Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization Paperback – Mar 3 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
"Burning a village properly takes a long time," wrote a British commander in Iraq in 1920. In this sometimes astonishing yet perplexing account of the destructive futility of war, NBCC award–winning writer Baker (Double Fold) traces a direct line from there to WWII, when Flying Fortresses and incendiary bombs made it possible to burn a city in almost no time at all. Central to Baker's episodic narrative- a chronological juxtaposition of discrete moments from 1892 to December 31, 1941-are accounts from contemporary reports of Britain's terror campaign of repeatedly bombing German cities even before the London blitz. The large chorus of voices echoing here range from pacifists like Quaker Clarence Pickett to the seemingly cynical warmongering of Churchill and FDR; the rueful resignation of German-Jewish diarist Viktor Klemperer to Clementine Churchill's hate-filled reference to "yellow Japanese lice." Baker offers no judgment, but he also fails to offer context: was Hitler's purported plan to send the Jews to Madagascar serious, or, as one leading historian has called it, a fiction? Baker gives no clue. Yet many incidents carry an emotional wallop-of anger and shock at actions on all sides-that could force one to reconsider means and ends even in a "good" war and to view the word "terror" in a very discomfiting context. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
"Absolutely fascinating, engrossing. I can't imagine anyone, no matter how knowledgeable about the period, who won't be astonished and moved while reading Human Smoke." -- Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
"This quite extraordinary book -- impossible to put down, impossible to forget -- may be the most compelling argument for peace ever assembled. Nicholson Baker displays in astonishing, fascinating detail mankind's unstoppable descent into the madness of war -- slowed only occasionally, but then invariably most movingly, by the still, small voices of the sane and the wise." -- Simon Winchester, author of The Man Who Loved China and The Professor and the Madman
"In Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker turns his unrivaled literary talents to pacifism. His portraits of Churchill's imperial arrogance, Franklin Roosevelt's anti-Semitism, the machinations of the arms merchants, the Germans' death wish, and the efforts of pacifists are unforgettable. Baker's book is truly original." -- Chalmers Johnson, president and cofounder of the Japan Policy Research Institute and author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
"Nicholson Baker movingly pierces the lies, hopes, fears, and myths we so easily imbibe on the road to war -- painful reminders that what has happened in the past can happen again and again and again until we shake loose and react." -- Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy, University of Maryland, and author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb
Top Customer Reviews
These artfully arranged fragments reveal the thoughts of persons both famous and obscure. They are shards of an enormous image that no one at the time could see, and that no one can ever entirely take in. Some shed an unappealing light on leaders of the Allied nations.
Of course, the chosen vignettes do not tell the whole story, nor are they supposed to. They are like flashes in the dark, illuminating the moral complexity and numbing confusion in which participants groped their way forward.
Certain critics have complained that Baker is a '"revisionist"' or that in his selections he tries to '"equate"' leaders like Hitler and Goebbels with Churchill and Roosevelt. That is an obtuse complaint: the author enriches our understanding of these human beings by showing various aspects of their characters. He does not want to revise the simple story (suitable for four year olds, perhaps) of "'Hitler bad, Churchill and Roosevelt good"' by replacing it with the equally childish '"Hitler, Churchill and Roosevelt all bad'". Nowhere does he suggest that there is nothing to choose between Nazi crimes and the actions of the Allies. Nor is he an uncritical admirer of Gandhi, as is sometimes suggested, though he admires many of Gandhi''s actions.
Baker may be wrong about some things.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
You can't tell a book by its cover. That is certainly true in this case where the cover of 'Human Smoke' is filled with the most extravagant praise. Read morePublished on May 5 2010 by Prairie Pal
Nicholson Baker's unique and profound examination of the barbarous run-up to global cataclysm exposes how capitalism and militarism united to create a universal tragedy. Read morePublished on March 24 2009 by DAVID MACGREGOR