113 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2002
I first read "Letters from the Earth" in 1962, when I was a highschool student in Redding, CT. Redding was the last home of Mark Twain, and those who held his literary legacy as sacred, his library as a shrine, were definitely upset and embarrased when it was published. All this made it compelling reading for an adolescent who was beginning to notice the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and downright insanities of human belief.
"Letters from the Earth" shook loose the stones of my foundation: a service for which I'll be forever grateful. Including himself in his witty attack on Earthly Man's frailties, Twain's observations encouraged me to trust my own perceptions, prod sacred cows, and ultimately to forgive myself for being at best, "a nickel-plated angel".
I've read, reread, and revered most of Twain's legacy, but I think of this particular book as a treasurebox full of letters from a brilliant, irascible but loving uncle each of us should have known sometime in our lives. I only wish I'd remembered to share it with my own kids when they were adolescents. I must make amends right now...AFTER I've reread it myself.
76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2002
This book is probably not what you are expecting. If you are looking for a free-wheelin' adventure story along the lines of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, you will not only be disappointed, but most probably shocked. However, if you are looking for an entire book of irrevent writings - as I was - then that's not what you're getting, either. Something less than half of the book (say, roughly, 1/3) consists of deliciously irrevent writings, drained from Mark Twain's pen of bitter ink. The best among these is the title section, "Letters From The Earth", in which Satan writes back to archangels Gabriel and Michael about his visit to earth and the "human race experiment", after his banishment from heaven. In these letters, Mark Twain points out various absurtities and illogical assertions and beliefs about human religions, and unflinchingly describes the vanity and hypocrisy of many of its adherents. I was under the impression that the entire book consisted of these letters; however, I was wrong. It is merely the first section of the book, occupying some 30-50 pages. For people who are highly into this kind of writing, however - as I am - it is worth the price of admission alone. There are several other pieces in the book along this line - including the famous essays Was The World Made For Man? and The Lowest Animal - which display not only Mark Twain's essential pessimism, but his very rational mind and hilarous wit. These pieces are an absolutely essential read for the lover of satire: few better examples are to be found anywhere in literature. The rest of the book, however, is a mixed bag. It consits of various pieces from the "Mark Twain Papers" - a collection of his writings (mostly unfinished) the he decreed to have published sometime after his death. Among these are a few interesting pieces (most of them various satires, several on religious topics), while others are more broadly ranging: everything from a completely improvised tale that he used to put his two children to bed to an unfinished fantasy piece that the editor seems to attach rather a lot of importance to, but whose actual virtue is somewhat more questionable. These pieces range from vaguely interesting to mildly funny to downright boring. Several would've probably been better served by being included in other volumes, while several should probably have been left unpublished. Still, there are definitely some essential writings in this volume that any fan of Mark Twain - or satire, or irrevent writings, for that matter - will want to read.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2004
Letters from the Earth is an assortment of unpublished-for-60-years writings by Mark Twain. They cover a wide span of subject matter ranging from critiques of the prose style of another writer to the author's construction of the Old Testament and God from the perspective of Satan. In addition to Letters From Earth (Satan's), the contents includes Papers of the Adam Family, The Damned Human Race, Something About Repentance, Was the World Made For Man, In the Animal's Court, The Intelligence of God, The Lowest Animal and others.
Readers who are offended by careful examinations of the meaning and implications of holy or sacred writings of the Old Testiment will not enjoy this book. The author, whatever his actual religious beliefs, probably wasn't an Old Testiment Christian. In this series of short writings he takes specific stories from the OT and holds them into the light away from the long traditions that accompany them in most of our minds. He examines the evidence of the stories for hints of what sort of creature God must be if the OT is true. He extropolates what Satan might be.
I'm an admirer of this author and I believe everything he ever wrote is worth reading and digesting. I put this book alongside his best. But I also admit that if I harbored a microbe of religious fanatic somewhere inside me I'd be hard-pressed to enjoy reading Letters From the Earth.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 1999
Truly, Mark Twain is one of the greatest American writers. And without a doubt, Huck Finn is among the few candidates for "The Great American Novel." However, one cannot completely understand Twain without reading LFTE. This is the work of the TRUE Twain.(The one that will never be loudly applauded) His appraoch towards organized religion is without restraint, and his mockery is often hilarious. Please read this if you want to learn the inner- workings of America's greatest satirist.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was disappointed when I received the book. Bernard Devos edited a collection of MT's late writings entitled _Letters from the Earth_, and that's what I expected. What I received was just those essays comprising "Letters from the Earth" that comprised a small part of the book. It did not include "Etiquette at a Funeral", "The Awful German Language", "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses", "On Repentance", and a number of other superb essays and stories.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I support all the positive comments that've been made about the text of this book, but I have to give /this/ version one star. There are at least two stupefyingly obvious typos /per page/; capitalization is inconsistent, even at the beginning of sentences; meaning-twisting homophones [NOT intended by the author, if you compare them to critical editions] abound, creating an utterly miserable and frustrating reading experience for what should have been a beautiful little essay.
It's obvious that the text of this edition was cut & pasted from an online version which is full of identical mistakes; it has not been edited in any way. If the people preparing this book (I can't call them editors) had bothered to /read/ its 51 short pages, instead of spending their time doodling those moronic red eyes on the front cover, I wouldn't be bothering to write this review.
It's a crime against Twain, and it's a vicious insult to the reader. Don't buy it. Find a different version. It's public domain, for Pete's sake.
47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Mark Twain remains the foremost writer in North America's literary scene. Widely imitated but never equaled, his perception and wit gave him mastery over nearly every topic. Although derided for it in his own time, his stature derives from his audience: he wrote for everyone, excluding none. Those who know Twain will find this collection a decorative capstone to works published a century ago. Nearly every work of social commentary [and few of his works miss that definition] touched on the topics presented here. But he harboured deeper feelings on many subjects, particularly the sham of Christianity, noting them down and hiding them away. Two world wars and world depression shattered many illusions and changed attitudes. Finally, this wonderful collection was released to be joyfully received by Twain fans. One can only wonder what he would have thought of the reaction.
The commonalty among the essays is man's place in the universe. The title is invoked in a series of letters from a banished archangel. It's a cold-water bath for the new Twain reader. How many Christians have truly considered what awaits them in their "heaven"? An earlier essay, Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven suggested Twain's thinking on the subject, but the Letters From the Earth is a raw inquiry into what environment "paradise" holds for the unthinking. Other aspects of Biblical teachings are covered in the Papers of the Adams Family. What society developed in those centuries between Genesis and The Deluge? Twain surveys the vagaries of his contemporary scene and projects them backward to that early age. It's an hilarious review of human frailty well suited to modern outlook. It's also a cry from heart at the realization of little humans change over time.
It's noteworthy that Twain would notice Alfred Russell Wallace, who produced a nearly identical theory of evolution to Charles Darwin's. Darwin would have secretly admired the essays comprising The Damned Human Race. After a gentle acknowledgment to Wallace's suggestion that the heavens and earth were purposely designed for man, Twain utterly demolishes the idea. That he used evidence only beginning to be understood is a tribute to his genius. The essay should be read by every churchgoer [and not a few science teachers] living today. The clarity of his logic, presented with the wit only Twain could present, makes this subset one of the highlights of the book.
Twain remained interested in everything he encountered in his lifetime. He maintained a fine balance between castigating unsupported revelations and applauding scientific progress. The Great Dark is a venture into the microscopic world through the mechanism of a dream. The dreamer is drawn into a droplet of water, sailing an endless ocean with his family and the crew of an unsuspecting ship. It's a tale that worthy of comparison with any fantasy of Jules Verne.
Why there are so few reviews of this book here is disturbing. More people need to read this collection and understand its importance and value. Twain was North America's greatest Renaissance Man. He traveled the planet, observed and assessed with insight and precision. Nothing he wrote is obscure and little of his work is outdated. Take yourself beyond the boyhood memories of Tom Sawyer and the horrible film productions of his writings. Meet the man at his honest best in this book. Rejoice in the knowledge he was, and is, among us.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
This isn't Huck Finn - not by a long shot.
Instead, it's a broad sample of Twain's writings the human race, a race he considers lost from the git-go. It starts with the eight Letters from Earth, a total of 40 pages or so. Twain uses the voice of an exiled angel, temporarily in terrestrial residence, to describe the utter insanity of human kind. He continues with Letters to Earth, another angelic text, this time in answer to the prayers of an uncommonly crass business man - anyone who's read Twain's War Prayer has a good idea of what to expect.
It's not all spleen and satire, though. Some of the pieces here are just satire. Repentance, the Gorky Incident, Etiquette, and others are laugh-out-loud funny, even if they have a slightly acid tang, or maybe because of it. Cooper's Prose Style and The Damned Human Race are good ones, too. I have to admit, though, The Great Dark never seemed to find its stride, and editor's note suggest that Twain may have thought the same.
If you haven't read these pieces, you haven't read Twain - well, you missed a lot. Go ahead, these short writings are well worth the effort, even after a century.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Just be careful: as of this writing, Amazon is mixing together reviews that describe at least two different books. The Greenbook Publications edition, dark green with a small photo of the author on the cover, is 52 pages long and includes ONLY "Letters from the Earth." It's marred by typos (though I didn't find as many as other reviewers) and seems overpriced.
Many of the reviews attached to this same item clearly refer to a different book which contains both "Letters from the Earth" and an assortment of other writings. I'd suggest you look for that edition.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2000
Letters from the Earth is a compilation of Twain's work, some of which was not in finished form and was never intended to be published. At the time of writing much of this, he was experiencing significant financial and personal hardships. Much of the material in LFTE itself was Twain trying to rationalize the irrational in religion, just as he was trying to sort things out in his own life. At that, he was taking a tonque-in-cheek look at that which his audience viewed as sacred. His primary thought was to stimulate independent thought; he wrote not so much to condemn as to question. Of course, his natural inclination to laugh at the human condition comes out in force. The best short piece in the anthology is the Letter to the Earth. Bill Gates might be Abner Scofield.... Overall, this is a great collection, but I don't expect to see it on any high school's course syllabus in the near future.