Mark Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation’s worst investors.
The publishing company Twain owned was failing; his investment in a typesetting device was bleeding red ink. After losing hundreds of thousands of dollars back when a beer cost a nickel, he found himself neck-deep in debt. His heiress wife, Livy, took the setback hard - but Twain vowed to Livy he would pay back every penny. And so, just when the fifty-nine-year-old, bushy-browed icon imagined that he would be settling into literary lionhood, telling jokes at gilded dinners, he forced himself to mount the “platform” again, embarking on a round-the-world stand-up comedy tour. No author had ever done that. He cherry-picked his best stories—such as stealing his first watermelon and buying a bucking bronco—and spun them into a ninety-minute performance. Twain trekked across the American West and onward by ship to the faraway lands of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, India, Ceylon, and South Africa.
Richard Zacks' new book is Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour.