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Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization


Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization Cover

ISBN13: 9781416572466
ISBN10: 1416572465
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Bestselling author Nicholson Baker, recognized as one of the most dexterous and talented writers in America today, has created a compelling work of nonfiction bound to provoke discussion and controversy—a wide-ranging, astonishingly fresh perspective on the political and social landscape that gave rise to World War II.

Human Smoke delivers a closely textured, deeply moving indictment of the treasured myths that have romanticized much of the 1930s and '40s. Incorporating meticulous research and well-documented sources—including newspaper and magazine articles, radio speeches, memoirs, and diaries—the book juxtaposes hundreds of interrelated moments of decision, brutality, suffering, and mercy. Vivid glimpses of political leaders and their dissenters illuminate and examine the gradual, horrifying advance toward overt global war and Holocaust.

Praised by critics and readers alike for his exquisitely observant eye and deft, inimitable prose, Baker has assembled a narrative within Human Smoke that unfolds gracefully, tragically, and persuasively. This is an unforgettable book that makes a profound impact on our perceptions of historical events and mourns the unthinkable loss humanity has borne at its own hand.

About the Author

Nicholson Baker was born in 1957 and attended the Eastman School of Music

and Haverford College. He is the author of seven novels, including Vox

and The Mezzanine, and three previous works of nonfiction, including

Double Fold, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001. He

lives in Maine with his family.

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jraoul, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by jraoul)
Nicholson Baker's no stranger to controversy. Although his first couple of books were modestly well received, he made a much bigger splash with Vox and The Fermata, both mixing explicit sexuality with finely crafted prose and high concepts you'd never find in a paperback smut novel. Since then his career has continued to careen all over the map, from The Anthologist, a poetry primer disguised as a novel, to Double Fold, a non-fiction diatribe lamenting the decline of the modern library.

In Human Smoke, Baker recombines his many varied skills in yet another configuration. It's non-fiction, yes, but it reads like a novel, almost like one of Vonnegut's later works: four or five interlocking narrative threads, each told in short chapters, often just paragraphs. And his penchant for stirring up trouble is in full force: I believe his premise could be loosely paraphrased as "Yeah, Hitler was a schmuck, but so were Churchill and Roosevelt." He contends that World War II was avoidable, that all the high-minded justifications offered for it were smoke and mirrors (and offers specific examples where opportunities for real humanitarianism were missed, deliberately ignored, or bafflingly and tragically sabotaged), and that all the principals involved were dead set on a major -- and profitable -- military operation.

Of course, this view has not sat well with any number of parties, and a debate has raged in the pages of literary and political journals. But I feel that Baker makes a strong case, and his brave and unswerving commitment to pacifism in the face of such scorn deserves to be heard.

Oh, and don't confuse this book with his more recent House of Holes, which I haven't read yet but looks like a return to the explorations he began with Vox and Fermata.
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Product Details

Baker, Nicholson
Simon & Schuster
Military - World War II
Modern - 20th Century
World War, 1939-1945 -- Causes.
Jews - Persecutions - Europe - History -
Military-World War II General
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.25 x 6.125 in

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » General
History and Social Science » Military » World War II » General
History and Social Science » Western Civilization » 20th Century
History and Social Science » World History » 1650 to Present
History and Social Science » World History » General

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