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Mark Twain lounges in a chair, wearing his iconic white suit. Mark Twain wrote dozens of books, short stories, and newspaper articles in his time. (The Granger Collection)

Mark Twain's 100-Year-Old Secrets

Famous author’s autobiography hits bookstores 100 years after his death

By Zach Jones | November 16 , 2010
<br />Famously, Tom tricks friends into painting his aunt's fence in <i>The Adventures of Tom Sawyer</i>.<br /><br />(PoodlesRock / Corbis)

Famously, Tom tricks friends into painting his aunt's fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

(PoodlesRock / Corbis)

What has Mark Twain been hiding from fans all these years? That's what historians have been wondering for the past century.

One of America's most beloved authors, Twain asked that his publishers not release his autobiography for at least 100 years after his death, which was in 1910. Yesterday, the first of three volumes, or books, that tell Twain's life story arrived in bookstores—and it's already a best-seller.

Critics say Twain's autobiography includes some of his best writing. That's a big compliment. Twain left behind a lot of writings—from essays and novels to short stories and traveler's tales. He loved to write about the lives of everyday Americans, as in his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and the famous short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Some of the best-known characters in American literature, including Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, were created by Twain.

Twain's real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. "Mark Twain" is a pseudonym, a fake name that masks a person's true identity. He wrote about big issues, like racism, that were controversial in his day. That's why he used a pseudonym. He wanted to protect himself from critics. Instead, Twain found an audience of fans that saw him as a beloved writer and a zany jokester.

What was so controversial in his autobiography that Twain thought it could not be published during his lifetime? He wanted his memoirs to be honest, so he refused to hold back his opinions. He criticized the government, business leaders, religion, and what he viewed as the country's culture of racism. He hoped America would be different by the time his book was published.

In one example, Twain criticized the U.S. Army for killing 600 members of the Moro tribe in the Philippines, including women and children, after being given the order to "kill or capture" the tribe. "Apparently our little Army considered that the 'or' left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste," Twain wrote.

The first book is more than 750 pages. But editor Robert Hirst says not to worry about that too much. "I would recommend what Mark Twain would recommend," he says. "If you're bored with it, skip it."

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    The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy)

    The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy)

    by Barbara Kerley and Dewin Fotheringham

    Susy Clemens thought the world was wrong about her papa. They saw Mark Twain as "a humorist joking at everything." But he was so much more, and Susy was determined to set the record straight. In a journal she kept under her pillow, Susy documented her world-famous father-from his habits (good and bad!) to his writing routine to their family's colorful home life. Her frank, funny, tender biography (which came to be one of Twain's most prized possessions) gives rare insight and an unforgettable perspective on an American icon. Inserts with excerpts from Susy's actual journal give added appeal.

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    The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

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    by Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham

    Based on an actual diary kept by Twain's 13-year-old daughter, Susy Twain provides a first person account packed with wonderful details about life with her famous father. "Delightful."—SLJ

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