Summary of "The Autobiography of Mark Twain"

by Jacob Andrew
From 1906 until his death in 1910, Mark Twain dictated his autobiography to a stenographer.

From 1906 until his death in 1910, Mark Twain dictated his autobiography to a stenographer.

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Famed American author Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) never released a full, official autobiography in his lifetime. In 1906, he instead elected to dictate various stories of his life to a stenographer. These dictations and some writings prior to that culminated in a rather large manuscript by Twain's death in 1910. In the years that followed, Twain's estate published highly edited and reconfigured pieces of these manuscripts, but his last will and testament stated that the memoirs in their entirety were to remain unpublished for at least 100 years. The first of three volumes was published in November 2010.


Twain's life story takes a different structure than most. Instead of a strict chronological approach, "The Autobiography of Mark Twain" moves between themes and stories presented in the order in which he dictated them to his stenographer. This is in stark contrast to efforts of previous editors of smaller biographies. One of the editors of those biographies, Albert Bigelow Paine, cut out large sections of the works, while future editors placed the stories in chronological order, against Twain's living wishes.

Tone and Style

Because the work is dictated and not written, it differs from the tone of Twain's other works. Twain apparently preferred this method for his autobiography, as it gave a fluid, conversational tone. Twain scholars, who managed to read the manuscript prior to its University of California publication, agreed with that assessment of the style.

Size and Scope

The current book in print is actually the first volume of Mark Twain's complete memoirs. All told, the University of California Press expects the tome to result in three volumes, totaling over 500,000 words. The first volume is mostly derived from his initial attempts to write his autobiography, an endeavor that began nearly 36 years before he began dictating.

The Stories

There exists much speculation as to why Twain wanted his full works withheld for 100 years. Some claim he wanted to say whatever he wanted about people and situations without the worry that it would damage his or his family's reputation. This argument has merit, as Twain's stories strike boldly at the heart of topics such as his doubts about God and his distaste for American imperialism of the time. In some instances, one can see how his vitriol could be damaging, as when he referred to American troops in the Philippines as "our uniformed assassins." But for the most part, Twain's stories are merely a more personal version of many of his observations -- a sardonic look at the world through the lens of his experiences. Though his references are dated, many of his musing on life, death and politics are as relevant today as when he first laid down his words over 100 years ago.

About the Author

Jacob Andrew previously worked as an A+ and CCNA-certified technology specialist. After receiving his BA in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2012, he turned his focus towards writing about travel, politics and current technology.

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