Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Genre: Travel, History, Humor

�Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,� so concludes (or nearly so) the most irreverent travel book ever written, by that unique American humorist, Mark Twain. Hired to take ship on one of the very first cruises ever envisioned (a near flop, actually) and write about the experience, the thirty-seven year old and relatively unknown author begins to find the voice that would make him one of the most popular American novelists of all time.

The Innocents Abroad
is a sequence of letters to several newspapers (later compiled by Twain into book form) that appeared in print for the purpose of belittling the idea of cruise ships and pleasure excursions. The year was 1867, and Twain took his mandate to heart. The Innocents Abroad is filled with cutting wit and satire, sometimes at his own expense, sometimes others. �It seems to me that whenever I glory to think that for once I have discovered and ancient painting that is beautiful and worthy of all praise, the pleasure it gives me is infallible proof that it is not a beautiful picture and not in any wise worthy of commendation.�

The ship was called the Quaker City and began its trip in New York and traveled around the curve of the Mediterranean, visiting Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Holy Land. Twain describes the trip in such an exciting and humorous fashion that the reader will easily see the sites as they were in the great Age of Travel, before the commercialization of it.

Twain is a man of the lower class, unused to the appreciation of art, architecture, and history in the �acceptable� ways, and so the reader will find that his descriptions of what he sees and learns are honest and forthright and lack any ostentation. Twain�s travel history really examines the things seen and heard while maintaining his critical wit. His writing is an example of how a travel journal should appear. He thinks on the things he sees, questions his reactions, and accepts or dismisses them. He describes in detail the things that move him, and lightly passes by those that don�t. He both praises and derides his travel companions, but in his conclusion (written a year after the book�s publication) maintains that some of them are still his dearest friends. In fact, his future brother-in-law was his cabin mate, although he didn�t know it at the time.

The book is enjoyable for its insights into a time period, a beginning of the Golden Age of Travel, and for its insights into the growth of a writer�s voice. The Innocents Abroad was only his second book, but remained one of his best selling, even after the publication of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Any traveler will enjoy the book. It is a good book to read to learn how to journal about travel, and it also presents a slice of history not often mentioned in the history books. It is funny and thoughtful, and deliciously irreverent.