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Richard Zacks and "Mark Twain" on Wednesday's Access Utah

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Richard Zacks’ new book “Chasing the Last Laugh,” chronicles a poignant chapter in Mark Twain’s life—one that began in foolishness and bad choices but culminated in humor, hard-won wisdom, and ultimate triumph.

Twain, the highest-paid writer in America in 1894, was also one of the nation’s worst investors. “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate,” he wrote. “When he can’t afford it and when he can.” The publishing company Twain owned was failing; his investment in a typesetting device was bleeding red ink. After losing hundreds of thousands of dollars back when a beer cost a nickel, he found himself neck-deep in debt. His heiress wife, Livy, took the setback hard. “I have a perfect horror and heart-sickness over it,” she wrote. “I cannot get away from the feeling that business failure means disgrace.” Twain vowed to Livy he would pay back every penny. So, just when he imagined he would be settling into literary lionhood, he forced himself to mount the “platform” again, embarking on a round-the-world stand-up comedy tour. No author had ever done that. Twain trekked across the American West and onward by ship to the faraway lands of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, India, Ceylon, and South Africa. He rode an elephant twice and visited the Taj Mahal. He saw Zulus dancing and helped sort diamonds at the Kimberley mines. Throughout his quest, Twain was aided by cutthroat Standard Oil tycoon H.H. Rogers, with whom he had struck a deep friendship, and he was hindered by his own lawyer (and future secretary of state) Bainbridge Colby, whom he deemed “head idiot of this century.”

Richard Zacks is the bestselling author of “Island of Vice” and “The Pirate Hunter.” His books have sold more than half a million copies worldwide and have been translated into Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Finnish. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, and many other publications. He attended the University of Michigan, Universita Italiana per Stranieri in Perugia, and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. After a few years of newspaper work, he turned to book writing. He is dedicated to who, what, where and when, and occasionally why. Born in Savannah, Georgia, he now lives in New York City.