Select one of the keywords
The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain    edited by Alex Ayres order for
Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
by Alex Ayres
Order:  USA  Can
Perennial, 2005 (1991)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is one of a Wit and Wisdom series that includes books on Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Alex Ayres reminds us that Mark Twain was born Samuel L. Clemens in 1835 Missouri and died in 1910. The contents of this book include quotations from Twain's works (from Tom Sawyer to Letters from the Earth), speeches, and his notebooks. They are arranged alphabetically by topic, from Adam, Adjective and Adversity to Worry, Writing and Youth.

Ayres often gives a context to the quotes selected, making them even more interesting. Like Shakespearian quotations, many sound almost trite to modern ears, as they have already sneaked into common usage. Here are three of my personal favorites: 'Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.' 'What is it that swells a man's breast with pride above that which any other experience can bring to him? Discovery!' 'Life does not consist mainly - or even largely - of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head.'

I enjoyed a discussion of a meeting between Twain and Kipling, and of their mutual impressions. Ayres informs us that Twain believed in 'Mental Telegraphy' (telepathy), was convinced that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him, and paid for the college education of two gifted black men as partial reparation 'due from every white man to every black man' for the crime of slavery. Twain's thoughts on writing and on speechmaking are well worth reading, and his 'War Prayer' is remarkable, taking as it does the perspective of the devastation that war does to enemy soldiers and civilians.

Though I didn't relate to Ayres' Afterword on 'What Mark Twain Might Say Today' (the content might be right, but it's Twain's folksy way with words that gives his quotes their punch), I love Twain's sardonic sayings, and recommend The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain to you for its contextual presentation of this great writer's ideas.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews