Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, February 4, 2011


Since I reported on the Rex Stout-edited anthology Rue Morgue No. 1 last week for my contribution to Friday's Forgotten Books, I thought I'd take a look at a very different type of book Stout edited.  It's The Illustrious Dunderheads and it came out in September of 1942 from Knopf.

     No one has ever accused Rex Stout of being a shrinking violet or of not speaking his mind.  In the days leading up to World War II, Stout was highly offended that a number of members of Congress -- in both the House and the Senate -- were pushing an isolationist, and sometimes pro-Nazi view.  For the liberal Stout, this was both unacceptable and stupid.  Stout bristled.  Then he did something about it.  The result was this book.

     Poring over the Congressional Record, Stout amassed the voting records and excepts from the speeches of these "dunderheads."  He named each individual dunderhead and placed their actions to their names.  According to the introduction by Frank Sullivan, the result is "the accumulated store of wisdom, vision, and statements of the politicians who constituted the isolationist movement in the country in the years before Pearl Harbor."  Many of these pols had economic ties to Nazi Germany, some were just anti-Semetic racists, some seem to be sincere isolationists -- but an awful lot of them just come across as pro-Nazi.  Again, from the introduction:  the book points out "U. S. Senators and congressmen who have given currency  to Nazi propaganda."

     Scary to think about. has a couple of reviews of the book, both of which -- fairly or unfairly -- point out the currency of this 74 year old book.  One states, "Much of the rhetoric is the same heard on Fox News today."  I can't speak to that.  It's been close to twenty years since I read  this book, but it has stuck with me.  I've often thought someone should produce something similar today, pointing out the lies from both sides of the political divide and placing them at each individual doorstep.  A book like that would certainly have to take more than the 192 pages Stout used in 1942.

     (As an aside, during the McCarthy years, Stout ignored a subpoena from The House Un-American Activities Committee.  Cool, huh?)

     As far as I know, The Illustrious Dunderheads had only the one printing.  Copies should be available through the used book market.  I read mine through an Interlibrary Loan.

      Please understand that, because of its nature and format, much of the information is repetitive.  But it is fascinating.  As a piece of history, or as a bridge to today's political scene, The Illustrious Dunderheads rates five stars.


     Patti Abbott is still relaxing.  This week's Guest Host is the very capable Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog; George Kelley will fill in next week, after which our Fearless Leader will return.


  1. I'd never heard of this book before. I wonder if these obscure books will ever make it to ebook format.

  2. Rex Stout edited only three books: this one, Rue Morgue No. 1, and Eat, Drink, and Be Buried. The last was an interesting MWA anthology focusing on the deadlier aspects of food and death; even the minor stories here are worthwhile. The Illustrious Dunderheads and The Doorbell Rang are, IMHO, the most personal books Stout produced.

    It would be wonderful if some industrious e-publisher made all the FFB's available as e-books. It would almost be enough to make me break down and by an e-reader. Almost.

  3. The long stated goal of Google books is to make available every book ever written to all readers. Only copyright law stops them.

  4. Copyright law, Michael, and their business plan. And their recent court settlements. I'm afraid that Google Books have devolved into a mockery of themselves. From the beginning, it seems that some books that were well out of copyright and that had been scanned were not being made available through Google. Now, books that had previously been made available through Google are no longer available; this seems to be the case where print publishers bring out new editions of out-of-copyright books; the original printings are no longer available while the newer printings of the same books are available with "previews", if at all. Google also seems to be using this platform to sell Google e-Books.

    For example, I just searched for a book I picked at random: Lord Dunsany's The Book of Wonder (1912). Google Book Search came up with three pages of results -- mostly current printings with previews options and "buy this book" links available. Editions from 1912 or so are listed as not available. The complete book used to be available free from Google. I also notice that any option for the full book has been eliminated from the sidebar, replaced with buy e-book and buy Google e-book.

    On a lark, I looked for the same book using Google's advanced search function. I got only one page of results -- all recent reprints of this out-of-copyright work.

    Google Books has become useless for anyone wishing to do serious research. Luckily we have Internet Archive available; this has become the go-to site for books that Google has removed.

  5. Interesting story. I've seen this one kicking around for years, but never paid attention to it.