Ron Rosenbaum

Prediction: The Most Controversial New Book of 2008 Will Be...

…Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. It’s still in galleys, won’t be out (from Simon & Schuster) til March, so I will forgo comment until later, but I must say, it’s not just because of the customary restraints publishers ask. It’s because I’m still not sure what to make of it. I need more time. But one thing I know is that it will shake up a lot of received notions and cause a truly important controversy.

I’m huge admirer of Baker’s previous work, both fiction and non fiction, but this book is such a departure and such a provocation. I spent night after night riveted by its nearly 500 pages; it’s a testament to the power of an outsider to a field to cause us to re-think conventional assumptions. I can’t wait for the reaction to it.

And (forgive what might seem like a bait and switch here) allow me to mention another controversial book, another book by a relative outsider to the academic establishment, which will be out in paperback (from Random House) on January 8. It’s called The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups and was written by yours truly. Did I mention that Cynthia Ozick called it “Electrifying. A spectacular book”? ( I guess I did if you look to the left). Or that John Simon’s review declared that “Everyone seriously interested in Shakespeare must read it and that anyone even mildly interested should“. And that Walter Kirn in the New York Times Book Review praised it as “A romantic detective story”? Or that NPR’s Maureen Corrigan called it “Dizzying, idiosyncratic, entertaining and illuminating” while naming it one of the “best non- fiction books” of 2006?

If I didn’t, please remind me to.