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What is Man? [Kindle Edition]

Mark Twain
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

"What Is Man?", published by Mark Twain in 1906, is a dialogue between a young man and an older man jaded to the world. The title refers to Psalm 8-4,[citation needed] which begins 'what is man, that you are mindful of him...'. It involves ideas of destiny and free will, as well as of psychological egoism. The Old Man asserted that the human being is merely a machine, and nothing more. The Young Man objects, and asks him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position. The work appears to be a genuine and an earnest debate of his opinions about human nature, rather than satirical. Twain held views similar to that of the old man prior to writing 'What is Man?'. However, he seems to have varied in his opinions of human freedom.

Product Description

About the Author

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. In 1839 the Clemens family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River where young Sam experienced the excitement and colorful sights of the waterfront. Like many authors of his day he had little formal education. His education came from the print shops and newspaper offices where he worked as a youth. He first wrote under the pen name, "Mark Twain" (meaning "two fathoms" in riverboat-talk) in 1863. "Twain" wrote his first popular story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865. He continued to travel as a correspondent for various newspapers and in 1869 his travel letters from Europe were collected into the popular book, "The Innocents Abroad." Encouraged by his success Twain married Olivia Langdon and settled down in Hartford, Connecticut to his most productive years as a writer. Between 1873 and 1889 he wrote seven novels including his Mississippi River books as well as The Prince and the Pauper (1882) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). As Twain's life and career progressed he became increasingly pessimistic, losing much of the humorous, cocky tone of his earlier years. More and more of his work expressed the gloomy view that all human motives are ultimately selfish. Even so Twain is best remembered as a humorist who used his sharp wit and comic exaggeration to attack the false pride and self-importance he saw in humanity.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 709 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Start Classics (1 Jan. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HV1V2US
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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More About the Author

Mark Twain is the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 - 1910). He was born and brought up in the American state of Missouri and, because of his father's death, he left school to earn his living when he was only twelve. He was a great adventurer and travelled round America as a printer; prospected for gold and set off for South America to earn his fortune. He returned to become a steam-boat pilot on the Mississippi River, close to where he had grown up. The Civil War put an end to steam-boating and Clemens briefly joined the Confederate army - although the rest of his family were Unionists! He had already tried his hand at newspaper reporting and now became a successful journalist. He started to use the alias Mark Twain during the Civil War and it was under this pen name that he became a famous travel writer. He took the name from his steam-boat days - it was the river pilots' cry to let their men know that the water was two fathoms deep.

Mark Twain was always nostalgic about his childhood and in 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published, based on his own experiences. The book was soon recognised as a work of genius and eight years later the sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was published. The great writer Ernest Hemingway claimed that 'All modern literature stems from this one book.'

Mark Twain was soon famous all over the world. He made a fortune from writing and lost it on a typesetter he invented. He then made another fortune and lost it on a bad investment. He was an impulsive, hot-tempered man but was also quite sentimental and superstitious. He was born when Halley's Comet was passing the Earth and always believed he would die when it returned - this is exactly what happened.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Determinism 16 Nov. 2009
By Gummage
I ordered this book from Amazon after reading Daniel Wegner's 'The Illusion Of The Conscious Will', in which a passage from Twain's book appeared. Until then I had not heard of it. As I, myself, believe in human free will and in genuine moral responsibility, I am interested in all those thinkers who believe in the contrary idea that man is essentially a machine. These remarks on Twain's 'What Is Man' should be understood against that background, in terms of what I, personally, hoped to get from reading it.

The book is devoted entirely to the explicit thesis that man is a machine. Twain doesn't present the usual materialist reasons for that belief - not for him the reductive materialism of Hobbes, La Mettrie, Diderot, d'Holbach, Buchner and Haeckel. Instead he appears to draw solely on his own experience of himself and others in daily life. Thus he believes that man is essentially a machine constructed to decide and act in ways that maximise its feeling of ease. We are, as it were, 'conscience machines', our actions being decided by our inbuilt need to attain a state of easy conscience.

You can find this idea presented in Hobbes, and Twain draws the same conclusion as Hobbes that all assessments of moral worth are thereby rendered meaningless. To me the book is valuable for being a very clear, passionate expression of this idea - with which I disagree profoundly - and which I have sometimes heard presented by people I know. Given that our acts of altruisim sometimes are tainted by selfish motives, there is perhaps a tendency in us to proceed along these lines. We need to maintain a mature, honest balance in the face of this potential cynicism, which Twain fails completely to do in this book.

The style of the book is also interesting.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American 'Free Will' 8 Jan. 2011
By Jerry - Published on
This essay was introduced to me through a blog about the philosophical question of 'free will'. At first glance, I thought I was being entertained by another one Twain's latest satires. Instead, I felt like I was engaged in a modern lecture between a seasoned philosophy professor and his most accomplished student.

Through the dialogue, you get a sense that this piece of writing is the epitome of Samuel Clemen's look on life, although debatable. Regardless of how you feel at the end of the essay, if read carefully, you will at least question your own daily motives and perhaps everyone else's that has come before you. I have been trained to thoroughly enjoy this read.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It takes all kinds... Twain reveals how 11 Mar. 2005
By Victoria A. Ranua - Published on
Mark Twain has a knack for explaining reality without any of its grand notions. That's why I love this book. It's a bible that you can read in one sitting and reveals why people act as they do. Unlike the other reviewer, I know you can be a happy person before reading this book and come out the other end a happy person.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twain Beyond Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer 30 Oct. 2013
By John Anthony in Boston - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book helps you understand that Samuel Clemens was more than a folksy and talented former paddle wheel captain. He was as sophisticated a thinker as any modern day intellectual.
5.0 out of 5 stars Also, very empowering. 27 Feb. 2015
By Louie Louie - Published on
One of my favorite books. Rather than repeat what others have said, let me just add that his ideas of external influences in life are very well made. It gives readers the the knowledge that what they say to and do for others can become an influence that can change others' lives in ways they couldn't have imagined possible.
5.0 out of 5 stars Mark Twain has a way of making people think about ... 15 April 2015
By DAVID W. OGUINN - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mark Twain has a way of making people think about what they believe and make them laugh at the same time.
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