In HERBLOCK: A CARTOONIST’S LIFE, Herbert Block (better known as Herblock, his signature on his cartoons) opens with a brief view of his family, childhood, and early career in Chicago, Cleveland, and New York. The bulk of the book, however, covers his celebrated and controversial tenure with the WASHINGTON POST beginning just after World War II and continuing into the early nineties. Writing in a breezy, lucid style, Block offers frank commentary on various presidents, vice presidents, and other public figures whose performance he studied and treated in his daily syndicated cartoon. Block also offers his assessment of various editors and colleagues. Most of the time he is complimentary. Occasionally, he is just slightly scathing.

What emerges is a man with clear convictions and interesting foibles. Although he began his career with a mild tilt toward conservatism and the Republican Party, Block quickly moved toward the “left” on issues such as isolationism, poverty, and civil rights. He remains unabashedly “liberal.” As a result, figures such as Joe McCarthy, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush come in for heavy criticism. Nevertheless, Democrats, too, have their feet put to the fire. As Block suggests at several points, nice cartoonists finish last. On the other hand, as a person, Block appears to be a pleasant if somewhat eccentric. Although he excludes sustained discussion of his private life, he reveals himself as a hardworking bachelor, a night person, a news junkie, a loser in the battle against clutter, a reluctant driver and a man who, paradoxically, loves the ocean but cannot swim.

Most of all, Block comes across as a man who loves his craft and feels lucky to have turned it into a vocation. It is no surprise, therefore, that the best parts of this book are the 200 cartoons reproduced in its pages. Together with the text, they provide a highly pungent and profound farewell from an American original.