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

Nicholson Baker, Author . Simon & Schuster $30 (566p) ISBN 978-1-4165-6784-4

“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.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2008
Release date: 03/01/2008
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Paperback - 566 pages - 978-1-84739-318-0
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-61545-667-3
MP3 CD - 978-1-4001-5789-1
Paperback - 566 pages - 978-1-4165-7246-6
Ebook - 576 pages - 978-1-84737-507-0
Hardcover - 566 pages - 978-1-84737-274-1
Ebook - 800 pages - 978-1-4165-8396-7
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Audio Product - 1 pages - 978-1-4356-7900-9
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