Our temporary residence has an excellent in-house library with a very strong 20th century history section. Over the years I’ve been able to travel “book free” and rely upon this collection to help fill any of the few idle hours that might come my way. This year Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization” is holding my interest (for the few seconds each night before I conk out). After one week of reading I’m only up to page 40. It’s a busy time.
It appears so far that Baker, an exhaustive researcher (and clever writer), doesn’t provide much of his own original content but instead relies upon dispatches, personal letters, official and unofficial documents to describe what European, American and Asian officials were really thinking in the lead-up to WWII. My sense, after 40 pages, is that from at least the late 1920s there was little mystery to what Mr. Hitler and his pals were up to. The problem was that other countries, fearing the Bolsheviks most of all, waited to see how things would play out in 1930s Germany and how they could profit from whatever happened.
I can’t say that it is a good book or not as I’m less than 10% through, but Baker’s choice of previously published excerpts from and about the main players is fascinating.
The book received mixed reviews.
Colm Toibin reviewed the book when it was published in 2008.(sorry about the Times logo)