The following review appeared 18 September 2000 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 2000 Mark Twain Forum
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
Mary Leah Christmas
Commissions are donated to the Mark Twain Project
NOTE: The review copy is a paperbound "Advance Reading
from uncorrected proofs, of 210 pages. Publication is scheduled for January 2001.
First the good news, then the bad news. Or, to couch it in stock-market terms, first the bullishness, then the bearishness. Reviewing a book printed from uncorrected proofs can be a tricky thing. However, typographical glitches can be separated from considerations of overall content. Production problems aside, Andrew Leckey's The Lack of Money is the Root of All Evil: Mark Twain's Timeless Wisdom on Money, Wealth, and Investing contains some useful information for the beginning investor, but for the die-hard Twain buff it doesn't quite hit the mark.
Thematically, this volume fits nicely into Prentice Hall's series of business books based on historical figures, such as Elizabeth I, CEO: Strategic Lessons From the Leader Who Built an Empire (Axelrod) and Cigars, Whiskey & Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant (Kaltman). The latter, one muses, could easily have been a Grant/Twain collaboration a la The Gilded Age. This reviewer grins at the thought of the two of them passing such a manuscript back and forth. But let us return to the project at hand.
The title of Andrew Leckey's book is somewhat misleading. The book is not a compilation of Twain quotations, and neither is it a blow-by-blow commentary on the financial aspects of Twain's life. Rather, the book consists of Leckey's wisdom on money and investing embroidered with threads from Mark Twain's life and writings.
Anyone who regularly reads The Wall Street Journal or follows "Nightly Business Report," "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," or Leckey's own programs and columns, will probably not find any revelations here. For a new investor, the book would make good, general reading. For those studious investors who have already gone around the block once or twice, the book at least is confirmation that one is on the right track.
Andrew Leckey's credentials are considerable: CNBC financial anchor, syndicated columnist, and author. The National Association of Investors Corporation awarded him its Distinguished Service Award in Investment Education. As an interesting aside, it is noted on the back cover that Leckey is a teaching fellow in business journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.
Investment guides are Leckey's stock-in-trade, so he is accustomed to thinking and writing in concise bullet points. The titles of two previous books, The 20 Hottest Investments for the 21st Century and Global Investing 2000: A Guide to the 50 Best Stocks in the World are indicative of this straight-to-the-point style. He has done the same thing here, enumerating, for instance, the top sector funds based on five-year annualized returns.
Leckey is good at presenting material to those first venturing into the hallowed halls of capitalism. When it comes to Twain As Object Lesson, he uses the same rudimentary approach. As a result, the gleanings from Twain's life seem to be an attempt to add color to an otherwise unadorned financial reference book--which is not necessarily bad.
It should be noted that the foreword by John C. Bogle, founder and former chairman of The Vanguard Group, was missing completely from the review copy, as was the book's index. Again, these fall into the category of production problems to be corrected before final publication, but the material is therefore not available for critique.
The preface by the esteemed Dr. Louis J. Budd provides a nice overview as well as a couple of delightful witticisms about cats and the Sargasso Sea. (Note: That's "and," not "in.") Also welcome are his mentions of the Mark Twain Forum and Jim Zwick's About.com resources. By the time Dr. Budd tosses in an apt word from that horrible German language, the Twain buff settling in to read this book is already feeling right at home.
The feeling proves to be fleeting, however, as one proceeds. Instead of a cover-to-cover analysis of Mark Twain's finances, Leckey uses culled quotations largely as pegs on which to hang his topical financial commentary.
As an investor and Twainiac whose husband is a former stockbroker and NAIC member, this reviewer couldn't help but notice that Leckey missed some prime opportunities to further the scope of his book. For instance, this reviewer kept expecting at every page-turn a discussion of real estate following from John Clemens's Tennessee land holdings. No mention of the land is ever made. When John Clemens was said in one chapter to have "died virtually bankrupt," and in another that his "financial legacy...was unlucky as well," the reviewer sat up each time in anticipation, only to sink back into her chair. Even when Leckey touched on Donald Trump's "philosophy for real estate success," another glimmer of hope faded into another page turn.
The 70,000 acres in Tennessee would have been a handy and sizeable springboard for Leckey to address such a range of topics as: land as an investment, real estate investment trusts (REIT's) as a way to invest in real estate via the stock market, renting versus owning, the home as an investment, shopping for mortgage loans (comparing interest rates, discount points, and fees), and extracting equity via a second mortgage. But he didn't.
Another shoe that never dropped (or wasn't thrown, to use some Twainy symbolism) is the issue of, shall we say, marrying well. There is no discussion of the ramifications of marrying into wealth or of adjusting to same. The marriage issue could also have launched a discussion of single versus joint ownership of financial resources, estate planning, traditional IRA's, Roth IRA's, spousal IRA's, and education IRA's--especially if, say, one has a daughter planning to attend Bryn Mawr.
As for Mark Twain's own sources of investment advice, there are several mentions of Henry Huttleston Rogers. He was indeed a major force in Twain's personal and financial life. However, it is known that in the late 1880's Mark Twain was receiving investment advice and brokerage services from Dean Sage, a Yale classmate of Joseph Twichell's and a distant relation to multi-millionaire Wall Street speculator Russell Sage.
Andrew Carnegie makes an appearance in Dr. Budd's preface, but nowhere else in the book. In not taking Dr. Budd's cue, Leckey robs himself of the opportunity to delve into the world of philanthropy--everything from "in kind" donations to foundations, endowments, and the like.
Apart from the missed opportunities, at times this reviewer had the feeling that some taffy was being distributed. This reviewer does not claim to have encyclopedic Twain knowledge, but she chafed a little at reading of Twain's "love for fine cigars" and his "fascination with the workings of precision pocket watches." Rightly or wrongly, all this reviewer could think of was Twain buying cheap cigars by the barrel and braining errant timepieces against bedposts.
Then there is the issue of deportment and Leckey's portrayal of "...Twain's practice of wearing the right clothes...," of being "physically fit," and that he "tried to stay trim." It is well known that our subject smoked and drank. That he "hadn't extraordinary teeth" was divulged by his daughter. The "right" clothes? He of the sealskin getup, the hirsute portrait, and the white suit? The man who once shaved his head before an interview? No, Mark Twain's desire, as this reviewer recalls, was to be "the most conspicuous creature on this planet," or words to that effect. Orthodoxy is not what gets one noticed.
Yet another comment is made about Mark Twain's appearance. Leckey claims, "Even today, his caricature with flowing white hair and full mustache can be mistaken for no other individual." As she read this, the reviewer again heard the ghostly whisper of dissent in her ear. He most certainly could be mistaken for someone else, and has been. Mark Twain quipped about twice being mistaken for Theodor Mommsen. "We have the same hair, but on examination it was found the brains were different." Nowadays, the average kid off the street might easily confuse Mark Twain with yet another wild-haired intellectual--that posthumous advertising icon, Albert Einstein.
Some chapters understandably include more Twain material than others, but at times the treatment seems a little thin. For instance, one chapter begins, "A tale of switched identities at birth and the dire repercussions that followed, Pudd'nhead Wilson underscores the importance of keeping track of everything." The chapter blithely goes on to discuss general points about keeping tabs on one's finances without any further reference to Our Hero.
The bibliography seems a bit limited as well. For instance, Mark Twain, Business Man (Webster), Mark Twain's Letters to His Publishers (Hill), and Mark Twain's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers (Leary) do not appear.
Of course, it is all too easy for the armchair critic to sit and recount what a book lacks; but one cannot help but think this book would have been much more effective if the author had done even further Twain research. When Andrew Leckey teaches his business journalism course this semester at UC Berkeley, he will be in the enviable position of having at his fingertips the full resources of the Mark Twain Project. There, he might find inspiration enough for another book or two.
In the meantime, a word of advice from antiquity: "The writing of many books is endless," observed King Solomon. There is only so much reading and putting into practice that one can do. No matter how much effort one expends reading about investments, success can still be an elusive creature.
If all else fails, try to prove yourself the rightful Earl of Durham.