The book begins with a brief history of the river from its discovery by Hernando de Soto in 1542. It continues with anecdotes of Twain's training as a steamboat pilot, as the 'cub' of an experienced pilot. He describes, with great affection, the science of navigating the ever-changing Mississippi River. This section was first published in 1876, titled Old times on the Mississippi. In the second half, the book describes Twain's return, many years later, to travel on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. He describes the competition from railroads, the new, large cities, and his observations on greed, gullibility, tragedy, and bad architecture. He also tells some stories that are most likely tall tales. Simultaneously published in 1883 in the U.S. and in England, it is said to be the first book composed on a typewriter. The book was made into a TV movie of the same name by Public Television in 1980. The story uses many tall tales from the book, which are woven into a fictional narrative.