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July 27 , 2008

Low Man on a Totem Pole


H Allen Smith has sometimes been referred to as “the best-selling humorist since Mark Twain”. Considering that he wrote against the likes of James Thurber, Robert Benchley, and S. J. Perelman, that's quite a statement. And probably true. He sold a million copies of each of his first several books, starting with Low Man on a Totem Pole.

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In this book, which might be called a fraction of his memoirs (Mr. Smith claimed he could have filled twenty), he recounts the high points of his life amid the human race ― a race he appreciated and observed with a keen nose for the humor hiding in the most unexpected places.  

Here is a panorama of unlikely people who really existed, of inconceivable things that actually happened, of the commonplace rarities of our frenzied epoch.  Among others, there is the newspaperman who suffered under the delusion that Herbert Hoover had bladders on his feet: the man who thoughtfully and perpetually bounced turtle eggs on a bar: a deaf dentist who trained his dog to act as his receptionist; a child prodigy who couldn't talk any too well, but appeared to know more about swing music than the head usher at the Paramount Theater ― all these are part of Mr. Smith's life and times. 

H Allen Smith's record of a busy life minding other people’s business is a permanent and prized addition to the annals of humorous Americana. Low Man On a Totem Pole was a best-seller during WW 2 and although  particularly popular on the home front, it was also widely read on troop trains and at military camps. It eventually sold a million copies.

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