This week’s Monday book comes courtesy of Paul Garrett, who has a wicked sense of humor….
While the headlines of the day may have us fighting over toilet paper at the big box store and thinking of mortgaging the house for a bottle of hand sanitizer, it’s easy to assume we are facing a unique threat. The fact is throughout human history we have always been walking a knife edge between chaos and order.
Dan Carlin, famous for his long-winded (up to six hour) Hardcore History podcasts has written a relatively short-winded book about the history of the world from the perspective of disaster. Running just over 200 pages, The End is Always Near (Harper Collins, 2019) makes the point that though we may live in self-assured tranquility (up until about a month ago) from an historical perspective mankind is never far from disaster.
Much of the book’s narrative is spent on three topics: The first is the so-called Bronze Age Collapse, when civilization, after centuries of advancement suddenly and without explanation imploded and fell into a dark age. Another topic, which could have been written yesterday, covers the frequent scourge of pandemics: from the Black death to smallpox to the so-called Spanish Flu. That pandemic alone killed between fifty and one hundred million people world-wide in a period of about 24 weeks in 1918-19.
In a chapter entitled The Road to Hell he discusses the nuclear age and the deadly math of the war planners who believe the way to shorten war is to kill as many people as quickly as possible. The calculation is that many more lives will be saved by bringing the conflict to a quick end. He asserts that the threat of nuclear annihilation may have prevented many deaths as the nuclear powers have been loath to engage in large scale so-called kinetic action for fear of driving their enemies to the nuclear button. Instead we have opted for proxy wars where we encouraged various client states to do the fighting for us.
He gives barely a nod to Climate change, stating that whatever destruction it reaps will take place over decades or centuries while this book is about things that can wipe us out in weeks or milliseconds. We have only to notice how the Chinese Corona Virus has swept climate change off the front page to see his point.
The book has footnotes on almost every page, some with more text than the narrative, as if it were written by someone who forgot to take their Adderall. It is a warning to people whose most dire concern up until a month ago may have been who would “Like” their latest Facebook post. It serves as a reminder (as if the morning’s headlines weren’t enough) that no matter how secure we feel in our Mc Mansions with all the modern conveniences, there are dragons lurking out in the darkness.