In June 1867, Mark Twain set out for Europe and the Holy Land on the paddle steamer Quaker City. His enduring, no-nonsense guide for the first-time traveler also served as an antidote to the insufferably romantic travel books of the period.
“Who could read the programme for the excursion without longing to make one of the party?”
So Mark Twain acclaims his voyage from New York City to Europe and the Holy Land. His adventures produced The Innocents Abroad, a book so funny and provocative it made him an international star for the rest of his life. He was making his first responses to the Old World—to Paris, Milan, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Constantinople, Sebastopol, Balaklava, Damascus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. For the first time he was seeing the great paintings and sculptures of the Old Masters. He responded with wonder and amazement but also with exasperation, irritation, and disbelief. Above all he displayed the great energy of his humor, more explosive for us now than for his beguiled contemporaries.
Public Domain (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“A classic work…[that] marks a critical point in the development of our literature.” (Leslie A. Fiedler, literary critic)
If you've not read Innocents Abroad, this is a great way to experience it. Many don't read this and it is one of Twain's hidden gems. It is Twain at his best, "Is he dead?" The first time I read it, it made me laugh out loud in public places. If you have travelled at all you will enjoy it. If you travelled to these places you'll get an extra bang out of it. Human nature is timeless and there is no better proof of it than the observations of a master. He gives the straight dope on traveling in Holy Land.
For a long time the only version of "Innocents Abroad," was narrated by Flo Gipson. The first time I heard it, I thought it was horrible. But I've listened to it more than once, it makes great bed-time listening. I downloaded this version because it was narrated by a man, but I have to say, I think Flo Gipson captured Twain's irreverent tone better than Grover Gardner. Grover Gardner has a more pleasing sounding voice than Flo, though. So it's a toss-up.
Twain is one of my favourite fiction writers. All his talents are also there in full strength in this non-fiction work.
Telling the story of a journey through the Mediteranean and the "Holy" land by a group of Americans it is laced with all the humour, irreverance and intelligence that I love in his work. As a travel book it gives just enough flavour of the countries and places it visits to be relevant and contains some interesting historic details that were the currency of the day. I came away with a clearer picture of the reach of the Turkish (Ottoman?) empire than I had before and a better notion of some of the scale of the geography.
But you're not going to enjoy this for geography or history. You're going to enjoy it if you're interested in people and intelligent and witty comment on their behaviour. That is what Twain did best and this is one of his best.
Grover Gardner does an excellent job of the narration. Just the right level of old man growl to fit the words perfectly.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Imagine going on a five-month package tour of Europe and the Holy Land in 1867 with a pre-Tom Sawyer Mark Twain--his acerbic wit aimed at tourists, countries, peoples, artifacts, and monuments. One of the most interesting features of Twain's The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim's Progress (1869) is seeing what the world was like back in the 1860s through his eyes: Italy lurching into unification; a prince from Denmark ruling Greece; Napoleon III remodeling France; America completing the transcontinental railroad; Russia being friendly with the USA; and cholera threatening Europe. At the same time, many things are eerily similar to today's world: packaged tours, "asinine" tourists, passport and quarantine problems, beggars and peddlers, guides in cahoots with shops, etc. And some things transcend time: the pyramids and ancient art.
Twain and his fellow American "elect pilgrims" on the steamship Quaker City are only ironically "innocents"; through popular literature and guidebooks they have imbibed romantic images of the places they visit, and they are guilty, like all tourists, of becoming "asses" abroad. At the outset Twain states that one of his purposes is "to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him." To do this, with an angry glee he debunks various "frauds" about Europe and the Holy Land perpetrated by idealizing writers and avaricious guides, shop owners, and government officials. Any conventional wisdom about culture or religion or travel is fair game.
Twain is bracingly--abrasively--politically incorrect. He scorns Europeans for never bathing with soap and says things like "Italy is one vast museum of magnificence and misery" peopled by "fumigating, maccaroni-stuffing organ-grinders" and beggars who should exercise some self-reliance and rob the rich churches in their poor neighborhoods. The farther East he travels, the more hideous and importunate he finds the beggars and peddlers. He lumps Arabs with Native Americans as dirty savages whose habit of silent watching makes the white man want to exterminate them. He longs for Russia to go to war with Turkey to clean the world of the blot of the Ottoman Empire ("a people by nature and training filthy, brutish, ignorant, unprogressive, superstitious--and a government whose three graces are Tyranny, Rapacity, Blood."). He and his friends take to calling any guide from any country "Ferguson." He often compares the exotic things he sees with familiar things in America (like the Sea of Galilee with Lake Tahoe). As he moves through the Islamic world, he feels the pain of being disliked as a Christian by "heathens."
All that said, Twain also skewers Americans and the USA. Some of his fellow pilgrims are "reptiles" in need of squashing, people who paint their names on monuments and hack away souvenirs from them wherever they go. And he excoriates both the ugly American noisily carrying on in English in foreign restaurants and the pretentious "hermaphrodite" American showing off by mangling foreign languages. His account of trigger-happy pilgrims firing pistols at imaginary Bedouins is disturbing and hilarious.
Twain boldly reveals his ignorance about or lack of taste for sacred cows. The Old Masters are overrated, because they painted the same subjects (martyrs, saints, Mary, etc.) ad nauseam while bowing and scraping to their patrons. He mocks tourists for Oohing and Aahing over da Vinci's Last Supper when they are really unable to see the figures in the time-worn and dirt-caked painting. He tears the romantic veil from famous lovers like Abelard and Heloise and highlights the bloodthirsty nature of medieval knights and Old Testament war heroes. He even "discovers" humorous "apocryphal" accounts of Jesus' miracles as boy wonder.
Twain does not only mockingly debunk. He is moved and impressed by places and things like Versailles, Milan's cathedral, and Lebanon's Baalbec temple complex. He is open to sublime phenomena and skilled at evoking awe and pleasure in them, as with the Sphinx, "grand in its loneliness; it is imposing in its magnitude; it is impressive in the mystery that hangs over its story. And there is that in the overshadowing majesty of this eternal figure of stone, with its accusing memory of the deeds of all ages, which reveals to one something of what he shall feel when he shall stand at last in the awful presence of God." He generally finds magic and beauty in the moonlight (e.g. the Acropolis) or at a distance (e.g. Damascus)--until the sun rises or he gets too close, when squalor and noise assert themselves.
Even early in his career, Twain is a great writer, describing things so vividly you can easily imagine them, as with Nazareth "clinging like a whitewashed wasp's nest to the hill-side." And he writes funny riffs on things like Constantinople's dogs (ubiquitous and unambitious), true cross relics (ubiquitous and suspicious), Joshua's wars (comprehensive and bloody), and Holy Landscapes (sun-blasted and rocky).
I wish he were less biased against Islam and Moslems. His antipathy makes him exaggerate their people as "savages," their music as "infernal," their language as "ugly," and their cities as squalid and ignore the appeal of things like St. Sophia ("the rustiest old barn in heathendom"). He takes travel writers and tourists and art lovers to task for romantically exaggerating the merits of Oriental exotica, and then cynically exaggerates their demerits, as when he says, "Of all the unchristian beverages that ever passed my lips, Turkish coffee is the worst," producing "a tickling aggravation that keeps you barking and coughing for an hour." At times his humor tires.
Grover Gardener gives his usual smooth, clear, and appealing reading of the book. He sounds like Twain uttering his own frequent irony and occasional awe.
Finally, this is a big, biased, funny, embarrassing, and enriching book. It is a little like reading the Twain of "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895) anatomizing Cooper's "bad" writing with comically gross exaggeration: entertaining, but perhaps not wholly fair or accurate. Twain fans and travel fans should read it.
All the terrific anecdotes about how the Americans interact with the Europeans. And the hilarious problems with language and guides.
How they would rename all their guides to "Fergusen"
Hadn't heard him before but he was wonderful.
For anyone who thinks Mark Twain is just Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, they should listen to this book. It is just wonderful. And tells you a lot about life in the 19th Century.
This book is a wonderful historical trip to Europe and the Middle East. The best of any travel Log I have read
Mark Twain, as it is written in the first person.
The Reader makes it alive, as if you are right there
Many moments were laughable as well he has very interesting comments about the times
By far. Some works rise to written rhetoric as is this one and Grover Gardner is the best reader of such works. It took Will Durant two previous works to get his Greco/Roman rhetoric of " Caeser to Christ" down properly and with Gardener reading it is a master piece.
I have so many by now they do not come readily to mind. I generally give five stars to almost anything that I would generally recommed but that neglects works such as this that are also esthetically meritorious. Specifically, better read aloud then read silently. Some of my five star books seem read by amateurs.
Perhaps there should be an extra credit score.
Gardener knows his craft. I am unaware of any of his performances that do not adjust to the material at hand. .
Early American Gothic.
Twain has grown in my esteem.
I would recommend this book to someone who wanted to read Twain specifically or to someone about to travel to Europe and the Middle East.
It did drag on or ramble at times, but that's Twain.
He didn't really try to differentiate the characters because it was written in first person. I do wish he had taken bigger pauses between subject changes though. Twain can make some big topic jumps but there was no breath between so more than a few times when I was doing something else I had to rewind to catch the transition.
This is a travelogue, pure and simple. However, Twain uses it as a vehicle to display his sardonic wit at its best. It is amazing that after 150 years, much of the interaction with traveling companions has changed not one bit. Any international traveler will immediately sympathize with the petty annoyances Twain describes, and realize current experience is not really much changed. Now, the speed of transport has certainly increased, and no one nowadays can take the leisurely six months off described here, but the bureaucrats Twain tangles with, and the multitude of demands for "bakshish" will be familiar to anyone.
The performer did not do justice to Twain's style; in my opinion, Twain is more like Andy Rooney, which the narrator did not seem to appreciate. Still, great to listen to in the car when you are traveling anywhere.
Loved the honesty and self humiliation exhibited by the main character.
A long and intensive read (or listen) so get your dictionaries out.
Mark twain's humor and insight make this a remarkable story from Europe to the holy land. That it was written a hundred and fifty years ago makes it a historical reference.
"Excellent early-ish stuff"
A fascinating survey of France, the Mediterranean and Asia Minor in the late 1860s. It's the little snap-shots that provide most pleasure. The pen-portraits of Napoleon III and Tsar Alexander II are worth setting again more standard historical summaries. There are, as might be expected, playful digs at aristocratic pretension and the dirt, laziness and corruption of many ordinary people, but Twain is similarly unforgiven about some of his own countrymen. The Crimean War is referred to on occasion, but it is interesting to note the lack of real reference to the more recent American Civil War in a work that relies on building parallels for readers back in the USA – readers who understood the copious Biblical and classical allusions more than their more counterparts.. There is throughout a balance between naive expectation and ultimate disappointment, which will speak to many a tourist who finds that guidebooks and popular imagery often distort a more prosaic reality. I personally preferred his subsequent "A Tramp Abroad" on Germany and Switzerland, though the range of discussion is broader here. The reading in this version is faultless.
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