Liebling at The New Yorker Uncollected Essays
edited by James Barbour and Fred Warner, University of New Mexico Press, 320 pages .
With a war on in Europe in the fall of 1939, Harold Ross of The New Yorker replaced his long-time Paris correspondent, Janet Planner, with the younger and presumably more expendable A. J. Liebling. Liebling had been writing appreciations of bookies and Times Square con men; now he captured week by week the mood of Paris as the German troops advanced. At first he met nervous revelers in cafés; by June 1940 he was writing, “The morning’s citations include the names not only of aviators and soldiers who have died but of postmen killed delivering letters under fire in the invaded provinces.” Twelve of his Letters from Paris appear in this excellent collection of pieces from a brilliant journalistic career, but the most truly superb story is “The Case of the Scattered Dutchman,” about a corpse that in 1897 washed up half in the Bronx and half on the Lower East Side. The clever newsboy who solved the crime gave his story to Liebling fifty years later, and the mystery builds to a grim cop epiphany: “If the pieces fit, it’s the same stiff.” Libeling’s great books on food, the war, the press, horseracing, and politics go in and out of print. It’s a pleasure to see a new collection of his best magazine writing.