Books

John D'Agata

The Making of the American Essay

The Cahto want us to palpably know what nothing really means because the meaning behind “Creation” is creativity itself, the power and the pleasure of making. What we all have is a world, the Cahto seem to say, but what we do with it is create. To my ear, this is the predicament of every essay too, situated as essays always are between chance and contrivance, between the given and the made. 

“For well over a decade now, John D’Agata has been the renovator-in-chief of the American essay.”
James Wood

John D'Agata

The Lost Origins of the Essay

I think the reason we’ve never pinpointed the real beginning to this genre is because we’ve never agreed on what the genre even is. Do we read nonfiction in order to receive information, or do we read it to experience art? It’s not very clear sometimes. This, then, is a book that tries to offer a clear objective: I am here in search of art. I am here to track the origins of an alternative to commerce.

“The next few years will likely see no anthology of writing, in whatever genre, as compellingly readable and as richly worthwhile as this one.”
—Ploughshares

John D'Agata

The Next American Essay

I’m telling you this now, at the start of our journey, because I know you are expecting such facts from nonfiction. But henceforth please do not consider these ‘nonfictions.’ I want you preoccupied with art in this book, not with facts for the sake of facts. . . Let’s call this a collection of essays, then—a book about human wondering.

“A genuinely exhilarating work of literary history.”
—Booklist

John D'Agata

The Lifespan of a Fact

And appropriately enough, what the term ‘essay’ describes is not a negation of genre—as ‘nonfiction’ does—but rather an activity, ‘an attempt, a trail, an experiment.’ And so all of a sudden under that term you can feel the genre opening back up in order to embrace its own curiosity, trying to track the activity of a practitioner’s mind as it negotiates memories, observations, anecdotes, history, science, myth, experience. . . .

"The Lifespan of a Fact might be the most improbably entertaining book ever published.”
—NPR

John D'Agata

About a Mountain

I do not think that Yucca Mountain is a solution or a problem. I think that what I believe is that the mountain is where we are, it’s what we now have come to—a place that we have studied more thoroughly at this point than any other parcel of land in the world—and yet still it remains unknown, revealing only the fragility of our capacity to know.

“A breathtaking work of art.”
—New York Times Book Review

John D'Agata

Halls of Fame

They came with tales of an ideal Tomorrow. They came jostled between two wars, buffering our borders against enemies on either side, encircling the country with an impenetrable force field, and introducing at home a new architecture of resistence: round, sleek, something the old clunky world slipped off of.

“John D’Agata is an alchemist who changes trash into purest gold.”
—Harper’s