Dr. Sloane: From Edison to Twain

Dr. Sloane: From Edison to Twain

For his nearly 400 books on American humor, there’s one book that isn’t yet on Dr. David E.E. Sloane’s shelves, his biography on a famous ancestor, Thomas Edison. Sloane is the great grandson of Thomas Edison. He has done some work on Edison and Edison’s daughter, but feels since he is a literary critic and not a biographer, he has not been able to get his book to where it can be published yet.

He stated that his relationship to Edison has impacted him in some negative ways. Sloane was once interviewed about his ancestry and was asked by the reporter, “How is it that the descendants of Thomas Edison never did anything meaningful?” To which he said his response was, “By that do you mean my brother’s 14 patents or my seven books on American Humor?”

Sloane got his start at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. and received his Ph.D. in American Literature from Duke University. He had a bumpy start in the humanities field of study and said he started off as a not so promising student. He grew up believing he would one day be a lawyer, doctor, or ‘something practical,’ as he said, “to please daddy.”

However, as he took his history, economic, and government courses, Sloane realized he hated those classes, and instead fell in love with American humor, specifically, that of the writer Mark Twain.

His fascination with Twain began in college when he looked at his book self and saw nine books by Twain sitting there. Twain’s ideas really resonated with Sloane because he found that Twain ‘cared intensely about human beings’ and he was able to tell of the human plight in jokes.

This love for American culture led him to write seven books on the topic. Although, Sloane has another book underway, Mark Twain and the Humorists of the Old Northeast. He has been researching this topic for 30 years and feels it is ready to be published soon. Sloane is in communication with the Sabbatical Board to see if he can get a year off to complete it.

“I always sort of wanted to be a teacher, I like working with people,” said Sloane. “I guess I’m a people guy.”

Over the years, his interest in American Literature grew to a library of 300-400 volumes of American humor, and 14 file drawers of American comic magazines. These days, his favorite courses to teach are on American Humor and Mark Twain.

“There is no better major to choose if you want to do law school or med school or any of the distinguished professions where you have to understand culture,” he said.