In the decades since his death, many of Mark Twain's writings have been reorganized into common themes such as protests, speeches, short stories and sketches, and full works of fiction in larger volumes. A recent welcome addition to these is The Bible According to Mark Twain, which includes diaries of Adam, Eve, and other Old Testament characters, various speculations on what the imaginary Heaven might be like (including Captain Stormfield's), some autobiographical dictations, a few pieces that appear in print for the first time, and, of course, Letters From the Earth.
It also contains too many of the editor's notes that plague most of Twain's posthumous releases. Here, notes take up 50 of the book's first 260 pages (10 more are blank). Why do editors feel compelled to insert their version of Twain's autobiography before every entry? If they must share this information with readers, they can do so at the start or the end of the book, without interrupting Twain's far superior writing. Granted, some of the details are worth knowing: Twain read Paine's Age of Reason while piloting riverboats. This helped shape his views toward Christianity. But other statements are extremely irritating: "...we have omitted the five-and-a-half page attack on the concept of the virgin birth (mistakenly referred to as the immaculate conception) because that discussion is not closely related to the writings in this volume." Yes it is! Claims like this make me wonder what else is missing. The rest of Twain's writings on religion need a book of their own, WITHOUT the gratuitous editorial comments.
I'll let Twain have the last word:
"From the beginning of time, whenever a king has lain dangerously ill, the priesthood and some part of the nation have prayed in unison that the king be spared to his grieving and anxious people (in case they were grieving and anxious, which was not usually the rule) and in no instance was their prayer ever answered. When Mr. Garfield lay near to death, the physicians and surgeons knew that nothing could save him, yet at an appointed signal all the pulpits in the United States broke forth with one simultaneous and supplicating appeal for the President's restoration to health. They did this with the same old innocent confidence with which the primeval savage had prayed to his imaginary devils to spare his perishing chief -- for that day will never come when facts and experience can teach a pulpit anything useful. Of course the President died, just the same."