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A Wealthmanagement.com Best Business Book of 2017
An uproarious account of Mark Twain’s endless attempts to strike it rich, all of which served only to empty his pockets
Mark Twain’s lifetime spans America’s era of greatest economic growth. And Twain was an active, even giddy, participant in all the great booms and busts of his time, launching himself into one harebrained get-rich scheme after another. But far from striking it rich, the man who coined the term “Gilded Age” failed with comical regularity to join the ranks of plutocrats who made this period in America notorious for its wealth and excess.
Instead, Twain’s mining firm failed, despite striking real silver. He ended up somehow owing money over his 70,000 acres of inherited land. And his plan to market the mysteriously energizing coca leaves from the Amazon fizzled when no ships would sail to South America. Undaunted, Twain poured his money into the latest newfangled inventions of his time, all of which failed miserably.
In Crawford’s hilarious telling, the familiar image of Twain takes on a new and surprising dimension. Twain’s story of financial optimism and perseverance is a kind of cracked-mirror history of American business itself—in its grandest cockeyed manifestations, its most comical lows, and its determined refusal to ever give up.
About the Author
ALAN PELL CRAWFORD is the author of Twilight at Monticello and Unwise Passions. A former U.S. Senate speechwriter, congressional press secretary, and magazine editor, he has reviewed books on U.S. history, politics, and culture for the Wall Street Journal since 1993. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Nation, and elsewhere. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
“Comic vignette[s]… enliven Alan Pell Crawford’s How Not to Get Rich, a short book that focuses on Twain’s wayward financial life. There is a notion that it is undignified for a writer to lust after money. Twain, as Mr. Crawford makes clear, did not hold to it.”—Wall Street Journal
“Echoing through Crawford’s book, Twain’s words remind us how completely he’d internalized a certain American vernacular, the zippy, breathless syntax of the early industrial age, stuffed with bombast and wonderment.”—The New Yorker
“Any fool can tell you how to make a fortune. (And every fool will — just look at all the books next to this one on the bookstore shelf.) But it takes a special kind of genius to teach you how to amass a fortune and then go broke, and to do it all with such phenomenal style and while remaining eternally optimistic. Mark Twain’s rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches tale is one of the great untold stories in American history. Alan Pell Crawford captures the energy, humor, and wide-eyed hope of America’s first ‘angel investor’ with wit and verve, in a book that is worthy of Twain himself.” —Dan Lyons, author of the New York Times Bestseller Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
“I had no idea that Twain led such an exciting economic life. This book, which is rich with personal finance lessons, is entertaining and presents a new way to examine Twain's historic life through his many and varied economic adventures!” —Eric Tyson, Best-selling author of Personal Finance for Dummies and Investing for Dummies
“In his fiction, Mark Twain could get a kid to trade valued marbles in exchange for whitewashing a fence. But in his life, Twain was generally the one being snookered. Alan Pell Crawford shares the wit of the man who even made going broke funny.” —Brian O'Neill, author of The Paris of Appalachia and columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“In this fast-paced and very funny book, Mark Twain comes across like your friend who launches one startup and one Kickstarter after another. Every couple of pages you sense the bottom about to fall out again, and you brace yourself for another spectacular blowup. Only Mark Twain -- and Alan Pell Crawford -- could make you laugh so much at financial disaster.” —Catherine Baab-Muguira, The Motley Fool
“In his delightful, yet often poignant book, Alan Pell Crawford reveals of a side of Mark Twain that few of us know, not the supremely confident raconteur who became an international celebrity, but the striver desperate to become a millionaire at any cost. While conjuring his literary classics, Twain threw away a fortune on doomed financial schemes involving everything from silver mines to board games to seemingly innovative typesetting machines. It’s a timeless American tale about genius, ambition, and the inability to know one’s self.” —Devin Leonard, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and author of Neither Snow Nor Rain
“Finally, a business book for the financially illiterate and idiotic! Nobody, no matter how blockheaded when it comes to money, can read this book about Mark Twain’s hilariously inept and inevitably catastrophic attempts to get rich and not feel like Bill Gates or Elon Musk by comparison. From a bumbling attempt to corner the world cocaine market (I can just imagine El Chapo reading this book in the prison library, shaking his head in wonderment) to publishing a $12,000, gold-plated edition of Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography (I can just see Donald Trump in the Oval Office, shaking his head in enthusiasm), Alan Crawford’s account of Twain's business fiascos is a marvelous chronicle of economic imprudence and imbecility. I can hardly wait for the gold-plated edition!” —Glenn Garvin, columnist, Miami Herald