The skeptic : a life of H.L. Mencken

by Terry Teachout

Hardcover, 2002




New York : HarperCollins, c2002.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member labwriter
I haven't read the Fred Hobson biog of Mencken, so I can't compare them.Teachout's book is very readable. This isn't one of those "throw every single fact I know into the book" kinds of biographies. Biographers would do well to follow Teachout's template for conciseness.

I love Mencken. He seems more and more relevant in these crazy political days of 2009 and 10. "Nobody every went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American people." Heh. Or how about this one: "Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages." One more: "The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.

If you asked me, I couldn't tell you why I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars. I read this some time ago, and that's the impression I have of the book--a solid B+.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
Teachout is a biographer worthy of Mencken. Avoiding both hagiography and hatchet job, he details Mencken's life, warts and all, and discusses both his strengths and weaknesses as a writer, journalist, and person. In a prose style that is distinctly his own, but shows the likelihood of some influence from his biographical subject, the author writes lucidly and readably. In addition, it is a rare treat to read a nearly 400 page book that has few editorial lapses. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are meticulous, and with the readable prose, this is one of the easiest to read books I've encountered in some time. For anyone who is willing to take on the challenge of confronting Mencken at his best and his worst, and who doesn't expect great people to be great in every particular, this book is highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member Razinha
An straight-forward, unflattering warts-and-all yet neither deprecating, look at a hard man who rose to the top of his craft; a craft that is sorely missed today.



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