on May 30, 2004
Letters from the Earth is an assortment of unpublished-for-60-years writings by Mark Twain. They cover a wide span of subject matter ranging from critiques of the prose style of another writer to the author's construction of the Old Testament and God from the perspective of Satan. In addition to Letters From Earth (Satan's), the contents includes Papers of the Adam Family, The Damned Human Race, Something About Repentance, Was the World Made For Man, In the Animal's Court, The Intelligence of God, The Lowest Animal and others.
Readers who are offended by careful examinations of the meaning and implications of holy or sacred writings of the Old Testiment will not enjoy this book. The author, whatever his actual religious beliefs, probably wasn't an Old Testiment Christian. In this series of short writings he takes specific stories from the OT and holds them into the light away from the long traditions that accompany them in most of our minds. He examines the evidence of the stories for hints of what sort of creature God must be if the OT is true. He extropolates what Satan might be.
I'm an admirer of this author and I believe everything he ever wrote is worth reading and digesting. I put this book alongside his best. But I also admit that if I harbored a microbe of religious fanatic somewhere inside me I'd be hard-pressed to enjoy reading Letters From the Earth.
on December 15, 2003
I'm a big Twain fan but I'll keep it simple.
This book, a collection really, is short and sweet. If you have any interest in: sociology (particularly American), religion (particularly American), cultural commentary (particularly American), trying to explain the human condition (not particularly American) or comedy, this is a very good selection. And it will take you only a matter of hours to dip into some of Twain's funniest--and prickly--thoughts.
I mean it.
on December 4, 2002
The final two-thirds of this book is made up of bits and pieces from Twain's unpublished tinkerings, some fairly interesting (such as the hallucinatory novella that concludes the volume) and some pretty dull. Of course, the main reason to check out this book is the white-hot assault on organized religion, "Letters From The Earth", that opens things up and from which this volume draws its title. Agree or disagree, you won't soon forget Twain's memorable tirade. No wonder, though, that he chose to keep it to himself while still nurturing his publishing career.
on March 18, 2004
As much as I enjoyed his more famous books, it is actually this work that makes him even more genius to me. I was totally taken aback. His opinions on religion and the hypocrosy of it all were almost exactly as mine as I read along. I thought that no one was like that... let alone back then... but indeed he was. To know that such a great man felt the same way as I did regarding the Bible and human behavior brings me great comfort.
I only wish he were alive so I could personally thank him.
on July 24, 2002
This book is probably not what you are expecting. If you are looking for a free-wheelin' adventure story along the lines of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, you will not only be disappointed, but most probably shocked. However, if you are looking for an entire book of irrevent writings - as I was - then that's not what you're getting, either. Something less than half of the book (say, roughly, 1/3) consists of deliciously irrevent writings, drained from Mark Twain's pen of bitter ink. The best among these is the title section, "Letters From The Earth", in which Satan writes back to archangels Gabriel and Michael about his visit to earth and the "human race experiment", after his banishment from heaven. In these letters, Mark Twain points out various absurtities and illogical assertions and beliefs about human religions, and unflinchingly describes the vanity and hypocrisy of many of its adherents. I was under the impression that the entire book consisted of these letters; however, I was wrong. It is merely the first section of the book, occupying some 30-50 pages. For people who are highly into this kind of writing, however - as I am - it is worth the price of admission alone. There are several other pieces in the book along this line - including the famous essays Was The World Made For Man? and The Lowest Animal - which display not only Mark Twain's essential pessimism, but his very rational mind and hilarous wit. These pieces are an absolutely essential read for the lover of satire: few better examples are to be found anywhere in literature. The rest of the book, however, is a mixed bag. It consits of various pieces from the "Mark Twain Papers" - a collection of his writings (mostly unfinished) the he decreed to have published sometime after his death. Among these are a few interesting pieces (most of them various satires, several on religious topics), while others are more broadly ranging: everything from a completely improvised tale that he used to put his two children to bed to an unfinished fantasy piece that the editor seems to attach rather a lot of importance to, but whose actual virtue is somewhat more questionable. These pieces range from vaguely interesting to mildly funny to downright boring. Several would've probably been better served by being included in other volumes, while several should probably have been left unpublished. Still, there are definitely some essential writings in this volume that any fan of Mark Twain - or satire, or irrevent writings, for that matter - will want to read.
on January 15, 2002
I first read "Letters from the Earth" in 1962, when I was a highschool student in Redding, CT. Redding was the last home of Mark Twain, and those who held his literary legacy as sacred, his library as a shrine, were definitely upset and embarrased when it was published. All this made it compelling reading for an adolescent who was beginning to notice the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and downright insanities of human belief.
"Letters from the Earth" shook loose the stones of my foundation: a service for which I'll be forever grateful. Including himself in his witty attack on Earthly Man's frailties, Twain's observations encouraged me to trust my own perceptions, prod sacred cows, and ultimately to forgive myself for being at best, "a nickel-plated angel".
I've read, reread, and revered most of Twain's legacy, but I think of this particular book as a treasurebox full of letters from a brilliant, irascible but loving uncle each of us should have known sometime in our lives. I only wish I'd remembered to share it with my own kids when they were adolescents. I must make amends right now...AFTER I've reread it myself.
Mark Twain remains the foremost writer in North America's literary scene. Widely imitated but never equaled, his perception and wit gave him mastery over nearly every topic. Although derided for it in his own time, his stature derives from his audience: he wrote for everyone, excluding none. Those who know Twain will find this collection a decorative capstone to works published a century ago. Nearly every work of social commentary [and few of his works miss that definition] touched on the topics presented here. But he harboured deeper feelings on many subjects, particularly the sham of Christianity, noting them down and hiding them away. Two world wars and world depression shattered many illusions and changed attitudes. Finally, this wonderful collection was released to be joyfully received by Twain fans. One can only wonder what he would have thought of the reaction.
The commonalty among the essays is man's place in the universe. The title is invoked in a series of letters from a banished archangel. It's a cold-water bath for the new Twain reader. How many Christians have truly considered what awaits them in their "heaven"? An earlier essay, Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven suggested Twain's thinking on the subject, but the Letters From the Earth is a raw inquiry into what environment "paradise" holds for the unthinking. Other aspects of Biblical teachings are covered in the Papers of the Adams Family. What society developed in those centuries between Genesis and The Deluge? Twain surveys the vagaries of his contemporary scene and projects them backward to that early age. It's an hilarious review of human frailty well suited to modern outlook. It's also a cry from heart at the realization of little humans change over time.
It's noteworthy that Twain would notice Alfred Russell Wallace, who produced a nearly identical theory of evolution to Charles Darwin's. Darwin would have secretly admired the essays comprising The Damned Human Race. After a gentle acknowledgment to Wallace's suggestion that the heavens and earth were purposely designed for man, Twain utterly demolishes the idea. That he used evidence only beginning to be understood is a tribute to his genius. The essay should be read by every churchgoer [and not a few science teachers] living today. The clarity of his logic, presented with the wit only Twain could present, makes this subset one of the highlights of the book.
Twain remained interested in everything he encountered in his lifetime. He maintained a fine balance between castigating unsupported revelations and applauding scientific progress. The Great Dark is a venture into the microscopic world through the mechanism of a dream. The dreamer is drawn into a droplet of water, sailing an endless ocean with his family and the crew of an unsuspecting ship. It's a tale that worthy of comparison with any fantasy of Jules Verne.
Why there are so few reviews of this book here is disturbing. More people need to read this collection and understand its importance and value. Twain was North America's greatest Renaissance Man. He traveled the planet, observed and assessed with insight and precision. Nothing he wrote is obscure and little of his work is outdated. Take yourself beyond the boyhood memories of Tom Sawyer and the horrible film productions of his writings. Meet the man at his honest best in this book. Rejoice in the knowledge he was, and is, among us.
on February 11, 1999
Mark Twain's cynicism toward religion was an eye opening experience to me as a naive 13 year-old. After being raised with a strong Protestant background, to be presented with the notions that 1) God and His angels were uncaring entities who weren't even aware of our existence, and 2) that we humans were laughably stupid to think that we were God's chosen ones in all the Universe were shocking blasphemies! But many of Twain's comments, speaking as Satan, became grist for my teenage brain; the brain that was beginning to look outward toward the world and wonder about my place in it.
I am now 48 years-old. In thinking back to my first reading of LFTE, I have come to realize that this book might well have represented the first step in shaping the beliefs I hold today. I eagerly await my second reading of Twain's "Letters" to see, at mid-life, how they settle in my heart and brain now that I have married and have two children (ages 10 and 14). I believe I'll read them some of the more delicious passages!
on March 28, 1997
Much of this book deals with concepts of God, Heaven, and the Bible which were popular during Mark Twain's time. I thought that parts of the book were excellent, and others were far less so.
"Letters from the Earth" are written by Satan to Michael and Gabriel, and report on his Earthly investigations into the human-race experiment. There are other such writings, e.g., "Letter to the Earth," "Something about Repentance," and "The Damned Human Race," which are intelligent and entertaining.
Also entertaining is "Cooper's Prose Style," a sequel to MT's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," and "From an Unfinished Burlesque of Books on Etiquette."
The rest of the pieces I wouldn't miss had they been omitted. "Papers of the Adam Family," wherein Adam and Eve write about Eden and each other, deals with themes that MT treats better in other writings. "Official Report to the I.I.A.S." merely states that something is hard to prove under the rules for proving facts, and easy to prove under the rules for establishing miracles.
Like most of MT's writings, half is beautiful genius, and the other half is merely tedious.
on March 24, 2000
Letters from the Earth is a compilation of Twain's work, some of which was not in finished form and was never intended to be published. At the time of writing much of this, he was experiencing significant financial and personal hardships. Much of the material in LFTE itself was Twain trying to rationalize the irrational in religion, just as he was trying to sort things out in his own life. At that, he was taking a tonque-in-cheek look at that which his audience viewed as sacred. His primary thought was to stimulate independent thought; he wrote not so much to condemn as to question. Of course, his natural inclination to laugh at the human condition comes out in force. The best short piece in the anthology is the Letter to the Earth. Bill Gates might be Abner Scofield.... Overall, this is a great collection, but I don't expect to see it on any high school's course syllabus in the near future.