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A major new work, a hybrid of history, journalism, and memoir, about the modern Freedom of Information Act - FOIA - and the horrifying, decades-old government misdeeds that it is unable to demystify, from one of America's most celebrated writers

Ten years into researching a book about the possibility that the United States had used biological weapons in the Korean War, Nicholson Baker was frustrated and disheartened. In the course of his research, he had become deeply disillusioned with the process of FOIA requests. He has been forced to wait years in some cases, while other requests have been answered only with documents rendered inscrutable, or even illegible, by copious redactions. Rather than wait forever, with his head full of secrets about government atrocities committed by his own country, Baker sets out to keep a personal journal of his obstructed research instead. He begins documenting his correspondence with the government administrators who are charged with responding to, and thus stymying, his requests. The result is one of the most original and daring works of nonfiction in recent memory, a singular and mesmerizing narrative into the history of some of the darkest and most shameful secrets of the CIA and US government - all willfully concealed to some degree despite the existence of the so-called Freedom of Information Act.

In his preternaturally lucid and unassuming style, Baker unearths stories of CIA programs involving weaponized insects and the deliberate spread of Lyme disease, dangerous military experiments carried out on unsuspecting American citizens, and devastating chemical munitions designed to inflict terrible harm on innocent civilians in far-flung countries. At the same time, he shares beautiful 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 deadly secrets the United States government keeps from its citizens.

Publication Date: 
July 21, 2020