Mark Twain: Our Original Superstar

The celebrated writer skewered the powerful, mocked the pious and helped change America

Bettmann / Corbis

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, pictured here circa 1900

What, if anything, about this benighted moment of American life will anyone in the future look back on with nostalgia? Well, those of us who have cable are experiencing a golden age of sarcasm (from the Greek sarkazein, "to chew the lips in rage"). Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann are digging into our direst forebodings so adroitly and intensely that we may want to cry, "Stop tickling!" Forget earnest punditry. In a world of hollow White House pronouncements, evaporating mainstream media and metastasizing bloggery, it's the mocking heads who make something like sense.

Let not those heads...

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