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January 27 , 2011

The Statesman and the Storyteller

John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism


In the tradition of the bestselling historical works of David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Ambrose, and Walter Isaacson, award-winning documentarian Mark Zwonitzer brings two extraordinary American figures – and friends – into the spotlight at a time when their country was taking center stage in the world.

John Hay, famous as Lincoln’s private secretary and later as secretary of state under presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, famous for being“Mark Twain,” grew up fifty miles apart, on the banks of the Mississippi River, in the same rural antebellum stew of race and class and want. This shared history helped draw them together when they first met as up-and-coming young men in the late 1860s, and their mutual admiration never waned in spite of sharp differences in personality, in worldview, and in public conduct.

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 then from the islands’ inhabitants; and finally encouraging and supporting a revolution to clear a path for the building of the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal. 

Rich in detail, The Statesman and the Storyteller provides indelible portraits of public figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. Stunning in its relevance, it explores the tactics of and attitudes behind America’s earliest global policies and their influence on U.S. actions for all the years to follow. But 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 shape and define their era.
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