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The Autobiography of Mark Twain (Perennial Classics) Paperback – January 26, 2000
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ONE OF THE BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE CENTURY
-- THE MODERN LIBRARY
"A book filled with richnesses of humor and tragedy of disappointment and triumph, of sweetness and bitterness, and all in that unsurpassed American prose."-- "New York Herald Tribune Book Review""Magnificently alive."-"Library Journal
From the Back Cover
Mark Twain was a figure larger than life: massive in talent, eruptive in temperament, unpredictable in his actions. He crafted stories of heroism, adventure, tragedy, and comedy that reflected the changing America of the time, and he tells his own story -- which includes sixteen pages of photos -- with the same flair he brought to his fiction. Writing this autobiography on his deathbed, Twain vowed to be "free and frank and unembarrassed" in the recounting of his life and his experiences.
Twain was more than a match for the expanding America of riverboats, gold rushes, and the vast westward movement, which provided the material for his novels and which served to inspire this beloved and uniquely American autobiography.
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Top customer reviews
This book aims to be the definitive edition by publishing everything that Mark dictated or wrote after 1905 in the order that it came into creation. Prior publications were much shorter as various editors organized what they thought was interesting, had his family's approval and was in some chronlogical sequence (Charles Neider did the best overall job of this fifty years ago). What the reader has here is Mark Twain's true speaking voice -- he is doing a monologue in your presence, going wherever his memory takes him.
Twain tried for many years to write his autobiography, but time and again his efforts ground to a halt and were abandoned, although fragments were kept for eventual use (and presented as part of this Volume One). It was not until Twain fixed upon the mode of orally dictating his autobiography that he found a method that really worked for him and allowed him to complete the project to his own satisfaction. The first portion of these 1906 dictations (plus explanatory editorial notes) form the heart of the present volume (two more volumes will eventually be released to complete the "Autobiography"). The result certainly does not follow a standard autobiographical approach (which Twain characterizes as a "plan that starts you at the cradle and drives you straight for the grave, with no side-excursions permitted on the way. Whereas the side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be, also, of its history.") The "Autobiography" as dictated instead is all side-excursion, almost stream of consciousness. Twain's intent was that it not be published in unexpurgated form until a hundred years after his death, leaving him free to say whatever he wished about whomever he wished to speak. Portions of it have indeed been published from time to time, in a highly edited form bearing little resemblance to what Twain intended as the true "Autobiography".
In approaching the "Autobiography" the reader should not expect a conventional, chronologically arranged, continuous narrative in the traditional style. Twain strove intentionally, and successfully, to avoid that, instead reaching for an entirely novel style suitable for avoiding what he considered to be the usual "lying" (perhaps especially lying to oneself) found in standard autobiographies. The present volume is presented in four distinct parts: First is a lengthy explanatory section from the editors, providing the background for the "Autobiography" and explaining what Twain was aiming for; this section is probably necessary for better appreciating what Twain eventually achieved, but also may not be the best place to begin browsing. Second are the fragments of autobiographical material Twain wrote over the last few decades of the 19th century, fragments left over from his failed attempts to create an autobiography but retained by him as containing enough material and honesty to satisfy his desires. Third is the real heart of the book: oral dictations that left Twain free to dart and drift wherever his thoughts led him, free of any rigid structure; this section is most open to casual browsing. And fourth are lengthy notes and comments from the editors on Twain's text and dictations, correcting factual errors and expanding upon details.
Reading the dictations is as near as one could hope to be sitting in a room with Twain, listening to him ramble along, mixing trivial events of forty or sixty years before with headlines from today's newspaper -- an effect that Twain was deliberately creating -- and dizzyingly flipping the pages of the calendar back and forth. Imagine Twain sitting there with a cigar and perhaps a glass of Scotch whiskey. Imagine yourself with the cigar and Scotch. It is wonderful, in the true, fundamental sense of that word.
However, because of poor eyesight I am reading the ebook version on my iPad using the Kindle reader. About 30% of the book is composed of clarifications and annotations by editors of the work. Unfortunately, those notes are in a separate section of the book and reference Twain's commentary by page number. However, the ebook version for the Kindle eliminates ALL traces of page numbering in favor of a digital code for each line. Thus there is no possible way to find the information that is being referred to in the editors comments. If possible stick to the hard copy or find a different digital ebook which retains the page references....I will for volumes 2 and 3.