Monday, August 11, 2008

Off Topic---Journalism: Disturber of the Domestic Peace, H.L.Mencken

Disturber of the Peace: The Life and Riotous Times of H.L. Mencken, William Manchester, Harper Brothers, 1951 (hardcover), 1967 (paperback), 2008 (Blackstone Audio Book, $29.95).

A classic work on an amazing journalist written by a accomplished and highly regarded historian, Disturber of the Peace is still in print as a new audio book on compact disk. Before William Manchester became famous as a chronicler of the John F. Kennedy administration and assassination, his early career as a journalist and historian is usually not appreciated.

If you recognize the name of Hunter S. Thompson, founder of Gonzo Journalism during the 1970s, and appreciate his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Hells Angels , and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, then the writings of H.L. Mencken should also be on your bookshelf. Late in Mencken's life, William Manchester came to be his friend. As a friend, Manchester both appreciated the brilliance of Mencken and weathered the apparent arrogance of the man. In his day, Mencken was known as both a Baltimore newspaper writer/editor and as a literary critic/linguist.

Born in 1880 and living until 1956), Mencken was the leading satirist of the early and mid-twentieth century. A critic of both the rural poor and the urban middle classes of American society, Mencken was an elitist who accepted the superiority of Aryan culture. As the "Sage of Baltimore", he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the 20th century. He is generally remembered today for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. Also, his satirical reporting of Tennessee's Scopes-Monkey Trial is noteworthy as is his conversational malice during the event. Upon being asked the most significant outcome of the trial, Mencken replied 'We killed the son of a bitch.' William Bryan, former Progressive Party leader and Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State died the day after the trial, in which he was both a counsel for the prosecution and a defense witness, ended.

The hardcover editions are rare and somewhat expensive; since the editions are out of print many libraries refuse to inter-library loan this book. Fortunately, an unabridged audio book is available. The top cover is of the 1967 paperback edition; the bottom cover is of the 2008 audio book.

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