H. L. Mencken My Life as Author & Editor.
Edited & with an Introduction by Jonathan Yardley.
Knopf, 480 pages, $30
reviewed by Thomas Mallon
He was a literary machine, self-designed and chiefly for killing. Shortly after the century turned, H. L. Mencken says he was “full of lust to function, and before I was twenty-five it was already plain that my functioning would take the form of a sharp and more or less truculent dissent from the mores of my country.” His literary autobiography, published now for the first time, amounts to about 40 percent of an enormous manuscript Mencken dictated between 1942 and 1948, when he suffered a stroke. It covers the years before 1924 and The American Mercury, the period when he was editing The Smart Set with George Jean Nathan and having a personal success with A Book of Prefaces and The American Language....