About a Mountain

( 6 )

Overview

"Unquestionably art, a breathtaking piece of writing."—Charles Bock, The New York Times Book Review
When John D'Agata helps his mother move to Las Vegas one summer, he begins to follow a story about the federal government's plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain; the result is a startling portrait that compels a reexamination of the future of human life.

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About a Mountain

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Overview

"Unquestionably art, a breathtaking piece of writing."—Charles Bock, The New York Times Book Review
When John D'Agata helps his mother move to Las Vegas one summer, he begins to follow a story about the federal government's plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain; the result is a startling portrait that compels a reexamination of the future of human life.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
[E]xquisite.... This is what, at its best, contemporary narrative nonfiction aspires to, a story that, like the novel, operates on many levels at once.— David L. Ulin
The New York Times Book Review
“D’Agata has an encyclopedic understanding of the form’s intricate artistry. Moreover, he is a serious thinker who regularly lays down stylish, intelligent sentences.... an engrossing story and an often impressive piece of reporting.”
Annie Dillard
“A writer of rare intelligence and artistry . . . John D’Agata is redefining the modern American essay.”
David L. Ulin - Los Angeles Times
“[E]xquisite.... This is what, at its best, contemporary narrative nonfiction aspires to, a story that, like the novel, operates on many levels at once.”
Charles Bock
…an engrossing story and an often impressive piece of reporting…D'Agata's prime reason for steering us through all the glittery factoids and scholarship is to take us to the ledge of what knowledge can provide, and to document how perilous it can be to stand on that ledge. These 200 pages are nothing less than a chronicle of the compromises and lies, the back-room deals and honest best intentions that have delivered us to this precarious moment in history. The book is a shouted question about who we are and how we move forward. This is how art is made.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this circuitous, stylish investigation, D'Agata (Halls of Fame) uses the federal government's highly controversial (and recently rejected) proposal to entomb the U.S.'s nuclear waste located in Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, as his way into a spiraling and subtle examination of the modern city, suicide, linguistics, Edvard Munch's The Scream, ecological and psychic degradation, and the gulf between information and knowledge. Acting as a counterpoint to Yucca is the story of a teenager named Levi who leapt to his death off Las Vegas' Stratosphere Motel. It is testament to D'Agata skillful organization of the book, broken into “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why,” and his use of a rapid sequences of montages—Levi's suicide is spliced with Orwellian Congressional debates on the stability of Yucca Mountain—that readers will be pleasurably (and perhaps necessarily) disoriented but never distracted from the themes knitting together the ostensibly unrelated voices of Native American activists, politicians, geologists, Levi's parents, D'Agata's own mother, and a host of zany Las Vegans. A sublime reading experience, aesthetically rewarding and marked by moral courage and humility. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Middling wanderings along the Las Vegas Strip and the Nevada desert. With a hat tip to Bill Maher, a new rule emerges from these pages: If you're going to write about Las Vegas and enter gonzo territory, you had better write as well as Hunter Thompson. D'Agata (Creative Writing/Univ. of Iowa; Halls of Fame: Essays, 2001, etc.) doesn't approach those grand heights, and the heart sinks a touch at seeing some of the halfhearted flourishes: "What I'd planned to do was help my mother find her new home. Help her move in. Get my mom settled." Such telegraphy seems to serve no purpose, and the narrative, studded with single-sentence paragraphs, is similarly disjointed to no real effect. As his sense of geography indicates, he's a stranger 'round these parts, though he adopts a local cause celebre in the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste controversy and makes himself a little more at home exploring it. D'Agata takes a roundabout path getting to some of the finer points of that imbroglio, with textbook-like detours-"Cognitive science is the study of how humans know themselves. It explores how we perceive, reason, and interact with the world through the complex negotiation of objects and ideas"-gossipy dishing of local eco-hero Edward Abbey and musings on suicide and mutant fish. Ultimately, the piece has an unfinished, workshoppy feel, and it doesn't deliver significant news about either Yucca Mountain or Las Vegas-yes, the place is an assault on the senses; yes, it makes people unhappy; yes, it's one of the more bizarre locales on the planet. Well-meaning but off the mark. Agent: Matt McGowan/Frances Goldin Literary Agency
Donna Seaman - Booklist
“D'Agata's distinctive narrative rhythms, melancholy wit, and keen perception of the social facade and the toxic darkness it conceals make for an acid test, and a ballad about the endless enigmas of humankind.”
Matthew Gilbert - Boston Globe
“The book's connections dawn on you like a reverberating rhyme in a poem.”
William L. Fox - Las Vegas Weekly
“When you're reading D'Agata, you're in such thrall to the dizzying literary risks he takes . . . you can't help but be thrilled.”
David Ulin - Los Angeles Times
“This is what, at its best, contemporary narrative nonfiction aspires to, a story that, like the novel, operates on many levels at once.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393068184
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/8/2010
  • Pages: 236
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John D’Agata is the author of About a Mountain, Halls of Fame and editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    why is the nook book more expensive than the paperback? and why

    why is the nook book more expensive than the paperback? and why is more expensive than a kindle version?

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