Glow in the dark

During suicide-hotline training in Las Vegas, America’s suicide capital, John D’Agata is cautioned never to ask callers why they want to kill themselves. Unable to suppress his writer’s curiosity, D’Agata titles four chapters of his newest book “Why?” About a Mountain is a breezily readable, yet profoundly disturbing exploration of Las Vegas’ social problems—not the least of which is the federal government’s plan to bury 77,000 tons of nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain, a seismically unstable area 90 miles from the city. Las Vegas has a lot to be depressed about, despite the neon signs and flashing lights, which may be all too constantly glowing reminders of radiation left over from bomb testing. Combining his Yucca Mountain investigations with meditations on a 16-year-old boy who jumped to his death from the top of the Stratosphere casino, D’Agata draws a compelling portrait of a civilization hastening its own collapse.