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.
Amazon.com 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.