Mark Twain: A Writer’s Life Critical Context - Essay

Milton Meltzer

Critical Context

While many fine biographies of Twain have been written, most are intended for adult readers. By writing Mark Twain, Meltzer has done young adult readers a considerable service. This work, published in 1985, is destined to be considered a genre classic, as it tells Twain’s life story in a way that engages the imagination and the heart. Twain’s youthful dreams are made emblematic of the dreams of adolescents everywhere: dreams of adventure, of love, of great deeds, of enduring friendship, and of a purposeful life. With a number of arresting illustrations—including a character-revealing portrait of Twain’s mother, the famous cub pilot photograph of a young Twain staring with defiance and pride at the camera, and a marvelous photograph of Twain late in life, looking pensively from a carriage toward the photographer—Meltzer allows readers to see Twain as he was.

Although the narrative explains important things about Twain in considerable detail, it glides over the surface of lesser happenings. Nevertheless, this approach is natural for such an introductory biography, in which Meltzer wants his young readers to pursue more detailed works that deal with his subject. Mark Twain has gained a reputation among many librarians and teachers as a well-presented, engaging study of Twain for young adults, one that they believe is at once sufficiently gripping and highly informative.