Whirled Peace

Nicholson Baker reorganizes the history of World War II. Is he saying we weren't the good guys?

On Sept. 4, 1939, 29 British planes set out to bomb battleships in the German port of Wilhelmshaven. The weather wasn't very good. Some of them bombed Wilhelmshaven, but some of them got lost and unloaded on Esbjerg instead, where there weren't any battleships and which, more to the point, is in Denmark. A woman was killed while making dinner.

This forlorn, tragicomic event appears in an extraordinary new book called Human Smoke (Simon & Schuster; 566 pages), an experiment in retelling the story of World War II using only brief anecdotes and snippets of primary sources--quotations, diaries, speeches, newspaper articles--placed...

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