• Baseless

    by Nicholson Baker
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    Baseless

Virtual Event: Nicholson Baker

presenting

Baseless:
My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act

in conversation with CHRISTOPHER LYDON

Date

Aug
5
Wednesday
August 5, 2020
7:00 PM

Location

Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.

Tickets

Free - $3 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes acclaimed novelist and essayist NICHOLSON BAKER—author of the novels The Mezzanine and The Anthologist and the National Book Critics Circle Award–winning work of non-fiction, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper—for a discussion of his latest book, Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act. He will be joined in conversation by CHRISTOPHER LYDON, host of WBUR's Open Source.

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About Baseless

Eight years ago, while investigating the possibility that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, Nicholson Baker 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, Baker 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, witheld 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 goverment 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.

Praise for Baseless

“The synchronicity is extraordinary, almost chilling: Nicholson Baker’s gripping diary of his endless attempts to ferret out facts relating to the Pentagon’s top-secret biological weapons programs is published while the whole world is suddenly upended and aghast amid a lethal biological attack of an apparently natural origin. I say apparently natural—for as every page of this book is peppered with tales of bizarre weapons (infected feathers, for God’s sake! plague-saturated voles!)—you come away doubting everything the US government ever says.  And yet, through it all, Baker tells us with a meticulous diarist’s calm about his dogs and the Maine countryside and the birdsong, and you feel, in the end, everything will be alright, and germ-free.” —Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman

“A luminous meditation on the power of secrets and mysteries. Baker shows us the ways in which a government shielded by a bodyguard of lies threatens the foundations of democracy.” —Tim Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Legacy Of Ashes and The Folly and the Glory

“One of America's most brilliantly creative writers navigates the mirrored labyrinth of government secrecy with a combination of astonishment and rage. Along the way, he discovers an array of long-hidden terrors while balancing the joys of daily life against the dread that envelops all who confront the reality of covert power.” —Stephen Kinzer, author of Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control

Christopher Lydon
Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon is the host since 2005 of Open Source, an online global conversation on arts, ideas and politics. A journalist in many media, he is credited with the original podcast—first radio on the Internet—in 2003. Before that he had reported US presidential politics for the New York Times in the 1970s, hosted public television news in Boston in the 80s, and inaugurated the smartest of public radio conversations, The Connection, a national show based in Boston, in the 90s. Over the last two decades he has recorded conversations in Jamaica, Cuba, Ghana, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, Singapore and China.

Photo Credit: Michael J. Lutch

Nicholson Baker
Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker is the author of ten novels and five works of nonfiction, including The Anthologist, The Mezzanine, and Human Smoke. He has won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Hermann Hesse Prize, and a Katherine Anne Porter Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Maine with his wife, Margaret Brentano.

Photo Credit: Elias Baker

 

Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
Event Series: Virtual Event Series

Harvard Book Store’s award-winning event series continues online! Named "Best of Boston: 2020 Best Virtual Author Series" by Boston magazine.

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