The End Is Always Near

Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

[Amazon Link]

I was inspired to request that the Portsmouth Public Library buy this book by a recent Reason podcast with the author, Dan Carlin. The library gave it a thumbs-up, ordered it, held it for me, and here it is. Anticlimax: I didn't find the book as entertaining as the podcast.

I was expecting something different, probably. There are no end of doomsayers predicting how some new invention, product, lifestyle, philosophy, etc. is gonna destroy civilization as we know it. Yet here we are. The doomsayers are always wrong, QED.

Except, as Dan Carlin points out, they've always been right. At least about those great, century-spanning civilizations that aren't around anymore. You don't see the Assyrian Empire making trouble, do you? Greeks? Romans? Please. And then there's the mysterious Bronze Age collapse.

Within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again.

And nobody really knows why. Carlin offers theories, aka guesses.

So are we really all that different? Maybe. History doesn't always repeat itself ("but it rhymes"). Still, it says the betting odds should be against us.

Carlin looks at other stuff too. The nature of pandemics. The development of nuclear weapons, how we've flirted with using them. The ethics of civilian war casualties. (Killing noncombatants has gone in and out of style, and the method matters. Bombing folks from the air is seen as regrettable; but sending in ground troops to slaughter an equal number would be seen as an atrocity.)

Carlin has a very popular podcast, Hardcore History®. I think this book shows the difficulty in translating your talent in one field to another; Carlin's prose doesn't grab, and the book's diversity of topics seemed more like a lack of focus.