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Publisher: Algonquin Books$18.95The Statesman and the Storyteller (Audio Compact Disc - Unabridged)
Publisher: HighBridge Audio$49.99
And just as the narrative details the wisdom, and the occasional missteps, of two great men during a tumultuous time, it also penetrates the seat of power in Washington as the nation strove to make itself known internationally--and in the process committed acts antithetical to America's professed ideals and promises.
The country's most significant move in this time was to go to war with Spain and to eventually wrest control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. In what has to be viewed as one of the most shameful periods in American political history, Filipinos who believed they had been promised independence were instead told they were incapable of self-government and then violently subdued in a war that featured torture and execution of native soldiers and civilians. The United States also used its growing military and political might to grab the entirety of the Hawaiian Islands and a large section of Panama.
As secretary of state during this time, Hay, though a charitable man, was nonetheless complicit in these misdeeds. Clemens, a staunch critic of his country's imperialistic actions, was forced by his own financial and family needs to temper his remarks. Nearing the end of their long and remarkable lives, both men found themselves struggling to maintain their personal integrity while remaining celebrated and esteemed public figures.
Written with a keen eye--Mark Zwonitzer is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker--and informed by the author's deep understanding of the patterns of history, The Statesman and the Storyteller has the compelling pace of a novel, the epic sweep of historical writing at its best, and, in capturing the essence of the lives of Hay and Twain, the humanity and nuance of masterful biography.
- ISBN-13: 9781565129894
- ISBN-10: 156512989X
- Publisher: Algonquin Books
- Publish Date: April 2016
- Page Count: 608
- Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-01
- Reviewer: Staff
Documentarian Zwonitzer examines the split in an otherwise warm acquaintance between John Hay—an aide to Abraham Lincoln before becoming his secretary of state—and Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), in this puzzlingly conceived account. The relationship between the two cooled around 1900 over America’s imperialist war in the Philippines, which Hay, as senior American statesman, helped direct for presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Clemens concluded that the U.S. had gone too far in trying to defeat the Philippine rebels and went public with his criticism. Unfortunately, that’s weak scaffolding for a book, and as winningly as Zwonitzer unfolds the tale, it’s really a parallel biography of two men whose lives scarcely interacted in significant ways. Given Zwonitzer’s interest in the Spanish-American War, his focus should have been on Hay, who has recently been the subject of John Taliaferro’s fine biography All the Great Prizes. Clemens, while brilliantly described, seems an afterthought and incidental to the main action. What Zwonitzer accomplishes is adding novelistic color to his rendering of both men in their years of friendship. Zwonitzer makes all of his subjects here spring alive, and the book is a delightful read, even if the central conceit doesn’t fully work. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (May)
Two very different writers, one unlikely friendship
John Hay and Samuel Clemens were both rising writers when they met in the late 1860s. Hay, a poet, was one of two private secretaries to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Clemens, under the pen name Mark Twain, was known for his short stories and comic lectures. Both had grown up in small towns on the Mississippi River, and they admired each other’s work. Although never close friends (Hay’s wife disapproved of Clemens), in the late 1890s, the changing role of the U.S. in the world brought them back toward each other, on opposing sides.
In his absorbing The Statesman and the Storyteller, Mark Zwonitzer weaves their personal and public stories together as he explores the different responses of two very public figures to the complicated events of their time. Hay was a Republican in the original party sense: a strong believer in capitalism, wary of a shift of money to the working class and immigrants. Clemens considered himself a small-d democrat who was skeptical about government power and was an advocate for fairness in social, political and commercial matters. What continued to bind them were “unbreakable threads of affection and common experience” based on “a gut understanding of just how hard the other was running from desolate beginnings, and an admiration for how far the other man had traveled.”
During the period covered in the book, Clemens is deeply in debt and undertakes a world lecture tour to help right his financial ship, while Hay serves in the McKinley administration as ambassador to Great Britain. The supporting cast includes Clemens’ beloved wife, Livy, so important to her husband’s career that no manuscript ever left their home “without her signing off on every word and phrasing”; Hay’s best friend, Henry Adams, who knew all the influential political figures of the day; and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a major booster of America’s drive to become an imperial power.
This book is so well written I did not want it to end. With exhaustive research and superlative descriptive skills, Zwonitzer is able to capture mood and tone, bringing his prolific and often-profiled subjects to life and leading the reader to consistently feel present in the moment.