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How Mark Twain's 'Autobiography' became a best-seller
The father of American humor has been dead for a century. But, somewhat puzzlingly, his new book is a big hit
 
According to the publisher, Mark Twain requested his memoirs remain unpublished for 100 years so that he could be free to speak his mind.
According to the publisher, Mark Twain requested his memoirs remain unpublished for 100 years so that he could be free to speak his mind.
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Although its author has long been deceased, the newly released Autobiography of Mark Twain: Vol. 1 has hit the top of best-seller lists, and the publisher can't print new copies fast enough to satisfy the demand. What's making Twain's century-old musings such a runaway success?

Twain's wit is timeless: Mark Twain's satire is as relevant now as it ever was, says Michelle Fitzsimmons at Salon. He is, after all, the father of the sort of biting humor that has "shaped American wit" as well as commentary on American society and politics. "He's a crotchety, cocky, rambling old man telling it like it is" — as one bookseller put it, "if he were alive today, he'd totally be a blogger."
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The suspense has been building for a century: Mark Twain insisted that his memoir not be printed for a century, says Charles R. Larson at Counterpunch, to avoid offending his friends and loved ones. "He believed his opinions — especially about religion and politics — were so controversial that he couldn’t express himself freely during his own lifetime." Why wouldn't people be desperate to find out what "the country's greatest writer" really wanted to say?
"The last word, one hundred years later"

Readers are hoping for scandal: The question everyone is asking, says Jonathan Bate at Britain's Telegraph, is: What long-suppressed scandal might the book reveal? Something to do with Twain's sex life, or the contentious question of race relations, which has made Huck Finn a book that was once banned for being pro-black and later banned again for being anti-black?"
"'Autobiography of Mark Twain: Vol I': review"

If so, they'll be disappointed: "Don't expect much" in Twain's book to be "shocking or new," says Judith Shulevitz at Slate. Most of the good stuff has been "published elsewhere" by biographers who sifted through the raw material. On the whole, this "unexpurgated" volume "is tame, unfrank, and highly embarrassed." Not to mention far too long and "amorphous." It should have been "shaped into something smaller and more pungent."
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