Mark Twain: America’s historical conscience?

A century after Twain's death, Peter Messent describes how the author used his books to attack his compatriots' attitudes towards race and imperialism

American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) who wrote under the pseudonym of Mark Twain, standing outside on a porch. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

In January 1900, Mark Twain welcomed the new century by declaring: “My idea of our civilisation is that it is a shabby poor thing and full of cruelties, vanities, arrogancies, meannesses and hypocrisies. As for the word itself, 
I hate the sound of it, for it conveys a lie; and as for the thing itself, I wish it was in hell where it belongs.”

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