human smoke


IN THE Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago, the middlebrow American eclecticist and historian Mark Kurlansky told his readers that a new piece of writing “may be one of the most important books you will ever read”. The work was Human Smoke, by the novelist Nicholson Baker, a factual venture into the origins of the Second World War. Human Smoke, Kurlansky said, demonstrated “that World War II was one of the biggest, most carefully plotted lies in modern history”.

Kurlansky was not talking about Hitler and his various inventions or provocations that permitted him to occupy several neighbouring states. The lies, according to Kurlansky, were told by the leaders of the democracies, especially Roosevelt and Churchill. Baker had shown, “step by step, how an alliance dominated by leaders who were bigoted, far more opposed to communism than to fascism, obsessed with arms sales and itching for a fight coerced the world into war”.

In fact Baker’s book does not “show” or “demonstrate” anything in particular about the causes of the war, consisting, as it does, of hundreds of snippets of speech, diary extracts and single lines from newspaper reports, combined into a chronological narrative.

more from the Sunday Times here.