Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

(Four Stars)

“Travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”

In 1867 young Samuel Clemens joined one of the first cruises for an extended voyage from New York City to the Holy Land. He serialized his impressions as they went, then sold the aggregate as a book. It was his best-selling book during his lifetime.

“The impressible memento-seeker was pecking at the venerable sarcophagus [inside Cheop’s Pyramid] with his sacrilegious hammer.”

Regular readers of Twain will enjoy this cynical, but less bitter younger version. Despite distancing himself from the “pilgrims” (conservative New England Christians who were the bulk of the party), Twain betrays many of the prejudices of the day. He was particularly critical of the Americans defacing ruins, taking mementos.

“One must travel to learn. Every day now old Scripture phrases that never possessed any significance for me take to themselves a meaning.” (at Beth-El)

I affirm that many of his impressions of the Mediterranean and Levant are still true a century and a half later; some things have changed beyond recognition.

“’The Last Supper’ was a miracle of art once, but it was three hundred years ago.” (Even after restoration, more wall remains than painting .)

“When one is so fortunate as to get behind the scenes and see them at home … they (the Russian czar and family) are strangely like common mortals.”

Fawning over Napoleon III and Czar of Russia seems particularly uncharacteristic. Particularly critical of religious hypocrites, of whatever creed.

“But isn’t this relic matter a bit overdone? We find a piece of the true cross in every old church.”

Many examples of his critical eye, ready wit and wry sense of humor. Divided the party into pilgrims and sinners; hard on guides and beggars everywhere; folks taking their opinions from guide books

“If they didn’t wish to be stirred up occasionally in print, why in the world did they travel with me?”

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