Mark Twain founded the American voice. His works are a living national treasury: taught, quoted, and reprinted more than those of any writer except Shakespeare. His awestruck contemporaries saw him as the representative figure of his times, and his influence has deeply flavoured the 20th and 21st centuries. Yet somehow, beneath the vast flowing river of literature that he left behind — books, sketches, speeches, not to mention the thousands of letters to his friends and his remarkable entries in private journals — the man who became Mark Twain, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, has receded from view.
It is hard to imagine a life that encompassed more of its times. Sam Clemens left his frontier boyhood in Missouri for a life on the Mississippi during the golden age of steamboats. He skirted the western theater of the Civil War before taking off for an uproariously drunken newspaper career in the Nevada of the Wild West. As his fame as a humorist and lecturer spread, witnessing the extremes of wealth and poverty of New York City and the Gilded Age (which he named). He travelled to Europe on the first American pleasure cruise and revitalized the prim genre of travel writing. He wooed and won his lifelong devoted wife, yet quietly pined for the girl who was his first crush and whom he would re-encounter many decades later. He invented and invested in get-rich-quick schemes. He became the toast of Europe and a celebrity who toured the globe. His comments on everything he saw, many published here for the first time, are priceless.