The immediate problem facing the biographer of [MENCKEN] is, ironically, the same quality that makes Mencken such a worthwhile subject: his peerless prose. Any study of the author is bound to disappoint when his own words are cited and the reader suddenly feels the galvanic force of the great man's writing -- and, by comparison, the weakness of the biographer's own abilities. Biographies that focus on the development of Mencken's ideas suffer from this problem even when they are well-written. (They suffer also from the inevitable realization that Mencken's ideas, as opposed to his verbal style, simply do not stand up after 70 years.) [Marion Elizabeth Rodgers] circumvents this difficulty altogether by giving us Mencken the man, in impressive and often fantastic detail, while keeping the author's writing and ideas largely in the background. Every lead is chased down: The reader learns about what Mencken drank while in Germany during World War I, the testimony he gave in a censorship case in the 1940s, how much affection this person or that felt for him, and, over and over again, the intimate details of his love life. It is a solid and well-researched work, built on dozens of interviews in addition to heroic feats of archival digging.
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