By 1878, Mark Twain had been living the life of a world-famous author for quite a while despite the fact that, after the hugely successful travelogue The Innocents Abroad, each new book of his had sold worse than the last. His latest offering, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, had been a particularly disappointing failure sales-wise. Twain decided he'd best go back to what had worked in the past — and disappear from Connecticut for a bit so his neighbors wouldn't find out about his financial straits — and relocate the family to Europe for a while while he cranked out a new travelogue, A Tramp Abroad.

The Innocents Abroad was the account of a preplanned package tour; in A Tramp Abroad, Twain has to set his own agenda, and spends almost the entirety of the 600 pages in southern Germany and Switzerland. But at this point in his career Twain doesn't need much in the way of incident to fill a book. The slightest prompt can provide grist for a chapter or three, whether it be a rant about hotels, a retelling of a German fairy tale, a 50-page mountain climbing story piling absurdity on top of absurdity, a straightforward account of student duels in Heidelberg, an awestruck paean to the beauty of the Alps, you name it. It's as shapeless as a weblog, but thoroughly entertaining all the way through; Twain, about to run off a string of now-famous titles, has evolved from a guy who can crack a joke to one who can take a stage and keep an audience transfixed for hours, and not entirely with comedy.

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