Back “The Greatest Man in the World,” James Thurber

James Thurber (1894–1961)
From James Thurber: Writings & Drawings

Thurber’s creation Jack (“Pal”) Smurch has become shorthand for a hero, politician, or celebrity who, in person, turns out to be a lout. Everyone who knows him knows what he’s really like, but everyone is reluctant to say anything about it.

“The Greatest Man in the World,” which features Pal Smurch, was one of Thurber’s early stories for The New Yorker, written both as a satire of the American propensity for hero worship and as a parody of a “What If” series that had been appearing in another magazine (e.g., “If Napoleon Had Escaped to America”). It is our Story of the Week selection, and you can read it in full.

Read “The Greatest Man in the World” by James Thurber

Image, above: One of James Thurber’s illustrations for “The Greatest Man in the World” when the story was reprinted in his collection The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935). © 1935 James Thurber. Image reproduced from James Thurber: Writings & Drawings (LOA, 1996) by arrangement with Rosemary A. Thurber c/o The Barbara Hogenson Agency.

Library of America

A champion of America’s great writers and timeless works, Library of America guides readers in finding and exploring the exceptional writing that reflects the nation’s history and culture.

Learn More

From poetry, novels, and memoirs to journalism, crime writing, and science fiction, the more than 300 volumes published by Library of America are widely recognized as America’s literary canon.

Browse our books Subscribe

With contributions from donors, Library of America preserves and celebrates a vital part of our cultural heritage for generations to come.

Support our mission