Author: Donald Tiffany Bliss

Publisher: CreateSpace

ISBN: 9781477405024

The worst part of being forced to endure the quadrennial electoral water torture that has just concluded in the United States (known less cynically as the “Presidential campaign”) is the dearth of sane voices to help guide one through the foggy quagmire of propaganda and pomposity. Lord, what fools these candidates be – and we who pay attention to their every focus-group-approved bromide are no less foolish. But at least some of the public’s motives are pure: we ache for principle, but they spoon feed us partisan rhetoric.

Look at the tyranny of party – at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty, a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes, and which turns voters into chattels, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech – honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction.”

Ain’t that the truth, brother. What a shame it has to come from somebody who’s been dead a hundred years. Aren’t there any brave truth tellers out there today who can bring it when the pols start to sling it? Where are today’s Mark Twains – author of the acid critique quoted above – and why are their voices not being heard?

Well, the bad news is there’s nobody like Twain – he was truly one-of-a-kind. The good news is he’s never really left us, evidence by the wondrous new book Mark Twain’s Tale of Today: Halley’s Comet Returns – the Celebrated Author Critiques American Politics.

This is one book you really can’t judge by its cover – or at least its title. One might expect a flippant collection of Twain’s witticisms sprinkled amid a discussion of today’s still-corrupt governance, but this book is much, much more than that.

In its more than 550 pages, readers of this book get a thorough biography of Samuel Clemens – the man who became Mark Twain – as well as a deeply informed cultural history of the United States during its so-called “Gilded Age” (the period from the end of the U.S. Civil War until the turn of the century). The book also offer a trenchant political analysis of 19th and 20th century political maneuvering, Reconstruction, the growth of the media, the perils of mixing money and politics, the labor movement in America, a critique of imperialism and in-depth discussions of U.S. and Western foreign policy, the dangerous intermingling of church and state, lobbyists and government, and the consequences and benefits of an unfettered free enterprise system.

I pity the poor bookstore owner trying to classify this work: part biography, part history, part economics text book, part foreign policy analysis, and, this being a book with Twain at its core, part humor, of course.

I really liked this book. My point in taking on its title is that most readers won’t likely be expecting the thorough and thoughtful analysis the book offers from such a light-hearted title. Rather than a collection of biting quips from the man from Hannibal, the book is actually quite sparing in its citation of Twain’s barbed rhetorical arrows. Bliss, a retired Ambassador and longtime Washington lawyer, fills his book mostly with his own analysis and insight about the political situation, then and now, and he writes with a clarity and intelligence that are captivating. He might not have Twain’s razor-sharp wit (who does?), but Bliss’ book can take its place with any Twain-centered biography or cultural analysis.

The challenge of writing about a figure as well-known as Twain is simply trying to say something new. I hope Mr. Bliss’ work finds readers because what he has to say about the life and legacy of Twain struck me as new and valuable. I’ve read dozens of books about Twain, and though Bliss’ endnotes reveal that he’s plowed through a veritable library of Clemensian compendia, I can assure you that Twain fans, and newbies, will learn an immense amount about the White-suited wit who elevated humor to the highest of arts.

For anyone feeling battered by the now-it’s over, now-it-begins-again endless political bickerfest, this book will restore the spirit. At least until the next round. And we can be certain there will be a new round. As Twain himself noted: “If you would work the multiplication table into the Democratic platform, the Republicans will vote it down.”

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