee, and the indomitable polygamist Mormon leader Brigham Young, whom he found kindly and dignified. At a lively Nevada newspaper, Clemens launched his professional writing career and took the name Mark Twain; at a San Francisco paper, he honed his satirical skills and began a complicated friendship with writer Bret Harte; in 1866, he wrote the first modern description of Hawaiian surfing in a Sacramento paper. This latest Twain bicentennial volume is a tale of a high-spirited, gifted humorist finding his voice in the rough-and-tumble of the Wild West—an authoritative and engrossing slice of American history. (Apr.)