For anyone who wants to try to unravel the tangled knot that ties modern Americans to their past, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) remains essential. According to the most re­cent studies, Twain’s novel about a white boy and a runaway slave es­caping down the Mississippi River is the most frequently read classic American book in American schools. Few critics’ lists of the “greatest American novels” fail to cite it; few reporters describing its influence fail to quote Hemingway’s famous claim that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

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