Most helpful positive review
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A mighty river
on 1 December 2012
This book is written in Mark Twain's illimitable and distinctive style and is packed with anecdotes and facts about the river, both at the time he was writing and previously.
It is a fascinating portrait of life on a steamboat and of the River itself at that time and since Mark Twain had been a licensed pilot on the Mississippi, it is a book written by someone who knows his subject. (His pen-name of Mark Twain was taken from the leadsman's calling out the depth of 'two fathoms').
The passages about his apprenticeship when learning his trade as a river pilot are among the most fascinating, but the many historical facts which he also incorporates into the book also make extremely interesting reading.
The river is several thousand miles long, and when the young Mark Twain said to his instructor, the senior pilot Horace Bixby, "but surely you don't expect me to know ALL the landmarks all along the river?", his mentor replied, "Son, I don't EXPECT you to know them, you MUST know them". For at that time and without any modern technical aids, or even electricity for nighttime travel, navigation of the river could prove extremely dangerous.
One of the many fascinating facts about this river was its habit of continually changing course, or "cutting through" a bend - sometimes marooning a former riverside town several miles inland, and even putting it into another state or county entirely.
The author describes the river as being 4000 miles long. But the Internet gives a number of answers as to length, varying from 3,710 miles long to 2,550 miles - quite a difference! But whoever is right, it is certainly a very long river, (among the very longest in the world), and all agree that at its widest it is seven miles wide and winds its way through no fewer than 10 US states.
I would thoroughly recommend this book as a most informative read, but crucially, it is written not in a dry and dusty manner, but in a delightfully informal and racy style, and is packed with stories, anecdotes and historical facts, making it extremely readable.