We watched Ken Burns’ documentary on Mark Twain over the last two nights. It’s amazing what one book can do for you. He was generally unknown until he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and got critical acclaim with Huckleberry Finn. He wrote lots of other books and articles and funny quotes, but nothing as significant. He became rich and poor several times due to his writing and the publishing house he founded, but being overly greedy (after all, he said “I am not an American, I am the American”) lost a lot of money in get-rich-quick schemes. Later in life, he became involved in politics and was always a sharp critic of social ills, especially those caused by racism and religion.

Other interesting things: He smoked 40 cigars a day; wore only white suits after his wife died; was asked by Bell to invest in the telephone but he refused thinking there was no market for a telephone (although he invested in many other money-losing ideas); was the first to write a manuscript on a typewriter; he took the name “Mark Twain” (his real name is Samuel Clemens) from the Mississippi riverboat term for where the water becomes calm (“quarter twain”, “half twain” and “mark twain”), he was born and died during Halley’s comet visit by Earth.

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