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Mencken: The American Iconoclast Hardcover – November 1, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195072383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195072389
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 2.2 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #756,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Just before graduating from Goucher College, Rodgers came upon a box of love letters between alumna Sara Haardt and author H. L. Mencken. The discovery opened doors into the fascinating life of an iconic American writer and social commentator. With obvious affection for her subject, access to untapped sources, and interviews with Mencken's friends and enemies, Rodgers offers an absorbing look at the "bad boy of Baltimore" who grew to international fame and influence. Mencken started his career at the Baltimore Herald but went on to write The American Language and to contribute to shaping the American literary scene. Along the way, he introduced such writers as James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rodgers details Mencken's sexual appeal and several long affairs before marrying Haardt, whose illness and death foreshortened their happy marriage. Mencken's wit and piercing insight, ardent defense of press freedom, and love of the common man and language were imprinted on his writing as he covered and commented on everything from the Depression to Prohibition, all the while railing against pieties that covered social injustice. Rodgers conveys the high spirits and complexity of an American iconoclast and the turbulent times in which he lived. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Best biography I have ever read.
Jeri Mancini
First, the writing is excellent and the material is well organized.
A. Mark Hutchins
There was Henry the man and H.L. the journalist.
JoeV

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Val Holley on January 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Wherever two or three are gathered in HLM's name, talk invariably turns to what the Sage would have said about the moron politician of the hour, national pastimes, or the latest bestseller. Are you ready?

According to Marion Rodgers's excellent new biography, HLM considered the telephone "the greatest boon to bores ever invented," since it enabled them "to penetrate the last strongholds of privacy."

Oh, if the Sage could have foreseen the plague of cellphones.

Surely "The American Iconoclast" will take its place with the finer Mencken biographies. The risk in tackling a subject already so thoroughly covered is that few if any new discoveries remain to be unearthed. Perhaps because Theodore Dreiser's central and abiding role in Mencken's career has been established time and time again, Rodgers seems to shy away from allotting Dreiser the space he should occupy in any comprehensive Mencken treatment. Otherwise, Rodgers's monastic immersion in Mencken scholarship for the past quarter-century lays to rest any concern that there might be nothing new. She offers, for example, unprecedented details of Mencken's travels to Germany and how they shaped his worldview; previous biographers had ignored these. And Rodgers may have the last word on Mencken's controversial tendency to belabor racial stereotypes, because she has painstakingly placed these in the broadest possible context of Mencken's lifetime contributions and achievements.

Rodgers tells us Mencken's friends dubbed him "the German Casanova." Perhaps only John F. Kennedy's dance card elicits more speculation than Mencken's, and Mencken fans, enviously noting the recent outing of JFK paramours Mimi Beardsley and Helen Chavchavadze, hoped ardently that Rodgers would serve up comparable surprises.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By K. L Sadler VINE VOICE on February 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mencken has long been one of my favorite persons to quote. Ever since I got my first quote book when I was about 11, and have been attracted to those who are able to say so much in such superb, yet small ways...Mencken has always been up there with Twain, Ambrose Bierce, my scientists Einstein and Feynman, Will Rodgers. Notice something about this group? They all lived within the same time period: around the time my parents were growing up. Yet, I am sure if I had been alive then with my family's upbringing, I may never have been introduced to the writings of these men, especially Mencken who wrote for magazines, journals and the newspapers.

I didn't know very much about him, but grabbed this book as soon as I could. Yeah, he was a greatly flawed individual, especially in his relationships with women, and with friends. Show me a 'great' man who wasn't flawed in significant ways. But here was a man who knew how to draw attention to the important problems of the time. There were a great many similarities between WWI and this time period with the Iraquian War. The wars were not the same, except in being run by those far from the front, and being paid for by the young men of our country. A lot of the other stuff has not changed. Stupid men in places of political power, such as the ambassador to Germany at that time, stated things that were totally untrue, but helped to draw our country into that war. Not that we didn't need to be involved in that war...but like Mencken, I have the absolute need to hear the absolute truth from my politicians, and from the media (which often doesn't happen now). Many of the civil rights that we take for granted, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear in our own homes are again at risk.
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Joseph R. Reifer on November 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this meticulous, sumptuous biography, destined to be the definitive study, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers resurrects H.L. Mencken, the journalist, observer, critic, enemy of cant, champion of freedom, with an authority that marks this work as a classic. With equal measure of intellect and sympathy, Ms. Rodgers brings this complex, brilliant, almost elemental figure to vivid life on the page. As her portrait suggests, the public Mencken was constitutionally unable to let charlatans and hypocrites have the last word. His visceral loathing of fools, rare in his day, more rare perhaps, in ours, kept Mencken at his desk for more than fifty years, in the face of Prohibition, the Scopes Monkey Trial, two world wars, not to mention the relentless drone of censors that seems to be a staple of mass culture.

Much to her credit, Ms. Rodgers does not neglect the paradoxical qualities of her subject in the service of his legend. The contradictions that often bedevil expansive, complicated minds emerge here in significant detail. It is fascinating to witness this astute observer of political life, a connoisseur of knaves and tyrants, let his sentimental attachment to his German ancestry blind him to the early menace of Hitler. The fact that Mencken, who deplored bigotry, harbored a distasteful prejudice against Jews, emerges in Ms. Rodgers portrait in unvarnished form. Similarly, the romantic Mencken who found a fulfilling marriage in his later years with an accomplished woman, often behaved less than honorably in his numerous romantic entanglements. Curiously, the famous man of letters, the sophisticated participant on the world stage, lived in one house virtually all his life. That he cleaved to Baltimore, a city vibrantly alive in these pages, tells us something about his imperishable attachments.
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