For some people, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are the only masterpieces Mark Twain gave to literature.
But, there’s more to Mark Twain than simply the Adventures of Sawyer and Finn, he is one of the best writers that America has ever produced.
This iconic figure in American literature gave the world a ridiculously good catalog, publications filled with aphorisms, satire, humor, social commentary, and a lot of bits and pieces of experiences from his life.
He is more than a writer, and even after his death, he remains one of the loudest critics of America’s never-ending and multifaceted discriminations. He criticized the poor treatment of African Americans, talked about class relations, and criticized the exploitative practices of powerful nations. His sentiments mattered to Main Street and Wall Street, and his wit and deep conviction were seen as positive across racial divides.
Before we get the complete list, let’s take a look at his best 3 books and the man behind the name.
At a Glance: Our Top 3 Picks for Mark Twain Books
Who Was Mark Twain?
Mark Twain, whose real name is Samuel Clemens, was born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. Samuel Clemens was the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens, and at age 4, Samuel and his family relocated to the frontier town of Hannibal, Missouri, a state only 18 years into its statehood in 1821. Growing up there, he witnessed slavery first hand—in fact, ‚his father owned one slave while his uncle owned several enslaved people—and interacted with the enslaved people in their quarters on his uncle’s farm.
Samuel Clemens’ father died of pneumonia when Sam was 11. John Marshall’s death worsened the family’s financial burden so Sam left school and worked some odd jobs. During his youth, Samuel Clemens lived in a social environment filled with terrible events, an environment that stunk like a dish made of slavery, violence, and financial instability. Many undesirable events occurred, and some of them subtly made it into his novels. For example, he discovered a corpse in his father’s office in 1844, he witnessed a man being shot to death by a local merchant in the street (an incident which he recreated as the Boggs shooting in his novel Huckleberry Finn). Sam and his friends also discovered the drowned and mutilated body of a fugitive slave while fishing on the Mississippi.
Sam first used the Mark Twain pen name when he began writing for the Territorial Enterprise, a Virginia City‚ Nevada newspaper.
In 1865, Mark Twain’s short story Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog was published in papers across the country.
Mark Twain acquired fame for he published travel chronicles The Innocents Abroad (1869) and Roughing It (1872). He cemented his status with his adventure stories: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).
Mark Twain’s own story is one of success in the face of adversity. He managed to overcome apparent limitations and woes in his life (i.e., orphanhood and poverty) to become a famous one of America’s most revered writers.
It is assumed that Clemens inherited his sense of humor from his mother because his father, John Clemens, was said to be a serious man who rarely demonstrated affection and had a temperament that was worsened by his financial situation.
Even in her old age, Sam’s mother, Jane Clemens, was funny. Samuel Clemens once asked his mother about his poor health during his childhood, this was the conversation:
“I suppose that during that whole time you were uneasy about me?” “Yes, the whole time,” she answered. “Afraid I wouldn’t live?” “No,” she said, “afraid you would.”
The Complete List of Books by Mark Twain
Here’s a list of Mark Twain’s published works, some published during his lifetime, and others, posthumously:
- The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, fiction, (1867)
- My Late Senatorial Secretaryship, fiction, (1868)
- General Washington’s Body-Servant, fiction, (1868)
- The Innocents Abroad, fiction, (1869)
- Eye Openers (1871)
- Mark Twain’s Autobiography and First Romance (1871)
- Screamers (1871)
- The Innocents At Home (1872)
- Roughing It, nonfiction, (1872)
- The Gilded Age, fiction, (1873)
- Mark Twain’s Sketches (1874)
- Sketches, New and Old, fictional stories, (1875)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, fiction, (1876)
- Old Times on the Mississippi, non-fiction, (1876)
- A Tramp Abroad, travel, (1880)
- 1601: Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors, 1880, (fiction)
- The Prince and the Pauper, fiction, (1881)
- The Stolen White Elephant, fiction, (1882)
- Life on the Mississippi, memoir (1883)
- The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, fiction, (1884)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, fiction, (1885)
- Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, fiction, (1886)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, fiction, (1889)
- Merry Tales, fiction, (1892)
- The American Claimant, fiction, (1892)
- The £1,000,000 Bank Note and Other New Stories, fictional stories, (1893)
- Tom Sawyer Abroad, fiction, (1894)
- Tom Sawyer Detective, fiction, (1896)
- Following the Equator, nonfiction travel, (1897)
- How to Tell a Story and Other Essays (1897)
- The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, fiction, (1900)
- A Double Barrelled Detective Story, fiction, (1902)
- A Dog’s Tale, fiction, (1904)
- Extracts from Adam’s Diary, fiction, (1904)
- King Leopold’s Soliloquy, political satire, (1905)
- The War Prayer, fiction, (1905)
- Eve’s Diary, fiction, (1906)
- My Debut as a Literary Person: With Other Essays And Stories (1903) (1906)
- The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories, fiction, (1906)
- What is Man? Essay, (1906)
- A Horse’s Tale, fiction, (1907)
- Christian Science, nonfiction, (1907)
- Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, fiction, (1909)
- Is Shakespeare Dead? Nonfiction, (1909)
- Mark Twain’s Speeches (1910)
- The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories, fiction, (1916)
- The Adventures of Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass (1928)
- A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage, fiction, (1876, 1945, & 2001)
- Letters from the Earth, edited by Bernard DeVoto, (1962)
- The Adventures of Colonel Sellers (1965)
- Concerning the Jews (1985)
- Alonzo Fitz and Other Stories (2001)
Best Mark Twain Books
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
The classic adventure story follows Tom, a young mischievous boy who lives along the shores of the Mississippi River. Tom, a romantic and young dreamer, creates a handful of mischievous incidents on his own, but when he teams up with a new buddy, Huckleberry Finn, their trouble sheet overshoots!
This story is both a wonderful children’s book but is also perfect for adults who feel like age is nothing but a number. It doesn’t have in it a dull moment, it’s humorous, and sort of touching when you’re deep in it.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, probably, Mark Twain’s most famous work of fiction. The story follows Huck (the penniless son of the town drunk) and his friend Jim (a runaway slave) as they escape from the town and drift southward along the great Mississippi. The two runaways encounter and, unavoidably, become entangled with adventure, danger, and characters who are either menacing or hilarious or both.
The story subtly carries with discussions of racism, morality, and humanity.
Roughing It (1872)
Apart from his works of fiction, Mark Twain was also good at giving an account of his personal experiences and seasoning these stories with humor. He wrote Roughing It before he turned 40 (he was about 37 years old), and it narrates his time exploring the “Wild West.” This is a relatively young Mark Twain, yet the chronicles of his time traveling from town to town in Nevada, working as a prospector, a reporter, a mill worker paints a picture of a life well-lived and befitting a middle-aged man.
Memorable Mark Twain Quotes
Sam Clemens always dished out wisdom to his audiences. Many of Clemens’ wise words still float around and are among the most shared quotes on social media.
These are some of the memorable quotes Mark Twain left us:
“Character is the architect of achievements.”
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
“Be good and you will be lonesome.”
“If books are not good company, where will I find it?”
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
“Honor is a harder master than law.”
“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”
“Architects cannot teach nature anything.”
“All good things arrive unto them that wait and don’t die in the meantime.”
“When in doubt, tell the truth.”
“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
Mark Twain FAQs
Why is Samuel Clemens known as Mark Twain?
Sam first used the Mark Twain pen name when he began writing for the Territorial Enterprise‚ a Virginia City‚ Nevada newspaper. Clemens said that he adopted the name from his steamboating days. In those days, “mark twain” meant two fathoms or 12 feet and was used when measuring the depth of the water.
Who were some of his influences as a writer?
Mark Twain was influenced by events in real life, folk tales, and mythology, but there were figures that inspired him. Among them were: Shakespeare, Sir Thomas Malory, Robert Browning, Cervantes, Charles Dickens, William Dean Howells, and others.
When did Mark Twain die?
Sam Clemens died on 21 April 1910. He suffered from various age-related conditions and died in sleep.
Where is Mark Twain buried?
Mark Twain is buried where the rest of his family is all buried: in Elmira, New York.
Did Mark Twain travel a lot?
Yes. Mark Twain traveled all over the world, and he, sometimes, had his family join him. He also wrote a lot about his travels in books, including A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, The Innocents Abroad, and others.
Mark Twain: A Life Well lived and Well Written
Mark Twain became a man at a very young age. For most of us, the adversities he faced would have provided enough reason to turn to a life of crime.
Thankfully, we are not Mark Twain. He used the experiences to give America, and the whole of us, delicious works of fiction and delectable nonfiction pieces.
Even now, his works are collectible items and the last time I checked, the print version of the first edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) sold for around $3000.
That price compared to the $10 books all over Amazon tells you how valuable this man’s works are more than a century after his death.