Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME

About a Mountain

I read John D'Agata's essay in The Believer this past Spring where he talks about suicide and environmental factors in Las Vegas. At the time I didn't know that he was coming out with a book on the exact same subject, so when I found out that this essay I loved in The Believer was actually a book length essay I was immediately intrigued. About a Mountain

is about D'Agata's experience in Las Vegas exploring Yucca Mountain, a spot where nuclear waste was going to be stored. He explores what the world would look like in the future for the people who would have to deal with the effects of storing nuclear waste there. He works at a suicide hotline and explores the high suicide rate in Las Vegas and in doing so, explores the culture of Las Vegas and outside of Las Vegas.

I've been to Las Vegas several times (especially considering I'm not yet 21) but haven't read a whole lot about it. It's an interesting to place to know more about, but I was initially upset with D'Agata's original essay in The Believer because I felt it was a little dangerous to characterize a city by its suicide rate and further trying to make an explanation for it. Maybe, probably, this made me uncomfortable because I come from a place where suicide is quite frequent and through high school I was judged for being a part of that place. I was less bothered by that in the book, but I think maybe that is just because I accepted it from the essay. One of the greatest things about this book is that D'Agata is coming to Yucca Mountain with very little knowledge, which makes it very easy for the reader to learn right along with him. This is a technique a lot of my favorite essays and books employ. Rather than being talked at by an expert, we get to learn along with the author. For something as outrageous as Yucca Mountain that learning process can be extremely powerful.

D'Agata is considered in expert on the essay form and the evolution of it-- so you really have to respect him for that alone. However, I felt this book was a little indulgent at times. I really disliked when he strung sentences on and on and described one thing multiple ways for pages and pages. The book is not very long, but with the amount of time he spends saying the same thing 100 ways it could have been much shorter. I enjoyed this book, and I think to really get a grasp on Yucca Mountain you have to read the book, but I felt the essay in The Believer was much more cohesive and better written.

I give this book a B.

Additionally, the last three books I've reviewed have somehow dealt with environmental issues and at this point you can probably surmise this is something I'm passionate about. In fact, I'm so passionate about it I've decided to start a bi-weekly podcast about books that deal with environmental issues. Even if you're not that interested in the environment I can assume you have an interest in books- so please give my podcast a try! We're still in the beginning phases but you can check out our introductory podcast at GreenReads and while you're there leave us a comment, some ideas, or just follow us so you know when our first real episode goes up.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you make a purchase using one of my links I will earn a small percentage which will then go back into this blog.

book review, Environment, nonfiction, nonfiction writing program, and more:

About a Mountain + TIME