by Nicholas Baker
Very interesting viewpoint, focused on the pacifist movement of the 20s-40s. Writing style is similar to The Road
by McCormack. I think it's fair to say that the pacifist movement of the period doesn't get much press in history books or other accounts of World War 2. I'm about halfway through it, will likely finish it on the plane today. Definitely a recommend.NYT Review
The novelist Nicholson Baker’s customary style in books like “The Mezzanine” and “Room Temperature” is to observe the world in slow, painstaking detail, relishing the tiny moment, enjoying the aside for the sake of accuracy, insisting on charting the precise state of things. He has now applied this system to history, to the few years before the United States declared war on Japan and entered into World War II as a full participant. It is clear Baker has not done this as a literary exercise, nor as a new way of amusing himself and his readers, but because of a passionate view of how the war against Germany was conducted by Britain under Winston Churchill.
There is, it seems at first, a sort of madness in his method. He does not offer a straightforward narrative as a historian or a polemicist might do, but instead his book is made up of a set of vignettes, each containing a fact or a quotation from one of the main participants, or from someone who kept a diary. Most vignettes carry a date. Sometimes these entries come three to a page, sometimes they are slightly longer. Slowly, as you read, because of the variety in the tone and the shocking or tragic nature of the quotation, and because of how well chosen they are, “Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization” becomes riveting and fascinating. It is as though a brilliant film editor, with an urgent argument to make, began to work with gripping newsreels.
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.