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What Is Man?: And Other Irreverent Essays
Synopses & Reviews
Mark Twain is sometimes envisioned as a kind of nineteenth-century American offshoot of Voltaire. Like his French counterpart, he expressed a deeply felt indignation at religious hypocrisy and obscurantism, and peppered his satirical writings, especially in his later years, with stinging wit and iconoclastic fervor.
This unique collection assembles writings in which Twain views the multifarious claims of religion—metaphysical, moral, and political—with a skeptical eye.
As editor S. T. Joshi points out in the introduction, Twain took aim at religion not just out of irreverent glee but because of serious concerns about central religious tenets that weighed on his mind for much of his life. Though he maintained till his death that he believed in God, he expressed deep skepticism regarding such religious beliefs as "special Providence" (Gods interference in the affairs of individual human beings), the concept of hell, the religious basis of morality, and the divine inspiration of the Bible.
The centerpiece of the book is the long philosophical dialogue, What Is Man? (1906), which presents a rigidly deterministic view of human behavior, claiming that every action is the product of "outside influences." Twain also asserts that altruism does not exist: we help others primarily as a means of making ourselves comfortable. Other writings in the book condemn religious exclusivity, the hypocritical Christian thirst for money, and the disgraceful treatment of animals by a supposedly moral human race.
Containing many writings by Twain not generally available except in expensive academic publications, this excellent and affordable paperback edition has been annotated to elucidate historical, literary, religious, and other references. Also included is a lengthy introduction providing a historical overview of Twains shifting attitudes toward religion.
Book News Annotation:
Joshi, a freelance writer, scholar, and editor, brings together a collection of 20 essays by Mark Twain (1835-1910) on religion, such as the central essay "What is Man?" (1906), which considers human behavior and argues that actions are the results of outside influences. Others critique religious exclusivity, the appalling treatment of animals by humans, the origin of evil, the Ten Commandments, and free will. Joshi provides notes to the essays, and in the introduction, a historical overview of Twain's attitudes towards religion throughout his life. There is no index. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
This unique collection assembles writings in which Twain views the multifarious claims of religion--metaphysical, moral, and political--with a skeptical eye.
About the Author
S. T. Joshi (Seattle, WA) is a freelance writer, scholar, and editor whose previous books include Documents of American Prejudice; In Her Place: A Documentary History of Prejudice against Women; Gods Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong; Atheism: A Reader; H. L. Mencken on Religion; The Agnostic Reader; and What Is Man? And Other Irreverent Essays by Mark Twain.
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Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Essays