December 01, 1980 12:00 PM

by Raymond Sokolov

Abbott Joseph Liebling was a reporter, war correspondent, gourmand, writer about food and, until his death in 1963, the most astute press critic since Mencken. His New Yorker column, “The Wayward Press,” has never been equaled. A native New Yorker who spoke French and was devoted to Camus, Liebling also wrote about boxing, or “The Sweet Science,” as he, a man who had been in the ring himself, called it. Sokolov, an ex-New York Times food editor, creates a fine biography mainly by quoting the heck out of his subject. For example, Liebling once wrote that the Chicago Tribune’s publisher, Col. Robert R. McCormick, “daily assures Chicagoans that personal violence, national bankruptcy and extinction by guided missiles are the normal expectation of man in Chicagoland. [But] in compensation for the grim fate in store for them, the Colonel offers Chicagolanders a guarantee that life everywhere else is much worse.” Until Liebling’s books get back into print, this is a superb sampler. (Harper & Row, $16.95)

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