An American Biography
Belknap Press 2013
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in TechnologyNew Books Network February 13, 2014 Oline Eaton
Just as there is no one way to write a biography, nor should there be, so there is no rule dictating that biography must be about the life of a person. In recent years, the jettisoning of this tradition has led to a number of compelling explorations of the lives of commodities (such as salt or the banana), texts (Gone with the Wind, for example), diseases (including cancer or cancer cells), and even the Atlantic Ocean. The latest entry into this realm of biographical inquiry is Robert Neer‘s Napalm: An American Biography (Harvard University Press, 2013).
As the title suggests, this is a consciously American biography, meaning that Neer (a core lecturer at Columbia University) traces the arc of the life of the incendiary gel whilst also situating it in a national context. Napalm is, after all, an American invention and, as Neer writes in the prologue, “It’s history illuminates America’s story, from victory in World War II, through defeat in Vietnam, to its current position in a globalizing world.” Much as napalm sticks to everything it encounters, so it sticks to our national history, splattering into the lives of those involved in its creation, the victims of its use, and the way America- to this day- wages war.
*To briefly highlight another emerging biographical trend, many authors are now posting their research online so that it is easily accessible to readers. Thus, the endnotes of Napalm: An American Biography, including relevant hyperlinks, can be accessed HERE.