The Impossible H L. Mencken

H. L. Mencken, Author, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Editor Doubleday Books $27.5 (707p) ISBN 978-0-385-26207-1
Mencken (1880-1956) was arguably the greatest journalist of the 20th century, and Rodgers's ( Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters ) second book on the writer captures him at his best by concentrating on his newspaper work. Showcased is the curmudgeonly Mencken, in love with the American (as opposed to the English) language and with a pen as poisonous as an adder. He had the power to deflate the pompous with one artfully turned phrase. Who but Mencken would describe Warren Harding's style as akin to ""a string of wet sponges""? A large section of the book is devoted to his stories about political conventions, which he covered with gusto from 1904 until 1948. He would say in 1928 that Al Smith simply had, like screen throb Clara Bow, ""it."" And that Herbert Hoover addressed the GOP convention ""like a schoolboy reciting a piece."" Rodgers also presents lesser-known sides to the writer, such as his love of food and his literary criticism. With his cynicism and sharp tongue, Mencken has a remarkably modern sensibility, and this carefully edited anthology should introduce him to a new generation of readers. Vidal's foreword is a throwaway, but Rodgers's useful introduction puts Mencken's career in perspective. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1991
Release date: 10/01/1991
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