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

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

Mark O’Connell. Doubleday, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385543002

The end of the world portends right-wing vigilantism and left-wing nihilism, according to this bleakly comic tour of doomsday ideologies. Consumed by fears of climate change and beset by self-criticism—“my [ecological] footprint is as broad and deep and indelible as my guilt”—journalist O’Connell (To Be a Machine) surveys several strands of apocalyptic foreboding. He treats the reactionary, survivalist varieties—including American doomsday preppers stockpiling food and ammo in anticipation of urban rioters, a real-estate developer peddling bunkers on a former South Dakota military base, and Mars-colonization enthusiasts who fondly invoke white settlers’ colonization of the U.S.—as pathological expressions of social paranoia, toxic patriarchy, and outright “fascism,” and makes clear that his sympathies lie more with progressive doomsayers. On a camping trip with deep ecology pessimists who refute the “myth” that humans are “fundamentally distinct” from nature and welcome the climate change–induced collapse of civilization, O’Connell communes with grass and sky and finds talk of human extinction “strangely cheerful.” Readers who agree that the U.S. is “a rapidly metastasizing tumor of inequality, hyper-militarism, racism, surveillance, and... terminal-stage capitalism” will be equally terrified and bemused by O’Connell’s musings, while those who are less credulous about narratives of ecological apocalypse will find much to dispute. The result is a wryly humorous if somewhat overwrought rumination that’s more a symptom than a diagnosis of Western civilization’s apocalyptic discontents. (Apr.)