A century after his death, the great American writer and controversialist speaks plainly—and sometimes not so nicely—from beyond the grave.
Earlier editions of this autobiography appeared throughout the 20th century, but Twain instructed that the unexpurgated version not appear for a century to spare the feelings not just of individuals, but also of their grandchildren. The great-grandchildren are on their own, however, and here Twain lights in with delight on unscrupulous publishers, swindling partners, unethical corporate barons and politicians. As he announced in planning his memoirs, which he began in 1870 and worked on until nearly the end of his life, Twain was not going to bind himself to the rules of chronology (and perhaps not those of the strict truth, either) but instead, would indulge his storytelling wont, being “as digressive and discursive as he likes,” in the words of the volume editors. That is just so, and Twain ambles here and there, from childhood to reminiscences of his friendship with U.S. Grant, recording his adventures and misadventures and his wide travels. From this volume, we learn, for instance, that England was woefully behind the times in telephony in 1896 (“Years ago there was a telephone system in England, but in the country parts it is about dead, and what is left of it in London has no value”), that he was 10 when he thrilled to the accomplishments of the Antarctic explorer Charles Wilkes, and that Twain was a resolute and angry anti-imperialist and a scourge of politicians more fiery than even his image of old would have it—even though, his editors note, he was a Republican as early as 1868.
There’s plenty of vinegar here but plenty of the homespun and funny Twain as well. Essential for serious students of his work and readable and revealing for all its surrounding scholarly apparatus.