Synopses & Reviews
Twenty-three years in the making, Rising Up and Rising Down
(the original, published by McSweeney's
in October 2003, spans seven volumes) is a rich amalgam of historical analysis, contemporary case studies, anecdotes, essays, theory, charts, graphs, photographs and drawings. Convinced that there is "a finite number of excuses" for violence and that some excuses "are more valid than others," Vollmann spent two decades consulting hundreds of sources, scrutinizing the thinking of philosophers, theologians, tyrants, warlords, military strategists, activists and pacifists. He also visited more than a dozen countries and war zones to witness violence firsthand sometimes barely escaping with his life.
Vollmann makes deft use of these tools and experiences to create his Moral Calculus, a structured decision-making system designed to help the reader decide when violence is justifiable and when it is not.
"This edition of Vollman's treatise on political violence, 20 or so years in the making and completed before 9/11, abridges the 3,000-plus pages of the McSweeney's edition, an NBCC Award nominee last year. As he notes in a beautifully composed introduction, Vollman assumes political violence to be a human constant and thus addresses his attention to finding out when people use violence for political ends, how they justify it and on what scales they undertake it. Following 100 or so pages of expansive definitions, a nearly 300-page section titled 'Justifications' culls an enormous number of texts and commentary, from nearly all recorded eras and locales, with all manner of excuses for killing. These Vollman brilliantly distills into 'The Moral Calculus,' a set of questions such as 'When is violent military retribution justified?' followed by concrete answers. The book's final quarter offers 'Studies in Consequences,' featuring Vollman's gonzo reportage from southeast Asia, Europe, 'The Muslim World' and North America (represented here primarily by Jamaica). An appendix cites the longer edition's entire table of contents. This book's rigorous, novelistic, imaginative, sonorous prose treats a fundamental topic on a grand (and horrific) scale; there is nothing else in literature quite like it. Agent, Susan Golomb. 8-city author tour. (Nov. 5)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Vollmann...abridged his epic study into a single volume without losing its essence or power....As rich in feeling as in history and analysis, Vollmann's masterful synthesis illuminates the most tragic realities of the human condition." Booklist
"Such writing should be read and marveled over again and again. And this writing, in which knowing our past is a consolation, offers some hope for our future." Los Angeles Times
"[A] literary accomplishment in the tradition of Edward Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire..." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] monumental achievement....It can be an exhausting, depressing read, but with the ever-growing role of violence in our lives, it is an essential one." The Washington Post Book World
"[V]ivid and penetrating....Vollmann is the real thing, a writer who cares deeply about his subject and the world." St. Petersburg Times
"Rising Up and Rising Down
is a novelist's version of scholarship, full of highly wrought acts of empathy and detailed description. Vollmann makes no apology for this; in a note on the literary language of his study he explains why a work which is organized on a theoretical basis indulges in so much 'ornate description'....There is a heroic bathos about Vollmann's reformism which finds its formal echo in the voice he brings to his journalism, the very opposite of gonzo cool..." Paul Quinn, The Times Literary Supplement
(read the entire Times Literary Supplement review
William T. Vollmann's abridgment of his 3,500-page, seven-volumemagnum opus
An odyssey through the history of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down combines William T. Vollmann's voracious appetite for the details of history with a disregard for his own safety, examines the actions of historical figures, scrutinizes the thinking of philosophers and finds Vollmann posting personal dispatches from some of the most dangerous and war-torn places on earth. The result is his Moral Calculus, a structured decision-making system designed to help the reader decide when violence is justifiable and when it is not.
When is violence justified? This abridged version of Vollmann's 3,000-page, seven-volume opus is a meditation on this age-old conundrum.
A labor of seventeen years, Vollmann's first book of non-fiction since 1992's An Afghanistan Picture Show is a gravely urgent invitation to look back at the world's long, bloody path and find some threads of meaning, wisdom, and guidance to plot a moral course. From the street violence of prostitutes and junkies to the centuries-long battles between the Native Americans and European colonists, Vollmann's mesmerizing imagery and compelling logic is presented with authority born of astounding research and personal experience.
About the Author
William T. Vollmann was born in Los Angeles in 1959. He attended Cornell University and Berkeley. His journalism has appeared in many magazines including Spin, and The New Yorker. His novels include You Bright and Risen Angels(1987), The Ice-Shirt (1990), Whores for Gloria(1991), Fathers and Crows(1992), The Rifles(1994), and The Royal Family(2000). His short story collections include The Rainbow Stories (1988), 13 Stories and 13 Epitaphs (1991), Butterfly Stories (1993), and The Atlas (1996). His one other book of non-fiction is An Afghanistan Picture Show(1992). His latest novel, Argall, is part of the Seven Dreamsseries. Vollmann lives in Sacramento with his wife and child.