[T]here’s no doubt that Twain says certain things in this book that he couldn’t have said while still alive, including calling Jesus a fraud, the afterlife a sham, God a sadistic madman, and Christianity “bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory.” But Twain’s distaste for religion was an open secret among those who knew him, and the atheism in this volume won’t astonish anyone familiar who is with his work.
The hundred-year ban seems less about protecting Twain’s reputation than about sparing the feelings of the many people whom he attacks in his autobiography. The list is long. He has total recall of past slights, as well as an undiminished stream of vitriol for those whom he feels disrespected or deceived him. But he wants to make sure that his victims—and their wives and children—are dead before he dismembers them as cruelly as necessary. He feels a special hatred for publishers, especially Charles L. Webster, the nephew-in-law who headed Twain’s ill-fated publishing venture—“one of the most assful persons I have ever met.” “The times when he had an opportunity to be an ass and failed to take advantage of it were so few that, in a monarchy, they would have entitled him to a decoration.”