Am höchsten bewertete kritische Rezension
Life on an untamed river
am 19. September 2014
In this book Mark Twain evokes the glory days of the Mississippi steamboats which started about 1812 and lasted less than 60 years, a "strangely short life for so majestic a creature".
He brings to life the excitement, the adventure, the dangers, the beauty of working on a mighty, untamed river. He describes the life of the people living along its banks, their idiosyncracies, their manner of speech, their taste in decorating, their entertainment, their fight for survival. We get so many facts, so much information about life on and along the river that one feels what's not in this book is not worth knowing.
There is much hilarity as when Mark Twain recalls his own training as a steamboat pilot (he had to learn by heart twelve or thirteen hundred miles of river) or remembers extraordinary characters he met. There is tragedy and heroism as well as it was not rare that steamboats blew up resulting in many deaths and terrible injuries (Mark Twain's beloved younger brother Henry lost his life after four boilers blew up on the "Pennsylvania"). He talks of the spectacular sunsets, pitchblack nights, raging storms, the wildness, loneliness and grandiose vastness of the Mississippi.
When he returns about 20 years later the river was in the process of being tamed ("government has snatched out all the snags, and lit up the shores like Broadway), there were "great and strange" changes and the pilot's work was easier and less dangerous but some of the romance had gone out of it. He meets old friends, visits his home town Hannibal and marvels at the beautiful new cities springing up in the North.
Having said all that, I feel the book would have benefitted from being shorter and concentrating on the subject. Especially in the second half Mark Twain goes off on a tangent more and more often, resulting in disconnected and boring chapters, and Appendix D should definitely have been left out.