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Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century Hardcover – July 16, 2012
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The interplay between the two gargantuan lives leads biographer Philip McFarland to some fascinating trivia and unexpected role-reversals.
(New York Post)
What did two of the most famous Americans of the early 20th century have in common? In this interesting if overlong dual biography of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Mark Twain (1835–1910), McFarland (Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe, 2007, etc.) seems bent on challenging the conventional wisdom as to which of these two Gilded Age giants had the better progressive credentials. In one corner stands Roosevelt, the war hero and manly man who busted the Standard Oil monopoly, protected national lands, and worked to improve labor conditions. He was also a defiant imperialist who thought it was the duty of America to spread civilization to backward, pagan countries, whether they wanted it or not. In the other corner stands the genius writer and humorist Twain, who helped expose the moral evil of slavery and thought the United States had no business helping “liberate” the Philippines from Spain. He was also a wealthy venture capitalist whose best friends were oil barons and thought government had no business telling John Rockefeller what to do. Roosevelt and Twain were alike in many ways: voluminous writers, beloved celebrities, wealthy men who enjoyed great success and suffered terrible personal tragedy and who opposed slavery but not white supremacy. McFarland’s story is both personal and political, focusing on the lives and philosophies of both subjects....The still-relevant contrast between these two American powerhouses is well told. Both men were consumed by domestic and international problems that continue to reverberate. (Kirkus Reviews)
Author McFarland (Hawthorne in Concord) succeeds in his purpose of portraying the similarities and differences between two iconic American personages as they responded to the issues of their day—imperialism, racism, corporations, and the end of America’s westward movement—during the period from 1890 until Mark Twain’s death in 1910. Lyrically written and unobtrusively annotated, this book of musings on episodes in the lives of two lovers of language, both proficient in several European tongues, who embodied much of their country’s culture at the dawn of the 20th century, also includes several other individuals of note. Among them are Booker T. Washington, Andrew Carnegie, and H.H. Rogers of Standard Oil, whose business acumen Twain greatly admired. Based largely on secondary rather than primary sources, the book may surprise some with the comment that the skeptical Twain and the optimistic Roosevelt privately disliked each other. Both were noted travelers, often touring the lecture circuit. Twain spent nearly all of the 1890s (and some time thereafter) residing in Europe where, after business mishaps, he claimed he could live more cheaply.
Verdict Recommended for aficionados of turn-of-the-20th-century American literature and history, especially the general reader....This sweeping, engrossing narrative explores Twain’s and TR’s relationship, and how they became heroes of the “Gilded Age” and icons of American history and culture.
Though America’s most famous satirist and the 26th president seldom came into direct contact, here McFarland (Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe) posits the duo as dynamic foils, indicative of the social and political growing pains of the country. Differences in background and beliefs abounded: Roosevelt was an expansionist; Twain was a staunch anti-imperialist. The politician “spurn[ed] idleness, to an extent that amazed those who knew him;” the humorist embraced “the gypsy-like leaving behind of responsibilities.” Perhaps most telling of their disparate social roles is their handling of racial issues—while Twain grew vocally outraged at “The United States of Lyncherdom,” Roosevelt fretted about losing the Southern vote. McFarland doesn’t shy away from the complex notions each man had of the other—Twain called Roosevelt “one of the most likeable men that I am acquainted with,” and also “far and away the worst president we have ever had.” In addition to being a compelling duel biography, McFarland makes full use of Twain and Roosevelt’s specific moment in time, using their opinions, vitriol, and praises to explore varying sides of issues that belabored the United States at the turn of the 20th century. (Publishers Weekly)
In Mark Twain and the Colonel, Philip McFarland tells the story of the rich years of American history between 1890 and 1910 through the fully engaged involvement of two of its most vital participants. (The Birmingham News)
No two men captured the zeitgeist of Gilded Age America more than Mark Twain, the cultural icon, and Theodore Roosevelt, the political one, claims the author in this dual biography and narrative history of 1890-1910....McFarland, the author of two novels and five nonfiction works, offers here a captivating investigation of the similarities and differences between Twain and Roosevelt presented against a backdrop of politics, imperialism, commercialism, and racism of these decades....General readers already familiar with Twain and Roosevelt or those who know little about either man will be fascinated by this illuminating, comparative biography/history that displays their significance to this tumultuous era. (Foreword Reviews)
Philip McFarland's book "Mark Twain and the Colonel" is a hybrid biography of two of the most colorful figures of their era and a fascinating look at America at the beginning of the 20th century....Readers of Mr. McFarland's very well-written book, filled with wonderful anecdotes, can judge for themselves who is the better man. (The Washington Times)
A magnificent storyteller, Philip McFarland has told the story of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America through the intertwined lives of two of its most memorable and colorful figures: Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. Impeccably researched, beautifully written, Mark Twain and the Colonel will delight anyone interested in American history, literature, or culture. (Jerome Loving, author of Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens)
Philip McFarland’s new book, the latest in his distinguished series of American biographies and histories, fuses two vivid stories set around the first decade of the twentieth century. One touches on the astonishing career of President Theodore Roosevelt, an eastern patrician sometimes derided as a “cowboy” and saber-rattler. He speeded the emergence of modern America from a frontier nation to a world power with far-flung interests. The second of McFarland’s stories follows the comparably astonishing career of the democrat and westerner Mark Twain, who came east from the closing western frontier and became famous as author, humorist, and universal sage. More than a century later, these two flamboyant personalities, each a distinctly native production and neither at a loss for words on every issue of their time, continue to occupy a formative place in the American style and imagination. (Justin Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography)
Independent historian McFarland (The Brave Bostonians: Hutchinson, Quincy, Franklin, and the Coming of the American Revolution, CH, Oct'98, 36-1163) has pieced together the lives of two 19th- and early-20th-century icons, both of whom contributed greatly but differently to the nation's history. Most are aware of Roosevelt's accomplishments in the Spanish-American War, how he came to the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley in the fall of 1901, and his subsequent accomplishments during his administration. McFarland describes Roosevelt as a man whose "name [is] shining among the brightest in our presidential firmament." Not all would agree. To the author's credit, however, he adorns Roosevelt with virtues (progressivism) and flaws (racism and imperialism). Clemens, the satirist and novelist, did not take to politicians. He was critical of Roosevelt's quest for empire. As McFarland suggests, Clemens, as a product of pastoral America, found it difficult to accept imperialism and industrialism and what both portended for the nation's future. In short, this book contributes to two different perspectives of the Gilded and Progressive eras. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. (CHOICE)
“McFarland’s story is both personal and political, focusing on the lives and philosophies of both subjects.” (Kirkus Reviews)
From the Inside Flap
In those two decades—last of the nineteenth and first of the twentieth—our modern nation was formed. Men whose names have become legendary—Rockefeller, Carnegie, Edison, Wright, Ford—exemplified the great changes taking place in America at the time. But only one name rivaled Mark Twain’s in the love of his countrymen. Theodore Roosevelt dominated the politics of the era just as the author of Huckleberry Finn dominated its culture. The celebrities were well acquainted, and in public neither spoke ill of the other. But Roosevelt once commented in private that he would like to skin Mark Twain alive, and the humorist recorded his own opinion (although not for public consumption until later) that Roosevelt was “far and away the worst President we have ever had.”
Philip McFarland’s Mark Twain and the Colonel describes the prickly relationship between these beloved figures by focusing on two tumultuous decades of abiding relevance, decades to which no Americans were more responsive than Colonel Roosevelt of San Juan Hill and the humorist Mark Twain.
Top Customer Reviews
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was a genius whose legacy lives on in modern America. T.R. was born in New York City the son of great wealth to a father who was a plate glass businessman. The Roosevelt family were Dutch founders of New York City. T.R.
was a frail lad until he built his body through hard work and constant effort. TR was among many things in his storied career
an ornithologist of world fame; a rancher in the Dakota badlands; a big game hunter; a prolific author; outstanding public orator and a world traveler (as was his older contemporary Mark Twain). The bully T.R. was in his political career a civil service commissioner in D.C.; the police commissioner of New York City who wanted to reform Gotham of it many vices; the hero of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War of 1898 (where his Rough Riders Regiment honored him as their beloved and brave "Colonel."; assistant secretary of the Navy; Vice-President under the assassinated William McKinley and at 42 years of age the President of the United States. T.R. is ranked as one of America's greatest presidents.
T.R.Read more ›
Nevertheless, an enjoyable and informative read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
At first skeptical, I found this juxtaposition of the lives of Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt fascinating. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Thomas G. Matowitz Jr.
arrived in a timely fashion; well described; no internal markings; good purchasePublished 16 months ago by Kim Porter
A wonderful exploration of these two giants and their times. Amazingly relevant for our times and the issues we face today. Read morePublished on July 12, 2014 by Hickory rocks
Loved the read!
Mr McFarland did a fine job with the narratives of Samuel Clemens and Teddy Roosevelt. Read more