Baseless by Nicholson Baker [9/10]

The latest from brilliant, freewheeling Nicholson Baker, “Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act” is a triumph, albeit one that is, I presume, of interest only to a limited audience. Nearly a decade ago, Baker had begun researching the hypothesis that the United States had used chemical weapons during the Korean War, as part of a program to add those weapons to its Cold War arsenal. When Baker began requesting identifiable documents under the FOIA, he initiated years of painstaking, often fruitless archival work, research that spun off into stupefyingly complex rabbit holes. Finally, unable to write a conventional history, he chose to run two-months-plus of personal journals describing his work and what he has learned, at the same time providing his personal context. As a mix of memoir, history, and polemic, Baseless is utterly original, yet it might have ended up a structureless mess were it not for the author’s consummate narration, elucidation, and literary skills. You might have guessed already that I’m one of his target audience. As a somewhat amateur historian with limited archival digging experience, I was bewitched from start to damning finish. Alternatively forensic and declaiming, Baseless might well be the most bewitching book you read this clamorous year.

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