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A Mencken Chrestomathy: His Own Selection of His Choicest Writing 1st Vintage Books ed Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0394752099
ISBN-10: 0394752090
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A choice selection of H.L. Mencken's previously out-of-print writings. Highly recommended!

From the Back Cover

In my title I revive the word chrestomathy in its true sense of 'a collection of choice passages from an author or authors, ' and ignore the late edition of 'especially one complied to assist in the acquirement of a language.' In the latter significance the term is often used by linguists, and some of the chrestomathies issued by them in recent years.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 627 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (April 12, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394752090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394752099
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
I really like this book. Mencken's prose and unflinching attitude is like no other author I have read. I don't know if they used the middle finger in the early 1900s but if so, then HLM was its personification. If you were to tally his word usage in the book I believe "idiot", "imbecile", "buffoon", "moron" and "mountebank" would be near the top.
This book contains one of my favorite essay and the single biggest reason to own this book, his piece on the critical process. It's only a 10 page essay but it's probably the most eloquent. For whatever reason he put it around page 450, but I would recommend reading it first. It puts a reader in the right frame of mind for reading Mencken's essays. He explains a worthwhile critic is not so much concerned with truth or detail. Instead a truly great critic takes the target of the criticism and uses it to develop his own original ideas. It separates those who would just be archivists with those who would be artists. Clearly, Mencken was not concerned with the former, he was concerned with art and he was an artist.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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!
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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