Edited by S. T. Joshi
Athens: Ohio University Press, 2017.
259 pp. $49.95 (hardcover).
H. L. Mencken was one of the most famous and stupendous American writers of the early 20th century. He is perhaps best known for his coverage of the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the “monkey trial,” and for his obituary of William Jennings Bryan, the original of which was so excoriating that his editors insisted he rewrite it. Over his forty-year career as a journalist, essayist, and critic, he estimated that he wrote ten- to fifteen-million words (vii). He was the inspiration for the character E. K. Hornbeck in the play and film Inherit the Wind, and his pro-reason, pro-liberty views influenced innumerable writers, including Ayn Rand. (He wrote encouraging letters to Rand and recommended her first novel, We the Living, to publishers, including Dutton.)
In A Saturnalia of Bunk, Mencken scholar S. T. Joshi presents a delightful collection of early Mencken articles from his column “The Free Lance,” originally printed in the Baltimore Evening Sun between 1911 and 1915. It is fascinating reading, both an enjoyable introduction to a newcomer and a gem to those familiar with the “Sage of Baltimore.” . . .