The Chicago Tribune reviewer cites a quotation where a woman screams in response to a draft lottery draw. Only at the very end of the paragraph does he suggest that he perceives the novelist's art may be at work. The woman, of course, did not necessarily have to be in the room to make the artistic point. We don't even know if it is a scream of anguish, or relief. (More hilariously, the reviewer writes - "he has written a work about the past with no narrative". Welcome to modern fashions in historical writing, pal.)
David Cesarani, writing in the second review, more successfully grapples with the fact that Baker is a novelist. "it presents only one interpretation. The reader is trapped in Baker's paranoid view of history." However, he does not succeed so well in understanding the role of Baker's sources. "Churchill is portrayed as a Hun-bashing...drink-sodden imperialist spoiling for a fight with Germany....Roosevelt...as cynical, anti-Semitic and interested mainly in promoting wars that will supply markets for arms manufacturers." Oh yes, and if I read the papers I'll find all sorts of comments suggesting George Bush is Dick Cheney's puppet or that Hilary Clinton is sexy.
Not having read the book, nor discussed the matter with Baker himself, I can only understand it by suggesting that Baker's wider argument is more subtle than the reviewer-historians have grasped. We experience an event, such as the ongoing War in Iraq, in a piecemeal form, filtered by two editors - one is located at our source of information, whether radio or newspaper in 1939, and the other is our own selection of what to pay close attention to. Baker's book shows us how one reader might have perceived the oncoming war and decided that the cost of fighting it might not have been worth it.
I'll end this part by supporting my interpretation of Baker's motives with a quotation of his own words from the article in The Times linked in my first paragraph.
There’s no doubt Churchill was a titanic figure, a brilliant man, a great writer, a genius. But it’s a mistake to let this lead us into an acceptance of things we should feel unhappy about.
(to be continued)
EDIT: I made an error in the above post. Baker did indeed use microfilmed newspapers, as well as many personal accounts of the war, although the original impetus came from actual paper newspapers, and not microfilmed ones.