WASHINGTON -- 'Tis the season when prestigious institutions give their annual awards, and with no further ceremony, allow me to announce that the J. Gordon Coogler Committee has conferred its Worst Book of the Year Award on Nicholson Baker for "Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization." Actually, World War II saved civilization, but the brute stupidity of this book suggests what a book might be like at the end of civilization. Our present civilization has advanced, in part, because of its great minds' attention to fact, to rational analysis, and to good sense. The brute mind that perpetrated this book opposes all three. Baker is himself "the end of civilization." His earlier books are fictional works dealing with telephone sex and masturbation. This book is 576 pages of masturbation roused by the idea that Winston Churchill was as murderous as Adolf Hitler; though, unlike Hitler, Churchill was a heavy drinker, a smoker and a wit.
Baker does not comprehend wit. Consequently, time and again, he takes a Churchill joke as a serious statement. Thus, in 1922, when Churchill on the floor of Parliament explained Britain's cessation of its World War I aerial assaults on Berlin as "owing to our having run short of Germans and enemies," Baker seems to think Churchill wanted to continue the killing and never to end the war. Elsewhere, Baker's humorless monomania against Churchill ensnares the author in contradictions. "You and others may desire to kill women and children," Baker quotes Churchill as saying to a Conservative member of Parliament in an October 1940 debate, but "my motto is 'Business before pleasure.'" The debate was over whether to bomb German population centers. Churchill was against it. His Tory opponent was for it. At the time, Hitler was bombing London.