An amusing, singular account of the world tour by the nation’s most famous humorist, chased by creditors.
Zacks (Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York, 2012, etc.) journeys with Mark Twain (1835-1910) on his around-the-world tour in 1896, when he peddled his “greatest hits” to live admiring audiences in order to gain enough money to keep his creditors at home in check. Having made several disastrous investments—e.g., buying a publishing house and putting his nephew in charge and backing James W. Paige’s pie-in-the-sky mechanical typesetter—Twain also had to support his heiress wife, Livy, and three daughters in grand style in Paris. On the advice of his friend and fellow investor, oil baron H.H. Rogers, Twain turned over all of his assets, including his book copyrights and Paige stock, to his wife to avoid persecution and embarked, with Livy and middle daughter Clara, on a world tour as essentially a stand-up comedian. He offered snippets from his more hilarious material while drumming up thousands of dollars to pay the creditors. Zacks has thoroughly mined the notebooks Twain kept on the tour—which detailed his “almost bizarre” range of interests: “religious preferences in ant colonies, worst public floggings, the anonymity of executioners, the insecurities of God”—and letters home to the two daughters who stayed behind, while tracking the family’s progress across Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and London. Apparently, Twain was beginning to enjoy himself immensely, and these snippets of his performances are endearing and affecting. Although the news of the sudden death of daughter Susy in 1896 dampened the family’s homecoming, Twain was able to recoup many of his losses with new publishing and magazine contracts—and thanks to the financial wiliness of Rogers.
Between the dizzying sums lost and gained, Zacks offers a rollicking history perfect for Twain’s countless fans.