M R D Foot

‘War is a Condition, Like Peace’

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

By

Simon & Schuster 567pp £20 order from our bookshop

Nicholson Baker has written eleven previous books, seven of them novels. This tract is not fictional at all: it describes, stage by stage, humanity’s descent into a self-made abyss of horror. Item by item, it lists stupidity after stupidity, atrocity after atrocity; and mixes in with them wise remarks that went unheeded by the world’s principal statesmen. It is not meant to make a comfortable read. Baker makes no secret of his sympathies with those who share his Quaker background and pacifist leanings. Hardly any of his items are more than a page long; most are shorter. Can this have been written with the notion that nobody can any longer concentrate on any subject for more than a minute or two? It makes a rather disjointed book; but the accumulation of error is only too clearly set down.

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