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Irvin S. Cobb: The Rise and Fall of an American Humorist

by William E. Ellis

Availablecloth$45.00s 978-0-8131-7398-6
292 pages  Pubdate: 09/29/2017  6 x 9  12 b/w photos

LISTEN: William E. Ellis discusses his book Irvin S. Cobb: The Rise and Fall of an American Humorist on the New Books Network. | Listen online here

“Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn.”—Irvin S. Cobb

Born and raised in Paducah, Kentucky, humorist Irvin S. Cobb (1876–1944) rose from humble beginnings to become one of the early twentieth century’s most celebrated writers. As a staff reporter for the New York World and Saturday Evening Post, he became one of the highest-paid journalists in the United States. He also wrote short stories for noted magazines, published books, and penned scripts for the stage and screen.

In Irvin S. Cobb: The Rise and Fall of a Southern Humorist, historian William E. Ellis examines the life of this significant writer. Though a consummate wordsmith and a talented observer of the comical in everyday life, Cobb was a product of the Reconstruction era and the Jim Crow South. As a party to the endemic racism of his time, he often bemoaned the North’s harsh treatment of the South and stereotyped African Americans in his writings. Marred by racist undertones, Cobb’s work has largely slipped into obscurity.

Nevertheless, Ellis argues that Cobb’s life and works are worthy of more detailed study, citing his wide-ranging contributions to media culture and his coverage of some of the biggest stories of his day, including on-the-ground reporting during World War I. A valuable resource for students of journalism, American humor, and popular culture, this illuminating biography explores Cobb’s life and his influence on early twentieth-century letters.

William E. Ellis, Foundation Professor Emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University, is the author of several books including The Kentucky River and A History of Education in Kentucky. In 1999, he received the Governor’s Award for Robert Worth Bingham and the Southern Mystique.

The book is true to its purpose of being a literary biography. It also delivers on its claim that Cobb’s life is emblematic of changes that registered on a larger scale. -- Journal of Southern History

Bill Ellis’ book is a well-written, well-researched and objective look at a largely forgotten Kentucky writer who was also one of the most widely-read World War I correspondents. -- Berry Craig, author of Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase

Ellis never lets us forget that Cobb made us laugh. That is a great thing and a precious gift when we face personal and national troubles. -- John E. Kleber, editor of The Kentucky Encyclopedia