Jonathan Mirsky

Blue Elephant Unleashed

Mencken: The American Iconoclast


Oxford University Press 600pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

There was never a journalist like H L Mencken (1880–1956), before him or since. In the years when there was no television and American print journalists were stars, Mencken was a supernova. A fabulously entertaining writer, an authority on the American language, very funny, a libertarian – and an implacable hater of Roosevelt, censors, lynchers, Communists, labour unions, and most politicians. He was contemptuous of Jews – but also of all other religious groups – and of blacks, and the poor. But he could be generous and affectionate to individual Jews and blacks. He loved Germany and hesitated to condemn Hitler. He edited two magazines, The Smart Set and The American Mercury, for which unknown and famous writers alike clamoured to write. For decades he wrote much of the best reporting, notably of the presidential nominating conventions where, even in his old age, he dazzled young reporters by his energy, long hours, meticulous research, flagrant biases (often obsessions) and enthusiastic drinking. If a newspaper wanted to increase its circulation, it had only to announce an upcoming column by H L Mencken. He was also a consumer of fascinating women, whom he regularly betrayed, and a faithful husband to an invalid wife from whose death he never recovered. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Here's reviewing Rachel Kushner's novel about a woman caught in the injustice of the US prison system,… ,
    • 'Hart sets out to unsettle, startle and disturb. In this strange, disconcerting, radical version of a strange, disc… ,
    • Here is @MannJessica's June crime fiction round-up, discussing books by Georges Simenon, Jack Grimwood,… ,
    • John Stubbs reviews Stephen Greenblatt's latest, 'Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power' ,
    • RT : What happened when US military strategist Herman Kahn - one of Kubrick’s three models for Dr Strangelove - took LSD… ,
    • 'Pollan has no doubt that the use of psychedelics could have a powerfully beneficial effect on a range of condition… ,
    • A memoir about an Untouchable family and the 'formation of modern India': 'Ants among Elephants' by @gidla_sujatha… ,