What Is Man?

What Is Man?

And Other Irreverent Essays

By Mark Twain; S. T. Joshi (Editor)

Prometheus Books, Paperback, 9781591026853, 229pp.

Publication Date: February 2009


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" (God’s 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 Twain’s shifting attitudes toward religion.

About the Author
Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities, Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Stanford University. She is the author of "Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture "(1997); "Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices "(1993), selected as an Outstanding Academic Book by "Choice; "and "From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America "(2000), winner of a Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Award for outstanding research in journalism history. She is also the editor of the 29-volume "Oxford Mark Twain "and the "Oxford Historical Guide to Mark Twain. "Barry Moser is one of the foremost wood engravers in the United States and is the proprietor of the Pennyroyal Press. Among other books, he illustrated "Huckleberry Finn "(California, 1985), "Moby Dick "(California, 1981), "Dante's Inferno "(California 1980), "Purgatorio "(California, 1981), and "Paradiso "(California, 1984), and the "Holy Bible "(1999). The Mark Twain Project is housed within the Mark Twain Papers, the world's largest archive of primary materials by this major American writer. Under the direction of General Editor Robert H. Hirst, the Project's five editors are producing the first comprehensive edition of all Mark Twain's writings, more than thirty volumes of which have so far been published by the University of California Press.

S. T. Joshi is a widely published literary critic and editor.