Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The War Prayer” as Want to Read:
The War Prayer
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Read Book

The War Prayer

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  1,750 ratings  ·  171 reviews
Written by Mark Twain during the Philippine-American War in the first decade of the twentieth century, The War Prayer tells of a patriotic church service held to send the town's young men off to war. During the service, a stranger enters and addresses the gathering. He tells the patriotic crowd that their prayers for victory are double-edged-by praying for victory they are ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published December 28th 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1900)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The War Prayer, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Wifee I have read the story, just trying t get a better understanding for critical thinking.
Ameer Hamza
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.44  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,750 ratings  ·  171 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The War Prayer
Jon Nakapalau
Both sides pray for victory...but victory means the death of young men...on both sides. And God, as father of all the young men, has to listen to this prayer? And as father of all the young men how does he choose? One of Twain's most thought provoking works.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clear poem with no artifice whatsoever, but it's perhaps the most searing piece of writing I've ever read - an indictment of war itself but also more specifically, certain religious attitudes toward war that were prevalent in his time and unfortunately, still exist in many corners today. The straightforward way he whisks the veil off the too-easy hypocrisy is shockingly affecting. I feel a little stunned. Everyone should read this. I was tempted to give it 5★ based on sheer power alone, but I ...more
Onaiza Khan
This tiny little story is so thought-provoking and touching. I don't think I'd be over it soon.
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very short (a ten minute read) and I'd suggest buying a larger collection of Twain's short works that includes this one in it.

This "poem", in particular, is still so appropriate over a century after it was written. Both the divisive idea of "us vs. them" and the puzzling notion that religious people would pray for their enemies' deaths are stripped naked and Twain uses his unparalleled satirical skills to do it.
Viji (Bookish endeavors)
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: close-to-heart
I just loved it.!! In these few pages,Twain presents a bold criticism of war. As they say,old men start war for young men to die. Not only is there death of the soldiers,but death of civilians,destruction of all those things which a man takes a lifetime to make. But all these are known to a seven-year old. And why do we still close our eyes.? It's these eyes that Twain is trying to open. What an irony it is that we pray to the son of God,who asked us to show the other cheek,to give us success in ...more
Hayzel Palomar
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Written by Mark Twain during the Philippine-American War in the first decade of the twentieth century, The War Prayer tells of a patriotic church service held to send the town's young men off to war. During the service, a stranger enters and addresses the gathering. He tells the patriotic crowd that their prayers for victory are double-edged-by praying for victory they are also praying for the destruction of the enemy... for the destruction of human life."
Feb 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current_issues
I wasn’t looking for another Mark Twain when I wandered round Powell’s book store the other day. But I was browsing the sales table and was surprised to spot a very slender volume bearing his name — the War Prayer. The fact that it was slender attracted me as much as the price — a short classic? Then I opened the book and found that, true to its size, it's really just a short story, or story poem, published after his death because Mark Twain said “I have told the whole truth…and only dead men ca ...more
Jim Hammer
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Came upon this by accident. I teach history and spend a lot of time discussing the concept of nationalism both pros and cons. This is definitely something that I will use in class. It is really interesting how Twain takes something perceived to be admirable and gets the reader to see the consequences of their actions. The ending in which the man is discredited is a powerful way to end the story.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This is a short, but powerful book by Mark Twain that was published after his death. There are wonderful illustrations by John Groth.

Twain is examining whether God, who is a loving God, would approve of prayers to destroy the opponents in a war. As a preacher is praying "that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bea
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super short read which I loved! Also I normally don’t get into mark Twain, but this was really good. It made me see the reality of how blind we and I myself can be to the unspoken prayers we have.
This little poem (to be fair, I don't know if the work is originally poetry, or if the publisher stylized this as a poem) is a wonderful indictment of blind patriotism during war time. I picked this up because I didn't know that Twain had written poetry, and I was curious to see what his verse had to offer.

The War Prayer was classic Twain. Slightly sardonic, tongue-in-cheek, while also being insightful, clever and profound. Twain tells of a town whose men are preparing to march to battle. The S
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book
This work of Mark Twain was published 6 years after his death in 1910. The only reason that he asked his publishers not to publish it was that "he did not want to look like a lunatic or fanatic".

The reason for Twain's hesitation in publishing this work is obvious after reading it. At the time it was written war was considered to be serving a countries pride.

Even after the end of the kings and their empires we still lived (and live?) in a world where war was considered an evil necessity. Countr
Erik Graff
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: The War Resisters' League
Shelves: literature
Part of my ideological-philosophical formation was accomplished in association with and under the influence of friends, some under that of publications and organizations. In high school, for instance, I belonged to the Students for a Democratic Society and The War Resisters' League, association with the latter continuing through college and beyond.
I believe I purchased Twain's The War Prayer from an WRL literature offering either in high school (this edition first came out in '68) or during the
Rev. Linda
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Twain wrote The War Prayer, a short story, during the US war on the Philippines. It was submitted for publication, but on March 22, 1905, Harper's Bazaar rejected it as "not quite suited to a woman's magazine." Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard, to whom he had read the story, "I don't think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth." Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Mark Twain could not publish "The ...more
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mark Twain´s words are so full of truth and eloquence, that regardless of the short length of this story we can learn the definition of men, and how we have finished as we have. This "prayer" as beautiful as it is and told so brilliantly is a quintessential piece for understanding men´s piety-less soul. Twain manages to strengthen his canon even after his dead.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brutal indictment of war and those who propagate it and blindly support it and justify it with religion and patriotism. The final sentence of the book makes the most powerful statement of all regarding human nature, and is as relevant now as it was when written.
Theo Logos
This is not the Mark Twain that you know from school and childhood - not the folksy humorist, nor even the wry, clever wit. The War Prayer is the work of of an angry man, full of righteous wrath. He wrote it in response to the hypocrisy of his country's imperialist war of conquest against the people of The Philippines, a war in which the country's generals didn't even bother to hide the routine atrocities and war crimes they committed in the name of God and country. Like a prophet of old, his wo ...more
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Any essay that is deemed "not quite suited to a woman's magazine" is sure to captivate my heart and mind.

Mark Twain looks at the dark side of war, and through a lens that is sure to ruffle some feathers--religion. As a church congregation prays for swift victory in war, and protection for their troops, an angel-mystery man-representative-speaker for God swoops in, and points out the other side of the church's prayer: their call for the death of another nation. Implicit in any victory is the def
Marts  (Thinker)
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
During a wartime church service an unusual stranger enters the chapel with a 'message' for the congregation...
Mark Hiser
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This you must read. It will take you all of five minutes to read, and all of a lifetime to ponder and remember.

During a time of war, as soldiers march to battle, a minister prays for the safety of the troops and victory in their task. After finishing, a man who claims to be from the Throne prays aloud the silent prayer behind the words of the minister. He also tells the congregation that if, after hearing the silent prayer they still want victory in war...

That we may never forget that silent pra
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this is one of the very few books i find to be absolutely amazing in all ways. this book while written with the war in the Philippines in mind at the time echos true for all wars that seem to fallow. twain has captured the truth in how when war comes to the world, each of the countries feel going into it, but on the other side how each of their prayers may have vastly negative backlash on the other side that as a whole people refuse to acknowledge. the writing is moving and amazing, while bringi ...more
Rachel Rogers
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Clemens strikes a chord with this essay. Setting: a church, the day before a group of soldiers leaves home. All the soldiers and their families are present to receive God's blessing on their cause. Enter the stranger who steps to the pulpit and exhorts the congregation to think of what the other side is hearing in the same setting, their own churches. When we tell one side to destroy the other, we are encouraging horrible bloodshed and death and suffering while the enemy is hearing that God ...more
A very brief, but devastatingly powerful, demand that people who advocate war consider all the ramifications. This book should be read aloud and then discussed in a joint session of Congress every time there is a decision to be made about whether to go to war - if it had been, our country would have been in many fewer wars - probably a handful instead of the dozens that history actually records.

Twain's tone in this is angry, sad, and finally bleak. His view of the situation and most people's thi
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In a church, young men are being gathered together prior to being shepherded off to their red, white, and blue deaths. To die for God and country! Those assembled laud this as no better fate, especially when accompanied by the slaughter of their faraway (and certainly less than human and likely heathen) enemies. But then a stranger walks in and suggests to them that praying for murder may not be such a good thing after all. Sadly, that prayer is far too common, as Twain makes clear with gravity ...more
Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Understanding that Mark Twain was pretty seriously anti-war, I found this a really poignant piece that pointed out the (sometimes overlooked) consequences of war, and of the political positions we adopt, and ask God to make victorious. War is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of a sinful world, and I think that regardless of Twain's personal religious beliefs, he understood that, and he understood (and pointed out) that a good outcome for one can very often be a severe casualty for another.

May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Along with 'All Quiet on the Western Front' this is one of the most thought provoking books on war that I have ever read. Mark Twain purposely did not want the book published until after his death because of the controversy it would raise. I kept hearing myself saying, "yea, that's right; that's what we are really asking God to do".

The best version of the book is the issue with pencil drawings by John Groth; they add an additional powerful message and impact along with the narrative.

This is the
Jeff Beland
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
Twain put it best when he said that in this world only dead men can tell the truth. This is a very short, but truly awesome work. The patriotic pageant and prayer sending the youth off to war could be taken from any country or any period in history, it speaks to our patriotism the our love of our own. Then the angel comes in and explains that as a man who prays for rain to save his crops may not realize that the rain may harm his neighbors, even proceeds to explain the atrocities of war, then gi ...more
Jul 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Twain wrote this moving anti-war poem in response to the Spanish-American war, but his family thought the sentiments were too harsh to publish during his lifetime. The poem was first published in 1916, during World War I, and this edition, movingly illustrated by John Groth, was originally published in 1968. The poem confronts a group of Christians praying for protection of their sons and brothers on the battlefield with the unspoken side of their prayer asking God to hurt and kill the people on ...more
D.e. Varni
Sep 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not so much a book as an essay with drawings to add impact to the tale of a messenger who tries to educate a congregation during church services as they wrongly pray for the victory of American soldiers who are quelling riots in the Philippines with brutal force viewing the Filipinos as subhuman and outside of God's graces. It is a sad short story with a tragic ending that I won't give away. This is a must read for those who pray for American victory in conflicts the globe over as it off ...more
Rod Brown
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this very short work, Twain creates a scathing indictment of war, the hawks who rally the masses to their cause, and the people who thoughtlessly let their bloodlust and patriotism intertwine into an engine of destruction. The art is raw and serves the prayer well.

It continues to amaze me, the wonders one can find sitting on a library shelf if you just take a moment to look.

p.s., Reading this book reminded me of a favorite Peanuts strip, reprinted here:
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Open Boat
  • An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
  • Desiree's Baby
  • The Storm
  • A Clean Well Lighted Place
  • Chickamauga
  • The Story of an Hour
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro
  • The Mortal Immortal: The Complete Supernatural Short Fiction of Mary Shelley
  • Editha
  • To Build a Fire
  • Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death
  • The Nightingale and the Rose
  • الغرفة الحمراء
  • The Complete Poems
  • God Sees the Truth, but Waits
  • At the 'Cadian Ball
  • Paul's Case
See similar books…
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), called "the Great American Novel", and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later provide the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He apprenticed with a printer. He also work

News & Interviews

  Tami Charles is a former teacher and the author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made...
27 likes · 41 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst.” 8 likes
“It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.” 5 likes
More quotes…