Chasing the Last Laugh

  • by Richard Zacks
  • Narrated by George Guidall
  • 16 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From Richard Zacks, best-selling author of Island of Vice andThe Pirate Hunter, a rich and lively account of how Mark Twain's late-life adventures abroad helped him recover from financial disaster and family tragedy - and revived his world-class sense of humor.
Mark Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation's worst investors. "There are two times in a man's life when he should not speculate," he wrote. "When he can't afford it and when he can." 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. "I have a perfect horror and heart-sickness over it," she wrote. "I cannot get away from the feeling that business failure means disgrace."
But Twain vowed to Livy he would pay back every penny. And so, just when the 59-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 90-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. He rode an elephant twice and visited the Taj Mahal. He saw Zulus dancing and helped sort diamonds at the Kimberley mines. (He failed to slip away with a sparkly souvenir.) He played shuffleboard on cruise ships and battled captains for the right to smoke in peace. He complained that his wife and daughter made him shave and change his shirt every day.
The great American writer fought off numerous illnesses and travel nuisances to circle the globe and earn a huge payday and a tidal wave of applause. Word of his success, however, traveled slowly enough that one American newspaper reported that he had died penniless in London. That's when he famously quipped, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
Throughout his quest, Twain was aided by cutthroat Standard Oil tycoon H. H. Rogers, with whom he had struck a deep friendship, and he was hindered by his own lawyer (and future secretary of state) Bainbridge Colby, whom he deemed "head idiot of this century".
In Chasing the Last Laugh, author Richard Zacks, drawing extensively on unpublished material in notebooks and letters from Berkeley's ongoing Mark Twain Project, chronicles a poignant chapter in the author's life - one that began in foolishness and bad choices but culminated in humor, hard-won wisdom, and ultimate triumph.


What the Critics Say

"[In] Chasing the Last Laugh, Richard Zacks' entertaining account of the international lecture tour Twain undertook in 1895 to pay his debts...Zacks' absorbingly detailed reconstructions of [Twain's] performances - the carefully honed timing, the shrewdly reworked and reshuffled greatest hits - will increase your appreciation of him as a show-biz craftsman.... Zacks packs page after page with the flavorful marvels he's culled from the writings of Twain and others." (Bookforum)
"[D]eeply entertaining.... Zacks' narrative is well-researched with rich detail and it will strike ardent Twain fans and history lovers as fresh and inspiring." (Publishers Weekly)
"An amusing, singular account of the world tour by the nation's most famous humorist.... [A] rollicking history perfect for Twain's countless fans." (Kirkus)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

The Master Storyteller

In 1895 Mark Twain set off on a round the world speaking tour. The depression of the 1890s was in full force and Twain’s publishing company along with his investment in a new style of typesetting machine was forced into bankruptcy. His wife, Livy, took over the finances not only of her own estate but his also. Twain may have been the master storyteller but he was a terrible businessman. The world speaking tour was to help raise income to help them get out of debt. Mark Twain thought he would write a travel book about the trip to create more money. Mark Twain’s wife Livy and daughter Clara accompanied him on the trip. Daughters Suzy and Jean stayed home with an aunt. As the trip was nearing the end, Suzy came down with meningitis and died. I found it most interesting that after the trip Mark Twain received lots of admiration from the public not only for his writings and speeches but because he had paid his debts in full.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Zacks used letters, newspaper accounts and Twain’s notebooks to tell the tale. The trip revived interest in Mark Twain’s books as well as make money to reduce his debt. I found this book a delight to read and learned more about the personal life of Mark Twain. I have read Mark Twain’s books as a child and an adult and enjoyed them and in many ways they provided me with a glimpse of life on the Mississippi in the 1800s. It is a shame that many places today have banned his books.

Zacks is a well known biographer and he does an excellent job in presenting Mark Twain’s trip and family life. George Guidall does an excellent job narrating the book. Guidall is probably the most famous of audiobook narrators and was one of the early pioneers of the field.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

This is a must have...

What did you like best about Chasing the Last Laugh? What did you like least?

... if you are doing a Phd dissertation on Mark Twain.

If you are not, an abridged version of the abridged version is a better choice for you.

Would you be willing to try another book from Richard Zacks? Why or why not?

Yes, but give me a three or four year break first.

What does George Guidall bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The weight of age.

Could you see Chasing the Last Laugh being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

No, but the, they make movies out of everything, so...

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- J. M. Batista "José M. Batista"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-19-2016
  • Publisher: Random House Audio