The legend is this: Mark Twain suppressed his own autobiography for a century, as it contained opinions so savage that even his descendants would suffer for them. As it turns out, we’re mostly we’re talking about avoiding run-of the-mill libel suits, and we already knew of his gift for invective.
The book puts people off with its bulk, but the actual text only runs about 400 pages, the rest being reference notes, prefaces and so forth. More problematic is Twain’s approach to autobiography. Having made some attempts before, he settled on the idea of simply dictating what was on his mind to a stenographer, mixing current affairs with reminiscence. The modern reader then, is faced with the choice of skimming over the ancient current events, or digging into the references, making an already long book interminable. Worse, what survives seems to be a first draft, complete with “I think that was in 1854. No, 1853. 1854, I’m certain now,” type ditherings.
Still, there’s some good stuff here. My favorite parts were Twain’s memories of being a boy in Hannibal, and I bet you know why. He also quotes from a biography his daughter wrote about him when she was a girl, and amplifies her facts. On balance, I’m looking forward to volume 2.