I’m listening to Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Yearsas a book on tape (not sure that I will finish it; this is the kind of book where “unabridged” is not a selling feature). A couple of interesting items from the first disc:
- Mark Twain wanted perpetual copyright. He was highly motivated to produce works that his heirs could earn an income from and lobbied Congress to make copyright work the same way as land ownership. (Though I don’t think he was advocating for a property tax as well!) Twain’s energetic efforts, including writing pieces scheduled for release decades after his death, proved Gregory Mankiw’s point in “I Can Afford Higher Taxes. But They’ll Make Me Work Less.”
- Mark Twain’s doctor told him, and Twain believed him, that his tobacco smoking habit would kill him via heart disease. This was at least as early as 1900. (Twain lived from 1835 to 1910, from the Steam Age to the Aviation Age.)
The second point is the one that I find most interesting because it wasn’t until the 1960s that health warnings were placed on cigarettes. This was, presumably, because people in Washington, D.C. thought that there were a lot of Americans who believed that conducting what had been an occasional Indian ceremony every 10 or 15 minutes was part of a healthy lifestyle.
If Twain knew that smoking would kill him, which of course it did, why did it take so long for tobacco smoking to become a public health issue in the U.S.? Is it that a lot of other stuff was also dangerous back then and, once antibiotics and vaccines were widespread we finally had the time and attention to think about a habit that killed people in their 60s and 70s? Or something else?
[On the copyright point, Twain's testimony, delivered in what would become his trademark white suit, did help change copyright in the U.S. from "42 years" to "death of author plus 50".]