The Statesman and the Storyteller

The Statesman and the Storyteller

John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism

Book - 2016
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In a dual biography covering the last ten years of the lives of friends and contemporaries, writer Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and statesman John Hay (who served as secretary of state under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt), The Statesman and the Storyteller not only provides an intimate look into the daily lives of these men but also creates an elucidating portrait of the United States on the verge of emerging as a world power.

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.

Publisher: Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, c2016
ISBN: 9781565129894
Branch Call Number: 973.89 Zwon
Characteristics: xvi, 583 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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May 19, 2016

This masterpiece unveils in detail what John Hay, McKinley and TR actually said about the dawn of U.S. imperialism, ironically using the same argument the South gave for keeping slaves: They're better off helping God's chosen white people to carry the banner of civilization. Sam Clemens, on the other hand, shares much of the nation's distaste with this approach and is its most eloquent spokesman. This examination of their stories brings the era vividly and personally to life (and maybe a bit too much detail on their medical maladies though that is very indicative of the era). The contrast between elitist Hay, with the halo of having been Lincoln's secretary, and Clemens, the cagey but world weary celebrity Mark Twain -- who deliciously come from the same Mississippi mud -- makes a powerful narrative that I couldn't put down.


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