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Mark Twain's "Desperately Striving Entrepreneurship"



(p. A13) For a novelist with such a tart view of human character, Twain's gullibility is hard to fathom. No matter his dismal track record, he always appraised the next opportunity as a sure thing. The two fields he knew about, books and newspapers, caused him more grief than any other. He had success with Charles L. Webster & Co., the publisher he founded, which issued the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. But after that runaway hit, he published a string of lemons.

Even worse was his decade-long investment in a typesetting machine, the Paige Compositor, which, Twain noted, would be faster than a human typesetter and "does not get drunk" and "does not join the Printer's Union." But its inventor proved to be a hopeless perfectionist, his machine with its thousands of parts a tribute to complexity gone mad. Ultimately, Twain invested $175,000--an immense sum. With the mogul Rogers guiding him, the author transferred his assets to his wife and put his publishing company into bankruptcy. Only by embarking on a world-wide speaking tour was he able to pay his debts.

Mr. Crawford doesn't seem curious about whether Twain's financial capers informed his writing. He has nothing notable to say, for instance, on "The Prince and the Pauper," a wry commentary on the sort of class envy to which Twain himself was susceptible. Nor does Mr. Crawford attempt to reconcile the conventional view of Twain as a folksy raconteur with the evidence of his desperately striving entrepreneurship.



For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "BOOKSHELF; A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist's tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, October 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist's tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, Alan Pell. How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.






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