Who Is Mark Twain?
By Mark Twain
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061735004, 240pp.)
Publication Date: May 2009
You had better shove this in the stove," Mark Twain said at the top of an 1865 letter to his brother, "for I don't want any absurd 'literary remains' and 'unpublished letters of Mark Twain' published after I am planted." He was joking, of course. But when Mark Twain died in 1910, he left behind the largest collection of personal papers created by any nineteenth-century American author.
Here, for the first time in book form, are twenty-four remarkable pieces by the American master—pieces that have been handpicked by Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley. In "Jane Austen," Twain wonders if Austen's goal is to "make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters." "The Privilege of the Grave" offers a powerful statement about the freedom of speech while "Happy Memories of the Dental Chair" will make you appreciate modern dentistry. In "Frank Fuller and My First New York Lecture" Twain plasters the city with ads to promote his talk at the Cooper Union (he is terrified no one will attend). Later that day, Twain encounters two men gazing at one of his ads. One man says to the other: "Who is Mark Twain?" The other responds: "God knows—I don't."
Wickedly funny and disarmingly relevant, Who Is Mark Twain? shines a new light on one of America's most beloved literary icons—a man who was well ahead of his time.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri. He attended the ordinary western common school until he was twelve, the last of his formal schooling. In a span of fifteen years he was successively a typesetter, a steamboat pilot, a soldier for three weeks, a silver miner, a newspaper reporter, and a bohemian in San Francisco known as "Mark Twain." But in 1865, deeply in debt, he acknowledged a talent for "literature, of a low order, i.e., humorous." In the next forty years, he published more than a dozen books and hundreds of shorter works, including his masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
“Who Is Mark Twain? is a refreshing reintroduction to both [Twain’s] critical analytical thought and his playful sense of humor.”
-Los Angeles Times
“Twain’s wit and lethally precise powers of description are on full display in Who Is Mark Twain?”
“More than 100 years after [Twain] wrote these stories, they remain not only remarkably funny but remarkably modern….Ninety-nine years after his death, Twain still manages to get the last laugh.”
“[Twain] was, in the phrase of his friend William Dean Howells, ‘the Lincoln of our literature’…At the heart of his work lies that greatest of all American qualities: irreverence.”
“As funny and insightful as any of [Twain’s] published and well-known works, these essays take on the federal government, religion, race, fame, and even the literary canon with a sharp-eyed clarity we can chuckle over as we read while feeling uncomfortable knowing that they feel all too contemporary.”