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The Vintage Mencken

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4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  505 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
The anthology that spans an entire lifetime of writing by America's greatest curmudgeon, with a "flick of mischief on nearly every page."
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 17th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1955)
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Anthony Buckley
Nov 22, 2012 Anthony Buckley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Not being American, I was not been brought up hearing the name of H L Mencken. My first awareness of him came from epigrammatic gobbets that got into books of quotations. For example, there is the epitaph which (I discover) he wrote for himself in 1921, long before he died in 1956: “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have a thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl”. Or, “Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may ...more
Christen
Aug 06, 2007 Christen rated it really liked it
Very fine writing, particularly when he stays away from generic... well, news pieces. I'm more interested in his particular opinions and expression of them than some account of 1920s zeitgeist (the articles about fish prices and police etc etc? Oh god, kill me now.), so obviously that's coloring my view quite a bit, but still. Anthony Lane's reminiscent of him in some ways, though Mencken doesn't have his glee.
Michael Tarm
Sep 19, 2007 Michael Tarm rated it it was amazing
The curmudgeonly, incomparable Mencken is always a sheer delight to read _ a breath of fresh air amid so much writing that's so canned and predictable. Even when he's wrong about something, he's wonderfully, delightfully wrong _ and only wants to make you read more.
Tiffany
Mar 31, 2016 Tiffany rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
Quotes:

"The struggle of man, as he sees it, is more than impotent; it is gratuitous and purposeless. There is, to his eye, no grand ingenuity, no skillful adaptation of means to end, no moral (or even dramatic) plan in the order of the universe. He can get out of it only a sense of profound and inexplicable disorder. The waves which batter the cockleshells change their direction at every instant. Their navigation is a vast adventure, but intolerably fortuitous and inept - a voyage without chart,
...more
Frank
Feb 18, 2011 Frank rated it it was ok
Mencken, an erudite curmudgeon, is a sort of spiritual grandfather to Christopher Hitchens. A passable read, giving insight into the Zeitgeist of early 20th century USA, although I could have wished the editor would have selected the pieces more carefully. Some favourite quotes:

"The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astounding imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem."

"I have the notion that th
...more
Anna
Mar 31, 2010 Anna rated it really liked it
With a rapier wit, H. L. Mencken captures the key moments and the everyday frustrations of early twentieth-century America. His sharp, elegant prose provides a portrait and running commentary of major and minor American figures, works, and occurrences. In this anthology Alistair Cooke claims to have gathered "the best of his [Mencken's:] work, putting the stress on the newspaper pieces that had outlived more pretentious stuff and on the memoirs in which emerged the beautiful, well-tempered, and ...more
Allan MacDonell
Mar 13, 2011 Allan MacDonell rated it really liked it
Looking for a primer in delivering an opinion -- or whole strings of opinions -- with caustic and seeming irrefutable logic? H. L. Mencken, up until The Wire, and arguably beyond, was the smartest source of social commentary ever to emanate from Baltimore, Maryland. Some of the long-revered newspaperman and editor's views may seem quaint (Mencken inexplicably devotes an essay to the unsightliness of the naked female body), but his railing against demonizing of ethnic Americans during wartime (in ...more
Travissimo
Oct 25, 2012 Travissimo rated it it was amazing
Mencken is an old timey sass-filled hoot. He's that guy you meet and think, "This guy does not like me, but he keeps talking at me as though he thinks I like him. Boy is he worked up about things." The greatest challenge to me is figuring out what Mencken would say if he were put in any time period other than his own. He was keyed in on his surroundings so perfectly, and had no problem shouting out what he thought. His opinions are harsh but funny, and brilliantly so. Love Mencken. Because he do ...more
Jim Morris
May 14, 2014 Jim Morris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-essays
The first I ever heard of HL Mencken was when I read his obit with a pic of his moon face with a stubby cigar in the middle of his mouth and the worst haircut I ever saw parted in the middle. I realized then I had to read him, and a few days later I found The Vintage Mencken in a campus bookstore. That was October '55 and I was an eighteen year old college freshman.
A month ago I found myself recommending The Vintage Mencken to a friend, and my pitch was so successful that I bought another copy f
...more
Jeremy
Jun 26, 2008 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
What can I say that critics haven’t been saying about him for a hundred years? Mencken lacerates more nonsense and makes more sense--common and uncommon--than everyone else that has lived or is to be born. Possibly the most respected journalist of all time. Father of muckraking, destroyer of popular myths, creator of unpopular truths. If you don’t like H.L.M. I probably won‘t like you.

There, I bet no one said that before.
Michael
Dec 20, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pop-culture
Mencken was an opinionated newspaper writer in the 1920s and 30s. I suspect that many of his pieces were written for shock value. I would recommend this if you enjoy old-fashioned satire.
Sonny
Dec 02, 2008 Sonny rated it it was amazing
Good Lord, this makes you want to WRITE! ...and laugh and sing and curse, but it makes you want to WRITE!
Morgan Stanton
Jun 27, 2008 Morgan Stanton rated it it was amazing
The greatest hater's beautiful, acid prose. The best intro to the Sage of Baltimore's work.
Hilary
Sep 20, 2013 Hilary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unless any of the characters from The Wire made it to an old enough age to be considered for the role (Bunk, maybe?), H.L. Mencken is Baltimore’s best-loved curmudgeon, sort of like an early 1900s Andy Rooney, except he could write well and he mocked Presbyterians and F.D.R. instead of needlessly purchased kitchen appliances. Mencken is probably best known now for his epigrams (such as, “Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking”), and while there are a few pages o ...more
Jerry
Jan 17, 2015 Jerry rated it it was ok
In The Vintage Mencken, Alistair Cooke gathered “mainly to introduce to a generation that never read him a writer who more and more strikes me as the master craftsman of daily journalism in the twentieth century.” On the other hand, this could well be an “I compiled this not to praise Mencken but to bury him” sort of deal, only this time honestly. “Mencken’s thunder,” after all, “issued from an unmaterial mind, but also from a full stomach.”

This collection stresses “the newspaper pieces that had
...more
Michael Schmicker
Apr 13, 2014 Michael Schmicker rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
Politically incorrect and viciously stupid about so many things, but he demonstrated an exceptional mastery of the English language.
Andrew
Some interesting pieces in the collection. Politics and culture essays still strong, but the gender relations pieces are definitely showing their age.
Joe
Aug 07, 2009 Joe rated it liked it
There are three or four essays that run in a row in the middle of this book-- "The National Letters," "Star-Spangled Men," "The Archangel Woodrow," and "In Memoriam: W.J.B."-- that are really fantastic. For one, the man could really write an obituary. If he wanted, he could write it before the public figure was dead, and that would, in effect, kill his career....

The real mark that this book has against it is that, instead of collecting the best Mencken essays, it glues together excerpts of essay
...more
Kevin Tole
Aug 30, 2014 Kevin Tole rated it it was ok
I like his political stuff. This is not that book.
nobody
May 03, 2010 nobody rated it really liked it
Shelves: mencken
Mencken is starting to fall into obscurity, and that's bad, because we need Mencken at this point in America. Even while his prose and references seem to get more dated, his ideas and philosophy are as relevant as ever. Is this the best of Mencken? No, this is Alistair Cook's favorite Mencken, which is worth reading too.
Dave/Maggie Bean
Vicious, scathing, brilliant, and uproariously funny; Mencken wasn’t only the archetypal take-no-prisoners, “poison pen” journalist; but a master of the English language, as well. Acerbic, American social/political commentary at its finest.
Kyle
Oct 30, 2007 Kyle rated it really liked it
my coworker gave me this book with a high recommendation and it didn't disappoint. it's full of strange words like calaboose and cleverly written commentary. it did drag a bit when mencken got onto topics that weren't so interesting to me.
Flavia
Mar 17, 2010 Flavia rated it it was amazing
Mencken is my personal hero, I think I can say I agree with him on every little thing he (so wittifully) says. And to think he wrote all this in the 20s... I'd definitely read and highly recommend anything written by him.
Kevin Kizer
Jun 18, 2009 Kevin Kizer rated it it was amazing
I read this for two reasons: it's on "Hitchens Reading List" and Hunter S. always said Mencken inspired him. When reading this, I could definitely see where Hunter S. picked up some of his writing style.
Carl
Feb 09, 2009 Carl rated it liked it
Strong, acerbic writing, though this sampler is a bit fragmentary and unfocused. It includes a fun little bit on Mencken and Knopf struggling to get a drink in a "dry" city during prohibition.
Doug
Jan 13, 2012 Doug rated it it was amazing
One of the nations first syndicated columnists, a hard drinking curmudgeon who cut to the bone of reason. Rock solid evidence of the need for professional opinion givers.
Rick Rempala
Dec 07, 2014 Rick Rempala rated it really liked it
WOW!
Sunil
Apr 20, 2013 Sunil rated it really liked it
"The Hills of Zion" is worth the read alone. Mencken's invective does get tiring, however. You can only care how one man felt about chiropractors for so long.
Scott Gould
Nov 02, 2011 Scott Gould rated it it was amazing
The great bard of Baltimore. Such an amazing influence on all modern journalism. Some of these pieces feel like they were written so recently.
Theophilus (Theo)
Mar 04, 2011 Theophilus (Theo) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A challenge, but I enjoyed it greatly. From "The Adventures of YMCA Boy" to his essays on beauty and on women. A great bedside reader.
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Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect Page Count for ISBN 0679728953 2 12 Oct 28, 2013 09:25PM  
  • In Front of Your Nose: 1945-1950 (The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Vol. 4)
  • Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler
  • The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken
  • ألبير كامو
  • Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts
  • The Debate on the Constitution : Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification, Part Two: January to August 1788 (Library of America)
  • Writings
  • Selected Non-Fictions
  • With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look At Misanthropy
  • To the Finland Station
  • Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern
  • Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858
  • Into the Looking-Glass Wood: Essays on Books, Reading, and the World
  • Collected Essays
  • Selected Essays
  • A Barthes Reader
  • Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut
  • Western Philosophy
7805
Henry Louis "H.L." Mencken became one of the most influential and prolific journalists in America in the 1920s and '30s, writing about all the shams and con artists in the world. He attacked chiropractors and the Ku Klux Klan, politicians and other journalists. Most of all, he attacked Puritan morality. He called Puritanism, "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."
At the height o
...more
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“The general burden of the Coolidge memoirs was that the right hon. gentleman was a typical American, and some hinted that he was the most typical since Lincoln. As the English say, I find myself quite unable to associate myself with that thesis. He was, in truth, almost as unlike the average of his countrymen as if he had been born green. The Americano is an expansive fellow, a back-slapper, full of amiability; Coolidge was reserved and even muriatic. The Americano has a stupendous capacity for believing, and especially for believing in what is palpably not true; Coolidge was, in his fundamental metaphysics, an agnostic. The Americano dreams vast dreams, and is hag-ridden by a demon; Coolidge was not mount but rider, and his steed was a mechanical horse. The Americano, in his normal incarnation, challenges fate at every step and his whole life is a struggle; Coolidge took things as they came.” 2 likes
“All the benefit that a New Yorker gets out of Kansas is no more than what he might get out of Saskatchewan, the Argentine pampas, of Siberia. But New York to a Kansan is not only a place where he may get drunk, look at dirty shows and buy bogus antiques; it is also a place where he may enforce his dunghill ideas upon his betters.” 1 likes
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