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From Richard Zacks, bestselling author of Island of Vice and The Pirate Hunter, a rich and lively account of how Mark Twain’s late-life adventures abroad helped him recover from financial disaster and family tragedy—and revived his world-class sense of humor Mark Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation’s worst investors. “There are two From Richard Zacks, bestselling author of Island of Vice and The Pirate Hunter, a rich and lively account of how Mark Twain’s late-life adventures abroad helped him recover from financial disaster and family tragedy—and revived his world-class sense of humor Mark Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation’s worst investors. “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate,” he wrote. “When he can’t afford it and when he can.” The publishing company Twain owned was failing; his investment in a typesetting device was bleeding red ink. After losing hundreds of thousands of dollars back when a beer cost a nickel, he found himself neck-deep in debt. His heiress wife, Livy, took the setback hard. “I have a perfect horror and heart-sickness over it,” she wrote. “I cannot get away from the feeling that business failure means disgrace.”      But Twain vowed to Livy he would pay back every penny. And so, just when the fifty-nine-year-old, bushy-browed icon imagined that he would be settling into literary lionhood, telling jokes at gilded dinners, he forced himself to mount the “platform” again, embarking on a round-the-world stand-up comedy tour. No author had ever done that. He cherry-picked his best stories—such as stealing his first watermelon and buying a bucking bronco—and spun them into a ninety-minute performance.      Twain trekked across the American West and onward by ship to the faraway lands of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, India, Ceylon, and South Africa. He rode an elephant twice and visited the Taj Mahal. He saw Zulus dancing and helped sort diamonds at the Kimberley mines. (He failed to slip away with a sparkly souvenir.) He played shuffleboard on cruise ships and battled captains for the right to smoke in peace. He complained that his wife and daughter made him shave and change his shirt every day.      The great American writer fought off numerous illnesses and travel nuisances to circle the globe and earn a huge payday and a tidal wave of applause. Word of his success, however, traveled slowly enough that one American newspaper reported that he had died penniless in London. That’s when he famously quipped: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”      Throughout his quest, Twain was aided by cutthroat Standard Oil tycoon H.H. Rogers, with whom he had struck a deep friendship, and he was hindered by his own lawyer (and future secretary of state) Bainbridge Colby, whom he deemed “head idiot of this century.”      In Chasing the Last Laugh, author Richard Zacks, drawing extensively on unpublished material in notebooks and letters from Berkeley’s ongoing Mark Twain Project, chronicles a poignant chapter in the author’s life—one that began in foolishness and bad choices but culminated in humor, hard-won wisdom, and ultimate triumph.


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From Richard Zacks, bestselling author of Island of Vice and The Pirate Hunter, a rich and lively account of how Mark Twain’s late-life adventures abroad helped him recover from financial disaster and family tragedy—and revived his world-class sense of humor Mark Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation’s worst investors. “There are two From Richard Zacks, bestselling author of Island of Vice and The Pirate Hunter, a rich and lively account of how Mark Twain’s late-life adventures abroad helped him recover from financial disaster and family tragedy—and revived his world-class sense of humor Mark Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation’s worst investors. “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate,” he wrote. “When he can’t afford it and when he can.” The publishing company Twain owned was failing; his investment in a typesetting device was bleeding red ink. After losing hundreds of thousands of dollars back when a beer cost a nickel, he found himself neck-deep in debt. His heiress wife, Livy, took the setback hard. “I have a perfect horror and heart-sickness over it,” she wrote. “I cannot get away from the feeling that business failure means disgrace.”      But Twain vowed to Livy he would pay back every penny. And so, just when the fifty-nine-year-old, bushy-browed icon imagined that he would be settling into literary lionhood, telling jokes at gilded dinners, he forced himself to mount the “platform” again, embarking on a round-the-world stand-up comedy tour. No author had ever done that. He cherry-picked his best stories—such as stealing his first watermelon and buying a bucking bronco—and spun them into a ninety-minute performance.      Twain trekked across the American West and onward by ship to the faraway lands of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, India, Ceylon, and South Africa. He rode an elephant twice and visited the Taj Mahal. He saw Zulus dancing and helped sort diamonds at the Kimberley mines. (He failed to slip away with a sparkly souvenir.) He played shuffleboard on cruise ships and battled captains for the right to smoke in peace. He complained that his wife and daughter made him shave and change his shirt every day.      The great American writer fought off numerous illnesses and travel nuisances to circle the globe and earn a huge payday and a tidal wave of applause. Word of his success, however, traveled slowly enough that one American newspaper reported that he had died penniless in London. That’s when he famously quipped: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”      Throughout his quest, Twain was aided by cutthroat Standard Oil tycoon H.H. Rogers, with whom he had struck a deep friendship, and he was hindered by his own lawyer (and future secretary of state) Bainbridge Colby, whom he deemed “head idiot of this century.”      In Chasing the Last Laugh, author Richard Zacks, drawing extensively on unpublished material in notebooks and letters from Berkeley’s ongoing Mark Twain Project, chronicles a poignant chapter in the author’s life—one that began in foolishness and bad choices but culminated in humor, hard-won wisdom, and ultimate triumph.

30 review for Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    In 1896 Mark Twain faced a debt of $79,704.80 to assorted creditors with his publishing firm Charles L. Wilson and Company and his investment in a new style of typesetting as being his most egregious. The debt was substantial and would calculate to roughly $2,220,474.90 in today’s dollars. This large amount served as the motivating force behind Twain’s round-the-world stand-up comedy tour between 1895 and 1896. In the appendix of Richard Zacks’s new book, CHASING THE LAST LAUGH: MARK TWAIN’S RAU In 1896 Mark Twain faced a debt of $79,704.80 to assorted creditors with his publishing firm Charles L. Wilson and Company and his investment in a new style of typesetting as being his most egregious. The debt was substantial and would calculate to roughly $2,220,474.90 in today’s dollars. This large amount served as the motivating force behind Twain’s round-the-world stand-up comedy tour between 1895 and 1896. In the appendix of Richard Zacks’s new book, CHASING THE LAST LAUGH: MARK TWAIN’S RAUCOUS AND REDEMPTIVE ROUND-THE WORLD COMEDY TOUR Twain’s debts are listed individually and one gets the feeling that this iconic and brilliant observer of the human condition was a rather poor investor. Twain would travel across the American west, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, India, Ceylon, and South Africa in an attempt to take his fees and eradicate as much of the debt as possible. This global journey which at times reads like a Rick Steeves travelogue is described in delicious detail by Richard Zacks who allows Twain’s own words, recorded in letters, newspaper accounts, and his own notebooks tell the story of their journey. The journey concluded in England where he wrote a travel book about his experiences in another attempt to reduce his debt. Twain who hated to perform on stage was America’s highest paid author and one of America’s biggest investment losers. He would perform 122 nights in 71 different cities, in addition to spending 98 nights at sea of which he was afflicted with a myriad of illnesses including repeated bouts with painful carbuncles during his tour as he used a number of pre-modern and modern conveyances to earn enough money to “talk his way out of hell and humiliation” of losing his entire fortune and a good part of his wife Livy, a coal heiress’ wealth also. Zacks describes the initial success of his publishing company publishing the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and other works, but this profitability succumbed to embezzlement, poor choices of publications, and the death of Henry Ward Beecher before he could complete his memoirs. Compounding Twain’s problem was that the United States was in the gripe of the Depression of 1893 creating the fear that Twain could not only loose his publishing house, but also the copyrights to his writings, his life’s blood. Twain also faced loses on Wall Street after sinking money into inventions that proved to be expensive failures. Zacks does a nice job reviewing Twain’s financial machinations and his relationship with H.H. Rogers, a partner in Standard Oil who befriended the insolvent author and tried to “bring Mr. Clemens” to some sort of financial solvency, the key to which was declaring bankruptcy for his publishing company, and transferring his copyrights and other assets to his wife Olivia Livy as a means of hanging on to his life’s work. After spending the first part of the book describing Twain’s financial travails Zacks prepare what appears to be an annotated travelogue of Twain, his wife Olivia and their daughter Clara as they work their way across the western United States and board ship for Australia and beyond. Twain’s humiliation was complete before he left on his journey as the New York State Supreme Court pronounced a judgement against him of $31, 986, and Twain grew ill from the idea that he was a pauper and thanked god that no laws against the indigent existed in the Empire State. Once the journey commences Zacks does a commendable job integrating Twain’s written material and comments into the narrative as he performs on tour.* Twain grew stressed when certain audiences expected a comedy routine as opposed to his normal literary and societal aspects of his presentations. Though negative comments and reviews were few and he was broadly praised throughout, Twain was very sensitive to criticism though his approach of just “chatting” with his audiences as technique was very successful. Throughout the journey Twain grew depressed he would never be able to repay his debts, but his wife Livy and Rogers were able to temper his feelings and control his finances. The best description of Twain during his journey was offered by Carlyle Smythe, his agent in India, he states that Twain is “a sedate savant who has been seduced from the path of high seriousness by a fatal sense of the ridiculous.” When the arduous tour finally came to an end, Twain was overjoyed stating “that the slavery of it….is so exacting and so infernal’ and hoped never to experience it again. Twain’s observations throughout the book are interesting as his comments range from the ecology of Australia, the wonders of India, especially their “colorful costumes,” to the Anglo-Boer conflict raging in South Africa. What is surprising is that Twain, known in the United States as an anti-imperialist had nothing but praise for the British Empire, particularly as it related to India causing him to be blind to the oppressions and the humiliations of English rule. To Twain’s credit he did comment negatively concerning the machinations of Cecil Rhodes and British policy in South Africa. The book also served as a form of therapy for Twain when his daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis in the United States while he was writing and he could not be with her or attend the funeral. He castigated himself for creating the debt that forced the family to separate for the world tour to earn enough money to rectify the family’s financial situation. Overall the book makes for a fascinating read about one of America’s most important humorists and literary figures and zeroes in on the trials and tribulations that Twain and his family suffered very late in his career. Twain was able to overcome his debt situation thanks to his good friend H. H. Rogers, an executive for Standard Oil, and in the end pay he would pay off all of his debts and live a life free of financial worries. *For those interested in researching Twain’s life in detail the University of California press has published over 2000 pages of Twain’s daily dictations written between 1907 and 1909 encompassing his entire life in the form of an autobiography. The three volumes are edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith and are the first comprehensive edition of all Mark Twain’s work fully annotated by the editors of the Mark Twain Project at the University of California.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Stoolfire

    Slow to start, but a fascinating look at the last decade of his life as he embarked upon a round the world comedy tour consisting of parts of his favorite stories in order to get out from under crippling debt. If you are in any way interested in classic American literature and humorist, you will certainly enjoy Chasing the Last Laugh Richard Zacks.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    In 1895 Mark Twain set off on a round the world speaking tour. The depression of the 1890s was in full force and Twain’s publishing company along with his investment in a new style of typesetting machine was forced into bankruptcy. His wife, Livy, took over the finances not only of her own estate but his also. Twain may have been the master storyteller but he was a terrible businessman. The world speaking tour was to help raise income to help them get out of debt. Mark Twain thought he would wri In 1895 Mark Twain set off on a round the world speaking tour. The depression of the 1890s was in full force and Twain’s publishing company along with his investment in a new style of typesetting machine was forced into bankruptcy. His wife, Livy, took over the finances not only of her own estate but his also. Twain may have been the master storyteller but he was a terrible businessman. The world speaking tour was to help raise income to help them get out of debt. Mark Twain thought he would write a travel book about the trip to create more money. Mark Twain’s wife Livy and daughter Clara accompanied him on the trip. Daughters Suzy and Jean stayed home with an aunt. As the trip was nearing the end, Suzy came down with meningitis and died. I found it most interesting that after the trip Mark Twain received lots of admiration from the public not only for his writings and speeches but because he had paid his debts in full. The book is well written and meticulously researched. Zacks used letters, newspaper accounts and Twain’s notebooks to tell the tale. The trip revived interest in Mark Twain’s books as well as make money to reduce his debt. I found this book a delight to read and learned more about the personal life of Mark Twain. I have read Mark Twain’s books as a child and an adult and enjoyed them and in many ways they provided me with a glimpse of life on the Mississippi in the 1800s. It is a shame that many places today have banned his books. Zacks is a well known biographer and he does an excellent job in presenting Mark Twain’s trip and family life. George Guidall does an excellent job narrating the book. Guidall is probably the most famous of audiobook narrators and was one of the early pioneers of the field.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Harry Collier IV

    What an accurate title! While reading this I kept thinking that the ever-allusive laugh was right around the corner. Spoiler Alert: It never was. The book is well written and paints a picture of Twain that most readers will not be familiar with. Unfortunately, the title promises something that the prose fails to deliver - a fun(ny) good time. Definitely, worth the read for Twain fans but for those looking at a bit of humor this ain't for you. What an accurate title! While reading this I kept thinking that the ever-allusive laugh was right around the corner. Spoiler Alert: It never was. The book is well written and paints a picture of Twain that most readers will not be familiar with. Unfortunately, the title promises something that the prose fails to deliver - a fun(ny) good time. Definitely, worth the read for Twain fans but for those looking at a bit of humor this ain't for you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa-Michele

    A rollicking ride around the world with an elderly Mark Twain and his family as he tries to raise enough money to pay his bills. It was shocking to me that Twain, I mean Clemens, was nearly broke as he hit middle age. He had blown completely through his wife’s inherited fortune and his own earned one with a series of bad business decisions. This is a side of Twain I did not know. I listened to the audiobook, which I would highly recommend because the narrator launches into many of Twain’s speech A rollicking ride around the world with an elderly Mark Twain and his family as he tries to raise enough money to pay his bills. It was shocking to me that Twain, I mean Clemens, was nearly broke as he hit middle age. He had blown completely through his wife’s inherited fortune and his own earned one with a series of bad business decisions. This is a side of Twain I did not know. I listened to the audiobook, which I would highly recommend because the narrator launches into many of Twain’s speeches word-for-word and it is almost like being there. (But be warned, it is 16 hours long, so plan a few long drives.) I love the Twain turn of a phrase, witty, sardonic and spot on. Some of his commentaries on humankind are still so relevant: “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” “Do the right thing. It will gratify some and astonish the rest.” Clemens did the right thing by vowing to repay every creditor in full, even though he had taken out bankruptcy. His wife insisted on it. He had help from an unlikely source – H.H. Rogers, first lieutenant to Rockefeller – and he was a genius at self-promotion. You will feel as if you traveled every mile with him at the dawn of the 20th century: from Australia to India to Africa. He tolerates the imperialism of the British Empire, then comes home to write a scathing book criticizing it. He pleads poverty but stays at only the best hotels. He goes on stage night after night and recites long passages from his books verbatim, leaving the audience laughing and crying. Wish I could have been there. I couldn’t help loving the guy, irascible though he is, and I took a second look at the impact of his political literature (Huck Finn) on the rest of the world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Al

    I want to read some Twain so i can appreciate his title as America's greatest humorist. I thought this was a good place to start as it works his quotes within the context of his times. For that, i got just what I wanted. Twain was as bad as an investor as he was talented as a writer. He put his money into a typesetting machine that looked to revolutionize printing. It didn't. (It was impossible to fix in comparison to its competitor). This along with some of other bad business decisions put Twain I want to read some Twain so i can appreciate his title as America's greatest humorist. I thought this was a good place to start as it works his quotes within the context of his times. For that, i got just what I wanted. Twain was as bad as an investor as he was talented as a writer. He put his money into a typesetting machine that looked to revolutionize printing. It didn't. (It was impossible to fix in comparison to its competitor). This along with some of other bad business decisions put Twain $2million in debt (in terms of modern money). To get out of debt (and to flee America) Twain plotted out a World speaking tour. This would raise money as well spark ideas for a new book. In essence, Twain may be one of the first comedians to go on a stand-up tour or the first spoken word artist to draw large audiences. It's a fascinating story. Of course, to get Twain's thoughts on everything, but I find the 1890s an interesting time, and Twain travels through Australia, India, and Africa. We get Twain's takes on these countries and the colorful sights and animals. He falls in love with India, and shares his thoughts on fakirs sleeping on beds of nails, human-powered taxis, and cows in the streets (and people bathing in the same river as the cows and drinking from it). He rides the Darjeeling Express- the world's dangerous railroad- certainly maybe the biggest adventure one could have at that time, hoping that the brakes work. He begins to question Imperialism, as the Boer War goes on, and the US occupies the Philippines. Twain has become accustomed to living a certain way, and his pride won't let him be see act a pauper. He teams up with HH Rogers, a millionaire who helped found Standard Oil. Rogers allows Twain to make the tour and at least keep up the appearance of living the good life, meanwhile keeping the collectors at bay a little while longer. Twain's wife comes from money, and largely is his conscience. Twain's performances are brilliant, but he hates the idea of having to do them, and the travel is particularly grueling. It's a fascinating book, and Zacks uses plenty of reference material (diaries of those involved, newspapers of the day, etc) and really captures Twain's humor well, as well as the context. Twain's daughter Susy (who did not travel along with her father) dies of spinal meningitis at age 24 near the end of the tour. The Twains are heartbroken by this, and sees it as a punishment. Twain's humor becomes darker, more atheistic and the family feels a lot of guilt. As the tour ends, Twain is thinking of other ways to make money, mostly unsuccessful. He attempts an ill-advised public (New York newspaper) charity offering asking people to send him money to relieve his debt. This is mocked, and quickly dropped; Twain trying to play it off as a joke. Twain writes a ribald version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and suggests selling a very limited number of copies at a great cost (Sometimes Twain reeled himself back in from the tasteless and sometimes his wife did). Twain does make a significant amount of money from inside trading tips from Rogers on stock (legal then). The story ends on a relatively good note. Twain's wife has a family relative whose terrible mining investment turns into a too-good-to-be-true deal that turns out to be true (Zacks's words). Between this, the tour, and help from Rogers including negotiating better publishing deals, Twain's fortune is restored and he returns to America a hero. Always loved for his books, now respected as someone who paid back all of his debts. Twain had been viewed closely in the sensationalist "Rich man loses everything" way, and was constantly in the press, assumed the worst- (leading to the slightly misquoted "Reports of my death..." line). For me, i think this book would have worked better at half the size. As it stands, it's a week-to-week description of the tour, including audience counts and public reception at every stop. I think it would have worked better as a lighter book. Still, some may want the level of detail, and it is the most minor of quibbles. I recommend for fans of Twain, people looking for an accessible intro into Twain. Also, recommended for the colorful travelography of the 1890s. If you choose not to pick it up, consider viewing Zacks's appearance on C-Spans Book TV. This really is a fascinating story, and recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Allen Adams

    http://www.themaineedge.com/buzz/twai... “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” – Mark Twain Mark Twain is one of the most beloved figures in the history of American letters – in the history of America, period. His combination of homespun charm and lightning wit made him the preeminent humorist of his day. His storytelling brilliance was unmatched in his day and – one could argue – remains unmatched to this day. He was also a larger-than-life character, with an heiress for a wife and an almo http://www.themaineedge.com/buzz/twai... “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” – Mark Twain Mark Twain is one of the most beloved figures in the history of American letters – in the history of America, period. His combination of homespun charm and lightning wit made him the preeminent humorist of his day. His storytelling brilliance was unmatched in his day and – one could argue – remains unmatched to this day. He was also a larger-than-life character, with an heiress for a wife and an almost uncanny affinity for bad business deals. You couldn’t make up Mark Twain. Twain’s popularity has led to plenty of biographical ink being spilled in an effort to articulate his sardonic wisdom and wide-ranging adventures. But relatively little has been said about the era covered in “Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour”. Author Richard Zacks goes deep on an underexplored chunk of Twain’s career. In 1896, Mark Twain’s circumstances were less than ideal. His publishing house was spiraling downward. A series of terrible investments was capped by Twain’s involvement with a typesetting company that nearly proved ruinous. Thanks to some maneuvering (with an assist from fellow investor and friend, the Standard Oil tycoon H.H. Rogers), Twain avoided utter destitution, but he was left with significant debts and few ways in which to settle them. What came next was something unprecedented. In an effort to raise the money to pay off his creditors, Twain agreed go on tour. He would travel around the globe, performing a show built around his “greatest hits” in terms of his stories. In essence, he was a stand-up comedian, telling funny stories in theaters and opera houses all over the world. As he (and his wife and two of his daughters) circumnavigated the globe, Twain kept lengthy notes with regards to his observations of the world around him. As the trip progressed, he honed and perfected his performance – it seemed that Twain’s tales resonated with audiences everywhere. He struggled against obstacles such as illness (no surprise – 60 is awfully old to be dealing with the rigors of 1896 travel), but ultimately embraced the experience. When you think about it, there’s something remarkable about the idea of Mark Twain slowly drawling his way through some of his best stories while standing on a stage in India or South Africa. The fact that such a tour was financially viable is kind of astonishing in a time when it took a week or more to cross the Atlantic. Such massive popularity was practically unheard of, yet Twain sold out performance after performance in which he told people stories that they likely already knew. Seriously – remarkable. Zacks is a gifted storyteller in his own right, which is as it should be; a master storyteller such as Mark Twain deserves nothing less. He brings that world to vivid life and finds the nuances in Twain’s interpersonal interactions. Those relationships – with his wife, with his daughters, with his friends – are a huge part of the book, allowing us to learn about Twain in his own words. And through it all, Twain is the man you hope he would be, an indomitable spirit who is brilliant and wise and – oh yeah – just happens to be acknowledged as the funniest man in the world. Really, what “Chasing the Last Laugh” captures is the spirit of Mark Twain. Through thorough investigation of Twain’s notes – as well as the letters he exchanged with his two daughters who remained home – Zacks has recreated a small piece of an important and fascinating life. It’s a beautifully researched work. This book services Twain fans of any degree – there’s plenty here for the hardcore, but the story is so quintessentially Twain that it works even if you’ve only a passing familiarity with his work. It’s an intimate look at an incredible experience, with ample helpings of the humor that made its subject so great. Mark Twain is one of the greats; “Chasing the Last Laugh” is a funny and revealing reminder of just how great he was. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dan Hansen

    A good read for people who are fans of Mark Twain and want to dig deeper into his biography, particularly into his life during the 1890's. In particular, I think I have a better understanding of Livy and the girls and their relationships with the man. The book reveals the odd stresses that the financial crisis introduced into this very wealthy family - on one hand Livy is revealed as a woman of honor with an idealistic sense of business. Having said that, she is also revealed as a very sheltered A good read for people who are fans of Mark Twain and want to dig deeper into his biography, particularly into his life during the 1890's. In particular, I think I have a better understanding of Livy and the girls and their relationships with the man. The book reveals the odd stresses that the financial crisis introduced into this very wealthy family - on one hand Livy is revealed as a woman of honor with an idealistic sense of business. Having said that, she is also revealed as a very sheltered child of wealth, often with little or no understanding of how that wealth was accumulated in the first place. Let us start by being clear, Olivia Clemens lived a life of luxury from the time she was born to the day she died in her villa in Tuscany. Twain himself spent most of his adult life in the company of the ultra-wealthy of the time. They were in many material respects an extremely self-indulgent couple. There is a passage in which the author notes that Twain speaks of Livy spending her time "housecleaning". Given that she had a team of servants at that time the author speculates with mild sarcasm that Twain must have meant that Livy was spending her time telling the maids what to clean. Even in the midst of bankruptcy they lived a life of which most people can only dream. That is what makes it all the more interesting to see the very real emotional distress the investment failures introduce into their lives. It is not merely comfort, it is their *status* that weighs heavily on Livy and Mark. Livy is horrified for the family to be seen as a failure at business, even given all their attempts to raise their daughters as gentlewomen far removed from the rough and tumble of business. I think there is more there as well. It is the intrusion of the real world into a carefully crafted fantasy that Livy and Mark create for themselves in Hartford. For a time (briefer than you might think) they have what appears an ideal life. They have built an outrageously lovely mansion for themselves (visit it if you get the chance), they are the toast of Connecticut literary society, and they live a life of luxury and dilettantish study while they raise their three lovely girls. It is a land of children performing plays for their parents, while the parents write books that the world lauds, all of them wrapped in the moral smugness that comes of being wealthy, New England, abolitionist protestants. And the business failures destroy that fantasy land. The mansion is too expensive to keep up so they shutter it with a never realized dream that they will return as a family to it again. And that mansion becomes a symbol of a golden age in that family, a time when all was well, good, and proper. There is a sense that the Clemens are chasing that dream around the globe, promising themselves once they have regained their wealth they will live in that world again. The fantasy was bound to fail regardless. First, the girls grow up. They do not stay cute puppies forever and they evince their own personal quirks, including tempers. They certainly cease to be as forgiving of Mark's temper, it is clear. Livy spends a lifetime quieting him, but it is clear that in additional to being charming Mark could be a tempest. And then Suzy dies. And I think it is fair to say that in some sense the family as a cohesive unit never seems to recover. And that mansion instead of being part of the dream becomes a part of the nightmare that is the harsher side of life. The irony is that all of this occurs as Mark, Livy, and Clara travel the world in first-class, denying themselves no travel luxury, and being celebrated as royalty all the way from Australia to India to South Africa. Finally, I mentioned the moral smugness earlier - I think that is not quite fair and I should expand upon it. The book can also be seen as a portrait of a late 19th century wealthy New England abolitionist protestants, with all that entails. Much of their quasi-puritanism is sincere and heart-felt. They express Christian ideals with firm faith that they know the right and with serious humility in their own perceived sinfulness and unworthiness. Having said that, Mark is the Great Hypocrite. You do not need this book to know that, of course, but it comes through clearly enough. Moreover, knowledge of his hypocrisy does not bring change in behavior or adjustment of his philosophy to accommodate for real human behavior, rather it leads to rather grand condemnations of the whole of western mankind. It is as if he thinks and feels he can hide his own personal faults in the knowledge that all of men are sour, no-good beasts. He may not be worthy, he may be a sinner, a sycophant to the upper-classes, drinking his whiskey and playing cards while yachting with his best friend, a cut-throat businessman, but aren't all of mankind sinners, who really should all be wiped out anyway? In other words, he may be a sinner, but the rest of you are worse. It's a cheap moral trick and the difficulty with it is that it is not clear that it is even true. It is simply self-serving. And that is one reason why this story is worth the effort of remembering and considering - there is a strain of faux-puritan philosophy that has and continues to riddle the American upper-class and I think Samuel Clemens is a fine very clear example of it. It's hard to gauge the quality of the humor with which Twain regaled his audience. Was it the time and culture? Was it the delivery? Did you have to be there? Obviously the one-liners have held up over time - Twain is quite quotable. But these stories. I can imagine going to see them and enjoying a show based on them - in fact I can do more than imagine. Many years ago I went and saw Hal Holbrook's delightful stage show "Mark Twain Tonight". But laughing my head off at these stories for ninety minutes? It is hard to see. There is obviously a cultural element involved as well. Update - I've looked up Hal Holbrook's show from 1967 and by heaven he did the story of the old man and the ram... and the audience laughed and I laughed. Well. So there you go. I don't think many of Twain's books actually hold up well for the modern reader. Huckleberry Finn certainly does, IMHO, remain a power story and moral commentary, but Puddin' Head Wilson and the like, well, not so much, again IMHO. It is curious that Livy and Mark wanted him to be remembered as a serious moralist with his great work to be "Joan of Arc". The fact that I've been able to muse and think on these issues once again because I read this book further makes me glad I read it. So we'll end here and simply note "It's complicated".

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wesley Britton

    Without question, Richard Zacks’ richly detailed research will mainly appeal to Mark Twain enthusiasts. That company includes me. But you don’t need to have a background in Mark Twain studies to find this travelogue a fascinating read. The story begins in the final decade of the 19th century when Mark Twain found himself bankrupt largely due to his investments in a troublesome typesetting machine and the disastrous Charles Webster publishing company Twain owned. Enter millionaire Henry H. Rogers Without question, Richard Zacks’ richly detailed research will mainly appeal to Mark Twain enthusiasts. That company includes me. But you don’t need to have a background in Mark Twain studies to find this travelogue a fascinating read. The story begins in the final decade of the 19th century when Mark Twain found himself bankrupt largely due to his investments in a troublesome typesetting machine and the disastrous Charles Webster publishing company Twain owned. Enter millionaire Henry H. Rogers who does his best to dig Twain out of the quagmire. But Twain’s wife Livy insists on all debts getting paid back dollar-for-dollar to uphold her family’s reputation. To meet his obligations, Twain is forced to go on an around the world lecture tour to raise the funds. While I certainly haven’t read all the previous books on the Clemens’ family journeys in 1895-1896, I always thought that Twain endured the journey as an unrelenting ordeal but Zacks convinced me that impression is an oversimplified response to what happened. True, the family suffers from ailments and unpleasant and sometimes dangerous travel conditions from time to time, but Twain benefited from the experience in many important ways. While he frequently complained about taking to the stage, Twain bathed in the affectionate responses he got from audiences across the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and India although his anti-racist readings didn’t fare well in South Africa. The sight-seeing, including visits with many interesting dignitaries, especially in India, made for a tour anyone would envy, especially as Twain was treated far more like a triumphant prince and not a beleaguered pauper. And the fact he set out to do this at all earned him good press which enhanced his already august reputation considerably. I admit, much of the day-by-day minutia is not all absorbing reading, although we get to experience what Twain thought and see what he saw. Not all readers need a dollar-by-dollar accounting of just who Twain’s creditors were and what hoops Twain leaped through to accommodate them. On the other hand, Twain’s attraction to India is extremely interesting as we encounter the exotic, colorful carnival that Twain witnesses from regal potentates to fakirs and beggars on the streets. For my money, Zacks provides a valuable service with his historical overviews that provide deep contexts for the places the Clemens went and some of the people they met. There’s considerable humor, as you might expect, along the way. That includes generous samplings of the stories Twain used in his presentations along with many bits and pieces from his notebooks and letters. The perspectives also include passages from correspondence from Livy Clemens and their daughter, Clara. The result isn’t just a tracing of the tour’s route until the tragic news of daughter Suzy’s death in August 1896, but a very well-done and balanced portrait of the complex author and his family relationships. If you want cover-to-cover entertainment, start with Twain’s own Following the Equator, his under-appreciated if uneven 1897 account of the tour. But Zacks’ study is also worthy of appreciation for what he has added to studies of the life and literature of the justly lionized Mark Twain. Chasing the Last Laugh isn’t for everyone, but it should be on many a bookshelf of those interested in 19th century American literature and history. This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com, Nov. 1, 2016 goo.gl/TgskuR

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Cerqueira

    I'm a big fan of Mark Twain and really enjoyed his book "Following the Equator," which chronicles his around-the-globe lecture tour in 1895. This book is essentially the story behind what motivated him to embark on a trip around the world via train, steamship, horse-drawn carriages, and at least once, on the back of an elephant(!) at the age of 60. An interesting and sometimes entertaining glimpse of Samuel Clemens, the man often eclipsed by Mark Twain, and his family — particularly his relation I'm a big fan of Mark Twain and really enjoyed his book "Following the Equator," which chronicles his around-the-globe lecture tour in 1895. This book is essentially the story behind what motivated him to embark on a trip around the world via train, steamship, horse-drawn carriages, and at least once, on the back of an elephant(!) at the age of 60. An interesting and sometimes entertaining glimpse of Samuel Clemens, the man often eclipsed by Mark Twain, and his family — particularly his relationship with his wife, Livy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I received this for free in a pre-release copy. This is a well written, thoroughly researched book about 5 difficult years of Mark Twain's life. After a series of bad investments fail, he is left in debt for a lot of money. His wealthy friend H.H. Rodgers encourages him to come to a settlement that will pay his creditors about half of what he owes, but Livy, his wife insists that the debts must be paid in full. She also insists that she will not return to their beautiful custom built home in Hart I received this for free in a pre-release copy. This is a well written, thoroughly researched book about 5 difficult years of Mark Twain's life. After a series of bad investments fail, he is left in debt for a lot of money. His wealthy friend H.H. Rodgers encourages him to come to a settlement that will pay his creditors about half of what he owes, but Livy, his wife insists that the debts must be paid in full. She also insists that she will not return to their beautiful custom built home in Hartford until the debt is paid in full, and she can hold her head high. Under this tremendous pressure, Twain sets off on a world wide lecture tour, recounting humorous stories from his books. The tour goes across America, to Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa. His wife Livy, and one of his three daughters accompany him. This book recounts in great detail their travels, noting where they stayed, what sights they toured, and even what pieces were performed each night. For someone interested in a thorough account of these travels, this might be interesting, but after a while I found it dull. The book also covers Twain's return to "civilization", i.e. London, and what happens to the family over the next few years. The best bits of this book are when it's dealing with Twain's sardonic and irreverent comments. That's no surprise if you like Twain. But I wasn't engaged by the details of his business debts and negotiations, and was eventually bored by the thorough account sof each stop in his travels. I'd willingly pick up another book by this author, but this one lost my interest.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Georgann

    Book begins with telling the reason for the round-the-world comedy tour-- to repay debt and get his family out of bankruptcy. When the tale ends, Twain dies with enormous wealth, among the top 1 or 2% of the wealthiest people in the country. The trip, the speeches, the family adventures, the tragedies along the way make up the bulk of the pages between. Generously illustrated with photos and anecdotes and quotes, it made interesting reading but not consistently. Some of it simply dragged.

  13. 4 out of 5

    T.J. Alexian

    This was a period of Twain I was not as familiar with as others, so I found the back story quite interesting. That Twain, such a study in contrasts. Such a love for the common man, and yet, he can dandy it up with the best of them. I also found the more colorful stories that his wife would surely not have approved of to be the worth the price of admission

  14. 4 out of 5

    Martin Burrows

    This book is about the last part of Mark Twain's (Samuel Clemens) life, from about 1895 to his death in 1910. More specifically it is mostly about the first 5 years of that time period (1895-1900). A time when Mark Twain had already established his reputation, world wide, and had previously published his most well know books. A time when he had become wealthy from his writing, and then became bankrupt from horribly poor investments. To raise money and pay back his debts, he started on a round th This book is about the last part of Mark Twain's (Samuel Clemens) life, from about 1895 to his death in 1910. More specifically it is mostly about the first 5 years of that time period (1895-1900). A time when Mark Twain had already established his reputation, world wide, and had previously published his most well know books. A time when he had become wealthy from his writing, and then became bankrupt from horribly poor investments. To raise money and pay back his debts, he started on a round the world "lecture'" tour that would take him by train across the US, and then by ship to Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and finally England. This book is a fascinating window into the world of the late 19th century and into the inner workings of a man, most know by his works like Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn, but little is known of the inner man. A man who had an amazing love of his life, Olivia, and his three daughters. Someone who also had an unusually strong male friendship with a man named HH Rogers, a multimillionaire, and one of the founders of Standard Oil. The book describes the journey and adventures of his around the world trip, as well as family tragedies and business blunders that plagued him during the same time. If you are a Mark Twain fan, this book should not be missed, and even if you've never read anything by MT, I think most would find this book at least interesting and well worth the read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    MaryJo Hansen

    There have been many biographies of Mark Twian and this might be the newest one. It focuses on his later years and specifically, as the title suggests, a speaking tour he took in 1895-96 to pay off debts from bad investments. ( he had bad luck with investments all his life it seems). He was 60. His wife Livy and one daughter Clara went with him. They toured English speaking countries: Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, India and ended up in London. He was already quite famous so mos There have been many biographies of Mark Twian and this might be the newest one. It focuses on his later years and specifically, as the title suggests, a speaking tour he took in 1895-96 to pay off debts from bad investments. ( he had bad luck with investments all his life it seems). He was 60. His wife Livy and one daughter Clara went with him. They toured English speaking countries: Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, India and ended up in London. He was already quite famous so most of that world had read his books. Afterwards he wrote a book titled “Following the Equator” about the journey. It sold well and he was able to pay off debts and finally come back to the U. S. Twain's insights, his curiosity, his non-judgemental interest into other cultures, are what make this read remarkable. Also his personal suffering along the way: being older and sometimes in ill-health, and the death of his daughter Suzy when they were abroad, was almost unbrearable. What was most interesting to me was a lens into what the world was like back then, how long travel took (even when you went first class) how isolated other places were, and the richmess of other cultures, especially in India, which has been lost to us now.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eve Schaub

    It was fascinating to read about "Mark Twain" the person- and the round-the-world comedy tour which all his foibles ultimately brought him to. Here Samuel Clemens is humanized for us- what a spectacularly bad businessperson he was, how much he hated performing (despite how very good at it he was), his contradictory stances on imperialism, his complicated relationships with his family and friends. Not always a page-turner— there is a lot of :"this happened, and then that happened", which is a pitf It was fascinating to read about "Mark Twain" the person- and the round-the-world comedy tour which all his foibles ultimately brought him to. Here Samuel Clemens is humanized for us- what a spectacularly bad businessperson he was, how much he hated performing (despite how very good at it he was), his contradictory stances on imperialism, his complicated relationships with his family and friends. Not always a page-turner— there is a lot of :"this happened, and then that happened", which is a pitfall of historical nonfiction— especially at the beginning as Zacks sets the stage we are required to wade through much complicated financial detailing. But it is worth making that journey to get to the adventure itself which is fascinating in its own right. The fact that we get to hear Twain's story-telling voice and witness his process of evolving an elaborate joke or story is just icing on the cake.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bill Carmean

    Twain: What a great man! What a great success. And this is his story of his later life in all its horrible incarnations. As I learned here, Twain was not just a great man, he was a failure of a man. Although he was an extraordinary writer and orator, he trusted all his wealth to untrustworthy scoundrels and unworthy investments, digging himself . He bankrupted himself and his very wealthy wife, but near the end of his life forced himself to go on an exhausting world-wide lecture tour to repay al Twain: What a great man! What a great success. And this is his story of his later life in all its horrible incarnations. As I learned here, Twain was not just a great man, he was a failure of a man. Although he was an extraordinary writer and orator, he trusted all his wealth to untrustworthy scoundrels and unworthy investments, digging himself . He bankrupted himself and his very wealthy wife, but near the end of his life forced himself to go on an exhausting world-wide lecture tour to repay all his debtors in full and regain his good reputation. This book, read in conjunction with Ron Chernow's new biography of Grant (who lived in much the same time and who knew each other well), are even better than either book alone, as they give us a clearer and more fulsome insight into some of the most troublesome times in American history. Perhaps, just perhaps, our country will also survive the depths that we are currently living through.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Singleton Makin

    Incredible when listened too on audio the performer does Twain exactly as I imagine! And other voices are grand too! It’s a biography but also a sharing of key moments in prose that many if not most Twain readers have ever been introduced too before. I was expecting biography but the reality that this story helps explain how Twain was cemented into not just the United States but all over the globe as an international celebrity....the first stabs up comic or humorist. Indeed, his fame and fortune Incredible when listened too on audio the performer does Twain exactly as I imagine! And other voices are grand too! It’s a biography but also a sharing of key moments in prose that many if not most Twain readers have ever been introduced too before. I was expecting biography but the reality that this story helps explain how Twain was cemented into not just the United States but all over the globe as an international celebrity....the first stabs up comic or humorist. Indeed, his fame and fortune were started by his writing but his own public relations with his personal life tragedy and character in his ramble with extreme looming debts. Most people recognized that most people would have just given up. Especially since thus was during a crisis or economic depression before such things were actually called as such. I will just say the writer explains the tragedies of his personal life non economic. I will not spoil. Enjoy! Indeed!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dkettmann

    Amazing work! (consumed via audiobook). I'm a big MT guy,... in spurts/periods. Few years ago, read vol 1 & 2 of his unembargo'd autobiography and found it very interesting, but encumbered with the dryness of the academic work that it was. This new book brought MT to life, you could feel his character. The voice work in the audio version really brought it together. This book gives you the ability to be the fly on the wall while MT tries to bring his financial state out of debt. You feel the shame Amazing work! (consumed via audiobook). I'm a big MT guy,... in spurts/periods. Few years ago, read vol 1 & 2 of his unembargo'd autobiography and found it very interesting, but encumbered with the dryness of the academic work that it was. This new book brought MT to life, you could feel his character. The voice work in the audio version really brought it together. This book gives you the ability to be the fly on the wall while MT tries to bring his financial state out of debt. You feel the shame and drive in MT's words to be the honorable man and to do right by people. Knowing the bit I knew, kept me anchored in knowing a bad time would come. Still, this book handled it wonderfully. Again, like I was there. Like MT was writing to me. Highly recommended. If you are a fan of MT or (less so, as the book is life focused) his work, you will not regret this one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Not knowing a lot about Mark Twain, I found this book at the bookstore which looked very intriguing. This is not a full biography of Twain but encompasses his later years when he is facing bankruptcy after investing in the Paige typesetter. To get out of debt he agrees to a round-the-world speaking tour beginning in 1896 and traveling through Australia, New Zealand, India, North and South America with his wife and two of his daughters. This book describes his experiences in those countries, the Not knowing a lot about Mark Twain, I found this book at the bookstore which looked very intriguing. This is not a full biography of Twain but encompasses his later years when he is facing bankruptcy after investing in the Paige typesetter. To get out of debt he agrees to a round-the-world speaking tour beginning in 1896 and traveling through Australia, New Zealand, India, North and South America with his wife and two of his daughters. This book describes his experiences in those countries, the people he meets and retells some of the programs and stories he gives during his speaking programs. The tour is fairly successful but he has bouts of illness and a tragedy happens towards the end of the tour. I found this very interesting and it really expanded my knowledge of Twain and his writings.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Doug Bright

    " The reader who is looking for passages to arouse his laughter will have to plod through much sand before he comes to an oasis." - Literary World - 1897 on Twains " Following the Equator." Could have been written about Richard Zacks " Chasing the last laugh" where there are few. The only thing more tedious about reading about some one else's debt is reading about ones own. Mark Twains own travelogue who spent most of his time sick in hotel rooms only emerging briefly to earn speaking fees on th " The reader who is looking for passages to arouse his laughter will have to plod through much sand before he comes to an oasis." - Literary World - 1897 on Twains " Following the Equator." Could have been written about Richard Zacks " Chasing the last laugh" where there are few. The only thing more tedious about reading about some one else's debt is reading about ones own. Mark Twains own travelogue who spent most of his time sick in hotel rooms only emerging briefly to earn speaking fees on the stage the contents of which we are told little. Tedious.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John DiConsiglio

    Is Mark Twain our greatest author—& our worst businessman? By late 1890s, he’d squandered his publishing wealth & his heiress wife’s inheritance to the tune of (in today’s money) $2 million in debts. His solution: a ‘round-the-world lecture tour of his greatest hits, telling jokes & performing Huck Finn passages from Australia to India. Innocents Abroad meets the Ugly American. This amusing but overlong travelogue finds most of its humor in Twain’s own words from letters, notebooks & newspapers. Is Mark Twain our greatest author—& our worst businessman? By late 1890s, he’d squandered his publishing wealth & his heiress wife’s inheritance to the tune of (in today’s money) $2 million in debts. His solution: a ‘round-the-world lecture tour of his greatest hits, telling jokes & performing Huck Finn passages from Australia to India. Innocents Abroad meets the Ugly American. This amusing but overlong travelogue finds most of its humor in Twain’s own words from letters, notebooks & newspapers. No wonder the show was a reputation-saving triumph.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dbl

    Great biography An excellent book about someone world famous in the early 1900's. Plenty of history about this era as well as insight into this historical figure. Even though Twain was a very accomplished speaker, writer and humorous, the book does not cover over his faults, of which he had many. All are explored and presented in a way that keeps the reader interested until the end. Great biography An excellent book about someone world famous in the early 1900's. Plenty of history about this era as well as insight into this historical figure. Even though Twain was a very accomplished speaker, writer and humorous, the book does not cover over his faults, of which he had many. All are explored and presented in a way that keeps the reader interested until the end.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Schachter

    I enjoyed this book immensely and found it to be incredibly well written. I was unfamiliar with the subject matter, which made it even more interesting to learn a whole new side and story of Mark Twain. The excerpts from his “stand up” routine tour were well done and you get a real feel for his wit and wisdom. Our book club consensus was that the book could have been pared down by 100 pages, but it was still a well written and fascinating read of one of the world’s most famous figures.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Barbi Crabill

    Extremely interesting book about Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens effort to get out of bankruptcy brought on by bad investments by going on a 3 year round-the-world speaking tour with his wife and daughter. Although very well researched, the story sometimes gets bogged down in too many details which are not necessarily that important except for serious researchers or students of Mark Twain.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ben Keisler

    Very enjoyable and clearly written story of Mark Twain's (self-inflicted) financial troubles and his round the world lecture tour. As a lawyer I appreciated the detail and the accuracy of his description of the Lack of insolvency laws of the 1890's. The stories of life abroad in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were marvellous. Very enjoyable and clearly written story of Mark Twain's (self-inflicted) financial troubles and his round the world lecture tour. As a lawyer I appreciated the detail and the accuracy of his description of the Lack of insolvency laws of the 1890's. The stories of life abroad in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were marvellous.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    The first part was like chloroform in print, to use Mark Twain's own words. I was listening to the audiobook version and the first two hours were about how Twain got into debt and I nearly stopped listening. I'm glad I didn't because the rest of the book is much better. Long, but worth it. The first part was like chloroform in print, to use Mark Twain's own words. I was listening to the audiobook version and the first two hours were about how Twain got into debt and I nearly stopped listening. I'm glad I didn't because the rest of the book is much better. Long, but worth it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Graney

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. When you read the title and caricature of Mark Twain on the cover the impression is given of a fun romp. This book is a bummer! Twain had financial problems which made great majority of book sad to read. Spoiler- happy ending.

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Winkelman

    I enjoyed the unabridged audio book telling of Twain’s world tour he completed to pay off debts from his investments. Using letters and other published and unpublished documents, Twain’s voice details a very difficult time in his life, for him and his whole family.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vicki

    Interesting story of Twain and his family as they tour the English speaking world.

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