I wrote a non-fiction book called "Almighty." It's about nuclear weapons, the activists who resist them, and the bureaucracy that maintains them. It is part historical adventure, part courtroom drama, part moral thriller. You can order it here.
“This is a strangely captivating book — dark and utterly frightening…Zak’s narrative is a perfectly measured blend of biography, suspense, and history. He skillfully uses the small, finite story of the Y-12 protest to explore our national identity as a people whose culture is now intimately connected with things nuclear.” –Kai Bird, The New York Times Book Review
"This book is essential reading for any American. ... Zak is a terrific writer. His chronicle of our nuclear complex—from the bomb’s creation to the present-day modernization of our nuclear arsenal—unfurls like a film, with drama, suspense and an eye for horrifying absurdities." Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, America magazine
"With nuns splashing blood, countries making pledges, diplomats working to reduce the size of world-destroying arsenals, suppliers cheering a new Cold War, Zak demonstrates that we’re all in it together. And he’s honest enough to report as well the hard truth that none of us yet knows how to get out of it alive." –Richard Rhodes, The Washington Post (author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb)
“Centering on a single episode, a powerful declaration of conscience, a Washington Post reporter tells an intensely unsettling story about living with our nuclear arsenal. In July 2012, cutting through fences topped with razor wire and avoiding guards, guns, sensors, armored cars, and alarms, an 80-year-old nun, a Vietnam veteran, and a housepainter, all deeply religious, all affiliated with the pacifist Plowshares movement, broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the "Fort Knox of Uranium."… it's the moral convictions demonstrated by Zak's three holy fools that will remain with readers. A scrupulously reported, gracefully told, exquisitely paced debut.” –Kirkus (starred review)
"Zak gracefully synthesizes the stories of the politicians and bureaucrats controlling stockpiles of weapons and those of the activists working to disarm them." –Publisher's Weekly
"He weaves the drama of the break-in with a brisk history of the development of nuclear power and the resulting horrors. His sentences are spare, to the point and sometimes hard to forget. ... The book draws much of its strength from Zak’s ability to present the trio with neither lionization nor ridicule. ... The challenge now, which “Almighty” makes feel both urgent and nearly impossible, is to somehow prevent us — this very flawed and very brilliant species — from unleashing such destructive power, either by design or accident, ever again." –Gabriel Thompson, Truthdig
“Zak takes the reader on a journey into the still-vibrant realm of the US nuclear arms complex. His guides are an aging nun, a house-painter and other everyday Americans who realize the senseless violence at the center of the nation’s national security. A brilliant portrayal of these heroes of our time.” –Kate Brown, author of Plutopia
In the flesh, she does not have an aura. She’s not lit from within. Heads do not snap in her direction when she walks through a hotel lobby in a baggy maxi-dress and brown calf-high boots, flanked by her dutiful makeup artist of 35 years and her imperious publicist — the few celebrity trappings of a woman who stubbornly considers herself a working actor, and nothing more.
“Mid-winter. When I was about 7 years old. My sister and a couple of her friends were playing on a frozen creek that was not frozen entirely. And I told her, ‘Get off the ice. It’s not safe. It’s too dangerous. I’ll check it out for you.’ And then the ice cracked under me, and I fell in.”
"It's uh known fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there."
That's Janie Crawford in Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God," and I think she's right. I like to go places and write about what it feels like to be there, or live there. The model, of course, is Henry Allen's concept of "What It Felt Like."
Sanford is a brick-paved main street lined with antique shops. Sanford is a forlorn acreage of shuttered housing projects whose closure scattered residents across town. Sanford is a small galaxy of gated communities with names like “Plantation Lakes” and “Hatteras Sound.” Which Sanford was Trayvon visiting in February 2012? Which Sanford was Zimmerman protecting, or protecting against?
It’s a 2.3-mile drive from the Newtown station to Sandy Hook Elementary School: A left, a right and another right. The first on the scene were nine Newtown officers, divided into three teams of three, including the police chief. They were the first, after the shooter, to force their way into the school, via the front lobby and the rear door.
Inside: silence. The air smelled like the department’s firing range: spent gunpowder.
This summer may mark the end of Leeville, a town birthed by a hurricane, then destroyed by one, resurrected by oil and now destroyed by oil. It isn't the only dying town outside the levee systems in south Louisiana. Subsidence, the sinking of delta land, has long been the existential enemy down here. Now wild crude has delivered what may be the final blow, choking off commerce. Some residents foresee an abandoned landscape, something right out of a Wild West movie, with empty slips instead of silent saloons, belly-up redfish instead of skittering tumbleweeds.
Chris Earnshaw is an odd and brilliant and sloppy man who vibrates with great joy and grand melancholy. For decades he has ambled through bandstands, major motion pictures and demolition sites, searching for prestige and permanence, all while being ignored on the gray streets of a humdrum capital.
“You know, I believe in the inevitability of the spirit,” he says. “I’ve heard about people gripping the rails of their deathbed, thinking the void awaits them. But that can’t be it, can it? There must be something next, something beyond, for all of us. I don’t want my life to end with people not knowing, or people saying, ‘He could’ve been something!’ ”
So several years ago, he put rubber bands around some of his photographs.
Photo by Michael S. Williamson for The Washington Post
Margaret is buried 1.4 miles from the pool, in Oakwood Cemetery, between her mother and her brother, who died in infancy in 1893. The stones are dateless and unadorned. During demolition and renovation this year, some community members visited the graves to pay their respects, to smooth out any karmic disruption between the distant memory of a girl’s country home and the future vision of a waterslide and volleyball pit.
Somewhere between the desert basins and craggy mountains of far west China, in the lonely expanse to which criminals and subversives have been exiled for generations, a human rights lawyer named Gao Zhisheng presumably sits in prison.
Meanwhile, 6,600 miles away, his wife peels a tangerine in the underground cafeteria of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. She’s been wearing the same beige blouse for three days. The bunkerlike eatery echoes with lunchtime chatter. She understands little of it.
I met him once. Rather, I ambushed him. It was in the thin air of Telluride, Colo., for the film festival, in 2004. He had just finished a conversation with New Line executive Bob Shaye and came out of the clock tower on W. Colorado Avenue. He was small in person, his face gaunt from skirmishes with cancer. I approached him, joined him in his quarter-mile walk to his lodgings, and spilled it.
Photo illustration by Susana Sanchez-Young & Anne Farrar for The Washington Post
Facebook bought Instagram on Monday for one buh-buh-billion dollars, a tectonic lurch in the realm of social media, and what does this have to do with the real world — the chaotic world that surrounds us, not the orderly one that is contained in the tininess of our smartphone screens?
The cultural legacy of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is at once intensely personal and too galactic to fathom. Without “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” where would we be? We wouldn’t have T-shirt bedsheets, footless pantyhose or the “The Color Purple,” the musical. We wouldn’t have a council of chatty behavioral gurus upon whom Oprah has bequeathed fame and success: financial taskmaster Suze Orman, cooking sprite Rachael Ray, decor wizard Nate Berkus, and doctors Oz and Phil, who’ve made it their business to be in ours.