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Featured Books

Featured Books

Life on the MississippiSummary and Reviews of Life on the Mississippi
Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays: Volume 1: 1852-1890 and Mark Twain: CollecteSummary and Reviews of Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays: Volume 1: 1852-1890 and Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays: Volume 2: 1891-1910 (Library of America)
Roughing It (Mark Twain Library)Summary and Reviews of Roughing It (Mark Twain Library)
The Adventures of Tom SawyerSummary and Reviews of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (Unabridged And Illustrated)Summary and Reviews of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (Unabridged And Illustrated)
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Mark Twain

Click the banner or the individual items listed to buy and read Twain's work.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), better known as Mark Twain, is one of the four or five authors who are arguably the most revered literary figures in American history.  His many publications include the children's classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and more serious works ranging from light magazine fare to biting anti-imperialist satire.

Clemens was born in Hannibal, Missouri.  Twain had two brothers and a sister.  There was also the family-owned slave, Jenny, in the house, who told lively stories that undoubtedly influenced Sam's later storytelling.  Twain wrote extensively on these pre-Civil War days in the south, and the romantic language he used in many of these reflections thinly veil the underlying cruelty of the slave system then in place.

Sam Clemens was first inspired to try his hand at writing while he was an apprentice at a local printing shop. There he had access to many books read them voraciously. Journalism seemed the best place to start, and he began contributing articles to the Hannibal Journal, the local newspaper owned by his brother.  When Sam was 18, he decided to strike out on his own so he left Hannibal for New York City. He soon found his way to Philadelphia then St. Louis, working as a printer.

On a trip to New Orleans, Clemens became obsessed with the idea of becoming a steamboat pilot.  It took about two years, but he finally learned all he needed to know to get his pilot's license.  So, he did.  This was a fateful chapter in his life, for it gave him a lot of material for his best literary work, not the least of which was the autobiographical Life on the Mississippi,  and also his pen name ("By the mark, twain," in riverboat slang, means a depth of two fathoms measured in the water.)

Clemens eventually became the journalist he seemed destined to be, and his first major assignment was in Carson City, Nevada to cover the legislature.  Because much of what he wrote was quite controversial, he adopted the riverboat-inspired pen name, Mark Twain.   During this time, he also met famous humorist Artemus Ward, who gave him much the same advice as many writers today give to their protégés, write as much as you can.  Clemens did, and thus a literary genius was born.

Clemens eventually married, and his writing career took off.  His first major work was the short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."  Mostly travelogues, including masterpieces of travel literature like Roughing It and Innocents Abroad, followed until The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876.  Following The Prince and the Pauper, Twain produced his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884.  Culminating in Huck Finn, Twain produced some of the best and most beloved literary works of the nineteenth century.  Even his humorous stories and novels, though, have a depth that many don't perceive.  For instance, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be interpreted as an indictment of the racist south just as easily as it can be read as a delightfully cheery children's story.

Twain spent his final years completing his official autobiography and collecting accolades and awards, such as a Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University.  Though he was in a state of depression much of this time because he lost so many family members in such a short time (his wife, two of his children, and a close friend all died within thirteen years), he died in relative comfort and contentment in 1909.  Twain had predicted he would "go out" with Haley's Comet as he had "come in."  At the time he also said he would be disappointed if this prediction didn't come true.  He was not disappointed.  He died the day after the closes approach of Haley's Comet to the earth-a fitting end to a luminary in the literary cosmos.

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