It began as a dinner-party contest: when Mark Twain and his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner criticized the deplorable quality of their wives' reading material, the two writers were challenged to come up with something more intriguing. Thus, for the only time in his career, Twain collaborated on a novel with another author. The title of their rollicking 1873 tale became synonymous with the rampant post-Civil War corruption of Washington, D.C., where crooked politicians and greedy speculators vied with bankers and industrialists to enrich themselves at the expense of the working class.
Praised by historian Gary Wills as "our best political novel," The Gilded Age was among the first major American books to satirize the graft, materialism, and breakdown of public life. The subtitle, A Tale of Today, remains an accurate description of a declining democracy, in which enormous strides in industry and technology enrich only a tiny percentage of the population.