• Baseless

    by Nicholson Baker
    Price $30.00
    Special Order
August 5, 2020

Nicholson Baker

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.


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.

About Author(s)

Nicholson Baker is the author of ten novels and five works of nonfiction, including The AnthologistThe 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.

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.