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How Not to Get Rich

The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain

(amazon)

Alan Pell Crawford (View Bio)
Hardcover: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

How Not to Get Rich
(amazon)

Alan Pell Crawford tells an uproarious tale of Mark Twain’s endless attempts to get rich, all of which served only to empty his pockets.

Mark Twain’s lifetime spans America’s era of greatest economic growth. And Twain was an active, even giddy, participant in all the great booms and busts of his time, launching himself into one harebrained get-rich scheme after another. But far from striking it rich, the man who coined the term “Gilded Age” failed with comical regularity to join the ranks of plutocrats who made this period in America notorious for its wealth and excess.

"Crawford offers up a zesty financial biography of Twain the businessman, noting that his subject tried to be ‘an Edison as well as a Shakespeare,’ as one of his great nephews recalled. The author chronicles Twain’s adventures as an entrepreneur, investor, and inventor; like a diligent accountant, he carefully itemizes Twain’s wins and losses in today’s monetary values, making them all the more shocking. When Twain went to Carson City, Nevada, as a novice writer, he also had a hankering for a quick buck. After all, he believed the mountains were ‘literally bursting with gold and silver.’ Though the mining didn’t pan out, as a ‘resourceful and ingenious’ fellow, he had ‘cause for hope.’ He struck pay dirt when he married Livy Langdon, whom he deeply loved. The young bride’s wealthy father built them a huge, furnished, fully staffed house as a wedding gift; when her father died, Livy inherited more than $4,400,000. After they moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1872, to another formidable house, Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and invented the Self-Pasting Scrap Book. It sold well, but his partner swindled him, and he went on to invest in other projects: odorless rubber cloth, a vaporizer to extract steam from coal, a Fact and Date board game, and the Kaolotype engraving process to create book illustrations. Twain then started his own publishing company, and after giving Ulysses S. Grant’s widow an unheard-of royalty, he published her husband’s Memoirs. It sold like hot cakes, and she made $11,000,000. However, his company’s other major book, The Life of Pope Leo XIII, was a flop. Fortunately, Twain was a ‘superb manager of his own image,’ a talent that kept his family fed. Light and frothy, this humorous biography is a lively read." — Kirkus Reviews