H. L. Mencken: A Religious Biography

If you are a fan of the journalist, editor, and literary and social critic H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), then D. G. Hart’s Damning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken (Eerdmans, 2016) is the book for you. The book is part of the Library of Religious Biography series. Mencken was the most influential journalist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of its most quotable personalities. Wit and satire were two of his formidable weapons. Some of his most memorable quotes are:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable.

My personal favorite is: “Puritanism—The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” I initially read this book just for the joy of reading a book without having to write a book review or study anything. I don’t get to do this often. I did reference the book, however, when I wrote an article in 2018 titled “Mencken’s Plan, Read’s Rule” for the journal Future of Freedom, and for my forthcoming article in the same journal titled “Puritanism Then and Now.”