Work Title: A.J. Liebling: World War II Writings
Work Author(s): A.J. Liebling and Pete Hamill, editor
The Library of America
1089 pages, Hardcover $40.00
Reviewer: Heather Shaw
Before leaving for France on June 10, 1940 as the sole reporter for the New Yorker, A.J. Liebling had been keeping the company of "prize fighters' seconds, Romance philologists, curators of tropical fish, kept women, promoters of spit-and-toilet-paper night clubs, bail bondsmen, press agents for wrestlers, horse clockers, newspaper reporters, and female psychologists. I was writing excellent pieces about sea-lion trainers and cigar-store proprietors for the New Yorker, and I was happy." Hitler had seemed "revolting but unimportant" and the destruction of France unthinkable. "After the Munich settlement, I began to be anxious," he writes.
So begins over a thousand pages of reportage and storytelling by the man who once wrote, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." A.J. Liebling was born in New York City of an Austrian father. (In the same essay cited above, "Reflections in a Cul-de-sac," he talks about the succession of German nannies that passed through his house and says, "Anybody who had a German governess could understand Poland.") Liebling attended Dartmouth College, but was expelled for poor attendance at chapel. After graduating from journalism school at Columbia, he loafed about at this and that, collecting allowances from his father, until he landed a job at the New Yorker in 1935. He would continue to write for the magazine until 1963, the year of his death.
The Library of America volume collects all of his war correspondence under one cover. The reporting runs from Paris, Lisbon, London, Tunisia, and Omaha Beach. Sometimes there's travelogue: "Norgaard often said that southern Tunisia reminded him of New Mexico, and with plenty of reason. Both are desert countries of mountains and mesas, and in both there are sunsets that owe their beauty to the dust in the air." There's deadpan description: "A tanker is a kind...