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About a Mountain

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  950 ratings  ·  297 reviews
From “one of the most significant U.S. writers” (David Foster Wallace), an investigation of Yucca Mountain and human destruction in Las Vegas.

When John D’Agata helps his mother move to Las Vegas one summer, he begins to follow a story about the federal government’s plan to store high-level nuclear waste at a place called Yucca Mountain, a desert range near the city of Las
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 8th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2010)
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Feb 16, 2012 Jimmy rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jimmy by: Ben Marcus
Update 2/16/2012: Wow I just read this Slate article about John D'Agata and his fact checker. Apparently they had heated debates over whether facts matter. D'Agata throws the word 'art' around like some trump-card and was generally acting like an asshole. I don't disagree with his point: facts can be changed in the service of art. However, I don't think D'Agata can justify that what he wrote is art! I read the essay in question (it's actually the last chapter of this here book) and I would say t ...more
I think I've come a little bit closer to defining what it is I love about great writing -- I love to learn a little something, I love to lose a breath over an ingenious construction of words, I love an author who welcomes me into a room peopled with ideas that surprise me. I love John D'Agata. Like, almost physically. Like, watch out, John, you are right now living in my town, and I could find you. Alright, I tried to be cute and look you up in the phone book, but you're not listed, but I found ...more
Jun 02, 2010 Steve added it
Shelves: essays
It's hard to make any criticism or comment regarding About A Mountain without feeling like that reaction has been anticipated by and even included in the book already. One of the texts primary arguments is that everything from atomic storage facilities to attempts at communication inevitably corrodes and fails, given time. So to call this ambitious attempt to tell the "untellable" story of Yucca Mountain a failure is redundant, because instead of that impossible it offers a collection of facts a ...more
Jen Hirt
While this is technically a book about the proposed nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain (which has never housed the waste and whose funding was pretty much axed in April 2011), it's really a book about the failures of communication. D'Agata presents a litany of examples, such as how he gets the run-around when he starts asking how anyone came up with the 10,000 year figure for when the waste will be less dangerous, or how no one can come up with a set of "danger" symbols that can be put ...more
My review from the Missoula Independent

In his second book, John D'Agata has shown himself to be a razor-sharp deconstructionist of society's foibles, fables and complexities. Author of the much lauded collection of essays, Halls of Fame, and aggressive editor of two essay compilations, he turns in his latest to Yucca Mountain, an arid landscape 100 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas, and its implications—both correlated and imagined—that it had on the region and on the world. From the first p
As of yet, I find myself in the "It was okay" category of John D'Agata's About a Mountain. It isn't bad, it really isn't. In a way I enjoy hearing about the history of Las Vegas, the signs, the buildings, and the people who live there. I find the controversy of nuclear waste intriguing and it certainly makes me think about how far mankind will go to ignore the problems that they themselves created. Yet I still can't bring myself to consider it a good read, or one I would consider making again. I ...more
When I read prose this good that takes up subjects of such grave concern, it reminds me why literature is essential. This book, like all the rest of D'Agata's work that I've read, is amazing. Period. I look forward to teaching this book in my workshops, and to discovering it again on rereading.
About A Mountain is quirky little book. In it, John D'Agata takes a look Las Vegas, Yucca Mountain and a teenager's suicide leap off the top of a Las Vegas landmark, the Stratosphere. Exactly what ties these things together is never made entirely clear, but half the fun of reading About A Mountain is pondering that enigmatic mystery.

My own answer is that the three elements are tied together by a sense of unreality, futility and sadness. Las Vegas is no doubt the most unreal city in America, a g
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ryan Mishap
Any good personal essay should have the following: 1) A personal voice that ensnares our attention immediately. 2) A trigger to the main theme or themes. Locus standii, in other words. 3) Relevant and interesting digressions that run from historical and scientific to cultural and anecdotal. 4) A conclusion that brings together the main themes and enough of the loose threads.

This essay has the the second and third points in abundance. Point one is slow to build as D'Agata seems to waver between
I appreciated a lot of the devices that D'agata used here, especially his use of litany. I felt like it didn't create a harmonious whole, which may have been the point--something to do with the ever-looming threat of nuclear destruction that shadows Las Vegas somehow twinning with the unknowability of the kid who jumps--but his use of research and detailing of process were really strong and admirable.
Liz Manson
I don't typically read essays but I found this to be a pretty decent read. D'Agata does a great job detailing Las Vegas and researching Yucca Mountain. I will say that I found some parts to go on and on and on that I had to do a little skimming over just to keep interest. This is a topic worth getting involved in and I recommend this book if you're looking for a quick little read.
This book is not just about a mountain. I guess that's what gives it its sharp, haunting punch. I was supposed to have read this for my advanced nonfiction class the last semester of college (CONFESSION: I was supposed to read it along with 9 of the 15 books I was required to purchase. Yeah, I only read six of the books I was required to read all the way through. How I passed my classes is beyond me). Anyway, the real point is that I'm glad that I saved it for when I could really enjoy it.


Poco después de mudarse a Las Vegas, John D’Agata descubre la existencia de Yucca Mountain, un plan del gobierno para crear el mayor almacén de residuos nucleares del planeta en el interior de una montaña, a tan solo 150 kilómetros de su nueva casa en la ciudad con más suicidas del país.

Mientras el Congreso decide el futuro del proyecto y un adolescente se arroja al vacío desde la azotea del casino más alto de Las Vegas, John D’Agata decide enfrentarse a cómo, dónde, cuándo y por qué se desata e
Patrick Gaughan
The aspect of this book I found most striking is its adherence to standard formatting despite its elliptical mode of storytelling. I love D'Agata's jumpcuts - he'll be mid-scene getting a tour of Yucca Mountain then go off on Edvard Munch for pages, then a particular suicide victim in Vegas for pages without any formal indication or separation (asterisks, extra spacing, etc). To me, it then read as a single flow, when maybe it needn't be?
I hadn't noticed it as much in his other work, but here D
is john d'agata a good writer or is he just good at pretending to have style? i really could not tell. he relies heavily on repetition; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. he's, like, really, really trying. you can tell. and again, sometimes it works—really well!—and sometimes it doesn't. considering his subject (las vegas, yucca mountain, The Fakeness Of Las Vegas, The Fakeness Of Everything—science, politics, etc.—That Surrounds Yucca Mountain) i sometimes wondered if this was intenti ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed About A Mountain by John D’Agata. He introduces the reader to his brand of the lyric essay(an essay sub-genre)a beautiful blend of essay, research, memoir and poetry. D’Agata has a unique writing style. He likes to jump topics and has a preference for the “listing technique” which he so gainfully employs to evoke meaning, emotion, imagination, and deeper thought within the reader. D’Agata’s technique evolves throughout the book to help maintain the reader’s interest and set ...more
Jesse Dwyer
Well I would have to start by saying that I enjoyed reading this book, The stories were interesting and kept you wanting to know more. The author John D'Agata did a good job in presenting a ton of information without making it extremely boring. What makes this book unique is how D'Agata creates false connections between the subjects he writes about. His clever use of language creates a portrait for the reader to enjoy. Although the picture is never quite 100% clear as D'Agata leaves room for ima ...more
I feel like there is a huge difference between a good book and an important book. I think a good book is a book that someone literally enjoys reading and is excited to continue throughout the book. I didn't get that feeling while reading About a Mountain, unfortunately. I felt like it was a job to read further into the book and it wasn't a book I would have read if it weren't for this class. I really didn't like how the book was written because I didn't understand why he was talking about certai ...more
D'Agata writes this book in an unique way, a way that that I have never read before. He supplies his readers with information about an issue involving Yucca Mountain and the need to store nuclear waste there. D'Agata puts in a lot of research within this issue and gives his readers plenty of informative sources, quotes, and facts to help us learn about the dangers of this issue.
At first I was unsure of his writing and the book altogether. It was hard to get into at first, but by page 50, D'Agat
This book was kind of hard to follow and was hard to keep reading, because it liked to jump around from topic to topic. It also has some points where there are very long sentences and it is kind of hard to keep going and understand what is going on because of that. With that being said, the information given in the book is very interesting, for the most part. It gives a lot of information on the Yucca Mountain and the arguments about what should be done with it. Overall, I thought it was an okay ...more
Michael Dolkey
Reading the reviews of this book I feel that the consensus is that it was a very factual and informative book. The book was about one of the most major hidden issues not only in America but the world really. The issue going on in the Yucca Mountain about the nuclear waste issue was very eye opening and in a way troubling. I thought the book did a good job of getting that point across. As with everyone else, I thought D'Agata jumped around in the book and almost rambled on about what I thought to ...more
I felt that the whole book was a good read. How the writer used his lyrical type of writing into facts about the yucca Mountain Nuclear storage plant. for a person that had little knowledge about the facility it's self, i felt there was real harsh message behind the suicide and the Government scandal the author wanted us to know. That we as a species are not capable to sustain life as we know it. I know it is a harsh reality but how he explains the information he has i just feel like the people ...more
Summer Adams
Many people would say this is not a very traditional book, something that we are not used to, and that is what I liked about this book. I enjoyed the lyrical writing, which gave it the aspect that John D'Agata is writing about his thoughts while he did such extensive research. He jumped around often in this book, and it became confusing at times, but after I got further into reading this book, I started to understand why he did that. This book may not have been clear and concise, but he discusse ...more
El libro es una auténtica delicia a todos los niveles, tanto en información, en datos, en ritmo, y por supuesto y muy importante, en estilo. DAgata tiene un estilo claro y directo, conciso, con un aire un poco incrédulo, que recuerda mucho, por su manera de contar las cosas, a David Foster Wallace, e incluso en algunas ocasiones más gamberras a Palahniuk. Voces que narran el surrealismo hecho realidad, lo imposible haciéndose posible, la suma de absurdidades delante de nuestros ojos, delante de ...more
Jan 28, 2014 Dana added it
I did think that this was a good book to read. I definitely think it’s an important book because it’s educational and brings to light an issue that more people should know about. It provides a lot of information on the problem of nuclear waste that this country is facing. I do think that there is a different between a good book and an important book. For me, a good book is mostly defined as one that I particularly enjoy. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it an important book. A lot of the b ...more
Katie Erspamer
I thought this book was very interesting.. The information and research John D'Agata has done is fascinating and impressive but I have a hard time following him at times. He has great thoughts and examples of each topic he is writing about but he tends to jump around too much for me. I love books that grab my attention and keep me wanting to read more. As for this book, it didn't give me that feeling and I had to force myself to keep going. I feel like this book would be "good" to a specific aud ...more
I learned that sometimes you can wait years for a book and still be pleasantly surprised.
Alexandra Biegalski
I totally understand why so many people enjoy this book. It is a very serious topic and it is also about his story. However, I felt that his writing style was very dry and factual. He jumped around a lot and was sometimes hard to follow. I can also see why so many people disliked this book because he is a very eccentric writer. He will be talking about one thing and then the next moment he is talking about something totally different. I understand how both variety of readers feel but I personall ...more
Leah Rajala
This is a book that I normally would not have picked out for myself. The beginning of the book was a drag for me to read, but as the book went on, I was more and more interested in what was going on. D'Agata is very jumpy with his style which didn't make sense to me at first. However, eventually it clicked - it isn't supposed to make sense, which in a way made more sense. Some that read this book seemed to feel D'Agata was representing failure, but to me it seemed as if he was showing his reader ...more
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John D'Agata is the author of About a Mountain and the editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa.
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