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The Gilded Age

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Arguably the first major American novel to satirize the political milieu of Washington, D.C. and the wild speculation schemes that exploded across the nation in the years that followed the Civil War, The Gilded Age gave this remarkable era its name. Co-written by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, this rollicking novel is rife with unscrupulous politicians, colorful plutocrats, and blindly optimistic speculators caught up in a frenzy of romance, murder, and surefire deals gone bust. First published in 1873 and filled with unforgettable characters such as the vainglorious Colonel Sellers and the ruthless Senator Dilsworthy, The Gilded Age is a hilarious and instructive lesson in American history.

Introduction by Ron Powers
Includes Newly Commissioned Endnotes

528 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1873

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About the author

Mark Twain

5,188 books16.8k followers
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 worked as a typesetter and contributed articles to his older brother Orion's newspaper. After toiling as a printer in various cities, he became a master riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River, before heading west to join Orion. He was a failure at gold mining, so he next turned to journalism. While a reporter, he wrote a humorous story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," which proved to be very popular and brought him nationwide attention. His travelogues were also well-received. Twain had found his calling.

He achieved great success as a writer and public speaker. His wit and satire earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

However, he lacked financial acumen. Though he made a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he squandered it on various ventures, in particular the Paige Compositor, and was forced to declare bankruptcy. With the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers, however, he eventually overcame his financial troubles. Twain worked hard to ensure that all of his creditors were paid in full, even though his bankruptcy had relieved him of the legal responsibility.

Born during a visit by Halley's Comet, he died on its return. He was lauded as the "greatest American humorist of his age", and William Faulkner called Twain "the father of American literature".

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

Μαρκ Τουαίν (Greek)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 184 reviews
Profile Image for Jim.
2,029 reviews666 followers
April 10, 2014
I had always wanted to read this book, thinking it was a different sort of novel, perhaps from the point of the wealthy. Also, I had no idea that The Gilded Age was such a serious work. Oh, Mark Twain's humor comes across frequently, especially in the sections taking place in Washington. Unfortunately, Twain had a co-author: the book is signed by both Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warren, his friend.

Twain wrote the first eleven chapters, which were brilliant at times, but the story began to sag when Warren took over. Gradually, the book improved; but it was never too difficult to tell when Warren was the sole author.

The Gilded Age is a tale of the American dream of entrepreneurship. Everyone wants to speculate, to go for the quick kill. What usually winds up getting "killed," however, are their own prospects and those of the people who love them. Perhaps the book's signature character is "Colonel" Beriah Sellers (notice those initials: B.S.), who is an insatiable dreamer around whom much of the plot revolves. Curiously, although virtually everything he undertakes fails, he receives sympathetic treatment because he is basically a nice guy who, himself, is caught up in his impossible dreams:
As may be readily believed, Col. Beriah Sellers was by this time one of the best known men in Washington. For the first time in his life his talents had a fair field.

He was now at the centre of the manufacture of gigantic schemes, of speculations of all sorts, of political and social gossip. The atmosphere was full of little and big rumors and of vast, undefined expectations. Everybody was in haste, too, to push on his private plan, and feverish in his haste, as if in constant apprehension that tomorrow would be Judgment Day. Work while Congress is in session, said the uneasy spirit, for in the recess there is no work and no device.
It is this feverishness which is at the heart of The Gilded Age.

For all the ignes fatui, however, there is only one uccess in the novel, and it comes at the very end, when it is almost too late.

For Mark Twain's participation in this novel, I would give it five stars, but Warner lowers it to four. It's not that he is so bad: It's just that he is so far from Twain.
Profile Image for Theo Logos.
611 reviews93 followers
January 26, 2023
This book gave name to the period of American history from the end of the Civil War to the end of the 19th century. In it, Mark Twain savages the crooked politicians and speculators that characterized this period of spectacular expansion in American capitalism. For this scathing wit, and for Colonel Sellers, one of Twain's own favorite characters, this book is worth reading.

Unfortunately, the gold of Mark Twain's wit is here mixed all too thinly with the dross of the rest of the novel. This book was co-authored by Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, a writer all but forgotten except for this collaboration with Twain. It is far too easy to pick Twain's contributions apart from his less talented co-author. The novel is a typical 19th century melodrama, with characters who drop into the plot for no apparent reason, and others who were built up and then simply disappear from the book as if the role they were to play was forgotten. The book used tired cliches of the period, like the beautiful, fallen women who figures largely in the second half of the book and comes to a predictable end that pleased Victorian sensibilities. Upon publication, many reviewers accused Mark Twain of perpetuating a fraud on the public by lending his name to this book; a charge that, sadly, seems to fall not far from the mark.

Still, the book contains some choice Mark Twain material, which may be an excuse to check it out. It’s far from his best, but there are nuggets of Mark Twain gold in these muddied pages.
Profile Image for Joe Soler.
16 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2010
This is the first book I assigned in my Modern Novels class because it set the stage for the period of self-proclaimed Modernity by exposing the seedy underbelly behind American "Progress." This is also Mark Twain's first novel which is clear because he has not quite mastered narrative and structure. The book drags a bit at times, but also displays the wit and incisive observation that made Twain a national treasure. The Gilded Age recounts the profound and quite recognizable corruption of the late 19th century United States, particularly Big Business. This novel is wonderful in that despite its age, the book speaks directly to the contemporary American political scene, and shows that the problems we face have been with us a long time. My students always immediately picked up on how relevant the book was in thinking about the contemporary corruption of our society despite their various academic and intellectual levels, which is a tribute to Twain's brilliance.
Profile Image for Christiane.
581 reviews18 followers
June 25, 2015
In this book Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner heap scathing criticism on the US congress, the justice system , the press and society in general..
It’s a tale of greed, corruption, influence peddling, lobbying, vote buying, seat buying, bribery, blackmail, hypocrisy, etc. etc. In this aspect this satire is as relevant today as it was then.

Another topic are the big dreams of vast and easy riches harboured by men disinclined to work for them, epitomized by the self-satisfied kind-hearted windbag, "Colonel" Beriah Sellers.

Lastly, it’s a portrait of the situation of women and their lack of independence and self-determination at that time.

Although it is surely a deserving book I did not enjoy it very much : I found it too disjointed, long and tedious, didn’t care much for the characters and missed Mark Twain’s usual linguistic fireworks.

Profile Image for Wanda.
144 reviews
November 14, 2011
Another treasure discovered at a library buck-a-bag sale. The characters are well drawn, the prose is not turgid...and...not a lot has changed in human affairs in a century and a half.
Sure, it's about politics, corruption, greed, business speculation and credit bubbles, so a main point about reading it is seeing how little anything has changed. But everybody already knows that, human nature being what it is.
Nonetheless, one takes pause when stumbling across lines such as, "She did not know how much of the business prosperity of the world is only a bubble of credit and speculation, one scheme helping to float another which is no better than it, and the whole liable to come to naught and confusion when some accident produces a sudden panic."
How could we keep screwing it up--not year after year but century after century?
For me, though, as with reading all novels from the long ago, what I get most from it is the feel of what it was like to be alive in those days, and this book delivers. There are striking descriptive passages, that must have been written by co-author Charles Dudley Warner because Twain just doesn't write like that. I know that at least two scenes are with me forever.
I know what it was like to take a night journey by train in c.1870, walk through the streets of residential Philadelphia, attend a courtroom trial in New York City (I even know what it smelled) like. I know about people's attitudes and points of view. And I know how long some things took to change, even though the misapprehension was clear.
Take women's rights--the problem summarized in two sentences that would take more than a century to untangle: "You men do not want women educated to do anything, to be able to earn an honest living by their own exertions. They are educated as if they were always to be petted and supported, and there was never to be any such thing as misfortune."
Even what we might now call "white-guilt liberalism," with government money being tapped for projects designed to uplift the poor "niggro," but are really get-rich schemes for the backers who don't care about anything but their own advancement, are pilloried.
Public works boondoggles--then canals, now high-speed rail--natural resources speculation, hypocritical religious hogwash, corrupt and corrupting lobbyists, a credulous public....
It's all the same! Nothing has changed! That's what I came away with.
Who knew?
I liked the protagonist Laura Hawkins a lot. Her attitude to life was expressed when she said, "The world is against me. Well, let it be, let it. I am against it."
She also said that there could be no love without respect, and she would only despise a man who could content himself with someone like her. Sigh. I get that, too.
I could go on, but...better you should read the book.

Profile Image for Dave.
232 reviews18 followers
October 2, 2012
It is not often that one gets to define an age, but that is precisely what Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner did with “The Gilded Age”. As Ward Just points out in his introduction, “The Gilded Age��� is “the first (novel about Washington) of consequence in American writing.” The full title of the book is “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today”, and it was published in 1873. Charles Warner was a good friend of Mark Twain and this is the only novel which Twain collaborated with another writer, and it was also the first novel which he wrote which was not based on his own life and travels.

The novel is focused on a poor Tennessee family, whose patriarch tries to improve the status of his family by making money on land he has acquired. Never satisfied with the amount offered, he dies failing to sell the land, and the story continues with focus on his adopted daughter Laura. In addition there is a parallel story about two men seeking their fortunes through speculation. The first of these stories is largely by Twain, while the second one is by Warner. While those characters are the focus, much of the action takes place in Washington D. C., and the satire of the government and those involved is timeless.

“The Gilded Age” is certainly worth reading, as is everything Twain ever wrote. I don’t personally consider it among his best, but as the novel which defined an age and the only book which he co-authored, it has a unique place in history, both of Twain’s writing and of the country. Twain’s gift for satire had not yet reached its peak in this novel, but it is still very good, and one can only imagine what changes there would have been if Twain had authored this book by itself. The Oxford Mark Twain edition includes an introduction by Ward Just and an Afterword by Gregg Camfield, and both have insights to offer into the book and the environment which faced the authors while writing it.
Profile Image for Sotiris Karaiskos.
1,133 reviews79 followers
July 21, 2019
In the United States, the era between the end of the civil war and the late 19th century was characterized by major social changes and rapid economic growth. Behind this facade, however, there were huge social problems and great political corruption. The writers describe this era with intense satirical mood and this description was so apt that the title of the book finally gave its name in this era. The truth, however, is that this fact gives value to this book and not its literary virtues.

Στις Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες η εποχή ανάμεσα στο τέλος του εμφυλίου πολέμου και στα τέλη του 19ου αιώνα χαρακτηρίζονταν από μεγάλες κοινωνικές αλλαγές και ραγδαία οικονομική ανάπτυξη. Πίσω από αυτή την πρόσοψη, όμως, υπήρχαν τεράστια κοινωνικά προβλήματα και μεγάλη πολιτική διαφθορά. Αυτή την εποχή περιγράφουν οι συγγραφείς με σατιρική διάθεση και αυτή η περιγραφή ήταν τόσο εύστοχη που ο τίτλος του βιβλίου έδωσε τελικά σε αυτήν την εποχή το όνομά της. Η αλήθεια, όμως, ότι αυτό το γεγονός δίνει αξία σε αυτό το βιβλίο και όχι οι λογοτεχνικές του αρετές.
Profile Image for Judi.
596 reviews40 followers
December 12, 2016
Sigh. I shall ever be smitten by Mark Twain. If I were to have a fantasy dinner party he would definitely be a guest. (Along with Woody Allen) This book shattered any remaining illusions/delusions' I may have held regarding our noble democracy and dedication to ethics and principals in government - business. A very barbed satire indeed. Mark Twain's observations of The Gilded Age remain spot on today. I am off to crawl under my bed and wait for the Great Apocalypse. Trust no one.

Re-read December 2016 I raised my rating of this book to a five star. The recent Presidential election in November prompted me to dust off this tome and re-read. It is more prophetic that I ever imagined when I first read it. The Great Apocalypse has arrived with Donald Trump at the helm. I will not find safety hiding under my bed.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 32 books80 followers
January 30, 2012
What's scary is how much the Washington, DC of this 1873 novel has in common with Washington, DC today!
Profile Image for James Steele.
Author 31 books65 followers
January 27, 2022
[edit: the book is about the land speculation of the 1800s as the railroads and industry were expanding. Everyone trying to get rich off land and bemoaning how only people with connections to old money and politics seemed to be able to get rich off it. Given our current atmosphere of NFTs and cryptocurrency and how nobody is using them as money but as unregulated investments to try to get rich, the themes of this book are just as relevant as ever. Everyone yearns for social mobility. Everyone wants to be free of labor. Whether it’s NFTs (all I have to do is buy this token for a monkey jpeg; its value will rise in no time and I’ll be rich and all I have to do is hodl!) or land speculation (surely this land has coal on it! It must! We’ll all get rich!) everyone is trying to improve their station in life. We all recognize this can’t be done by working hard, so we are vulnerable to gambling away what little we have on the chance of a larger return, but the only people who benefit are the people with personal connections, in one form or another. Is the gamble ever worth it, or are we all wasting our time speculating?]

This must have been rollicking satire in 1872, and even having read a lot of books from this era, so much of this went over my head. Everyone has a scheme to get rich. Everyone is plotting ways to make money—why there’s millions of dollars in potential and lots and lots of unclaimed land so let’s go out and get some!

Problem is that when the poor, ordinary folk enact such schemes, they get nowhere and all their hard work ends in poverty. To get anything done, you have to know people. Powerful people. Powerful people who live in the financial and business and political centers of the country and have ties to politicians who can make things happen. When these people enact schemes, things get done, and their scheming always overrides the schemes of people who are not so well-connected.

The New York and Washington DC elites make a living buying and selling the land out in the Western USA for railroad and mining speculation. The people who live on that land get screwed one way or another while these business and political people, who have never even seen the land they are speculating on, get rich off it. Their actions make or break entire towns—lives are ruined because of these rich people and the politicians and legal officials they corrupt in order to seize such land, and they ensure only their rich friends make money. They don’t care how their actions affect others. It’s a whole other planet.

This is a very slow and plodding read full of in-the-times humor and portrayals regarding Black people (this story straddles the American Civil War) and women. I do like how the authors acknowledge they are “men writing women.” In spite of the many sweeping generalizations about “how women are” (which do come across as good humor... even if outdated) they manage to write a strong woman who figures out how to navigate High Society and manipulate the right movers and shakers and politicians and to get the best possible land deal for her family. It’s the only get-rich-quick scheme they have that can actually work, but they must manipulate the right people to make it happen. Working hard never paid off before. Knowing people always works.

It’s boring though. So boring it’s not worth summarizing in detail, or even remembering who the characters are. Alice in Wonderland’s out of date humor was a delight to slip into. The Gilded Age’s humor is the opposite, even as its overarching theme is just as tangible now as it was then, though the twist in chapter 46 caught me off guard—to see all their hard work, all their scheming and playing the politicians and the people in High Society come to naught in the end. For all their effort, nothing works. All their speculation and playing politics and the money game. Nothing pays off for anyone, and even the one person whose speculation does bear fruit doesn’t gain from it. The book ends with more speculation. It’s heartbreaking to witness, leaving the reader wondering if there really is anything anyone can do to get rich, or are we all wasting our time gambling our futures away.

I can only assume this was a biting satirical portrayal of the USA for the time in how nobody talks about normal things anymore—everyone is thinking about ways to get rich off this or that. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, when industry was expanding in ways never witnessed in America before, railroads were growing, land was plentiful, raw materials were in demand, and America had all of it in abundance. Hearing people starting to talk like this must have been quite a shift in culture. I can’t hate it, but I think Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!” (see my review) would later show it so much better.
Profile Image for Yesenia.
614 reviews25 followers
March 28, 2022
So I started watching the HBO series The Gilded Age, and I was like, "some of these names sound familiar... did these people exist?" So of course I went to The History Chicks podcast to see if they had an episode on Mrs. Astor, and of course they did! They also have another called The Gilded Age Princesses and The Gilded Age Servants, AND they mentioned that the name of the period came from a book by Mark Twain (they forgot to mention the other guy).

Of course I had to read the book. This is how I watch series and this is why I sometimes read a book or listen to a podcast: serendipity + the oneness of the universe.

This book was very entertaining in parts, but not all the time. Sometimes it was a bit... I dunno, not boring per se, but something not entertaining. But it was SO anti-Congress that it was endearing. And so mordant sometimes, so Mark Twain... It took me one day to read it, so clearly I was very much into it...

And although it is not about New York--unlike the HBO series--it is evident that this book and the series deal with the same sort of people. Gilded people.
Profile Image for Illiterate.
1,689 reviews31 followers
November 23, 2018
“A comprehensive up-to-date textbook on American government. Suitable for use in colleges and high schools.” Professor A. Puff, Racket University.
Profile Image for Paul Frandano.
401 reviews12 followers
March 21, 2019
Published in 1873, this is the novel that famously gave the era its name and then fell into the bin on “largely forgotten and seldom read.” In my opinion, however, The Gilded Age is significantly better than its earliest notices or its contemporary reputation. What I surmise will surprise readers today is the continuing relevance of the story, which is in parts a morality tale, a series of character studies that capture a range of relevant “types” who express various dimensions of the striving age, a snapshot of the burgeoning power of CAPITAL (and the railroads) at a very specific moment in American history, and a guide to the workings of the US Congress .c 1870s. The story Mark Twain and co-author Charles Dudley Warner unfold – along with the behaviors of their principal protagonists – should resonate among contemporary readers, who will recognize in these pages the differences between moral politicians and political moralists, the myriad hypocrisies of the political class then (and now), and the exertions of the politically and financially powerful haves to advance their own interests and relative might against the relative powerlessness of the striving have-nots.

Close readers will not fail to spot the vast gulf that separates the chapters and characters largely written in Mark Twain's supple, supernaturally observant, colorful prose from those of co-author Charles Dudley Warner’s generally leaden ponderousness. Some will find Warner's writing is something of a downside. Others will be annoyed by the lengthy forays into political and financial details that slow down the narrative pace (asides that I found useful touches that added veracity to the narrative..."these guys seem to know what they're talking about").

The edition I read, published in 1964 by the Trident Press and now out of print, contains an unusually helpful introduction by Mark Twain biographer and scholar Justin Kaplan, who lays out the factual basis that justifies the novel's subtitle, "A Tale of Today." The main characters, all their intrigues and scheming on behalf of the motivating spirit of the age - an insatiable longing for great personal wealth - are closely based on real people from Sam Clemen’s past and on actual events that newspaper readers of the 1870s would have recognized. In this, Twain and Warner were pioneers in producing an early American realist novel, albeit one that alternated between comic satire and raw disgust. It remains a useful document of the era and a testimony to the adage that "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

A pleasant surprise for those who enjoy audio books, both as stand-alone “listens” or in conjunction with the printed text, is the Blackstone audio production, which features the the sparkling polyglotic narration by Bronson Pinchot - yes, THAT Bronson Pinchot (the “Balki” of the late ‘80s-early ‘90s sitcom Perfect Strangers)- who in my hearing hits precisely the right notes for some of Twain's most memorably Dickensian characters – the huckster Colonel Sellers, a complex, ambitious Laura Hawkins, the oleaginous Senator Dilsworthy, and more. Simply brilliant voice-acting.
Profile Image for Mark Allen.
11 reviews1 follower
January 9, 2008
The Gilded Age lent its name to the period of U.S. History from Grant's presidencies through the turn of the century. I read this book through the lens of "been there, done that" during the web-boom of the late 90s, early oughts.

All of the usual suspects are there: smooth talking confidence artists running scams proposed as "market speculations" in the parlance of the times, corrupt Congresscritters, the vulture capitalists of Wall Street (and Sand Hill Road), and the shifty dealers who paddle in the wake of such men.

There's only a handful of honest, diligent characters in the whole book and one right at the end who has a final epiphany about how if he'd just spent his life trying to pursue and honest living, he'd at least have something to show for it instead of a trail of misery and woe -- all told with a charming - and to be frank sometimes tiresome - 19th century melodrama, especially concerning the heart and nature of women.

As a historical document and portrait of the times it's wholly accurate and believable. The authors take pains to tell the reader that "this is not fiction, but a history."

I couldn't help but see the parallels between Mr. Bolton and Samuel Clemens. (Bolton is an extremely charitable man who constantly lends his money and his good name to scoundrels until it ruins him and his family financially.) Like Bolton, Clemens constantly engaged himself in various "get-rich-quick" schemes, and was forced several times to hit the lecture circuit and live abroad to escape from his creditors' demands.

I would love to read an updated version of this narrative. I can picture it now: a family from Kansas, university educated children, one working a menial job, the other with big ambitions to strike it rich in the new Silicon Valley goldfields of the end of the 20th century, one of the central female characters of the book ends of murdering a jilted lover of some prominence, is acquitted and instead of going on a lecture tour as in the Gilded Age, becomes a reality TV star and ends up with a daytime talk show.
Profile Image for Joy.
550 reviews
September 22, 2020
This book made me sad. It's the first Twain that I haven't picked up with delight and looked forward to reading. Instead, I picked it up thinking, "I can't wait until I'm done with this one."

That's not how you should feel about a book unless it's Henry James. Then it's okay because that man could make a three word sentence last for three pages.

I suspect that the parts I disliked were written by the co-author as others seem to indicate. I can't imagine Twain being as wagless as the passages indicate. The words show that humor is attempted, but fails. Not my Twain.

I was amused by how much things remain the same in American politics. Some things never change. And I become more and more cynical for it.
Profile Image for Adam.
96 reviews
November 26, 2017
This books needs a good editor. There are elements of a good story here and the commentary on the politics of the time are somewhat enlightening, but Twain and his co-writer go off on tangents that neither progress the plot nor are very interesting. If you are a big Twain fan then by all means give it a shot; otherwise, you are in for a bit of a slog.
Profile Image for Kurtbg.
689 reviews15 followers
April 1, 2017
A lesser known co-authored work with Mark Twain that takes a satirical look at get-rich schemes and political shennagins in the mid to late 1800's. I thought the weaving of story, character, and value to humanity was balanced better than some later 20th century books, such as those written by Aldous Huxley and Thomas Mann. I could also be said to pave the way for Upton Sinclair's, The Jungle.

Even still, the book serves as representative (albeit skewed) critique of the times. Who would have thought that political votes were bought and then paid out with the very funds voted into a bill? Pretty slick, huh?

Also, one of the female characters boldy addresses the point of just repeating the same life as her mother and her mother before her and challenges what's the point if there's improvement - no progress in social and personal expectation. Twain was pro women's sufferage and it rears itself in a bookstore exchange between a male clerk and on of the female protagonist, who happens to be much better educated. The helpful clerk repeatedly directs her to what he thinks she should read despite her specific requests and she politely, but slyly, puts him in his place without him recognizing it's being done.

This book has a good deal to draw from for discussion in a classroom as it's bears more importance, though perhaps less entertainment, than his more popular works.

Profile Image for Michael.
234 reviews
August 8, 2019
Mark Twain's only collaborative novel written with C.D. Warner published in 1873. This book gave the name to the era in which it was written from about 1870 to 1900. It became synonomous with materialism, corruption, and graft in public life and particularly in Washington.
Not Twain's best novel but good novel nonetheless.
Profile Image for Brian Cohen.
191 reviews3 followers
July 24, 2021
I can see why this is one of the lower rated Twain books, but Col. Sellers has to be one of his most memorable, tragically comic characters. Enjoyed seeing how it was inspired by events from Twain’s life.
Profile Image for Roberta.
893 reviews
March 29, 2012
It is hard to imagine that a political story could provide so many laugh-out-loud moments. Having just completed this book, I now cannot imagine anyone who has despised Washington and its politicians more than Mark Twain! His descriptions of the corruption were hysterical (to me) in their full-frontal assault! Based on his opinion, it is difficult to imagine that he was not thrown out of the country … by the politicians that he so thoroughly lambasted! Too funny!

Of course, there were other dishonorable characters besides the politicians—some who were likeable and some who were not. It seemed to me that the only truly honorable people (other than Philip and Clay) were the quiet mothers who stayed home and managed to make things work in spite of the irresponsible efforts of their men. It was also very interesting—especially in light of today’s sense of entitlement by our young folks—that this is apparently not a new concept, but rather a concept of a bygone era simply come to the forefront again. The young men of this story thought it best to “speculate” in order to gain wealth and reputation, rather than simply “work” in an honest profession.

Overall, there were times when I was simply tired of reading this endlessly negative story, but stayed with it to reach the final outcome (I just cannot give up on a book). Fortunately, there was enough time spent with the good characters to carry me through, and the various stories about the politicians were definitely good for a continuous laugh. The language / prose / descriptions / diction made it all worthwhile. What an extraordinary gift for turning a magical phrase! For that alone, it was more than worth the time!

{Travelling on the Mississippi on a small steamboat} But of course familiarity with these things soon took away their terrors, and then the voyage at once became a glorious adventure, a royal progress through the very heart and home of romance, a realization of their rosiest wonder-dreams. They sat by the hour in the shade of the pilot house on the hurricane deck and looked out over the curving expanses of the river sparkling in the sunlight. Sometimes the boat fought the midstream current, with a verdant world on either hand, and remote from both; sometimes she closed in under a point, where the dead water and the helping eddies were, and shaved the bank so closely that the decks were swept by the jungle of over-hanging willows and littered with a spoil of leaves; departing from these "points" she regularly crossed the river every five miles, avoiding the "bight" of the great binds and thus escaping the strong current; sometimes she went out and skirted a high "bluff" sand-bar in the middle of the stream, and occasionally followed it up a little too far and touched upon the shoal water at its head--and then the intelligent craft refused to run herself aground, but "smelt" the bar, and straightway the foamy streak that streamed away from her bows vanished, a great foamless wave rolled forward and passed her under way, and in this instant she leaned far over on her side, shied from the bar and fled square away from the danger like a frightened thing--and the pilot was lucky if he managed to "straighten her up" before she drove her nose into the opposite bank; sometimes she approached a solid wall of tall trees as if she meant to break through it, but all of a sudden a little crack would open just enough to admit her, and away she would go plowing through the "chute" with just barely room enough between the island on one side and the main land on the other; in this sluggish water she seemed to go like a racehorse; now and then log cabins appeared in little clearings, with the never-failing frowsy women and girls in soiled and faded linsey-woolsey leaning in the doors or against woodpiles and rail fences, gazing sleepily at the passing show; sometimes she found shoal water, going out at the head of those "chutes" or crossing the river, and then a deck-hand stood on the bow and hove the lead, while the boat slowed down and moved cautiously; sometimes she stopped a moment at a landing and took on some freight or a passenger while a crowd of slouchy white men and negroes stood on the bank and looked sleepily on with their hands in their pantaloons pockets,--of course--for they never took them out except to stretch, and when they did this they squirmed about and reached their fists up into the air and lifted themselves on tip-toe in an ecstasy of enjoyment.
Twain, Mark (2009-06-30). Classic American Literature: The Works of Mark Twain, 24 books in a single file, improved 6/1/2011 (Kindle Locations 597-603). B&R Samizdat Express. Kindle Edition.

Profile Image for Marty Reeder.
Author 2 books37 followers
July 11, 2016
In this my year of Mark Twain, I am starting to work down the line into books of his that are less-well-known, and The Gilded Age definitely fits that bill. It is most well known for its coining of a phrase that would mark an historical era, but if you would’ve asked me (or any American history teacher who uses the phrase multiple times each year) what the story was behind the title, I would’ve either shrugged or made up a convincing lie (you shouldn’t have asked me and put me in the position to lie in the first place! Why did you do that?!).

While at my mom’s house, having a typical desperately-vying-for-attention-conversation with my siblings, I saw The Gilded Age sitting in my mom’s bookshelf and remembered seeing the title growing up as a kid. I started reading it there (thus ceding attention to a less-worthy sister/brother), and I was immediately immersed in the story. I knew that The Gilded Age was going to be next in my Twain targets.

Besides the surprise of being immediately drawn in by the story, I was also surprised that this story was co-authored. Poor Charles Dudley Warner is completely ignored by most references to this title, yet the guy wrote at least half of the (many) words. Apparently he and Twain were neighbors and decided to have a go at writing a novel together, the first fiction novel either of them would write. Team writing a first novel does not bode well and I think even the best of authors nowadays would struggle under those circumstances. How did these boys do? Yeah, it was a bumpy and kind of raw ride, but both are talented and the story is worthwhile, unique, and--most importantly--eminently applicable.

I was amazed by the scope with which they addressed their theme: the Gilded Age. Financial speculation, mining, real estate, railroad, inheritance, politics, corruption, literature, relationships, celebrity, law, media, medical (bordering, almost prophetically, on a commentary of social media-like of the fury of impassioned, fickle, and ignorant public opinion)--all of these are inspected and analyzed with the gilded perspective of opting for the easy, deceptive, hyper-emotional, attention-seeking route instead of the simple, hard-working, humble method. It’s all there. What’s more, even though the subtitle of The Gilded Age is A Tale of Today, I honestly cannot think of a more appropriate satire of today’s society than Twain and Warner’s 1873 story. Replace some of the nineteenth century topics with relevant twenty-first century ones, and then keep the rest the same (especially politics and corruption, celebrity, law, and media) and you have the perfect twenty-first century allegory.

How do they introduce and explore these complicated issues? Through the story of the Hawkins family and a tract of land that they hope to get a lot of money out of some day. The fate of Squire Hawkins’s children and how this ephemeral hope for easy wealth affects their livelihood, life choices, and ultimate happiness is informative as it is engaging. Secondarily, it follows two young men seeking their fortunes as they leave school and embark on careers and romance. These two storylines inevitably interact and co-mingle in anticipated and sometimes unexpected ways, and ultimately Warner and Twain create characters to care about, empathize with, and root for … as well as ones to laugh at, despise, and disdain.

The storyline jerks around at times and some ideas are not completely developed. Some adventures drag on while others feel short changed (one forgivable loose end is hilariously addressed in an afterword that smacks of pure Mark Twain blitheness). There is definitely a feel of some rookie rockiness to this whole story, but it’s an ambitious project from a first-time writing team and if it falls short, it’s only after exceeding expectations in the first place.

One fun exercise for book-nerd me was to try to guess which chapters were written by which authors. They both took two big chunks to start off the story with and I was smugly pleased with myself when I correctly identified the first transition. Then they go back and forth in small spurts, then it comes down to different parts of the same chapter. I was pretty spot on at first, then pretty confident later on, and then … I had suspicions but wasn’t absolutely sure, then I’d pick up some hints and finally I’d forget and just enjoy the story.

Overall my recommendation is to read The Gilded Age because it truly is a Tale of Today.
Profile Image for Jackie Gill.
125 reviews11 followers
February 15, 2019
I RARELY give up on a book or movie. Once I start, no matter how terrible, I like to finish. HOWEVER, every now and then a special work comes along that puts up a fight so strong, that I even back down. I began reading The Gilded Age, liked it, continued, and hated it. I Continued and liked it again. I Continued and realized I had no idea what I had just been reading. And so on...

At some point along the way, I decided to read up on this book. I wanted to figure out what it was supposed to be about and the messages I was supposed to be getting, because it certainly wasn't enlightening me about the Gilded Age. I wanted to see why it seemed to flow and hold my attention and then I'd get to a point where I was lost reading coma inducing drivel. I had a sincere interest in the Gilded Age, a period of time named as such because of this book. A period of time that is said to be quite similar to our current time of political insanity, extreme greed, and the huge divide between the haves and have nots. I have read quite a bit by Twain and I usually enjoy his works. The reader gets a good feel for the time period and Twain injects a lot of humor. This work, however, was lacking and disjointed.

This novel was the only work for which Twain had a co-author. Based on the result, I think this was best. At the time, the novel was not well-received because readers experienced much of what I did, it flowed, it hiccuped... Twain and Charles Warner worked out their co-authorship by dividing up chapters and stories. The novel was then pieced together by alternating chapters of each authors work. Needless to say, this did not work well, this did not flow, it was very off-putting, and, in my opinion, this created a mix of talented work pushed up against sub-par work. I am not familiar with Warner's work, but, what I read of it in this piece was ENOUGH.

When I began reading, I had no idea that The Guided Age was a collaboration (my Kindle copy only shows Twain on the cover), I only knew some parts flowed and then the brakes were thrown on. After reading who authored which parts, as I could have predicted, Twain's flowed and Warner's were the pages that should have been tossed down the memory hole and incinerated. The end of the book is supposed to be a true collaboration for which the authors sat down together and wrote. I did not make it there. Maybe one day, after I've read every book in the world I want to read, I will pick this one up again. Until then, I will just have to settle for historical accounts of the Gilded Age and commend Twain for never co-authoring a book again.
Profile Image for Tam May.
Author 18 books679 followers
May 15, 2018
Confession time - I am not a big fan of Twain's more famous works. I just could never get into them. I tried rereading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn recently and quit at the point where a bunch of teenage boys were agreeing to kill women and children because they wanted to become pirate and "that's what pirates do". Twain's brand of humor is sometimes absurdist, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but often times very vicious and nasty (for some real-life examples of this, see The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature).

But I picked up this book because I'm writing fiction set in the Gilded Age and figured it was worth reading The Book That Started It All (i.e., the book that coined the term in the first place). I actually really enjoyed it. Claims that this book goes off on tangents and sometimes gets rambling are true but it's a surprisingly refreshing read with Twain writing about adult and political themes which is a switch from his better-known works. The humor is mostly spot-on, though, and it's easy to see why Twain's book is a prototype of the follies and foils of the Gilded Age. One thing I object to is comparing Colonel Sellers to Dickens' Micawber in David Copperfield. Micawber was a little pathetic but overall a good soul. Sellers is an out-and-out con artist - no comparison.
Profile Image for Lewis Millholland.
112 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2019
Someone -- a politician, for some reason -- said if he had one wish it'd be to un-read "Huckleberry Finn" so that he could relive the experience of reading it for the first time. That book, along with "Tom Sawyer," took on a cult-like status in my home as a kid. Most of our books were cheap beach-read novels with simple binding and thin, cardboard covers. Those two Twain novels were combined in one hardback maroon anthology that included a built-in tassel for marking your page, like some Bibles have got.

The obvious plot twist here is that I never liked either book and it's true, I tried as a kid and joked to my mom that when I couldn't sleep I pulled out Mark Twain and within five minutes I was out. But there was no humor behind my sleep aid joke. Mostly I'd recite it verbatim for the dual purposes of lolling my tongue out and hurting my mom in that innately cruel way everyone wants to hurt their parents, just a little bit.

Since then I've come across some of Twain's writings and pithy quotes. There's one where the narrator is a kid learning to sail a steamboat. Wasn't bad. And the more I came to appreciate the classic works the more unconsciously excited I've become to read Twain, apparently, because my conscious mind was shocked at how much energy flowed through me when I picked up "The Gilded Age."

No need to beat around the bush, especially with that 1-star review up top. It wasn't great. Even in its own time it was one of Dickens' later novels, and the post-Reconstruction era was only christened "The Gilded Age" decades later, by 1920s and 30s intellectuals seeking an appropriate moniker.

If there's one thing Twain's good at, it's pith.

The novel reads a bit like a Dickensian work (says the guy who's read only "Tale of Two Cities" and part of "Great Expectations" lol) -- a bunch of cities, a bunch of characters, and long, long monologues to point out curious ideas or mock archetype the speaker represents. There were a couple times I was drawn into the novel's underlying idea, the false patina of get-rich-quick schemes in the 1870s. It made me think about tech bros and Silicon Valley, actually.

But it's old. It's not a timeless novel and what was mediocre a hundred fifty years ago hasn't aged into something beautiful and revealing. I only read about a quarter of the work before putting it down in exchange for Scaduto's first biography of Bob Dylan, the one published in 1973. That one's been a treat to read.
Profile Image for Todd Stockslager.
1,642 reviews26 followers
June 5, 2015
Review title: Shockingly modern
Twain (and often-overlooked coauthor Charles Dudley Warner) subtitled this profound satire "A tale of today", and in its prescience it is profoundly and even shockingly modern. Real estate booms and busts, political corruption, energy exploration frauds, celebrity culture, celebrity criminal trials as "reality" entertainment--its all here, in powerful yet powerfully restrained Twainian 3-D. Perhaps it was Warner's influence (at the time of publication early in Twain's career considered the author more likely to have a lasting impact, a bonehead play of Dewey Wins!" proportions) that kept Twain bound from his more comedic and exaggerational leaps of prose, and the story is both stronger, more truly humorous at that intersection of real life and pain where incongruity forces laughter or tears, and more timely and timelessly serious than most Twain.

The story is set on the "western" frontier of Tennessee and Missouri in the decades following the horrors of the American Civil War, when politics and economy looked for a golden age while staggering from slow-healing wounds, all eyes were on the "main chance", and all things that seemed golden at a distance turned out to be just the thin veneer of the gilding Twain and Warner so aptly named in the title that became the tagline for the era. The Hawkins family, driven by the passion for progress that marked the era, hoped for high returns on low investments but struggled from place to place as reality always left them short. The characters are drawn briefly but deeply enough to avoid caricature even though they also stand duty as icons of the age as painted by Twain and Dudley. The love stories are at once poignant, funny, and ultimately victims of the Gilded Age just like the characters and fortunes of the Hawkins family.

The Gilded Age stands up today as political satire, cultural commentary, American essay, and literature. It is indeed shockingly modern and a true classic.
Profile Image for Barbara.
660 reviews27 followers
December 19, 2019
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today is not one of Mark Twain’s more well-known books. It’s the only one he wrote with a collaborator, Charles Dudley Warner, who was also a friend and neighbor. The story goes that their wives challenged them “to write a better novel than what they were used to reading.”

But this book is distinctive for an additional reason: its name became applied to the era after Reconstruction until the 1900s. According to this site, “American economy grew at its fastest rate in history” during this period. Such a rise gave way to more industrialization and a class of sudden and ultra-wealthy citizens. “The period also was marked by social movements for reform, the creation of machine politics, and continued mass immigration.” according to the same site.

Twain’s and Warner’s novel satirizes much that was characteristic of the era. But the story itself focuses on a few individuals.

The Hawkins family is poor but decent, located in Obedstown, TN. The family patriarch, Si, has bought 75,000 acres of Tennessee land. It’s not worth much at present, but with the expected changes on the horizon—the expansion of the railroad and discovery of coal for fuel—Si expects some day the land can be sold for a fortune and provide for his children.

In the meantime, their old friend Eschol Sellers has written to urge them to come to Missouri for the wealth of opportunities there. Mrs. Hawkins supports her husband’s decisions, but following Sellers has not boded well for them in the past. He means well, but he always comes up with grand schemes that never quite work out as expected.

On their way, they acquire two more children by adoption who have been newly orphaned. Their fortunes go up and down—mostly down. Si is tempted to sell the Tennessee land several times, but holds out. The older children venture out to work and help the family.

Parallel to the Hawkins and Sellers story is that of two friends, Harry and Phillip, who set put to make their fortune by becoming civil engineers for the railroad. Harry seems like a more refined version of Sellers, but Phillip is earnest and wants to truly learn the job.

The young men eventually cross paths with Laura Hawkins, the adopted daughter who has grown into a fascinating beauty. Henry is smitten. Laura is not unkind, but neither is she interested in Henry. Phillip is also in love with a girl who wants to become a doctor and isn’t interested in committing herself to a relationship.

Laura has an unfortunate relationship with a man who swept her off her feet and encouraged her to elope. When he gets tired of her, he confesses that he was already married and therefore his marriage to her was a sham. He leaves her. Laura changes as a result, becoming more calculating and ruthless.

Sellers, Laura, and Washington Hawkins end up in Washington DC in a grand scheme to get Congress to buy the Tennessee land to establish a college for Negroes. The book’s authors seems to believe that there is not a sincere, uncorrupt senator or representative, and we see a lot of the machinations of the political process: “The chances are that a man cannot get into congress now without resorting to arts and means that should render him unfit to go there.”

Some of the characters end in tragedy. Some are singed by circumstances but wiser in the end. A couple receive a hard-won happy ending.

Some sections are autobiographical. Twain’s biography says that his father had his own version of Tennessee land that always seemed to hold out hope for a good future, and his brother was killed in a steamboat accident similar to the one that orphaned Laura. One section of the book describing Phillip has a footnote that his life to that point mirrored Warner’s.

I understood how the book’s title could be applied to the era. Of course, the era wasn’t named the Gilded Age at the time Twain and Warner wrote. So, though they were satirizing the times, I think they also might have been pointing out the futility of so many individuals in the story who were seeking after the next great elusive thing instead of settling down and working hard for their goals and livelihoods.

Though this book is satire, it also has some wonderfully sweet and poignant moments.

The book kind of dragged in the middle for me, with the young men’s relationships and everyone’s schemes not going anywhere. But it picked up again in the end, with some parts being riveting.

There are a few “damns” in it. The portrayal of black people was probably accurate to the times but is condescending and insensitive in places.

Eschol Sellers’ first name is different in some versions because a real Eschol Sellers showed up and protested after the book was first published. Sellers was based on a cousin of Twain’s who was influential in his father’s land deal.

A few of my favorite quotes:

He . . . was not wanting in courage, but be would have been a better soldier if he had been less engaged in contrivances for circumventing the enemy by strategy unknown to the books. It happened to him to be captured in one of his self-appointed expeditions, but the federal colonel released him, after a short examination, satisfied that he could most injure the confederate forces opposed to the Unionists by returning him to his regiment.

There are many young men like him in American society, of his age, opportunities, education and abilities, who have really been educated for nothing and have let themselves drift, in the hope that they will find somehow, and by some sudden turn of good luck, the golden road to fortune. He was not idle or lazy, he had energy and a disposition to carve his own way. But he was born into a time when all young men of his age caught the fever of speculation, and expected to get on in the world by the omission of some of the regular processes which have been appointed from of old. And examples were not wanting to encourage him.

Whatever her thoughts may have been they were unknown to Philip, as they are to these historians; if she was seeming to be what she was not, and carrying a burden heavier than any one else carried, because she had to bear it alone, she was only doing what thousands of women do, with a self-renunciation and heroism, of which men, impatient and complaining, have no conception. Have not these big babies with beards filled all literature with their outcries, their griefs and their lamentations? It is always the gentle sex which is hard and cruel and fickle and implacable.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Bronson Pinchot. He did an amazing job with the nuances, inflections, and numerous accents. One nouveau riche character is Irish but has traveled in France and changed her last name to a French pronunciation. Bronson nails an Irish accent trying to sound French as well as a variety of Southern accents.
Profile Image for Deborah.
88 reviews19 followers
January 21, 2008
One morning, not so long ago, my slumber was interrupted by a voice from the clock radio, saying, "If you want to understand what's happening in China today, read The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner."

My instinctual action upon hearing that fateful alarm was to silence it, and as a result, the connection between post-Civil War America and modern-day China is rather unclear to me. Perhaps the growing wealth and power of China is an illusion, just as the wealth and prominence of certain characters in the book was an illusion? Maybe the corruption depicted within the U.S. legislature is suggestive of corruption in China's government? Are policies reportedly intended to promote the welfare of the Chinese people really about lining the pockets of the select few, as in the book, legislation under the guise of serving to advance "the colored race" was really a clever disguise for funneling money to racist, greedy politicians and their racist, greedy friends?

While the full extent of the connection remains lost on me, the wit and humor of the authors was much appreciated. Even if I'm unable to relate this "tale of today" to modern-day China, I do recognize that many of the abuses and evils cited by the authors persist in our nation's capital to this very day.
Profile Image for Ed.
235 reviews12 followers
February 14, 2012
A good read. A dark satire of post-Civil War United States, where the American Dream isn't quite as reachable as it seems. It follows two groups: The Hawkins family and two young New England men, Philip and Henry. The Hawkins are an incredibly poor Tennessee family living off the promise of wealth from selling their property. Philip and Henry try to make their fortune at land speculation and prospecting for coal. The fulfillment of their promises are always just around the corner, but are always stymied by a lack of ready cash, dishonest colleagues, political corruption and their own greed. And while this promise of fortune is just outside of arms length, no-one sees the need to apply themselves to any sort of "real" work.

The chapters on business corruption and the large companies that get their way, the political corruption and what one needs to do to survive in the nation's capitol were as funny as they were sad. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

While parts of the book did seem disjointed (Twain and Warner worked separately on their own storylines) it worked together in the end. (At least after the first shift.)
Profile Image for Scott.
302 reviews7 followers
November 25, 2011
Holding this back to become the last of Twain's novels to be read before being able say I've read them all was not a bad choice. Although the book had its moments, it was, overaa, a disappointing read. Hyped as being an expose of a corrupt time much like our own, the chapters with any exposing were very rare. Only one comes to mind. It was easy to tell which chapters were Twain's and which were written by his collaborator. The Warner chapters were almost without exception stilted and uninteresting. Most annoying was the se of "thee" in much of the dialog, especially since the oblique/objective "thee" was used incorrectly where it should have been the nominative "thou." I'm glad I can finally say I've read all of Twain's novels, but don't expect this one to be reread like so many of his others.
Profile Image for S. Hm.
59 reviews2 followers
August 13, 2013
به عنوان یه خواننده معمولی انتظار دارم احساساتم با خوندن یه کتاب تحت تاثیر قرار بگیره خصوصا این روزا که همه حس هامو گم کردم انتظار دارم یه کتاب حد اقل چندتا جمله تامل برانگیز داشته باشه و وقتی کتابی رو تمام میکنم تغییری در درونم احساس کنم
اما این کتاب بیشتر شبیه یک گزارش بود یه گزارش از فعالیت های اقتصادی و سیاسی یک گروه از مردم آمریکا در دوران شکوفایی و رشد اقتصادی. دوره ای که وسوسه رسیدن به ثروت هنگفت بدون تلاش آنچنانی مردم زیادی رو سرگرم خودش کرده بود و البته اکثر شخصیت های این کتاب در نهایت به زندگی معمولی خودشون راضی میشن.
فکر کنم همین فردا این شخصیت ها رو فراموش کنم و حتی برای چند روز هم که شده با من زندگی نکنن ....
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