Letters from the Earth

Letters From The Earth: Uncensored Writings
by Mark Twain

I found this book when I was looking for a copy of The Diaries of Adam and Eve, as this posthumous collection covers some similar ground. It incorporates biblical “memoirs”, other criticism, letters, and a section titled “The Damned Human Race”. I read much of the book while riding various trains, although boats might have been more appropriate. Some highlights:

Papers of the Adam Family
When God creates Man, the angels express confusion as to what purpose this new animal serves. Satan’s letters commenting on human civilization that results are classic Twain, and occasionally enabled me to laugh out loud in public. Subsequent writings from Eve, Methuselah, and Shem all illustrate similar points, and while the conceit thins before it ends, it is all well-written and worthwhile. The reader will note that, while Mr. Twain’s voice is constant throughout, the various “authors” do add variety to what could have otherwise been a dull narrative of American civilization transplanted into the past, along with educational institutions, government, and time-appropriate religion.

Cooper’s Prose Style
The author’s infamous tirade against J. Fenimore Cooper is witty, to the point, thorough, and understandable without having read a word of Mr. Cooper’s work, and the counts of unnecessary words are particularly good.

From an Unfinished Burlesque of Books on Etiquette
The pairing of Mr. Twain with etiquette seems too good an opportunity to pass up, and it is unfortunate that this book was never completed. The section on how a young gentleman should behave when rescuing a lady from a fire is wonderfully surreal.

The Great Dark
Mr. Twain wrote more than one story of what would now be considered science-fiction. This story of a never-ending ocean voyage is presented by the author without any overt commentary or agenda, and it is arguably the most powerful piece in the book.

Letters from the Earth contains a commendable variety of material, although it might not be the best introduction to the author’s writings.


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