American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad

, Jr. Belknap: Harvard Univ. Mar. 2015. 288p. notes. index. ISBN 9780674416697. $27.95. LIT
A little-known fact about Mark Twain (1835–1910) is that he spent a dozen years abroad and was probably better recognized as a travel writer than a novelist during his lifetime. This lively and well-written narrative of Twain's foreign travels and residences by Morris (Lighting Out for the Territory) examines a major phase of his subject's earlier American sojourns. Twain's often hilarious travel books—The Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad, and Following the Equator—are filled with poignant observations and solid information but were not meant to be strictly factual accounts of his genuine experiences overseas. Morris, a specialist in 19th-century American history, uses those titles, along with other sources, to reconstruct Twain's actual adventures.
VERDICT In relying heavily on secondary sources Morris gets enough of his own facts wrong to irritate scholars (for example, a sentence about the assassination of Czar Alexander II cites a passage in Innocents Abroad, which was published 12 years before the assassination occurred) but not enough to spoil the enjoyment of general readers who should find his work engaging. A suitable but nonessential book for general collections.
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