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

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Simon and Schuster, Mar 3, 2009 - History - 576 pages
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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.

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

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This book starts in 1892, with explosions manufacturer Alfred Nobel's observation that his factories might "put an end to war" by making it too horrible to wage, and ends on December 31, 1941, with ... Read full review

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I appreciate a single volume that has distilled so many voices crying out of their visions of the future. So often, we ponder in retrospect that no one saw an event coming. Instead, there were thousands speaking out, unheard.
This is a book to savor.
A reader who avoids hard subjects, say global warming, the mortgage meltdowns, or Asian bird flu epidemics, must read this book. Connecting the dots is possible if you try mightily to expand your range of vision by reading everything.
Lou Polur

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About the author (2009)

Nicholson Baker is the author of nine novels and four works of nonfiction, including Double Fold, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, and House of Holes, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The New York Review of Books. He lives in Maine with his family.

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