National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by Mark Twain

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.


The Life and Times of Mark Twain

1830s
Halley's Comet streaks across the night sky, 1835.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who later adopts the pen name Mark Twain, is born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. The Clemens family moves to nearby Hannibal, 1839.

1840s
Clemens's father dies of pneumonia, 1847.
Gold discovered in California, mere weeks after U.S. annexation of the territory in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848.
Clemens apprenticed to his older brother Orion as a printer, 1848.

1850s
Clemens's brother Henry dies from injuries sustained in a riverboat explosion, 1858.
Comstock silver lode discovered in Nevada, 1858.
Clemens gets his license to pilot steamboats on the Mississippi River, 1859.

1860s
The Civil War begins in 1861 and lasts four blood-drenched years. Clemens joins the Confederate side and lasts all of two weeks.
Clemens heads west to find his fortune and discovers a career in journalism instead, 1861.
As a journalist, Twain tours Europe and the Middle East in 1867 and brings back the makings of his first book, The Innocents Abroad, 1869.

1870s
In 1870 Twain marries Olivia "Livy" Langdon.
Greed and corruption run rampant in postwar America, yielding the subject for Twain's first (co-written) novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, 1873.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published, 1876.

1880s
After the Civil War ends, Twain embarks on a research trip for Life on the Mississippi, 1882.
Inspired partly by his return visit south, Twain finishes Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885.
Twain buys half-interest in a typesetting machine, which will yield him no end of grief and no rate of return, 1886.

1890s
Twain declares bankruptcy and embarks on an exhausting world lecture tour to dig himself out of debt, 1894.
Twain's beloved daughter Susy dies, 1896.
Mahatma Gandhi agitates for Indian independence; Sigmund Freud pioneers psychoanalysis; Twain meets both, and many other luminaries, during his travels.

1900s
Twain writes brilliant, increasingly bitter essays against lynching, war, and imperialism.
Livy dies in Italy, 1904.
President Theodore Roosevelt busts trade monopolies at home, pursues imperialist aims abroad, and entertains Twain at the White House, 1905.
Henry Ford introduces the Model T, 1908.

1910
Halley's Comet returns, 1910.
Mark Twain dies on April 21, 1910.

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