Pundits, Poets, and Wits: An Omnibus of American Newspaper Columns
by Karl Ernest Meyer
ISBN 0735104255 (0-7351-0425-5)
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Hardcover, Replica Books, 2001
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Book summary: Gilbert Seldes once called the newspaper column the most sophisticated of the popular American arts. It is that and more. It is a raft-ride through the white water of American opinion and thought. It is Mark Twain and Ring Lardner, Will Rogers and H.L. Mencken, Walter Lippmann and Joseph Alsop, Russell Baker and Calvin Trillin. It is nothing less than the American voice fortissimo--often blunt, occasionally eloquent, always opinionated, inspiring, infuriating, delightful.
In this wonderfully diverse anthology, New York Times editorial writer Karl Meyer brings together 72 of America's finest columnists, the first such collection ever published. The range of voices is remarkable, stretching from Ben Franklin (who, as Silence Dogood, castigates the evils of demon rum) to Anna Quindlen (who writes on the travails of being pregnant in New York City). H.L. Mencken lambasts Truman's 1948 presidential campaign as "unhampered by anything resembling a coherent body of ideas." Mary McGrory describes sitting in Judge Sirica's courtroom as the Watergate tapes are played on the "little Sony": how Haldeman slumps in his chair, how Mitchell turns faintly pink. Milt Gross renders a demented comic version of Pocohantas and Keptain John Smeet in American Yiddish dialect ("Hends opp!--odder we'll cot you off de scallop wid a tommyhuck!"). Heywood Broun offers a tongue-in-cheek explanation of "How I Became a Red." And I.F. Stone assails our collective guilt in Kennedy's assassination ("We all favor murder, when it reaches our own hated opponents").
To read these columns is to walk through American history and savor the views of some of our finest commentators, declaiming on everything from freedom of the press to yesterday's double-header.
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