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Reviews of Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster

Bloodbath Nation

by Paul Auster

Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster X
Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 160 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 18, 2025, 160 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

An intimate and powerful rumination on American gun violence by Paul Auster, one of our greatest living writers and "genuine American original" (The Boston Globe), in an unforgettable collaboration with photographer Spencer Ostrander

Like most American boys of his generation, Paul Auster grew up playing with toy six-shooters and mimicking the gun-slinging cowboys in B Westerns. A skilled marksman by the age of ten, he also lived through the traumatic aftermath of the murder of his grandfather by his grandmother when his father was a child and knows, through firsthand experience, how families can be wrecked by a single act of gun violence.

In this short, searing book, Auster traces centuries of America's use and abuse of guns, from the violent displacement of the native population to the forced enslavement of millions, to the bitter divide between embattled gun control and anti-gun control camps that has developed over the past 50 years and the mass shootings that dominate the news today. Since 1968, more than one and a half million Americans have been killed by guns. The numbers are so large, so catastrophic, so disproportionate to what goes on elsewhere, that one must ask why. Why is America so different—and why are we the most violent country in the Western world?

Interwoven with Spencer Ostrander's haunting photographs of the sites of more than thirty mass shootings in all parts of the country, Bloodbath Nation presents a succinct but thorough examination of America at a crossroads, and asks the central, burning question of our moment: What kind of society do we want to live in?

A portion of proceeds from this book will be donated to the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization working to stop gun death and injury through research, education, and advocacy.

Excerpt
Bloodbath Nation

In 1970, I began a six-month stint in the merchant marine, employed as an ordinary seaman on an Esso oil tanker, and it was aboard that ship that I first came into contact with men who had grown up around guns and continued to live on intimate terms with them. For the most part, our cargo consisted of jet fuel, which we hauled up and down the Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Baytown, Texas, the sites of two of Esso's largest refineries, were the end points of all our journeys, with customary stops in Tampa and other ports along the way.

There were just thirty-three men on board, and apart from a couple of Europeans and a handful of Northerners like myself, every officer and member of the crew came from the South, nearly all of them from Louisiana and various towns along the Texas coast. Two of those shipmates jump back into my thoughts now, not because they were especially close friends of mine but because each of them, in...

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Reviews

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In five short chapters, each of which reads more or less like a standalone essay, Auster compels readers to confront the ugliness of where we find ourselves, the ways in which we have come to expect gun violence in virtually every public and private realm, from schools and nightclubs to grocery stores and even churches and synagogues. He traces the links between social media, hatred and troubled young men's compulsion to be the next one to prompt sensationalistic headlines. Auster also touches on the tangled connections between political discourse and gun rights, though—like many Americans—he acknowledges that the answer to extracting ourselves from this epidemic is anything but simple...continued

Full Review (709 words)

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
[R]emarkably powerful… Accompanying Auster's sobering, impassioned plea are haunting black-and-white photographs taken by Spencer Ostrander.

Kirkus (starred review)
Exceptional in its clarity and arresting in its sense of urgency… A harrowing, haunting reflection on the routine slaughter wrought by guns.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] powerful look at the causes and consequences of gun violence in America…. For Auster, who casts doubt on the likelihood of judicial or legislative remedies, the end to the gun debate will only occur when 'both sides want it, and in order for that to happen, we would first have to conduct an honest, gut-wrenching examination of who we are and who we want to be as a people going forward into the future.' This trenchant account goes a long way toward making that possible.

Booklist
A rigorous and evocative grappling with mass tragedies in this time of 'furious discord.'

Library Journal
An anguished cry of bafflement at this country's obsession for guns… deals with the societal consequences of sacrificing thousands of lives.

Author Blurb Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment
Auster's book is exactly what is needed at this time.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Photography of Spencer Ostrander

Covers of Spencer Ostrander's photography books (left to right: Times Square in the Rain, Bloodbath Nation, Long Live King Kobe) Thanks to the numerous photographs that accompany Paul Auster's prose, Bloodbath Nation reads like an extended photo essay, the combination of words and pictures creating a truly indelible work. The images were recorded by New York City–based photographer Spencer Ostrander, for whom this work is deeply personal.

Ostrander, who was born in Seattle, Washington in 1984, experienced a series of personal tragedies the year he turned 21, when several important people in his life died in close succession. Although he had been studying psychology up until that point, the realization that he lacked permanent images of those loved ones led him to explore photography, first as a hobby and then as a profession.

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Read-Alikes

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    This searing graphic memoir portrays the impact of gun violence through a fresh lens with urgency, humanity, and a very personal hope.

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