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THE OLD anthropomorphic notion that the life of the whole universe centers in the life of man - that human existence is the supreme expression of the cosmic process - this notion seems to be happily on its way toward the Sheol of exploded delusions. Lesen Sie die erste Seite
H.L. Mencken worked for newspapers for 50 years, living and working in Baltimore the entire time. His niche was criticism and commentary, at which he excelled. There is no one to match his wit and style. H.L.M. was not a reporter, he was a stylist: it's the way he said what he said that is important. This book is a collection of Mencken's writings, mostly from previous books he wrote: the "Prejudices" series, "In Defense of Women", "A Book of Burlesques", et al. Some of the offerings are from the magazines he edited: "American Mercury" and "Smart Set", with a few newspaper articles for good measure. The copyright listings go back as far as 1917. Mencken discusses everything from men and women, government, morals, religion, music and history, to odd fish, quackery, pedagogy, psychology and buffooneries. Listed under the latter rubric, one will find a work entitled "A Neglected Anniversary", which started the famous bathtub hoax, explained by the author in his notes, for those unfamiliar with the Great Man and his life and times. A second of Mencken's commentaries, which seems to have gained more fame than some of the others, is "The Sahara of the Bozart", page 184. The American South is H.L.M.'s subject here, thus: "Down there a poet is now almost as rare as an oboe-player, a dry-point etcher or a metaphysician. It is, indeed, amazing to contemplate so vast a vacuity...that stupendous region of worn-out farms, shoddy cities and paralyzed cerebrums...it is almost as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert. There are single acres in Europe that house more first-rate men than all the states south of the Potomic...." Ouch!Lesen Sie weiter... ›
Perhaps I am biased. Mayhap I am gushing. I don't mind- I have read a good couple thousand books in my lifetime, and I have reviewed a few dozen for Amazon.com. Yet this is the one I keep coming back to read, year after year. As time goes by I find myself revising the scale of Mencken's achievement upwards and upwards, especially knowing that the only comparison is to other mere mortal writers. What makes this book brilliant is its terse structure- it is fragmented and in short pieces, and this produces his intense compact wit in wave after wave of the finest observations and thoughts to come out of mortal man since Tom Sawyer. A Mencken Chrestomathy utterly fails to do badly at every turn. If you have glanced at this book, and have even a tiny thought at not buying at least two copies, shoot yourself in the foot for punishment, then go buy a dozen copies and pass them out to your superior friends as rewards for their sagacity and charm and as a reward for their loyalty. But if you have little humanity and wish to punish a friend or make their lives more miserable, do not tell them of this book, and leave it right where it is. I give no book this high a regard. But I give this one my complete, unconditional support. If you have the means, I suggest buying a thousand copies and distributing it among the hungry of mind for the wonderful elixer of an effect Mencken has upon the mind. The only thing bad about this book is the covers are too close together.
This book, like all of Mencken's writings, is a lesson in delivering devastating criticism in the form of highly literate and beautifully flowing prose. It helps, of course, to be able to side with the author on his opinions, but is no impediment to enjoyment if you can't -- unless, I presume, you're one of his targets. Basically, no one writes like this anymore. Many believe that if you're going to insult people, crass and vulgar expression is the way to go. Mencken not only shows a better way, but demonstrates the level of intelligence necessary for harsh criticism to have an impact -- it's very difficult to fault someone with such obvious gifts. It also helps to have a dictionary to hand while you're reading, preferably a large and perhaps old one. Mine doesn't have "buncombe" in it, although the way it's used leaves little doubt as to what's meant. Also, the sheer variety of subject matter both here and in the Second Mencken Chrestomathy allows you to jump around freely. I couldn't find a duff article in either book, whether I agreed with his opinions or not, and I couldn't possibly recommend it any higher.
To paraphrase an earlier reviewer: "if I were stranded on a desert island and I could have only one book, it would most certainly not be this one." It would in fact be the Bible, but if that were not available there are at least 100 others that would come prior to this one. That is not to say that this is a useless or uninteresting book - far from it. Merely that I don't think it is the unqualified perfect success of prior reviewers. I enjoyed this book a great deal and Mencken certainly is one of the sharper and wittier people-watchers I have stumbled upon, but he was also factually innacurate in several cases and while his descriptions of even those cases are humurous, they aren't TRUE. I will give two examples: 1. the description of the contest between Bryan and Darrow in Tennessee was a first-class hit-job of epic and still-impacting proportions - and it was not true. Read the transcripts yourself and read the eyewitness accounts of the events leading up to and through the Scopes' Trial and you will see he was selling his view - not reporting facts. The second item would be his analysis of Calvin Coolidge (or should I say lack of analysis?). Dana Sobel's recent biography goes a long way to gutting Mencken's off-the-cuff dismissal of Coolidge and setting the record straight - unfortunately, sober and accurate history doesn't carry the punch that news-paper hit-jobs do. Basically, I like this book and only list the two examples I do because I know that by stating the errors of the book some would challenge me for the errors themselves. Well, there they are. Even with them - this book is worth reading - if only for the contextual feel of news-work in the 20's and 30's. Kelly Whiting