An Emperor Among Us: The Eccentric Life and Benevolent Reign of Norton I, Emperor of the United States, as Told by Mark Twain

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Everyone can name America’s first president, but can you name our first (and only) Emperor? Mark Twain certainly can, and even one of America’s finest satirists wishes he’d created a character as whimsical and unexpected as Joshua A. Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

An Emperor Among Us is an intriguing experiment, presenting the true story of Emperor Norton as filtered through the playfully insightful lens of Mark Twain. St. John ambitiously attempts not only to capture the inimical voice of an American icon, but to chronicle the life of a self-made American legend. On the historical side, he succeeds with great aplomb. From his childhood in South Africa and his friendship with Peter Robertson to his American business dealings and reemergence as the Emperor, St. John paints the thoroughly engaging picture of a man who expects the same respect for his adopted land as he demands for himself. The Emperor was no mere kook, he was a champion of public safety and San Francisco pride, and St. John is as true to the Emperor’s spirit as he is to his failings.

On the fictional side, he stumbles a bit. The voice of Twain starts and ends strong, but there are numerous passages that lack the twinkle and keenness of Twain’s storytelling charm. I don’t know that any writer, no matter how talented, could truly recreate that singular voice, but St. John makes an admirable go of it, straddling the line between fiction and nonfiction.

An Emperor Among Us is respectful without being blind to Norton’s less flattering qualities, giving us the true measure of the man and the legend. All biographies, even those in the fiction section, should strive for the same sense of honesty and fun. I really enjoyed this book.

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Star Count 4/5
Format Hard
Page Count 180 pages
Publisher iUniverse
Publish Date 21-Nov-2012
ISBN 9781475961034 Buy this Book
Issue May 2013
Category Historical Fiction


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