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About a Mountain

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,014 Ratings  ·  302 Reviews
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 nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain; the result is a startling portrait that compels a reexamination of the future of human life.
ebook, 240 pages
Published February 7th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2010)
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Feb 24, 2010 Zach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned that sometimes you can wait years for a book and still be pleasantly surprised.
Apr 27, 2010 Schuyler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It seems like most reviewers tore through book, just as I did, and I think that is a testament to D'Agata's style, which is tight and lyrical.

The main topic of this book is about the US government looking to use Yucca Mountain, located just outside of Las Vegas, as a storage facility for our nations plentiful nuclear waste. This topic, interesting enough on its own, then spiderwebs itself into tangentially related topics such as linguistics, the strange, modern fantasy that is Las Vegas, ridicul
Mar 09, 2010 Rae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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
Feb 25, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it
Shelves: would-read-again
I'll admit, I picked up this book because of its canary-yellow jacket and interesting typography; I didn't realize until I started the first chapter, that "About a Mountain" is, actually, about a mountain – Yucca Mountain, specifically, 90 miles outside Las Vegas, and the proposed site of a plan that would basically entomb the nation's 77,000 tons of nuclear waste for 10,000 years. Or so it proposed.

It would have been easy to merely rant about what an absurdly bad idea it is to store nuclear was
Jan 10, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it
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
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
Feb 16, 2012 Jimmy rated it did not like it  ·  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
Mar 24, 2011 Kathrina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 12, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I have not finished this book yet.

This booked was pitched to me as a lyrical essay, two different writing styles juxtaposed to create a dysfunctional, albeit, beautiful text. I was also told that it would feel somewhat jumpy and crazed, but that was John D'Agata's intention. This being said, when reading this book, even while searching the text for it, I never saw any of that. What I mean to say is, I read it and I was so stuck by the similarities between myself and the way that I th
Sep 12, 2011 Tyler rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I truly do not know what to think about this book at this time. It's interesting because of the top of nuclear waste and Yucca Mountain, but it's also boring and confusing because of all the jumping around D'Agata does. It might be that I just don't like this style of writing. Between pages 51 and 106 he does a lot of listing and has a lot of numbers. That really throws me off. Also, it seems like he talks about something, which leads him to a different topic, and then to another topic, and just ...more
Christina Brown-hanson
The more I read on in this book, the more I tie topics together. At certain points I've been wondering to myself, "where is this going?" Then, later on, D'Agata explains himself. I wouldn't necessarily say that this is a book that I can't put down, but it has been an enjoyable book to read. There is a section in the book, where I found myself wondering if the "ramblings" (as I felt they were) were necessary. I am still holding out in good faith that I will be able to tie that into something els ...more
Sep 20, 2011 Anwebb rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 29, 2012 Anne rated it it was ok
I am only about half-way through this book and so far it hasn't made me want to stop reading it, which is half the battle. I am usually not a fan of non-fiction books so I would have never chosen this as something to read on my own. The beginning actually got me hooked. D'Gata's poetic use of language and listing descriptions of the community and people seemed to read more like a fiction novel. As I continued reading I started to notice how he is often accused of "skipping around" with topics or ...more
Jan 30, 2012 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I enjoy most about D'Agata's "About a Mountain" is the way he takes the reader on a journey through his thoughts and discoveries that he uncovers as his interest perks in the Yucca Mountain. His consistent lists and sarcastic undertones regarding political abuse in our nation is captivating. D'Agata has a great way of informing the reader by his journey to finding his answers. He manages to inform the reader about many underlying issues with the Las Vegas area by asking one simple question ...more
Jan 29, 2012 Rachael rated it liked it
I think that so far the book does a good job with setting the mood and setting up what the scene looks like. I think in this way is where the listing is coming in good for that. With books, I am really not all for the super descriptiveness of them and these lists definitely shorten up a point that really doesn't have to take any longer to explain. The listing though has gotten out of control! I know that he is trying to accentuate what is going on but its almost ridiculous because of the amount ...more
Samantha Turnquist
About A Mountain is a different book then I am used to reading. I personally can't decide if I like it or hate it. I am in between with whether is a good book or not. D'Agata talks about three main things Yucca Mountain, Las Vegas (and its Centennial), and about this boy Levi Presley (page 185). In his writing he jumps around a lot, and it can be confusing especially when he throws in facts about things that I feel doesn't really pertain/ isn't really needed in the book. Like in the second to la ...more
Alex Sullivan
John D'Agata's About a Mountain was the first lyrical essay I've read. The language in this book is both informative and lyrical and because of this can be hard to follow at times. Seemingly relevant and irrelevant information are mixed and scattered and sometimes it is hard to see the author's point; or if he even intends on making one. At other times he makes his point very clear by putting such a strong emphasis on certain things. I like the way he presents the facts, it just takes some getti ...more
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Jennifer La
Overall, I enjoyed D’Agata’s “About a Mountain.” I would probably not have picked it for myself to read. As I would normally not chose a lyrical essay. I did find the book to be intriguing, especially the facts about Las Vegas, the Yucca Mountains, and nuclear waste. Unfortunately, the storyline didn’t catch me as much as the listing of facts. Which maybe that is because more of a technical reader, but it seems as looking through other reviews I am not the only who did not find them being intere ...more
Jan 29, 2013 Brandon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brandon by: Professor Matthew Frank
Shelves: en110
"About a Mountain" was an intriguing book, but it did not necessarily stick positively in my mind. At first, I really liked the odd way of jumping around and how it brought some real-ness to society and societal issues. In fact, it even mentioned some political corruption (starts around pages 38-39), and that is along the lines of what I am studying in college. However, as it got a little later in the book, I think that the only thing that saved it was the lyrical descriptions (for example, I li ...more
Kaitlynn Goward
About A Mountain by John D’Agata is a very interesting book. He throws a lot of information into your face that can make the reading confusing at times. For me, the information that he presented was rather interesting for the most part. I loved learning about the history of Las Vegas and seeing politics in depth and how corrupt our government really is. It shocked me that the government was so willing to put such a lethal structure next to a city that is so famous and visited by many.

The two to
Jeff Van
May 28, 2013 Jeff Van rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Have a long train ride? Four or five days with nothing to do? Planning a trip to Las Vegas? John D'Agata's, About a Mountain, is something to read on that train, that break, or for that Las Vegas trip. Through a somewhat avant-garde approach, D'Agata has successfully placed a banquet of behind the scenes facts about a city (Las Vegas) that I once considered to be a nothing more than a place of acceptance for bad decisions. Through countless of hours, day, weeks, and months of research, D'Agata r

Jack Trelford
Sep 10, 2013 Jack Trelford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 'About A Mountain', John D'Agata lives in Las Vegas for five months researching the past of the city, the proposed plan to store nuclear waste in the depths of Yucca Mountain, and the mysterious suicide of a man who jumped off the Stratosphere Tower.

The themes D'Agata explores in 'About A Mountain' are based around an informative style of writing, dealing with the extensive research D'Agata himself does along with the viewpoints of those both for and against the nuclear sotrage at Yucca Mount
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.
Jul 14, 2014 Clavalley3 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 06, 2014 PR rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
John Vanderslice
This is a brilliant book. I don't like to throw a term like that around too easily but this book blew me away. On the surface, it's a book about the controversy surrounding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository, but it ends up being about so so much more. No surprise that D'Agata is a fan of the lyric essay--and also that he started out as a poet--because this book is as much prose poetry as it is investigative reporting. Don't get me wrong. It has plenty of investigation in it. In fact, D ...more
Dorian Driscoll
I have to say that this book was pretty entertaining and informative. I'm not too fond of profanity in literature, especially when, as in this book, it's thrown in very flippantly so as to project a notion of apathy the author wishes to convey, whether fictional or because it reports actual utterances. In any case, author's free to use it.
However...this book has probably one of the stupidest and most shallow uses of literary license that I will probably ever see:

"The winds from the south were bl
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John D’Agata is the author of Halls of Fame: Essays, About a Mountain, and The Lifespan of a Fact, as well as the editor of the 3-volume series A New History of the Essay,, which includes the anthologies The Next American Essay, The Making of the American Essay, and The Lost Origins of the Essay. His work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an NEA Litera ...more
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