Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Review-Mark Twain's Book of Animals

The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his 
intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moralinferiority to any creatures that cannot.  ~Mark Twain, What Is Man, 1906

My favorite American author

 had a birthday anniversary on November 30, so in honor of his birthday I am reviewing the most recent of the many posthumous collections of his works:  Mark Twain's Book of Animals.

All of his life Twain was committed animal lover and a champion for animal rights. He was particularly fond of cats, one often sited quote:  "Some people scorn a cat and think it not an essential; but the Clemens tribe are not of these."

Twain's cats.  Photo taken from Twain Quotes 

Twain attributed his love of animals to his mother whom he was very close too and who made a great habit of taking in strays while he was growing up.

The Mark Twain Book of Animals is a collection of Twain's writing on animals taken from his novels, travelogues, and magazine articles.  Some of the pieces are longer stories, but many are brief essays of less then half a page.  However, even in the briefest of essays Twain's brilliance shines through.  The animals that appear range from bugs, to dogs, cats, camels, and of course frogs in the famous The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.  Many of the pieces showcase Twain's reputation as the greatest American humorist, but others are more serious.  One short essays deals with dog fighting and Twain describes his disgust at the suffering of the animals and the cruelty of man.  In nearly all of the essays humans appear in a far less favorable light then the animals.  In the short stories animals often take on some of the ridiculous airs of humans, such as in the story A Dogs Tail in which a dog embarks on a long drawn out description of his social class and religious background.  The text of the story can be read here.

My favorite part of the collection was an excerpt from Twain's unfinished sequel to his greatest book Huckleberry Finn.  In the excerpt Huck shoots a bird and is over come with remorse.   The incident was based on actual occurrence in Twain's childhood which he describes in the following quote:

 I shot a bird that sat in a high tree, with its head tilted back, and pouring out a grateful song from an innocent heart. It toppled from its perch and came floating down limp and forlorn and fell at my feet, its song quenched and its unoffending life extinguished. I had not needed that harmless creature, I had destroyed it wantonly, and I felt all that an assassin feels, of grief and remorse when his deed comes home to him and he wishes he could undo it and have his hands and his soul clean again from accusing blood.

Read more:

In summary we give the book four paws up.   As a bonus the woodcut illustrations by Barry Moser are really beautiful:


  1. We are liking that Mark Twain
    Benny & Lily

  2. If I met a person and the topic comes to pets, I feel I can like the person who has them or at least had one than a person who dislikes pets of any kind. In having a pet, one learns more of how to be a better person to others than one who won't stroke the head and feel the gentle lick of a pet.

    Mark Twain....I like....

  3. Sounds a great book but I had never heard of it. Just ordered it from Amazon. Thanks for the heads up.
    Sara from the UK

  4. Excellent!! I like that woodcut too!

  5. The girls and I are afraid of those who don't like cats or dogs. Something is wrong with their wiring. It was nice to read about Mark Twain being such an animal lover. Growing up I loved Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

    Nina, Myshka, Sasha, Betsy, Lucy, Phoebe and Lily

  6. Mark Twain has always been one of my favorites...
    Thanks for the review!

  7. Mark Twain has always been a favorite of hu-mom, too! We'll tell her about your book review.

    Drools and licks,
    Minnie and Mack