Light and frothy, this humorous biography is a lively read.




“To succeed in business…avoid my example”—Mark Twain (1901).

Journalist Crawford (Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, 2008, etc.) offers up a zesty financial biography of Twain (1835-1910) the businessman, noting that his subject tried to be “an Edison as well as a Shakespeare,” as one of his great nephews recalled. The author chronicles Twain’s adventures as an entrepreneur, investor, and inventor; like a diligent accountant, he carefully itemizes Twain’s wins and losses in today’s monetary values, making them all the more shocking. When Twain went to Carson City, Nevada, as a novice writer, he also had a hankering for a quick buck. After all, he believed the mountains were “literally bursting with gold and silver.” Though the mining didn’t pan out, as a “resourceful and ingenious” fellow, he had “cause for hope.” He struck pay dirt when he married Livy Langdon, whom he deeply loved. The young bride’s wealthy father built them a huge, furnished, fully staffed house as a wedding gift; when her father died, Livy inherited more than $4,400,000. After they moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1872, to another formidable house, Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and invented the Self-Pasting Scrap Book. It sold well, but his partner swindled him, and he went on to invest in other projects: odorless rubber cloth, a vaporizer to extract steam from coal, a Fact and Date board game, and the Kaolotype engraving process to create book illustrations. Twain then started his own publishing company, and after giving Ulysses S. Grant’s widow an unheard-of royalty, he published her husband’s Memoirs. It sold like hot cakes, and she made $11,000,000. However, his company’s other major book, The Life of Pope Leo XIII, was a flop. Fortunately, Twain was a “superb manager of his own image,” a talent that kept his family fed.

Light and frothy, this humorous biography is a lively read.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-83646-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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