Sometimes a book ends up on our TBR and sits there for long enough that we forget how it ended up there in the first place (or, you know, pandemic stress just erased all that information from our brains for more important information, like, “Where did I leave my mask?” Sigh). That’s Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back by Mark O’Connell (Doubleday Books, 2020). I don’t remember how it ended up on my TBR anymore, and my library no longer had it available as an ebook, but interlibrary loan saved the day when it was up next on my TBR!
Mark O’Connell found himself obsessed with the end of the world as we know it. What would happen? How would humanity react? Would it be an asteroid or climate change or something we hadn’t yet considered? He didn’t become a prepper himself, but he began to dive into the industries that have sprung up to accommodate the fears of people who are ready to begin planning for worst-case scenarios, and Notes from an Apocalypse is the result.
In this book, Mr. O’Connell visits a community of survival bunkers in middle-of-nowhere, South Dakota. He travels to New Zealand, where rich Americans have bought up property to ride out a disaster. He investigates the prepper industry, that hotbed of American consumerism (also good for men whose wives are away and who don’t know how to cook, with those MRE-type meal packets…), and he examines the ultra-rich’s obsession with Mars colonization for when we ruin this planet too much to continue living on it. And maybe it’s exposure therapy, but in the end, he becomes a little more comfortable with not knowing what comes next.
This ended up being a really interesting book! I hadn’t given much thought to these industries in the past, so I really appreciated Mr. O’Connell putting in that thinking for me. He’s spot-on in his observations of the intersection of (toxic) masculinity and the prepper community. I hadn’t known anything about the ultra-rich (like Peter Thiel) flocking to New Zealand to buy up land (so much so that it seems New Zealand changed the laws about this; they’ve always been a difficult country to immigrate to anyway, but I’m glad they’re doing what they can to protect their land from greedy Americans), so I’m glad I’m better informed about this. And the community of underground survivalist bunkers in North Dakota? SO weird, and fascinating to learn about. (Leave me out. I’d rather the apocalypse come for me than to spend time cooped up in with the kind of people that can afford those things. Ugh.)
Notes from an Apocalypse turned out to be a quick but fascinating read, and I can already tell it’s going to be one that I think of frequently in the future. I’d love to see an updated version or another book by Mr. O’Connell about the intersection of these industries and the people who flock to them and the COVID-19 pandemic. Because we all know that the people who have spent their time planning for the worst-case scenario were the first to deny the seriousness of this pandemic…