Russell Baker John Martin - Essay

John Martin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Russell Baker is perhaps the funniest newspaper columnist there is, and, after Murray Kempton, the finest stylist in contemporary journalism. Regrettably, his lyrical and wildly inventive social satire has until now been limited to appearances in the drab and leaden columns of the New York Times. [No Cause for Panic] not only takes him out of the Times but should put him on the shelves of connoisseurs of first-rate humor.

Ninety-four of Baker's best are reprinted here. They are topical and they are choice.

There is the foreign ambassador puzzled by American football: "Huge men repeatedly flung themselves beast-like upon a much smaller man who was holding the prolate spheroid." An American official replies: "That, Mr. Ambassador, is called playing the game." (pp. 84-5)

And there is the inimitable Baker fantasy: "Spring came to Washington this week. Naturally there was a cocktail reception for her."

What's puzzling about reading Baker is that it's hard to be sure whether he stays with you or you stay with him. I left him rolling through a bowl game: "Gumcrack up over the ball. Flanker guards roll left, splitback in motion to the right … field judge and head linesman ready for the short flare, Simian on the handoff…." (p. 85)

John Martin, in a review of "No Cause for Panic," in America, Vol. 112, No. 3, January 16, 1965, pp. 84-5.