Synopses & Reviews
When John D'Agata helps his mother move to Las Vegas one summer, he begins to follow a story about the federal government's plan to store high-level nuclear waste at a place called Yucca Mountain, a desert range near the city of Las Vegas. Bearing witness to the parade of scientific, cultural, and political facts that give shape to Yucca's story, D'Agata keeps the six tenets of reporting in mind — Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How — arranging his own investigation around each vital question.
Yet as the contradictions inherent in Yucca's story are revealed, D'Agata's investigation turns inevitably personal. He finds himself investigating the death of a teenager who jumps off the tower of the Stratosphere Hotel, a boy whom D'Agata believes he spoke with before his suicide.
Here is the work of a penetrating thinker whose startling portrait of a mountain in the desert compels a reexamination of the future of human life.
"In this circuitous, stylish investigation, D'Agata (Halls of Fame) uses the federal government's highly controversial (and recently rejected) proposal to entomb the U.S.'s nuclear waste located in Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, as his way into a spiraling and subtle examination of the modern city, suicide, linguistics, Edvard Munch's The Scream, ecological and psychic degradation, and the gulf between information and knowledge. Acting as a counterpoint to Yucca is the story of a teenager named Levi who leapt to his death off Las Vegas' Stratosphere Motel. It is testament to D'Agata skillful organization of the book, broken into 'Who,' 'What,' 'When,' 'Where,' and 'Why,' and his use of a rapid sequences of montages Levi's suicide is spliced with Orwellian Congressional debates on the stability of Yucca Mountain that readers will be pleasurably (and perhaps necessarily) disoriented but never distracted from the themes knitting together the ostensibly unrelated voices of Native American activists, politicians, geologists, Levi's parents, D'Agata's own mother, and a host of zany Las Vegans. A sublime reading experience, aesthetically rewarding and marked by moral courage and humility." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"D'Agata has an encyclopedic understanding of the form's intricate artistry. Moreover, he is a serious thinker who regularly lays down stylish, intelligent sentences.... an engrossing story and an often impressive piece of reporting." The New York Times Book Review
"A writer of rare intelligence and artistry . . . John D'Agata is redefining the modern American essay." Los Angeles Times
"[E]xquisite.... This is what, at its best, contemporary narrative nonfiction aspires to, a story that, like the novel, operates on many levels at once." David L. Ulin
"About a Mountain
is ultimately about that absurdity: the unreasonableness of reason. Yucca Mountain may be the most thoroughly studied parcel of land in the world, but its endless unknowns reveal "only the fragility of our capacity to know." The one certain truth is that we interpret the elusive universe at our own risk, that meaning — however one may confront or pursue it — is inevitably fluid, conditional, and ambiguous." Vu Tran, The Wilson Quarterly
(Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review
Advance praise for "John D'Agata is a sublime technician of language and a writer of the gravest moral concerns. Beneath a blizzard of fact he forges a lament for nothing less than the future of civilization and, just for good measure, reengineers the possibilities for literature itself. It's a brilliant, sorrowful book that shows us, with piercing, lyric detail, how vulnerable our most basic assumptions really are. Here is the literary essay raised to the highest form of art." --Ben Marcus, author of "John D'Agata, in this brilliantly unsettling new book, picks up a thread, or several threads, and follows them, stays with them, letting each lead him deeper and deeper into uncharted territory, until by the end we are in the dark heart of America. Utterly amazing." --Nick Flynn, author of and
From "one of the most significant U.S. writers" (David Foster Wallace), an investigation of Yucca Mountain and human destruction in Las Vegas.
About the Author
John D'Agata is the author of Halls of Fame and editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives.