Vollmann promises a second volume to come—and perhaps more beyond that. Only the irradiated future will tell.




Vollmann (The Dying Grass, 2015, etc.) apologizes to the future that we’ve ruined, charting how our choices of energy sources made the planet scarcely inhabitable.

“Back when I lived,” writes the author early on, “some of us believed that heavily polluting coal could somehow lift people out of poverty without impoverishing us in any more fundamental way. We believed that because it was convenient to believe it. So we kept the lights on.” The italics are his, but in any event, it’s a feint: we won’t get deeply into coal until the second volume of this Carbon Ideologies series. The first is heavy going enough. Famously loquacious, Vollmann writes, without apparent irony, that his “little book” is full of questions and not solutions, true enough save that the little book stretches out over more than 600 pages and embraces a couple of dissertations’ worth of data and research notes. In the main, the author’s focus is on nuclear power, for, as he also notes early on, “the future for which I write will most likely also be a more radioactive time,” not just because nuclear power may be the only way out of fossil fuel dependency—renewables make more sense, but they apparently don’t offer enough bang for the buck for the corporate mindset—but also because, given the likelihood of accidents, the world is likely to have plenty of loose isotopes rolling around. Vollmann chronicles his travels to the site of the Fukushima reactor disaster, asking questions that journalists have not: “What color was the tsunami?” “Is it safe here?” It will come as no comfort to know that Fukushima won’t, in fact, be safe for another 500 years—though, counsels one decontamination specialist, it may take only 300 years. That there are two or more answers to the question is emblematic, for every matter that the author raises leads onto many others, yielding a dense but—as always, with Vollmann—rewarding, impeccably researched narrative.

Vollmann promises a second volume to come—and perhaps more beyond that. Only the irradiated future will tell.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-56349-2

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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