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Publisher's Summary

John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary and later secretary of state under presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, famous as "Mark Twain", grew up 50 miles apart on the banks of the Mississippi River in the same rural antebellum stew of race, class, and want. This shared history drew them together in the late 1860s, and their mutual admiration never waned in spite of sharp differences.

In The Statesman and the Storyteller, the last decade of their lives plays out against the tumultuous events of the day, as the United States government begins to aggressively pursue a policy of imperialism, overthrowing the duly elected queen of Hawaii; violently wresting Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines away from Spain; and finally supporting a revolution to clear a path for the building of the US-controlled Panama Canal.

Stunning in its relevance, The Statesman and the Storyteller explores the tactics of America's earliest global policies and their influence on US actions for years to follow. Ultimately, it is the very human rendering of Clemens and Hay that distinguishes Zwonitzer's work, providing profound insights into the lives of two men who helped define their era.

©2016 Mark Zwonitzer (P)2016 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

Critic Reviews

" The Statesman and the Storyteller is one of the best and most enjoyable books I have ever read in my life, on any subject and in any genre. Samuel Clemens made "Mark Twain" into an icon and a family business, but here Mark Zwonitzer gives us Clemens himself, in full, deep, dark color. John Hay is enjoying a new round of political influence now, as the Republican party revives his memory to try to inspire a post-Bush-Cheney conservative foreign policy renaissance. But here is Hay in life and in the politics of his time, seen as clearly as we have ever seen him: challenged and brilliant and human. Zwonitzer has discovered that Clemens and Hay's intersection as friends and conflicted patriots in complicated times is one of the great personal stories of American political history. What a wonderful story, what a riveting book." (Rachel Maddow, Host of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show)
"Mark Zwonitzer's book is the wonderfully rich story of two dramatically different but compellingly interesting men, whose friendship and achievements encompass America's rise to wealth and world power at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. His sharp eye for detail, his ability to turn history and biography into story, and his ability to bring not only the protagonists, but the people around them, into vivid drama makes this a deeply insightful and satisfying book." (Michael Korda, author of Clouds of Glory and Hero)
"The parallel lives of two of America's greatest sons will make you want to cheer. It will bring tears to the eyes of even the most hard-hearted political cynic." (James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird)

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Chocked full of wit and wisdom!

A charming look back to an interesting time. The book takes me back to an age of American expansion.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Good story well told

The central notion of this book - the friendship of Sam Clemens and John Hay - doesn’t hold up that well. They are more acquaintances than friends, and they move in different social circles. But the book succeeds brilliantly anyway. It’s a good story well told, an outstanding example of narrative nonfiction.

It covers a critical period in the lives of both men. Sam Clemens has gone bankrupt and goes on a round-the-world lecture tour to restore his finances. His daughter Susy dies, and then his wife Livy; his daughter Jean has epileptic seizures. An initial proponent of war with Spain, he becomes radicalized by the horrific way freedom fighters in the Philippines are treated after the US wins "possession" of the islands.

John Hay, one of Lincoln’s secretaries during the Civil War, later served McKinley as ambassador to the UK and then Secretary of State. When McKinley is assassinated at the beginning of his second term, Hay stays on at State under Theodore Roosevelt. (TR, an ambitious, blustering, and shallow imperialist warmonger, doesn’t come off well in this book.) Hay oversees the resolution of a Canadian border controversy and the acquisition of territory from Colombia - territory that became the future state of Panama - to build a canal across the isthmus. (The US sent gunboats to discourage Colombia from trying to suppress the rebellion in Panama.)

Zwonitzer has a great eye for detail, and his narrative is vivid and entertaining. And Joe Barrett gives a fantastic performance. It should be an entertaining read for fans of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, John Hay, and anyone interested in this less-well-known (by me) period of American history.