What Fools These Mortals Be: The Story of Puck By Michael Alexander Kahn, Richard Samuel West

This is a wonderful tribute to the era of political/social satire cartoons: a lovingly collected coffee table quality book full of images from the (mostly) 19th century publication Puck. What we currently get in TV form with Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, was done in the late 1800s through newspapers/magazine cartoons.  Puck was one of the leading sources of social commentary of its time – certainly in America.

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Each page of the book is a full color reproduction of 1-2 cartoons (some are black and white but most are color) and includes the title, date of publication/location in publication, artist, and a quick synopsis. The synopses are particularly useful to give perspective on what was happening at the time and why – many issues/characters are obscure in the modern age but were hot button topics at the time.

The book breaks down as follows:  History of Puck magazine, The Puck Building, Presidential Politics, Politics and Government, Business and Labor, Foreign Relations, Race and Religion, Social Issues, Personalities, Just for Fun, Biographical Dictionary, Bibliographical Note, and Index.

The author has taken the time to give a wide range of cartoons. From baseball to even having fun with Sunday comics. As well, there are also several covers presented, many featuring beautiful women of the era (e.g., in the style of Charles Dana Gibson).  But the heart of the book really is the political satire. From presidential elections to the Panama Canal, these cartoons present a very biased but very fascinating view of America at the turn of the century.

This is the type of book that rewards in small viewings over time – making it a great coffee table or display book. I received a digital edition but will definitely purchase the physical copy to see the plate reproductions in person.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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