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This is the story that made Twain famous. First published in 1865, it spread like a wild YouTube video. It has all the elements of a classic Twain story—humor, tall tales, a little ribbing of Eastern and Western sensibilities and characters who end up getting taken down a peg or two by their own greed and self-importance.
Ernest Hemingway called this the best book in American literature. The Concord Library called it the "veriest trash." We side with Ernie. Twain's chronicle of boy hero Huckleberry Finn is his greatest work and a classic of American literature. Fair warning: the book is one of the most frequently banned in the U.S. because of its frequent use of the n-word.
This memoir of Twain's years in the West shows off everything that's great about Mark Twain, especially his willingness to make fun of everyone and everything—including himself. In this snapshot of his incredibly full life, Twain chronicles his adventures in silver mines, Mormon country, Hawaii, San Francisco, and more.
This was Mark Twain's favorite of his books. It is a fictional transcript from Joan of Arc's personal secretary that Twain claims to have "found." Twain believed it was the best book he ever wrote, an opinion that critics have tended not to share. Perhaps his reasons for liking the story were more personal—he based the character of Joan on his beloved daughter Susy, who died the same year it was published, at the age of 24.
Paine was Twain's official biographer and literary executor. He actually moved in with Twain in 1906 to collect material and stayed until Twain's death in 1910. Though it's clear that Paine was exceptionally close to and fond of his subject, this biography is a detailed and often heartbreaking look inside Twain's private life. You can read the entire thing online—see our Primary Documents section.
Railton is the English professor at the University of Virginia who created the amazing website, Mark Twain in His Times. His book is a great introduction to Twain's life and work, clearly laying out an argument for Twain's importance to American literature.