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The first part of this book is about Twain's early life along the river and was a reworking of a series of Atlantic Monthly articles previously published on the topic. The second part is mostly a description of experiences Twain had in the years 1857 - 1860, first as a cub riverboat pilot and later as a licensed captain.
It is a nostalgic and almost poetic look at the river and river life from the perspective of the pilothouse. It enjoyed moderate success when it was first published but its critical appraisal has improved considerably over the last century.