This is not exactly a biography as about 75% of The Skeptic is devoted to an indictment of H. L. Mencken as an anti-Semitic bigot. It is far from being a balanced discussion, as only material for the prosecution is presented, and there is no mention of how Mencken aided and supported Jews and other minority writers. (The second most frequently published author in Mencken's magazine, The American Mercury, was George Schuyler, an African-American.) There is scant notice of how Mencken chose young Alfred Knopf, a Jew, as his publisher, nothing said about Mencken's crusade against the then-common practice of lynching or his war against the KKK (all this at a time when many state governments --e.g., Indiana-- were controlled by the Klan), and reference to Mencken's actual efforts to get Jews out of Germany is relegated to a tiny footnote on page 290. Mencken's 1938 column, "Help for the Jews" is dismissed because he advocated free immigration into the U.S. only for German Jews. (This was, of course, nearly a year before World War II began.)
In addition to the charges of bigotry, another 20% of this book is devoted to Mencken's sex life, as if this were somehow significant, and one gets the impression that this is actually the Kitty Kelley expose of Mencken rather than a serious biography.
In general, "The Skeptic" is remarkable for what it lacks. Anyone unfamiliar with the writing of H. L. Mencken could set this book down and be puzzled as to why there are so many readers who delight in Mencken's wit and insight, as there is no clue provided as to what Mencken's redeeming qualities were. Is there any mention of Mencken's analysis of why politicians behave as they do? Nada. Does it discuss the significant relationship between Christianity and democracy that Mencken held was central to our society? Not here. Does it give an example of his shrewdness such as the deft condensation of three pages by Thorstein Veblen down to one banal paragraph? Not at all, as the name Veblen does not appear in this book. Does it even acknowledge Mencken's contribution in changing the national literature from being based on moralism to a basis in realism? Nope.
Ah, but I must confess at once that this last negative is not quite true, as there is some discussion of Mencken as an editor and literary critic. According to Dr. Teachout, Mencken was obviously a very poor literary critic because he didn't like Hemingway and instead championed a ghastly author named Theodore Dreiser who is deservedly forgotten today. The American Mercury itself was of no significance, Mr. Teachout maintains, as it was merely a short-lived fad that featured the works of unknowns who couldn't have been worth reading.
Not only is this not a balanced account, it's a dull read. It has always escaped me exactly why Mr. Teachout is held in high esteem as an author. It defies the imagination that anyone who writes for a living could be so utterly bereft of any gift for storytelling that he could ruin the marvelous tale of how Mencken discovered the novel Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, or suck all the adventure out of the Hatrack prosecution in Boston, or spoil the spectacle of the Scopes Monkey Trial, yet in each case Teachout's account reads like the Cliff's Notes version of previous biographies.
Those who'd like an entertaining and informative account of H. L. Mencken and his times would do well to obtain "Disturber of the Peace" by one of America's greatest historians, William Manchester. Those who merely want to read about an author's sex life would do better with "My Life and Loves" by Frank Harris. Those who expect no pleasure whatsoever from reading may settle for this book.