From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Mark Twain is his own greatest character in this brilliant self-portrait, the first of three volumes collected by the Mark Twain Project on the centenary of the author's death. It is published complete and unexpurgated for the first time. (Twain wanted his more scalding opinions suppressed until long after his death.) Eschewing chronology and organization, Twain simply meanders from observation to anecdote and between past and present. There are gorgeous reminiscences from his youth of landscapes, rural idylls, and Tom Sawyeresque japes; acid-etched profiles of friends and enemies, from his "fiendish" Florentine landlady to the fatuous and "grotesque" Rockefellers; a searing polemic on a 1906 American massacre of Filipino insurgents; a hilarious screed against a hapless editor who dared tweak his prose; and countless tales of the author's own bamboozlement, unto bankruptcy, by publishers, business partners, doctors, miscellaneous moochers; he was even outsmarted by a wild turkey. Laced with Twain's unique blend of humor and vitriol, the haphazard narrative is engrossing, hugely funny, and deeply revealing of its author's mind. His is a world where every piety conceals fraud and every arcadia a trace of violence; he relishes the human comedy and reveres true nobility, yet as he tolls the bell for friends and family--most tenderly in an elegy for his daughter Susy, who died in her early 20s of meningitis--he feels that life is a pointless charade. Twain's memoirs are a pointillist masterpiece from which his vision of America--half paradise, half swindle--emerges with indelible force. 66 photos and line illus. (Nov.) (c)
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*Starred Review* In explaining his dissatisfaction with his early attempts to write his life story, Mark Twain blamed the narrowness of the conventional cradle-to-grave format: “The side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be, also, of its history.” This volume—the first of three—makes public autobiographical dictations in which Twain unpredictably pursues the many side-excursions of his remarkably creative life. Embedded in a substantial editorial apparatus, these free-spirited forays expose private aspects of character that the author did not want in print until he had been dead at least a century. Readers see, for instance, a misanthropic Twain consigning man to a status below that of the grubs and worms, as well as a tenderhearted Twain still grieving a year after his wife’s death. But on some side-excursions, Twain flashes the irreverent wit that made him famous: Who will not delight in Twain’s account of how, as a boy, he gleefully dons the bright parade banner of the local Temperance Lodge, only to shuck his banner upon finding a cigar stub he can light up? But perhaps the most important side-excursions are those retracing the imaginative prospecting of a miner for literary gold, efforts that resulted in such works as Roughing It and Innocents Abroad. A treasure trove for serious Twain readers. --Bryce Christensen