Celebrating the life of Mark Twain with a Google Doodle and Google Books

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 7:24 PM

Please note some images may not be available in full view to readers outside the United States

In honor of Samuel Langhorne Clemens' – better known to the world as Mark Twain – 176th birthday today, Google has prepared a special doodle evoking one the most famous scenes from one of Twain's most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We at Google Books invite you to take a trip through this American author and humorist's life via our body of digitized works, and maybe even convince you to read a free ebook copy of one of Twain's classics.

As a child, Twain lived in Hannibal, Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River, in the early to mid-1800s. Twain describes one of his first jobs as a "printer's 'devil'" – an apprentice at his uncle's newspaper, the Weekly Hannibal Journal. "500 subscribers, and they paid in cord-wood, cabbages, and unmarketable turnips," he recalls of the experience later in his short-lived column "Memoranda" (circa 1871) for The Galaxy magazine.

From the cover of Life on the Mississippi

Twain was a man of many jobs and experiences. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain writes about his early twenties as a steamboat pilot on the river: "I believe there has been nothing like it elsewhere in the world." Soon after, as described in "The Private History of a Campaign that Failed," Twain talks about his very brief stint in a volunteer militia group for the Confederacy at the start of the U.S. Civil War.

Embarking on his career as a writer and a journalist in the mid-1860s, Twain wrote about his travels in the the U.S. and Europe in Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad, respectively.

Illustration from The Innocents Abroad

By midlife, the prolific Twain was publishing some of his best-known works, for instance –

1906 photo from a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Twain was born during Halley's Comet's passing by Earth, and famously predicted he would "go out with it" too. Just a day after the comet's subsequent return in 1910, Twain indeed passed away. If the writer ever felt any grievance toward the harbinger-comet, he would be happy to know that he is much more popular, at least in literature, than the comet. Mentions of his pen name far surpass mentions of "Halley's Comet" in our extensive corpus of scanned Google Books, as seen in the Ngram chart below:

The blue line represents mentions of "Mark Twain", the red, "Halley's comet"

Twain also arranged for his whimsical autobiography, Autobiography of Mark Twain, to be published 100 years after his death. The book was published in 2010 by the University of California Press, and is available for purchase as a Google eBook. Its success makes Twain one of the few to become a posthumous best-selling author, a full century later.

Find more digitized ebooks by Mark Twain in our Google eBookstore or our Best of the free shelf.