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Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1    edited by Harriet E. Smith & et al Amazon.com order for
Autobiography of Mark Twain
by Harriet E. Smith
Order:  USA  Can
University of California, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

It was a long wait but well worth it! As part of the celebration of the centennial of Mark Twain's death last year, the iconic author's autobiography was finally released.

Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 (edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and other editors of the Mark Twain Project) is the first of a three-volume series that will be published over the next five years.

This memoir was suppressed in part by the author until 100 years after his death so that he could speak freely 'with his whole frank mind' about his ideas without any form of self-censorship.

You might call this book Mark Twain's blog for the 21st century. The editors had at their disposal a collection of four years of the author's dictations, compiled from over 5,000 manuscript pages.

After numerous false starts on paper, Twain finally hit upon the perfect way of telling his own story. 'I've struck it!' he wrote a friend in 1904. 'And I will give it away to you. You will never know how much enjoyment you have lost until you get to dictating your autobiography.'

Twain's plan, which was to 'talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment', meant that not only could his thoughts rage freely but that he could also candidly speak his true mind. He would let others, long after his death, sift through these personal recollections and arrange them to tell his life's story.

Having access to the world's largest archive of primary materials by this major American writer housed at the University of California, Bancroft Library in Berkeley, the scholars of the Mark Twain Project sifted through ten file feet of material to create this first volume.

Although some parts of the Autobiography have appeared in other books (some writers have had access to Twain's papers), including ten percent published by Twain before his death, over half of this material has never been in print.

As you read for the first time Mark Twain's uncensored autobiography in its entirety and exactly as he left it, you'll again be exposed to the humor, quick wit, and the unconventional ideas and opinions that made his work so popular and sometimes controversial during his own lifetime.

After the Explanatory Notes that discuss the nuts and bolts of the process that resulted in the initial volume of the Autobiography, you'll find the manuscripts and dictations that span the period from 1870-1905, followed by the first actual installment of Twain's autobiography. Richly illustrated with 45 black and white photos and 21 line figures, the book also contains family biographies, two of Twain's speeches, and a brief chronology of Twain's life.

Over 700 pages in length, this is a hefty tome, but don't be put off by the length. You can just focus on the key parts of the book or read it from cover to cover depending on your inclination.

Twain worked on this project for about 35 years so you can take your time reading and enjoying it too. I'm sure he'd agree that a bits and pieces approach would be in keeping with how he approached the telling of his own story!

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