Tag Archives: Nicholson Baker

Baseless & Unidentified

                             

Nicholson Baker –  Baseless: My Search For Secrets In The Ruins Of The Freedom Of Information Act

With great pleasure, we welcome back to Life Elsewhere, acclaimed author, Nicholson Baker. His latest work of non-fiction is a remarkable hybrid of history, journalism, and a memoir. Eight years ago, while investigating the possibility that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, Nicholson requested a series of Air Force documents from the early 1950s under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Years went by, and he got no response. Rather than wait forever, he set out to keep a personal journal of what it feels like to try to write about major historical events in a world of pervasive redactions, withheld records, and glacially slow governmental responses. The result is one of the most original and daring works of nonfiction in recent memory, a singular and mesmerizing narrative that tunnels into the history of some of the darkest and most shameful plans and projects of the CIA, the Air Force, and the presidencies of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. In his lucid and unassuming style, Baker assembles what he learns, piece by piece, about Project Baseless, a crash Pentagon program begun in the early fifties that aimed to achieve “an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.” Along the way, he unearths stories of balloons carrying crop disease, leaflet bombs filled with feathers, suicidal scientists, leaky centrifuges, paranoid political-warfare tacticians, insane experiments on animals and humans, weaponized ticks, ferocious propaganda battles with China, and cover and deception plans meant to trick the Kremlin into ramping up its germ-warfare program. At the same time, Baker tells the stories of the heroic journalists and lawyers who have devoted their energies to wresting documentary evidence from government repositories, and he shares anecdotes from his daily life in Maine feeding his dogs and watching the morning light gather on the horizon. The result is an astonishing and utterly disarming story about waiting, bureaucracy, the horrors of war, and, above all, the cruel secrets that the United States government seems determined to keep forever from its citizens.

Colin Dickey – The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, And Our Obsession With The Unexplained

In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational–in fringe–is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems the more our maps of the known world get filled in, the more we crave mysterious locations full of strange creatures. Enter Colin Dickey, Cultural Historian and Tour Guide of the Weird. With the same curiosity and insight that made Ghostland a hit with readers and critics, Colin looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today’s Illuminati is yesterday’s Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. Dickey visits the wacky sites of America’s wildest fringe beliefs–from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining “evidence” of the great Kentucky Meat Shower–investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and re-inventing them decade after decade. The Unidentified is Colin Dickey at his best: curious, wry, brilliant in his analysis, yet eminently readable.

Show #383

A Brave Man

Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker is a brave man. He knew what he was getting himself into. He went ahead anyway. The hardest part was getting his fingerprints taken. “I’m a writer,” he says, “I bash away on a keyboard all day, every day. How would I know that bashing away on a keyboard all day wears your fingerprints out?” The acclaimed author’s fingerprints were required for the job he had applied for. He ignored the warnings of his family to boldly venture forth.Nicholson’s new non-fiction book, Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids, is a meticulously detailed account of his 28 days working as a K-12 substitute teacher in a Maine public school district. His day-by-day, documentary reportage is an illuminating snapshot of public education in America today. What emerges from Baker’s experience is a complex, often touching deconstruction of American public schooling, children swamped with overdue assignments, over­whelmed by the marvels and distractions of social media and educational technology, and staff who weary themselves trying to teach in step with an often outmoded or overly ambitious standard curriculum. Baker is an inventive and remarkable writer and Substitute is filled with humor, honesty, and empathy. Make sure you don’t miss Norman B’s conversation with Nicholson Baker on the next edition of Life Elsewhere.

Life Elsewhere Show #193 airs:
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Traveling Sprinklers, Pony People and a Reading Festival

The Reading Edition of Life Elsewhere is available to download now. Norman B interviews Colette BancroftBooks Editor for Tampa Bay Times about the Festival of Reading, digital books and re-thinking reviews. Lynn Waddell talks about  Pony People and her book, “Fringe Florida – Travel among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles”. Best-selling author Nicholson Baker discusses his latest book, “Traveling Sprinkler”, his writing process, music and selects this week’s Hit That Never Was.

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