Life on the Mississippi was, in some ways, the book Mark Twain always wanted to write. It was the travel narrative most closely connected with his youth, with his sense of self, with his life. Twain viewed the Mississippi River as a defining feature of his life, his culture, and his country. It is in this book that we learn how Samuel Clemens took on the pen name Mark Twain. This is a work not about the Mississippi, but about life on the Mississippi. It is a text that lays before the reader not only the life of America's greatest river, but the life of one of her greatest artists. Yet, in doing these two things, it does more, for, when all is said and done, Life on the Mississippi lays before the reader the life of the nation itself, a portrait of nineteenth-century American life and culture as only Mark Twain can paint it.