John's Reviews > Pudd'nhead Wilson

Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
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's review
Apr 09, 11

bookshelves: legal-thriller, favorites
Read from April 08 to 10, 2011

This is the first Mark Twain book I've read since starting Tom Sawyer as a kid and putting it down in favor of the Hardy Boys. God forgive me, I see now what I've been missing! Pudd'nhead Wilson is the kind of novel I'd give the lesser part of my soul to be able to write. It's incredibly witty and entertaining, as well as chock full of dialog authentic enough to put Elmore Leonard to shame. It contains a lot of familiar Twain tropes, though it also blazes new territory as perhaps the first novel ever to include forensic investigation. It is a brilliant critique of both racial prejudice and the notion that people are born into their role in society. It also shows the value of being both open to new ideas and resistant to judging people too quickly, as the only person capable of unraveling the book's central mystery is a character thought to be the village idiot, or "pudding head." And the manner in which he is able to do so is through a scientific method (namely, finger-printing) that the good townspeople of the story are quick to liken to superstitious mumbo jumbo. All this builds up to a very dramatic, old-fashioned courtroom scene (John Grisham this is not) and a supremely satisfying conclusion. This time, I won't be waiting long to pick up another novel by Twain.
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