Academic journal article Mark Twain Journal

Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour

Academic journal article Mark Twain Journal

Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour

Article excerpt

RICHARD ZACKS, Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour. New York: Doubleday, 2016. 462 pp. Index. Cloth.

Not since Michael Shelden's spellbinding Mark Twain, Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years (Random House, 2010) has such an impossible-to-put-down book emerged that yields fresh information about episodes in Twain's life on every page. Richard Zacks' Chasing the Last Laugh focuses onTwain's comic-tragic trip around the world in 1895-96, but in actuality its story carries over to include his triumphant return to the United States in 1900. Whether it is Twain's mention of the massacre by the native sepoy troops in Cawnpore, the stuffed platypus an Australian naturalist gave him in Australia, Henry H. Rogers's efforts to recoup Twain's fortune and prevent him from squandering another one, or Olivia Clemens's brother Charley's "blindside miracle" of selling the by-then-nearly-worthless Langdon Coal to the Pennsylvania Railroad, Zacks manages the nearly impossible feat of maintaining the momentum of his narrative while filling in behind-the-scenes factors that add immeasurably to our grasp of the significance of each occurrence.

The circumstances behind Clemens's bankruptcy are deftly reviewed and we are reminded about the conditions that led him to undertake his lucrative but hazardous world lecture tour. We learn how the "dingy" and "oily & musty" Warrimoo (lecture agent James B. Pond's words), a "creaky ship" with a "quesPublished tionable captain" (Zacks' description) grounded itself twice before managing to depart from Victoria, British Columbia-as well as how much Clemens resented the captain's anti-smoking shipboard policies. …

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