Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century

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Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century. By Philip McFarland. (Plymouth, England: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. Pp. xv, 499. $28.00.)

Mark Twain and the Colonel may appeal more to general readers than to hardcore academics. The book's originality comes from Philip McFarland's organizing principles. Technically, Samuel Clemens [1835-1910] was a generation older than Theodore Roosevelt [1858-1919], Clemens's reputation just reaching its height around the time that Roosevelt came into prominence, roughly during the 1880s. McFarland brings the two together by focusing on how each man engaged-- personally, politically, and economically--in the cultural upheavals of the period between 1880 and 1910.

The book's weakness lies in its opening chapters, which, seemingly pointlessly, bounce between the two subjects' early lives. It gathers speed and point when it brings the men together, first over their dual experiences of the far West, then in their common interest in American imperialism. In both cases, they responded very differently: Roosevelt wrote about the life of a hunter and ranchman with gusto; Clemens satirized his Western days as a miner and budding journalist. Even more striking was each man's response to the annexation of the Philippines in 1899. Roosevelt, then vice president, saw America's plunge into imperialism as a chance to exercise the courage, manliness, and military strength he revered--as well as to acquire new markets. Twain, newly returned from a lecture tour through the British Empire, thought that in forcing American rule on the Philippines the United States had betrayed its national values. Both men were true believers, both deeply and passionately desirous of securing the country's future and its honor. …