Baseless: An indelible portrait of the CIA’s institutional derangement

Book of the Day: Nicholson Baker digs up evidence of the American spy agency’s extremes

Allen W Dulles and Senator Theodore F Green discussing the  unrest in Iraq in July 1958. Photograph: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty

Allen W Dulles and Senator Theodore F Green discussing the unrest in Iraq in July 1958. Photograph: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty

The annals of the CIA need little primping from the high-wire prose of Nicholson Baker. In Baseless, Baker documents his maddening, enlightening and ultimately inconclusive quest, wielding America’s largely toothless Freedom of Information Act, to wrest the truth from an obstructionist CIA about America’s use-or-not biological weaponry in the early 1950s.

Years elapse after Baker files requests for documents; when copies materialise, they’re ravaged by redactions that fillet them of meaning. Yet, picking over “potsherds” of text, he assembles an indelible portrait of institutional derangement.

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