Letters From the Earth: New Uncensored Writings by Mark Twain

by Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Other authorsBernard DeVoto (Editor), Henry Nash Smith (Preface)
Paper Book, 1963




Fawcett Crest (1963), 240 pages


Letters from the Earth is one of Mark Twain's posthumously published works. The essays were written during a difficult time in Twain's life; he was deep in debt and had lost his wife and one of his daughters. The book consists of a series of short stories, many of which deal with God and Christianity. The title story consists of letters written by the archangel Satan to archangels, Gabriel and Michael,about his observations on the curious proceedings of earthly life and the nature of man's religions. Other short stories in the book include a bedtime story about a family of cats Twain wrote for his daughters, and an essay explaining why an anaconda is morally superior to Man.

Original publication date






(378 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member davidpwithun
There's nothing quite like reading Mark Twain that helps one to remember what American literature could and should be, but, unfortunately, isn't. Mark Twain was the best America has ever produced. Satire as a literary genre might as well not exist today when compared with that of Twain. This
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particular book is a collection of perhaps simultaneously some of the funniest, most insightful, most uncomfortably true, and most challenging short stories and essays that Twain wrote. Forget Colbert and Stewart; if you want real satire of the absurdities of the modern world and of the American people and government (still relevant, even if written a hundred and more years ago), this is the place to go. Forget Hitchens and Dawkins; if you want a critique of Christian faith and practice that is really relevant, challenging, and insightful, this, again, is the place to go. I recommend this book for those with a good sense of humor, a decent head on their shoulders, and a little intestinal fortitude.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
By far one of Twain's all time bests. The master humorist turns his attention to the strange conditions of human belief, and a series of short stories and essays addresses the condition Twain has referred to as the "damn human race". He begins with the title story, a tale as told by the devil
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himself, visiting earth and reporting back (with much amusement) to heaven. Then he follows that up with the history of the "Adam family", including exerpts from Eve's autobiography and Methuselah's diary. In the hands of such a master satirist, the result is uproraringly amusing, and yet at the same time profound enough to make you think about things in a way you've never thought about them before.
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LibraryThing member NOPL
This collection begins with a wonderful, outrageous and totally irreverent account of Satan's views regarding the inhabitants of Earth following the Creation. I have hear that Twin's relatives disallowed publication of this work for many years after his death because they did not wish to "tarnish"
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his reputation. It is my own personal belief (and wish) that this is the real Mark Twain. This is a hilarious slam at the ridiculous fairy tale promoted by Christianity. I LOVED IT!
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LibraryThing member librarianbryan
Gloves off Twain is always better than hokey Twain and man the gloves are off for this one. The first half is letters Lucifer sent home to his angel buddies back in heaven. Lucifer has been exiled. Bored of swooping through galactic emptiness he visits God's experiment Earth. He is flabbergasted by
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what he finds there. Eat your heart out C.S. Lewis. Though I plan on protecting my children from the vulgarities of monotheistic religion, I would consider these for bed time stories.

The letters are cuttingly funny, but the similarly themed essays which accompany them make this work a little one note. You could always just listen to Lucifer's letters and leave it at that.

Carl Reiner does a terrific job capturing Twain's cadence. He lit Twain's prose on fire.
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Typical Twain. Brilliance amid some blather. The opening essay was outstanding, the autobiography of Eve, was very familiar and often hilarious, and the last unfinished story was superb Sci Fi resembling Asimov's, The Fantastic Voyage.
LibraryThing member bicyclewriter
The version I read seemed to have a number of additional pieces at the end of Letters from the Earth. I loved Letters from the Earth, but the stuff added on in the second half was hit and miss. It's easy to see why Twain thought this work would never be published due to censorship. He pulls no
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punches as he takes on religion with satyrical vengeance. I really enjoyed it a lot. If you don't want your religious views challenged - no matter what they are - you probably want to shy away from this one.
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LibraryThing member steadfastreader
The first set of essays 'Letters from the Earth' are excellent. The essays then (inexplicably) continue into different topics. Some of them are fantastic and some are just 'eh. Overall - this is classic Twain and defintely worth the read.
LibraryThing member egonzalez111
The book is a very humorous and does a good job of poking fun at the religious and biblical figures and events within it. Twain has a great way of taking on the character of Lucifer, and has a great deal of fun ridiculing the so called "monkeys" of the Earth (Humans!!) for their sometimes
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ridiculous and pety beliefs.
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LibraryThing member break
Before reading "Letters from the Earth" I didn't know much about Mark Twain. I read and enjoyed his Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stories in grade school and that was it. This book, that I read for my book club, is so utterly different that I had to read up on his life and the background of this book.
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Now, at least, I am familiar with the major outline of his life.

Letters from the Earth is a series of fictional letters that Satan wrote back home to the other angels, upon visiting the freshly minted Earth. It is a tirade against biblical literacy, religious dogma and God. Twain pointed out numerous contradiction within the Bible and how Christian dogma was illogical. Using Satan's words he painted God as an evil, jealous, hypocrite ruler. The book is full of great lines and ideas, whether you agree with them or not. It was born in an age, when the literal meaning of the Bible was questioned and various non-divine-origin hypothesis were born about its origins. As it is evident from this book Twain was aware of them.

The book was thought-provoking, although some of it is clearly dated by now. Biblical scholarship advanced enough in the last 100 years that we do not have to use angry polemics against its most obvious fallacies. I am aware that I cannot give justice to the numerous ideas the book presented in the few minutes I have to write this little reflection, so let me quickly recap the ones that stayed with me longer:

  • If most people don't like to sing and cannot play a musical instrument, why is heaven imagined as a place where everyone sings all the time and plays the harp?

  • If most people love to make love, why is that act not included in the Christian concept of heaven? (Twain doesn't mention the Muslim heaven, where the situation might be different.)

  • Twain, as a trained ship captain, had a lot to say about Noah's ark. He found numerous logistical problems with its construction, size, cargo handling and operation.

  • Twain was fascinated with why diseases in general exist and how the "hookworm" in particular works.

  • Twain's sense of social justice popped up when he considered God extra-evil because "nine-tenths of his disease-inventions were intended for the poor."

  • Twain's sensitivity of gender issues were evident when he covered the difference on how Biblical laws about adultery affect women and men.

  • Twain's use of the genocide of Native Americans as a proof of God's evil nature showed him in tune with and care for America's history.

Twain wrote this book in the last years of his life, but it wasn't published for a long time, because his daughter objected the idea. Decades later, and 25 years after an editor created and collected segments into a book, she changed her mind and it first seen the daylight in 1960's. It is a short book that I think I will re-read in a few years to see how the change in my own religious beliefs make me think about it then.
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LibraryThing member taobrarian
Absolutely hilarious and still as biting as it was when first published. Twain's Letters from the Earth is a collection of letters written by the Archangel Satan to the other archangels, chronicling the follies of human beings and the god they've created in their own image. It's no wonder he didn't
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publish them in his lifetime, but it's great to have them available now.
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LibraryThing member Diwanna
As always to be expected from Mr. Twain, this is a humorous satire on the human condition and the Christian religion, as told from Satan. This book is a collection of letters that Satan wrote to his brothers Gabriel and Michael while on "vacation" on Earth.
LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
The cover of my paperback copy of Letters from the Earth boasts "new uncensored writings by Mark Twain" with a little more significance than such labels usually hold. The contents of this volume were the very first to be edited for posthumous publication by the Twain literary estate, but Twain's
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daughter Clara Clemens' misgivings denied publication to the book until 1962, after the editor's own death! By then, several of the individual texts included had seen individual publication in periodicals and a book of Twain scholarship.

Although she gave as her motive the concern that the book's contents would misrepresent Twain's actual ideas as she understood them, a reader will readily infer that Clara's fear was chiefly about offending against conventional piety. Nearly half of the book consists of satires grounded in biblical mythology: the title piece (largely in the voice of the angel Satan), the "Papers of the Adams Family" thus organized and titled by editor Bernard DeVoto, and the brief "Letter to the Earth." The first of these, and apparently the most finished in Twain's own manuscript, is clearly modeled on Montesquieu's Persian Letters, in which a traveler from a distant land reports back to his own people on the bewildering and exotic features of the culture shared by the reader and the actual author of the text.

"Letters from the Earth" at one point refers to sex as "the Supreme Art. They practiced it diligently and were filled with contentment. The Deity ordered them to practice it. They obeyed, this time. But it was just as well it was not forbidden, for they would have practiced it anyhow, if a thousand Deities had forbidden it" (25). Satan supplies a sober and accurate appraisal of the Christian revelation: "... as the meek and gentle Savior he was a thousand billion times crueler than ever he was in the Old Testament--oh, incomparably more atrocious than ever he was at the very worst in those old days!" (46)

The "Papers of the Adam Family" treat antediluvian society with attention to the premise that the long lifespans of characters in Genesis--even assuming that they waited a few extra decades before parenthood--made for a society many generations deep, and thus strangely dense and hierarchical. Several of these "translations from the Adamic" are in the voice of Eve, "the Most Illustrious, Most Powerful, Most Gracious, Most Reverend, her Grandeur, the Acting Head of the Human Race" (91-2). There is also a focus on the early tenth century as clocked from Eden, consisting mostly of thinly-veiled satire on Twain's own time, which certainly had catastrophe imminent.

A number of short pieces include a whimsical cat-focused story (where Twain in passing vaunts his own "conscience torpid through virtuous inaction," 113), a merciless criticism of the prose style of James Fenimore Cooper, a reasonably funny parody of etiquette instructions, some travelogue from England, and a few other essays.

The book concludes with its longest and strangest item. "The Great Dark" (title furnished by the editor) is a horror story that hinges on its protagonist's efforts and failures to assign reality to his actual circumstances after being subjected to a dream-world of simulation. Latter-day readers might see this piece as a precocious Matrix sort of story. (Who needs wetware and full-body VR when you have a Victorian microscope?) But of course the central conundrum goes back to Chuang Tzu and probably to the dawn of reflective thought.
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LibraryThing member MartinBodek
I read this book because I was seeking inspiration in three ways: 1) I wanted to read some good religious satire to motivate further writing for my TheKnish.com website. 2) I wanted to observe some editor methods as this work was compiled in expert ways by a single resource. 3) I wanted to see if
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Twain himself covered ground on a sequel idea I have for one of his works. To the first point, I found exactly what I was looking for, and some idea germs have begun generating, though some of his work is almost too clever. To the second point, I found what I was seeking as well. The footnotes at the end reveal fascinating approaches to curating disjointed writings, exactly what I needed. To the third point, I am delighted to find that Twain actually abandoned the idea that I have in my head to pursue other works. I am, therefore, really excited.
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LibraryThing member GaryPatella
This particular edition contains a number of short stories by Mark Twain. Most of them are quite enjoyable, but not all of them. It begins with his short story of Adam and Eve. This was the one that seems to drag a bit.

The rest of the book, however, is very good. The best section is the
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approximately 70 pages containing the Letters From The Earth. It begins with God creating the universe, the solar system, and the Earth. Satan, being disrespectful, is banished to live beneath the Earth. From there, he starts writing letters to his former angel friends describing the people he watches from below. There is a lot of humour, and some parts that are clear indictments of religious beliefs. I recommend reading it.
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LibraryThing member John_Warner
Nearing the end of Mark Twain's life, he wrote a series of humorous essays on Judeo-Christian theology, including [book:The Diaries of Adam and Eve|108202] and Letters from Earth, which were posthumously published. In the book Satan, who still resides with the rest of the heavenly hosts, takes a
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trip to Earth. This book consists of eleven letters he writes back to archangels Gabriel and Michael with his thoughts on humanity, Judeo-Christian scripture and morality. When Mark Twain wrote these essays, he was deeply in debt, had just lost his wife and one of his daughters; therefore, one can imagine that he might be despondent.

I believe, like many, Twain was trying to understand a God who would allow evil to exist and to reconcile the divinity as portrayed in the Old Testament with that in the New Testament. Regarding the day of worship, Twain states:

To forty-nine in fifty, the Sabbath Day is a dreary, dreary bore...The gladdened moment for all of them is when the preacher uplifts his hands for the benediction. You can hear the soft rustle of relief that sweeps the house, and you recognize that is its eloquent with gratitude.

Later, Twain quips regarding the inconsistency between one of the Ten Commandments and God's campaign against the Moabites through Moses:

...it was God himself who said: "Thou shalt not kill." Then it is plain that he cannot keep his own commandments.

Both C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain were atheists at one time or another. C.S. Lewis became an apologist (defender) of the Christian faith while evidently Mark Twain, even those he was buried in a Presbyterian cemetery, never renounced his atheism.

Whether you are an atheist or a Christian, there is something for all in this short novel. For example, Mark Twain's retelling of Noah and the great flood had me chuckling. If you are easily offended with someone outlining some of the inconsistencies in Holy Scripture, you might want to skip this book.
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LibraryThing member Blankenbooks
This is the book that turned my head and helped me realize that Twain was more than just a humorist and author of "boy's" books like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I read this book as a junior in high school, and suddenly realized that Twain was much deeper and more complex than I had theretofore
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realized. His biting sarcasm and sharp wit shone through even as he spoke in despairing terms about the state of humanity as he viewed it in his later years. From that moment on, I was hooked on Mark Twain!
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LibraryThing member pussreboots
The essay on Cooper's prose style (or lack there of) made me go read the Deerslayer. Twain was right on that. I also remember a story about the worlds most annoying poem or some such involving a ticket taker (Punch, Brother, Punch)
LibraryThing member BrendanCarroll
A rather blasphemous look at Satan's relationship with God. A humorous perspective though probably not meant to be humorous at the time it was written.
LibraryThing member jennyo
I've had this book on my shelf for ages and finally got around to reading it. We're discussing it at book club tonight. It's a collection of essays and stories that were published after Twain died. Some of them were incomplete, and the book sort of skips around a bit. It's also a bit redundant at
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times. Still, it's Twain, so it's funny. I'm thinking the poor guy was an anti-humanist, if there's such a thing. He thought the whole human race was going to hell in a handbasket, and I'm not sure he was wrong, though I do prefer to look on the brighter side of things.

Twain razzes everything in this book. The first section makes fun of religion, later ones make fun of politics, Darwin's theory of natural selection, and society as a whole. There's very little he doesn't poke fun at at one time or another.

Still, I had a hard time finishing the book. I don't know if it's because it just wasn't cohesive like most of Twain's stories are, or what. But by the end, I was glad to be finished. I think I'll read more Twain later, but give him a rest for a while.
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LibraryThing member kslade
Kind of different. Very bitter sarcasm about God and evils in the world. Mishmash of other writings.
I skimmed the last half.
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