Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation (2001) renewed the grand genre of socially-engaged, logically-enraged nonfiction. Few books cast a spell over me quite like that one. Which explains my excitement about his latest book (Command and Control). Schlosser spent six years researching nuclear weapons and the collective madness of keeping them around - always ready, but never used. The resulting book towers over everything else on my absolutely-must-read list for the fall.
Given the stature Seattle enjoys as big book tour draw, I had the pleasure of seeing Schlosser appear last night before a pleasantly full auditorium of brainy folks in Seattle's inspiring Central Library. I'm happy to report that when placed in the typical "author in front of the room" set-up, he's a coat-over-the-shoulder sort of fellow. His style relied upon a healthy give and take with the crowd. He proved humble, yet simmering with stories he couldn't wait to share. I can't recall the last "reading" I attended where the author felt no need to put his head down and read from his own text. Schlosser riffed, with a tone that suggested he could continue doing so for hours - whether testifying on a Congressional panel or while stirring the risotto on the stove. Those of you who know me won't be surprised that I aspire to carry myself in the same manner. What I saw last night was a clinic in how to command the stage, without being domineering.
During the customary glad-handing and book signing time that followed, Schlosser proved himself even more generous with his one-on-one insights. When my time arose, I asked him about his craft - specifically how he approaches a big subject with years of research to codify. After offering a peek into his process, he showed interest in my current work. We talked a bit of shop, and he even offered an ancestral link to the core themes I'm pursuing. It was the sort of conversation that afforded me great hope and camaraderie.
It's too early for me to offer a full review of Command and Control. But as Schlosser's book tour continues, I must say from experience that you simply won't find a more worthy big book event this season. Or a nicer guy at the center of it. Even if Schlosser's disconcerting subject matter leads to, for example, Googling the blast radius between you and the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on the West Coast.