Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back

Knopf. Apr. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9780385543002. $26.95. SCI
Irish writer O’Connell (To Be a Machine)here explores his obsessive fears about the future. Though overwhelmed by the many signs of looming catastrophe and collapse, O’Connell felt pressured, as a parent, to be less despairing about the future, and so undertook an investigation into what other doomsday believers were doing to prepare for impending disaster. His adventures took him deep into the guidebooks and videos of prepper, or survivalist, subculture; to the Black Hills of South Dakota to tour a massive underground bunker system for the wealthy; to New Zealand, where tech billionaires were buying property to escape the anticipated collapse; and to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a postapocalyptic wasteland. From his self-directed immersion in these doomsday scenarios, O’Connell emerged if not more optimistic about the future, at least able to live more easily in the present.
VERDICT O’Connell is not only a sharp observer but a master at parsing the various subtexts underneath the surface rhetoric of these apocalyptic movements. This witty, profound, and beautifully told story will appeal to doomsday worriers and nonworriers alike.
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