China Lake

A Journey into the Contradicted Heart of a Global Climate Catastrophe

Winner of the 2016 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, selected by Richard Preston, best-selling author of The Hot Zone. Named Best Nonfiction of 2017 by Kirkus and Brooklyn Rail

"A brilliant, often hilarious, and thoroughly original work of nonfiction . . . China Lake is AN APOCALYPSE OF THE WEIRD . . . The book is unfailingly entertaining, keenly intelligent, and, in fact, is an almost shamefully good read." Richard Preston

"A striking, poetic literary debut . . . NEARLY INDESCRIBABLE AND UTTERLY ENGROSSING, this book is an urgent and terrifying cultural reflection, a startling look in the mirror." Kirkus (starred review)

"Baumgart’s language is haunting and hallucinatory . . . at times fanatical with its verbosity. But it is CONSISTENTLY MASTERFUL, and it is with great skill that Baumgart negotiates the disparate threads of journalistic research, personal observation, and his own searingly vivid imagination . . . a surreal, original work that simultaneously entertains and terrifies . . . Baumgart DISSECTS OUR COLLECTIVE FOLLY WITH A SURGICAL BLADE." The Brooklyn Rail

"Elizabeth Kolbert . . . and Margaret Atwood . . . view the crisis through the through the unique filter of their own heuristics. But it is doubtful that any book on climate change is as proudly a product of its author’s idiosyncrasies as China Lake . . . The 'contradicted heart' brought into perception turns out to be Baumgart’s own. By this measure, the book is unquestionably successful." Los Angeles Review of Books

"A DEVESTATING ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT . . . capable of shaking the most secure temperament to its core . . . China Lake pulls no punches." Foreword

“An astonishing debut. At once tragic and hilarious, frightening and timely, China Lake is our most provocative and personal statement on humanity’s failure to come to grips with the monstrous reality of climate change.” John D'Agata, author of The Lifespan of a Fact and About A Mountain

“Prehistoric shamans, weather warfare, chemtrails, geo-engineering: Baumgart ties these disparate threads into a fast-paced, engaging and very personal narrative about our greatest existential threat: rapidly changing global climate. This is an important book, marking the appearance of a talented and distinctive new literary voice." David S. Whitley, archaeologist, and author of Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief

“John Hawkes spoke of the ‘terrifying similarity between the unconscious desires of the solitary man and the disruptive needs of the visible world.’ What I find most impressive about this remarkable book is Barret Baumgart’s willingness and ability to explore this paradox. China Lake gets at something alarming and true about nature and human nature.” David Shields, author of Reality Hunger and The Thing About Life is One Day You'll be Dead

"One of my favorite recurring strains — which speaks to just how unusual a work of “environmental” writing this — involves death metal: as he ponders the punishing landscape of the Mojave, Baumgart describes the music he favors as “a bludgeon so far pursued that it subverts its own dissonance.” This is also an apt description of what it feels like to read China Lake. While its dispiriting information threatens to push the reader to despair, BAUMGART'S ECSTATIC PROSE ACHIEVES A KIND OF TRANSCENDENCE." Los Angeles Review of Books

INTERVIEWS Los Angeles Review of Books, Citizens' Climate Lobby

Published May 2017 via University of Iowa Press

China Lake, Barret Baumgart’s literary debut, presents a haunting and deeply personal portrait of civilization poised at the precipice, a picture of humanity caught between its deepest past and darkest future. In the fall of 2013, during the height of California’s historic drought, Baumgart toured the remote military base, China Lake, near Death Valley, California. His mother, the survivor of a recent stroke, decided to come along for the ride. She hoped the alleged healing power of the base’s ancient Native American hot springs might cure her crippling headaches. Baumgart sought to debunk claims that the military was spraying the atmosphere with toxic chemicals to control the weather. What follows is a discovery that threatens to sever not only the bonds between mother and son but between planet Earth and life itself.

Stalking the fringes of internet conspiracy, speculative science, and contemporary archaeology, Baumgart weaves memoir, military history, and investigative journalism in a dizzying journey that carries him from the cornfields of Iowa to drought riddled California, from the Vietnam jungle to the caves of prehistoric Europe and eventually the walls of the US Capital, the sparkling white hallways of the Pentagon, and straight into the contradicted heart of a worldwide climate emergency.