Famous American author Mark Twain wrote more than 30 books in his lifetime and dozens of short stories and essays. Here are our top ten Mark Twain favorites, plus two collections of his essays and short stories for you to see for yourself why he has been called the “greatest American humorist of his age,” and the “father of American literature.”
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Tom Sawyer skips school, hides out on an island, falls in love, witnesses crimes, and comes back from the dead—twice! At the center of his adventures is Injun Joe, a mur-derous villain who kills Doctor Robinson, an event witnessed by no one except Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Even though Tom Sawyer has long been defined as the very concept of American boyhood, Mark Twain himself made this surprising disclo-sure: “[It] is not a boy’s book at all. It was written only for adults.” Whether you are a child or an adult, Tom Sawyer truly is “a panorama of happy memory”.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Faking his own death, Huckleberry Finn runs from his drunken, abusive father, and dis-covers Jim, a runaway slave, along the way. Unfortunately, because the slave’s disappear-ance coincides with Huck’s, everyone thinks Jim killed Huck. Thus follows a tale of es-cape and survival as Huck and Jim raft down the Mississippi river.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Hank, a late 19th century Yankee, suddenly finds himself in King Arthur’s court. Hank passes himself off as a magician greater than Merlin himself and almost single-handedly transforms 6th century England into a 19th land—complete with schools, trains, telephones and factories. Filled with Twain’s characteristic wit, this work represents the author’s opinion that laissez-faire capitalism, progress, and technology are the best.
Pudd’nhead Wilson: Taking place in the antebellum South, Pudd’nhead is the story of a slave child and a freeborn child who switch identities. Pudd’nhead himself is an intellectual with a penchant for amateur detection. The book parades as a murder mystery and a social commentary—in other words, this work is characteristically Twain in all the right ways.
The Prince and the Pauper: Two boys who look alike—one a prince, the other poor—accidentally switch places and live out the rest of their lives in each other’s life. A predecessor to Connecticut Yankee, this work was Twain’s earliest attempt to join his fascination for Europe’s romantic past with his inclination to satirize his own society and age. Twain’s recurring criticism is that people mistake outward appearance as the gauge of true worth. Anyone can be a king, just as the pauper—given the chance—learns to be a good king.
The American Claimant: The Earl of Rossmore is distressed when an American of no name or birth claims his title. The American Claimant is about Americans, the way they view
themselves and the way they are viewed by others through the eyes of a British noble-man.
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc: Told from the viewpoint of a lifelong friend of the French heroine, Joan of Arc is an amazing departure from Twain’s usual style. Throughout Twain’s life, Joan of Arc remained his favorite historical figure and the book reveals what some have called an “splendidly expressive side of Twain.” Twain himself wrote, “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best… And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others.”
How Nancy Jackson Married Kate Wilson, and other tales of Rebellious Girls and Daring Young Women: If you think Mark Twain only wrote about boys’ adventures, guess again. This collection holds thirteen stories about unconventional and daring young women who fight battles, ride stallions, rescue boys from rivers, cross-dress, debate religion, hunt, square off against angry bulls, or—in what may be the most flagrant flouting of Victorian convention—marry other women!
Roughing It: In this touched up autobiography, Twain reminisces about five years spent roaming around the United States, from the Nevada territory to California and to the Hawaiian Islands (“Sandwich Islands”). This work was a pioneer for the emerging genre of “New Journalism” or “non-fiction” as we now call it, and is widely regarded as his best travel book. It tracks his progress as an Easterner who sheds greenhorn notions and becomes pro-Western.
The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrim’s Progress: In one of the most influential travel books ever written about Europe and the Holy Land, Twain humorously juxtaposes American “New Barbarianism” and the European “Old World.” Happily deconstructing the ethos of American tourism in Europe, Twain’s satire reveals just what it is that defines cultural identity. As he put it, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
The Complete Essays of Mark Twain: An exposé of the complete range of his genius and satire, Twain’s essays reflect his real view on the subjects with enough of the ridiculous to keep anyone from taking anything too seriously.
The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain: “Moral” lessons, bitter irony, facetious advice, and modern fables all collide in Twain’s short works. Some of the famous ones include “The Mysterious Stranger,” “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and “The Diary of Adam and Eve.”