By Mallika Rao
Updated November 10, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST
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Autobiography of Mark Twain: Vol 1

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  • Book

What?s impressive about the Autobiography of Mark Twain, beyond the obvious sensation of its publication 100 years after the author?s death, is the very way Twain conceived the book. For him it was a scheme like any other — both an intellectual riddle (how to speak his ”whole frank mind”) and an easy source of money and acclaim he could excerpt at will for the odd magazine piece. The book itself is not exactly revelatory; biographers, who were allowed to read the manuscript, have mined it for years (though there are still plenty of fun ”hidden” bits, like a clever ode to Thanksgiving as the ”exterminating” holiday).

Twain shunned chronology or any kind of organization, preferring to dictate whatever thoughts were on his mind, flitting lightly among topics. There?s a wonderful section on his early life in Missouri. And his domestic essays are standouts, especially one about a servant who talked too much (and whom Twain loved for it), as well as all of the pieces on his daughter Susy, who died at 24. His ”whole frank mind,” sharp and funny, is seared onto every page. A

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