Katy Lederer at n+1:
Like all honest ethnographies, Carbon Ideologies also functions as an intellectual autobiography. We learn that, during his six years of research, Vollmann depleted his original advance and then spent his own money and unnamed others’ to “hike up strip-mined mountains, sniff crude oil, and occasionally tan my face with gamma rays.” (He relegates renewables to just a few pages, largely dismissing them, as he explicitly does solar, as “an ideology of hope—not my department.”) He loves gadgets and toys. In the first volume, this love expresses itself mainly in the form of an unmistakably phallic pancake frisker he carries around Fukushima, which he uses to measure the radioactivity of everything from roadside vegetation to the ubiquitous black bags of nuclear waste that line the empty streets. Dozens of pictures serve to document his travels. In one we see Vollmann’s hand grasping the frisker at the neck, pointing it at a bald statue of a praying man at a temple called Hen Jo.