Picks and Pans Review: Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography

updated 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Geoffrey C. Ward, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

Although it accompanies a four-hour PBS special, this slim but exciting volume stands on its own as a fast-moving, richly illustrated life of the dynamic man—a billiard player, failed prospector and surfer—whose life stretched from rural Missouri to Gilded Age New York City. A canny patchwork, this handsome book benefits from samples of Twain's rueful wit ("I am only human—although I regret it") as well as smart, useful essays. Both Twain's sufferings—he lost two brothers, a son and two daughters—and his triumphs are palpable. (Knopf, $40)

Bottom Line: Reports of his genius are not greatly exaggerated

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