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The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   475
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.6" Width: 5" Height: 1.2"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 2001
Publisher   Penguin Classics
Age  18
ISBN  014043920X  
EAN  9780140439205  


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Item Description...
First published in 1873, The Gilded Age is both a biting satire and a revealing portrait of post-Civil War America - an age of corruption when crooked land speculators, ruthless bankers, and dishonest politicians voraciously took advantage of the nation's peace-time optimism. With his characteristic wit and perception, Mark Twain and his collaborator, Charles Dudley Warner, attack the greed, lust, and naivete of their own time in a work which endures as a valuable social document and one of America's most important satirical novels.

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More About Mark Twain & Charles Dudley Warner

Mark Twain Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, led one of the most exciting of literary lives. Raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, Twain had to leave school at age 12 and was successively a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a halfhearted Confederate soldier, and a prospector, miner, and reporter in the western territories. His experiences furnished him with a wide knowledge of humanity, as well as with the perfect grasp of local customs and speech which manifests itself in his writing.

With the publication in 1865 of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Twain gained national attention as a frontier humorist, and the bestselling Innocents Abroad solidified his fame. But it wasn't until Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), that he was recognized by the literary establishment as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce.

Toward the end of his life, plagued by personal tragedy and financial failure, Twain grew more and more pessimistic--an outlook not alleviated by his natural skepticism and sarcasm. Though his fame continued to widen--Yale & Oxford awarded him honorary degrees--Twain spent his last years in gloom and exasperation, writing fables about "the damned human race."

Mark Twain lived in Hannibal, in the state of Missouri. Mark Twain was born in 1835 and died in 1910.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Witty assessment of post-Civil War industry and politics. A classic.  Jun 14, 2007
Witty, engaging and expertly crafted, The Gilded Age reveals Twain's and Warner's cynicism of American business practices (rampant, unrestrained speculation) and Washington politics post-Civil War. For the most part, the main characters are rather flawed. The sometimes loathsome sometimes loveable Col. Eschol Sellers is a well-meaning huckster. Many of the figures on the periphery are out-and-out crooks, dishonest, slimy sorts that would do or say anything for a buck. The only winner in the end is Philip Sterling, the only character willing to work hard to make an honest fortune.

Some critics have said that this book was Twain's answer to Ben Franklin's elevation of the so-called Protestant work ethic and something of a critique of American capitalism. That conclusion, in my view, is misguided. While Twain's and Warner's contempt of corruption and dishonest business dealings is glaringly obvious from the way the stories are told, they quite as obviously seem to honor those who truly earned their fortunes or made something of themselves by honest, productive effort. Sterling is an example of that. That is the essence of the Protestant work ethic.

Social commentary aside, like Twain's other work, The Gilded Age is terribly funny. About every other page, one of his brilliant witicisms will make you laugh out loud, a situation that can be a bit awkward when reading the book in public.
 
"For men are subject to their own impulses as soon as they have parted company with reason"  Oct 9, 2006
Literary legend has it that Twain and Warner's wives had prompted these two authors to work together on The Gilded Age. Some versions of the story have it a dinner party challenge-- where the two men were dared to work together in order to produce a novel better than the popular fiction that their wives were reading. Whatever the true cause, it is an interesting experiment. The Gilded Age is a book worth reading, particularly if you are interested in the history or the popular novels of the 1870s.

The story follows the fortune of the good but silly Hawkins family and their children, both biological and adopted. The Hawkins family is chiefly concerned with the idea of making their fortune, and invest a huge amount of hope and trust in their twin poles of "the Tennesee Land" and the schemes of their family friend, Colonel Beriah Sellers.

The plot is extremely melodramatic, much in keeping with popular fiction of the day. Hidden identities, lost parents, ruined women and handsome cads populate the storyline. Mixed in with this is the classic Twain "pen warmed up in Hell"-- he takes on the corruption of the era, pointing his venom at Congress, the railroad, and at the "reconstruction efforts" theoretically designed to improve conditions in the south while actually being little more then efforts to line pockets, thinly disguised.

It is occasionally an uneven ride. The melodramatic plot and characters are often a very odd fit with the vicious,dry and funny commentary that is made about corruption and public morals. I think it is more enjoyable if you have had exposure to contemporary writers such as Mary Jane Holmes. I kept thinking of this as The English Orphans on crack to try to keep the context in mind.

Despite the uneven quality, I really enjoyed the book. The political commentary may miss on some of the specific scandals, but the general points should still be pointy enough to make current politicians wince. And, like most Twain efforts (even a co-authored book like this one) it is often riotously funny.

The introduction to the Penguin edition claims that the Gilded Age will never be forgotten for three reasons:

-- its association with Mark Twain
-- the accomplishment of having given a title to a political era
-- its status as a shockingly accurate mirror of period corruption

I will not argue with that analysis.

Highly recommmended. Kudos to the Penguin Classic edition for the genuinely helpful introduction by Louis J. Budd and the useful notes and appendices at the back of the book.
 
Greed  Feb 17, 2004
The post-Civil War years were a time of rapid industrialization in America, aided and abetted by burgeoning plans to build a transcontinental railroad. Many people saw an opportunity to get a piece of the action, to speculate with family savings, the little that there were, in hopes of making millions of dollars in return. Investing in coal mining was one example. It is against this background that _The Gilded Age_ takes place.

Many in Congress saw an opportunity to support various projects that were supposedly for the public good, e.g. building a university for the newly freed slaves upon land, located in Tenneesee, bequeathed by a family patriarch to his children. These schemes were also meant to line many people's pockets. The novel's Senator Dilworthy supports various liberal causes and "family values," i.e. Sunday school education, but is also thoroughly corrupt.

_The Gilded Age_ is meant to be a morality tale where everyone receives his just deserts: the evil or those just plain greedy are punished, including a vengence seeking young woman deeply wronged by her married lover, and the good and the conscientious are rewarded. While the book occasionally gets bogged down in the scandalous details of this young woman's love life, _The Gilded Age_ is often an interesting, lively and educational glance into the manners of 1870s America.

 
A Tale of Today  Jul 17, 2001
The literary criticism you can get from the Oxford edition (check your local library); the commentary is thorough (which parts did Twain write? which parts Warner?) and informative. My reasons for recommending this book have nothing to do with its literary value (spotty) and everything to do with its subtitle. Every now and then an old book teaches us that much of what we take to be modern and sophisticated is truly old hat. One of the best descriptions of the Cold War was written by Thucydides, and one of the best depictions of the go go dot.com economy was written by Twain. Substitute web sites for depots and bandwidth for rails and the conversations in this book could have been overhead on cel phones in San Jose. IPO's and bubbles are not twenty-first century innovations: as Twain shows us,it may be possible to get rich from hard work, but it's more tempting to get rich by looting the pockets of the uninformed. Senator Dilworthy's dedication to pork evokes Byrd, and we learn lecherous behavior in Congress didn't start with Condit. An entertaining validation of Ecclesiates: there truly is nothing new under the sun.
 
An excellent read.  Feb 8, 2001
This book, written by Twain and Warner, pokes fun at American society during what they called "the guilded age". This term has stuck and is often used by historians to describe the period 1877-1914. Twain and Warner see this time as one where men care only for money. These men will not work hard, but merely scheme and plot in order to strike it rich. The dialogue in the book is very snappy, the best being when Laura Hawkins arrives in Washington, DC and meets with the other high society ladies. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in United States History, or just those who want to read a good novel. The book can drag at times, but overall is very engrossing.
 

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