Books: Decline & Fall

DISTURBER OF THE PEACE (336 pp.)—William Manchester—Harper ($3.75).

On a fine May evening in 1912, two testy young U.S. critics strolled along the Champs Elysees in Paris. "Isn't it magnificent?" asked George Jean Nathan. Replied H. L. Mencken: "You can have it. I want a good American drugstore, where I can get a first-class toothbrush."

It was not the last time that Mencken spoke well of his native land. Years later he admitted that "I wouldn't swap an American bathroom for the Acropolis." But these were passing sentimentalities from the man whose avowed program was "to combat, chiefly by ridicule, American piety, stupidity,...

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