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The Way the World Works: Essays Hardcover – August 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Baker is one of the most beautiful, original and ingenious prose stylists to have come along in decades . . . and takes a kind of mad scientist’s delight in the way things work and how the world is put together.” (Charles McGrath The New York Times Magazine)

“His prose is so luminescent and so precise it manually recalibrates our brains.” (Lev Grossman Time)

“Nicholson Baker is such a swell, smart writer that he rarely—maybe never—tips his hand. . . . In Baker's view, the mundane, closely enough observed, may be the skate key to the sublime.” (Carolyn See The Washington Post)

“Baker writes with appealing charm. He clowns and shows off rambles and pounces hard; he says acute things, extravagant things, terribly funny things.” (Richard Eder Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“[A] winning new book. . . . This singular writer . . . can mount an argument skillfully and deliver an efficient conclusive kick.” (The San Francisco Chronicle)

“A fundamentally radical author . . . you can never be sure quite where Baker is going to take you. . . . [He] is an essayist in the tradition of GK Chesterton and Max Beerbohm, writing winning fantasies upon whatever chance thoughts may come into his head.” (Financial Times (London))

“Baker looks at the world around us in a way that is not only artful and entertaining but instructive.” (Charleston Post & Courier)

“Mr. Baker is a wise and amiable cultural commentator worth listening to. . . . [his] prose is polished, witty . . . his essays are always provocative and entertaining.” (Cynthis Crossen The Wall Street Journal)

“Baker's new essay collection, The Way the World Works, is always absorbing, merging his interest in solid, tangible objects with his devotion to the life of the mind. . . . simply dazzling.” (Seattle Times)

“Exhilarating . . . Eye-opening . . . Baker continues his project of bringing new dimensions and idiosyncrasies to the personal essay, which he is devoted to reviving and reinventing.” (The Boston Globe)

“If only more of the literary world worked the way Baker does. . . . You cannot deny the courage of the writer. . . . Baker is singular.” (The Buffalo News)

About the Author

Nicholson Baker is the author of nine novels and four works of nonfiction, including Double Fold, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Maine with his family.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416572473
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416572473
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #979,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've written thirteen books, plus an art book that I published with my wife, Margaret Brentano. The most recent one is a comic sex novel called House of Holes, which came out in August 2011. Before that, in 2009, there was The Anthologist, about a poet trying to write an introduction to an anthology of rhyming verse, and before that was Human Smoke, a book of nonfiction about the beginning of World War II. My first novel, The Mezzanine, about a man riding an escalator at the end of his lunch hour, came out in 1988. I'm a pacifist. Occasionally I write for magazines. I grew up in Rochester, New York and went to Haverford College, where I majored in English. I live in Maine with my family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on August 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Baker's essays range in length from a page ("How I met my wife") to 27 pages explaining his stand on pacifism. His subject matter varies just as widely. He writes about the difference in the reading experience between a book and text on a Kindle. He decries the destruction (or "weeding") of books from the San Francisco library system as it converts to digital content. Baker lovingly describes Venetian gondolas, New York Times content in 1951, the works of Daniel Defoe and John Updike, Flash Papers from 1841 and Sundays spent at the dump.

As always, Baker turns his eye to things that most of us either do not see or do not know we are seeing. He is intrigued by the writing on the wings of airplanes that can be viewed from his seat ("Press here on latch to ensure locking.") He has noticed that quote marks are no longer used to delineate a characters thoughts in works of fiction and wonders if this is a bad thing. He can talk at length about earplugs or telephones or string.

In a collection of summer memories, Baker juxtaposes the important with the seemingly forgettable. In this essay, he challenges the reader to consider why some events, smells, persons, etc become stuck in memory while others fall out as lost pieces of the past. What is the mechanism that catches shards of time while letting other moments, perhaps with more resonance, drift away forever?

In the end, the most important feature of Baker's essays is not the content but the style of his writing. Lev Grossman of Time summarizes perfectly: "his prose is so luminescent and precise, it manually recalibrates our brains." Because of this, these entries should be selected in a leisurely manner and read slowly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sam Quixote TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a collection of Nicholson Baker's essays from the 90s to 2011, taking in subjects as far ranging as libraries and their stock, bits of string, learning to play "Modern Warfare" on Xbox, reviewing the Kindle, as well as providing short bios of Steve Jobs and David Remnick. As you would expect, the essays vary in quality but for the most part they are entertaining, informative, and compulsively readable.

I actually read his article on Kindle 2 a couple of years ago in the New Yorker and still found it interesting to re-read even if his arguments are moot as a lot of the problems he identifies - screen transitions and resolution, placement of buttons - have been fixed in newer versions of the device. But after Baker's effusive recommendation of Michael Connelly's novel "The Lincoln Lawyer", I ended up reading it, loving it, and reading and loving more of Connelly's books - and to you reading this, I as effusively recommend "The Lincoln Lawyer".

Baker writes fascinating and funny articles on Wikipedia, Google, Daniel DeFoe and his book "A Journal of the Plague Year", and David Remnick. He's also able to take mundane objects like string and turn them into hypnotic essays, while I thought the structure of his essay of events that happened one summer to be an inspired and riveting approach to memory and recollection, as well as some vivid and poetic observations.

Not that the whole book was brilliant, I did have some problems with a few essays. The book is divided up into categories like "Life", "Reading", "Technology", "War" and so on. His numerous articles on libraries and archiving went on a bit too long.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth A. Root on March 2, 2015
Format: Paperback
I have given this book three stars because I think that it mixes the excellent with the awful. When I think of the worst essay, which I will discuss at length at the end of the review, I am tempted to cut back the stars a bit, like to zero, if that were possible. [added later: In the end, I suppose that defending libraries and scholarship in the present is more important than defending the Allies in World War II.]

Nicholson Baker is a hero to some librarians, such as myself, for his challenging of Ken Dowlin, who wantonly destroyed San Francisco Public Library's research collection, and his rescue, with his wife, of what is apparently the last set of Pulitzer's World newspapers. Having lost the fight for the International Trade Commission's research collection, I feel the same pain intensely. I was gripped by these essays. I recently read an article in the Washington Post maintaining that even young people who grown up in the digital age and make great use of the computer often prefer to read books in hardcopy, so they may be around longer than some futurists think.

I also greatly enjoyed his essay "Coins," I loved the description of how the coins piled up upon one another; as well as his essay on Daniel Defoe, Flash Papers, and a few others. Others I found too dull, too idiosyncratic, or too fragmentary to enjoy. One thing that I dislike about Baker's writing is his tendency to include way too much detail, which interrupts the flow of some of even his best essays.

Here begins the diatribe, mine in response to his: "Why I am a Pacifist." Quite a few things are mixed in here, so let me cut the subject down.
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