Mencken : The American Iconoclast

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A towering figure on the American cultural landscape, H.L. Mencken stands out as one of our most influential stylists and fearless iconoclasts-the twentieth century's greatest newspaper journalist, a famous wit, and a constant figure of controversy. Marion Elizabeth Rodgers has written the definitive biography of Mencken, the finest book ever published about this giant of American letters. Rodgers illuminates both the public and the private man, covering the many love affairs, his happy marriage at the age of 50 to Sara Haardt, and his complicated but stimulating friendship with the famed theater critic George Jean Nathan. Rodgers vividly recreates Mencken's era: the glittering tapestry of turn-of-the-century America, the roaring twenties, depressed thirties, and the home front during World War II. But the heart of the book is Mencken. When few dared to shatter complacencies, Mencken fought for civil liberties and free speech, playing a prominent role in the Scope's Monkey Trial, battling against press censorship, and exposing pious frauds and empty uplift.
The champion of our tongue in The American Language, Mencken also played a pivotal role in defining American letters through The Smart Set and The American Mercury, magazines that introduced such writers as James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Langston Hughes. Drawing on research in more than sixty archives including private collections in the United States and in Germany, previously unseen, on exclusive interviews with Mencken's friends, and on his love letters and FBI files, here is the full portrait of one of America's most colorful and influential men. "This biography, the best ever on the sage of Baltimore, is exhaustive but never exhausting, and offers readers more than moderate intelligence and an awfully good time." -Martin Nolan, Boston Globe
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Product details

  • Paperback | 672 pages
  • 144.78 x 220.98 x 50.8mm | 839.14g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 86 halftones & line illus.
  • 019533129X
  • 9780195331295
  • 1,015,200

Table of contents

PROLOGUE: BOSTON, 1926 ; PART ONE: 1880-1914 ; 1. The Citizen of Baltimore ; 2. The Eternal Boy ; 3. August Mencken & Bro ; 4. Baltimore and Beyond ; 5. Terse and Terrible Texts ; 6. Plays and Players ; 7. The Great Baltimore Fire ; 8. A Man of Ability ; 9. A Young Man in a Hurry ; 10. Broadening Horizons ; 11. The Bad Boy of Baltimore ; 12. Outside, Looking In ; PART TWO: 1914-1919 ; 13. The Holy Terror ; 14. Mencken, Nathan, and God ; 15. Round One! ; 16. Berlin, 1917 ; 17. The Prevailing Winds ; 18. Over Here ; 19. The Infernal Feminine ; PART THREE: 1920-1930 ; 20. The Dry Millennium Dawns ; 21. Of Politics and Prose ; 22. That Man in Baltimore ; 23. The Duel of Sex ; 24. Old Discord and New Alliances ; 25. The Scopes Trial ; 26. In the Crucible ; 27. Banned in Boston ; 28. The Great God Mencken ; 29. A Sentimental Journey ; 30. The German Valentino ; 31. The Sea of Matrimony ; 32. Variations on a Familiar Theme ; PART FOUR: 1930-1935 ; 33. The Tamed Ogre of Cathedral Street ; 34. Hard Times ; 35. "Happy Days are Here Again" ; 36. Maryland, My Maryland ; 37. The Tune Changes ; 38. The Late Mr. Mencken ; 39. A Time to Be Wary ; 40. A Winter of Horror ; PART FIVE: 1936-1940 ; 41. Baltimore's Friendly Dragon ; 42. Mencken as Boss ; 43. Berlin, 1938 ; 44. Polemics and Prejudices ; 45. Triumph of Democracy ; PART SIX: 1941-1948 ; 46. The Weapon of Silence ; 47. On the Home Front ; 48. Mencken and the Guild ; 49. Friends and Relatives ; 50. The Man Who Hates Everything ; 51. The Great Upset of 1948 ; PART SEVEN: 1949-1956 ; 52. The Last Days ; EPILOGUE: THE PASSING OF AN ERA ; ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ; NOTES ; BIBLIOGRAPHY ; INDEX
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Review quote

"Marion Elizabeth Rodgers is a thorough scholar and not-like so many American biographers-an idolater; she has delicate intuition about her subject, a lively awareness of the warts, and overall good judgement."-Alistair Cooke "The most complete and the most living picture of H. L. Mencken that has ever been attempted, written with vividness and even poignancy. This is a definitive biography."-Charles Fecher, editor, The Diary of H. L. Mencken, and author of Mencken: A Study of His Thought "Provides new insights into the inner life and character of a man who has always been an enigma.... But it is her sympathetic yet unflinching look at Mencken the lover and Mencken the (falsely) accused bigot and defender of Hitler that make her book special.... Rodgers' biography brings fresh understanding to America's greatest journalist, who approached every subject with complete fearlessness and honesty and the conviction that the writer must always put on a good
show. Did he ever."-Memphis Flyer "A detailed look at the life and works of one of America's foremost journalists and social critics, whose public identity outshines his private one."-Denver Post "H.L. Mencken-Henry to his friends-has always been a hard nut to crack. Now Marion Elizabeth Rodgers has, for once and for all, just about done it.... In clear and forceful prose he would have approved of, Rodgers gives Mencken his rightful place in American literature and life. Her book is...captivating."-Anthony Day, Los Angeles Times "A comprehensive biography of this famously irascible writer from Baltimore."-Library Journal "The greatest American master of witty invective was also an eccentric, vulnerable human being. So we learn from Marion Rodgers's wonderful book. Wonderful and timely. 'Heave an egg out of a Pullman window,' he wrote, 'and you will hit a Fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today.' To paraphrase Wordsworth on Milton, 'Mencken! Thou shouldst be living at this hour.'"-Anthony Lewis "H.L. Mencken, the legendary scourge of the booboisie, infuriated red-state Americans while enchanting urban freethinkers, boozers, and long-haired eggheads. In this full length portrait of the great hell-raiser and his era, Marion Rodgers discloses an old-fashioned mama's boy and a warm and apparently irresistable lover of women. Also-what a rarity!-a truly independent mind."-Russell Baker "Detailed, pungent, humorous and vivid.... Rodgers presents a wealth of information that, like Mencken's writing, is a true joy to read."-Santa Fe New Mexican "A fine piece of work."-Seattle Times "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.... Rodgers conveys the high spirits and complexity of an American iconoclast and the turbulent times in which he lived."-Booklist (starred review) "A biography that stands out in a crowded field because of her exhaustive research and her deft touch as a writer.... Rodgers manages to make her mark amid all this competition because, among those who have sought to provide a comprehensive, scholarly examination of Mencken's life, she is by far the most capable storyteller. The extent of her research is phenomenal...but she is never overwhelmed by her material. Rather, she is able to weave all these intricate
details into a narrative that enables readers to see how this extraordinary life unfolded in real time.... Rodgers' life of Mencken is memorable and engaging...she now stands with the best of the great journalist's biographers." -San Francisco Chronicle "Rodgers tells all with considerable verve.... She's certainly covered Mencken's extraordinarily complex life with exemplary thoroughness, sympathy and honesty, and more than a little wit."-Baltimore Sun "The most recognizably human Mencken to date.... The best, as well as the liveliest, up-to-date biography.... Mencken's timeliest quality remains his bedrock principles, particularly his commitment to civil liberty in times of hysteria-and regardless of popular opinion. Would that we could bargain with Hades and trade him for a Judy Miller or a David Frum. But as it is, we can content ourselves with Mencken's works, and be thankful that Marion Rodgers has reminded
us of a time when at least one journalist held to an unswerving commitment to liberty, Comstocks and Creels be damned."-Daniel McCarthy, The American Conservative "In these parlous times, when 'media personalities' parrot partisan talking points, a visit with Mencken is a seidel of cold pilsner on a hot day. Born in 1880, he died in 1956. Why do people still talk about him 50 years later? The most exhilarating way to find out is to read Mencken: The American Iconoclast, by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers. This biography, the best ever on the sage of Baltimore, is exhaustive but never exhausting, and offers readers more than
moderate intelligence and an awfully good time."-Martin Nolan, Boston Globe "A superb study of the life of the cigar-chomping controversialist, civil libertarian and muckraker who remains the patron saint of journalists, at least of a certain age.... The best biography of Mencken to date."-Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Even now, almost 50 years after his death, many of Mencken's political insights hold Rodgers shows in this thorough work, Mencken was more than a newspaperman and prolific author.... This is a meticulous portrait of one of the most original and complicated men in American letters." -Publishers Weekly (starred review) "By far the best Mencken biography ever written-and this reviewer has read almost a dozen.... This book is a masterpiece.... If you care about America, ideas, courage, and good writing and read only one biography this year, I would suggest this be the one."-Toledo Blade "Marion Rodgers has written a comprehensive and humane biography.... In these troubled times, compared to Mencken, with all his faults, we journalists look like pygmies."-The London Literary Review "In this splendid biography...Rodgers juggles the dense narrative of Mencken's life and times with considerable dexterity, while also providing a glimpse into his very private world.... His was one of the key American literary lives of the 20th century and Rodgers has, quite simply, done him proud."-The London Independent "Every new generation should rediscover H. L. Mencken, and every journalist should read this fine biography. Marion Elizabeth Rodgers has produced a balanced, measured portrait, proving herself as adept at probing the labyrinth of Mencken's private life as she is at placing his iconoclasm in the context of his times."-The London Sunday Times "Rodgers isn't the first to tell the story of powerful and controversial thinker and writer Mencken, but her affection for this notorious iconoclast and her access to untapped sources make for a uniquely fresh and absorbing biography."-Booklist (in naming Mencken one of the top ten biographies of the year) "Definitive.... The last word on perhaps the most famous newspaper man of the 20th century."-Bloomsberg News "Skillfully written, broadly encompassing and fairly bristling with documentation, it is, overall, the best-as well as longest-of the four [major Mencken biographies]."-Chicago Sun-Times "The most superb and entertaining biography (in any field) that I've read in years, one that has 'National Book Award' stamped all over it."-Joseph Goulden, Washington Times "This book is both enlightening and marvelous to read."-Blue Ridge Business Journal
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About Marion Elizabeth Rodgers

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers has edited Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters and The Impossible H.L. Mencken, a popular collection of his best journalism. She lives in Washington, DC.
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Rating details

141 ratings
4.13 out of 5 stars
5 36% (51)
4 43% (61)
3 18% (26)
2 2% (3)
1 0% (0)
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