The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken

Front Cover
Harper Collins, Nov 4, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 448 pages
12 Reviews

When H. L. Mencken talked, everyone listened -- like it or not. In the Roaring Twenties, he was the one critic who mattered, the champion of a generation of plain-speaking writers who redefined the American novel, and the ax-swinging scourge of the know-nothing, go-getting middle-class philistines whom he dubbed the "booboisie." Some loved him, others loathed him, but everybody read him. Now Terry Teachout takes on the man Edmund Wilson called "our greatest practicing literary journalist," brilliantly capturing all of Mencken's energy and erudition, passion and paradoxes, in a masterful biography of this iconoclastic figure and the world he shaped.

  

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
3
4 stars
6
3 stars
3
2 stars
0
1 star
0

Review: The Skeptic: A Life of HL Mencken

User Review  - The American Conservative - Goodreads

'Some reviews have said that The Skeptic is more of an extended literary essay than a biography. That is not true: The Skeptic, while not comprehensive, is very good strictly on the level of basic ... Read full review

Review: The Skeptic: A Life of HL Mencken

User Review  - George Parker - Goodreads

The purpose of a biography should be to show the good, the bad and the ugly sides of its subject, to allow you, the reader, an opportunity to make your own decision about the person. Terry Teachout ... Read full review

Contents

Prologue
1
WELL EVEN IT
8
A SORT OF CELESTIAL CALL
46
WIDER AND LUSHER FIELDS
77
THE PURITANS HAVE ALL THE CARDS
111
DONT WAIT UNTIL THE FIREMEN ARRIVE
143
At the American Mercury 19241928
187
The Age of Roosevelt II 19351941
276
IT WILL BECOME INFAMOUS TO DOUBT
298
UNTIL THOUGHT AND MEMORY ADJOURN
316
QUACKS AND SWINDLERS FOOLS AND KNAVES
331
Source Notes
351
Select Bibliography
391
Index
399
Copyright

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 23 - THE despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland! His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland! Avenge the patriotic gore That flecked the streets of Baltimore, And be the battle-queen of yore, Maryland, my Maryland! Hark to an exiled son's appeal, Maryland! My Mother State, to thee I kneel, Maryland! For life and death, for woe and weal, Thy peerless chivalry reveal, And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel, Maryland, my Maryland! Thou wilt not cower in the dust, Maryland!
Page 35 - Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Page 40 - Jones will be here at 3. Cowhide him. Gillespie will call earlier, perhaps throw him out of the window. Ferguson will be along about 4 kill him. That is all for to-day, I believe. If you have any odd time, you may write a blistering article on the police give the Chief Inspector rats. The cowhides are under the table; weapons in the drawer ammunition there in the corner lint and bandages up there in the pigeon-holes. In case of accident, go to Lancet, the surgeon, down stairs....
Page 347 - That night in my rented room, while letting the hot water run over my can of pork and beans in the sink, I opened A Book of Prefaces and began to read. I was jarred and shocked by the style, the clear, clean, sweeping sentences. Why did he write like that? And how did one write like that? I pictured the man as a raging demon, slashing with his pen, consumed with hate, denouncing everything American, extolling everything European or German, laughing at the weaknesses of people, mocking God, authority.
Page 35 - IN THIS book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri Negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.
Page 220 - What animated him from end to end of his grotesque career was simply ambition the ambition of a common man to get his hand upon the collar of his superiors, or, failing that, to get his thumb into their eyes.
Page 212 - Tennessee that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals, and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach, instead, that man has descended from a lower order of animals.
Page 347 - Yes, this man was fighting, fighting with words. He was using words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club.
Page 153 - The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober, friendly counsel, and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world...

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (2003)

Terry Teachout writes about literature and the arts for the New York Times, Time, National Review, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Commentary. His books include A Second Mencken Chrestomaby, a manuscript he rediscovered among Mencken's private papers. He lives in New York City.

Bibliographic information