MBA&M: Please tell our readers a few tidbits about Phil

PHIL: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, attended schools there, in New
Hampshire, and in Ohio (at Oberlin. where I majored in history),  served
in the US Navy for 3 1/2 years, then was lucky enough to get a grant to
attend Cambridge University, where I studied English.  I’m married, the
father of two grown sons of whom I’m very proud, and have lived in
Lexington, MA for more than 40 years.  For thirty of those years I
taught English nearby, and have also published two works of fiction and
six of nonfiction, the latter about literary and historical figures in
America’s past.

MBA&M: What was your inspiration behind “Mark Twain and The

PHIL: I wanted to write a book on Mark Twain, as a companion volume to earlier
books on Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe, thus carrying my
consideration of American literary figures from the early nineteenth
century on through the late nineteenth and into the twentieth.  But
along the way I encountered Mark Twain’s judgment that Theodore
Roosevelt was “by far the worst President we have ever had.”  Theodore
Roosevelt?  It seemed such an astonishing opinion, about a chief
executive who is now ranked as one of our five greatest, that I was
intrigued, and spent several years finding out why Mark Twain felt that

MBA&M: What where the challenges in writing this historical

    and where did you find your research material?

PHIL: The challenges were minimized in part because so much has already been
written by and about these two giants of our past, and in part because I
had the wonderful resources of the Boston Athenaeum to draw on,
including their ever-helpful staff and interlibrary loan service.  As
with many of my earlier books, that’s where I did much of the reading
and writing.  The challenge that did require attention was to assimilate
such a vast amount of fascinating material on two such colorful and
articulate people into a comprehensive and coherent narrative.

MBA&M: Is there any interesting facts you found while
 “Mark Twain and The Colonel, you would like to share with our

PHIL: What struck me again and again was how much the issues that we deal with
now were the very ones that Americans at the turn of the century,
between 1890 and 1910, were dealing with.  How to adjust to a nation
that technology was changing so radically (electric lights coming in,
telephones, typewriters, motion pictures, the Wright brothers at Kitty
Hawk, Henry Ford and his Model T for the multitude).  Again and
suddenly, the great disparities in wealth brought about by profits from
the Civil War and the building of the railroads: the Rockefellers,
Carnegies, J. P. Morgans.  The problem of immigrants pouring in,Italians
and Slavs and Japanese, on the West Coast as well as on the East.
Growing problems between owners and workers, between management and
labor.  Problems between the races.  Problems about how powerful should
the federal government be, and the President.  Tensions between the
central government and state governments:  who was sovereign?  Problems
about Roosevelt’s conservation measures, which a great many people
resented, thinking the forests and mineral-laden mountains and canyons
and waterfalls were there for private enterprise to exploit.  Yet again,
should Congress legislate to make rich people richer and have their
wealth trickle down, or should it legislate to make poor people
prosperous and have their prosperity rise up to those above them?
Problems concerning America’s new role as a world power after the
Spanish-American War of 1898:  should we be sending troops into the
newly acquired Philippines to rule over the native peoples (as Roosevelt
insisted we had to do), or should we get out and come home (as Mark
Twain thought).  In other words, can democracy and empire mix?

MBA&M: Who would you say is your greatest hero? Why?

Maybe two of them.  Lincoln for one (I read very little about any aspect
of his life that I don’t admire), and Shakespeare for the other (there’s
nothing he doesn’t seem to know about human psychology and emotions at
every level of life).  And both of them, of course, wrote like angels.

MBA&M: What is one of your most interesting quirks?

PHIL: I suppose my tireless love of shifting parts of sentences around, moving
this part to there to see if it works better, changing that word to what
seems a better one, for its meaning, for its sound, for the rhythm of
the sentence in the context of other sentences nearby.  Others would go
crazy spending great patches of time that way.  I find myself doing it
contentedly hour after hour.

MBA&M: Please tell our readers where to find you and where “Mark
and The Colonel” is available?

PHIL: The book can be ordered from the publisher at or
purchased online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or (I would hope) at
your local bookstore.  If they don’t have it, ask them to get it, and
I’ll be grateful.  You can find me on Facebook or at

Phil, do you have anything to add today?

PHIL: It’s been a pleasure.  I hope you’ll enjoy “Mark Twain and the Colonel”
and learn as much about our own times from reading it as you will about
the beginnings of a different century, a hundred and some years ago,
that the book describes.  If you’re like me–and with a knowledge of
those earlier times so much like our own in mind–you’ll listen to, read
about, and understand the daily news quite differently from here on out.
Thanks so much for letting me chat with you.

Thank you, Phil, for spending with us and our readers today!




  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (July 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442212268
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442212268

For most of a decade Mark Twain lived in Europe, returning at last to America and a joyous welcome on an October night in 1900. Ten years later, in the spring of 1910, he returned once more, only days before his death, carried down the gangway as reporters on the New York piers waited, yet again, to welcome him home a final time.
In those two decades – last of the nineteenth and first of the twentieth – our modern nation was formed. Legendary names such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford signified the great changes taking place in America at the time. But only one name back then rivaled Mark Twain’s in the love of his countrymen. Theodore Roosevelt dominated the politics of the era the way the author of HUCKLEBERRY FINN dominated its culture. The celebrities were well acquainted, and in public neither spoke ill of the other. But Roosevelt once commented in private that he would like to skin Mark Twain alive, and the humorist recorded his own opinion (although not for public consumption just then) that Roosevelt was “far and away the worst President we have ever had.”
Philip McFarland’s MARK TWAIN AND THE COLONEL considers the prickly relationship between those beloved figures of our past by focusing on two clamorous decades of abiding relevance, decades to which no Americans were more responsive than were Colonel Roosevelt of San Juan Hill and Samuel L. Clemens, the humorist Mark Twain.



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