Mencken: The American Iconoclast

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Author . Oxford Univ. $40 (662p) ISBN 978-0-19-507238-9

For much of the early 20th century, H.L. Mencken (1880–1956), aka the Baron of Baltimore, was the country's most famous pundit, inspiring both love and fear and sometimes an equal measure of both. As novelist Richard Wright noted, "He was using words as a weapon." His targets were only the biggest issues of his day: Prohibition, puritanism and censorship. Even now, almost 50 years after his death, many of Mencken's political insights hold true, such as this gem: "Nations get on with one another, not by telling the truth, but by lying gracefully." Yet as Rodgers shows in this thorough work, Mencken was more than a newspaperman and prolific author; in 1924, he founded—and continued to edit—the highbrow (and popular) monthly magazine The American Mercury , which printed pieces by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Langston Hughes (at a time when most white editors would have nothing to do with black writers). But Rodgers, editor of Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters and The Impossible H.L. Mencken , doesn't shy away from her subject's faults; she examines Mencken's anti-Semitism and his unsettling devotion to Germany (the land of his ancestors) even as the shadow of the Nazi Wehrmacht fell on Europe. Drawing on research in more than 60 archives (including previously unseen private collections in the U.S. and in Germany), exclusive interviews with Mencken's friends and his love letters, this is a meticulous portrait of one of the most original and complicated men in American letters. Photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 06/20/2005
Release date: 11/01/2005
Paperback - 662 pages - 978-0-19-533129-5
Ebook - 673 pages - 978-0-19-802366-1
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