Notes from an Apocalypse

Mark O'Connell

Notes from an Apocalypse
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Notes from an Apocalypse

Mark O'Connell

From the prize-winning author of To Be a Machine - meet the men and women preparing for the end of the world.

In the remote mountains of Scotland, in high-tech bunkers in South Dakota and in the lush valleys of New Zealand, small groups of determined men and women are getting ready.

They are environmentalists who fear the ravages of climate change; billionaire entrepreneurs dreaming of life on Mars; and right-wing conspiracists yearning for a lost American idyll. One thing unites them: their certainty that we are only years away from the end of civilization as we know it.

Not unconcerned himself by the possibility of the end of days, Mark O'Connell set out to meet them.


This isn’t the first time I’ve written a book review while wearing trackpants in bed but it’s the first time I’ve written like that on a weekday morning and in accordance with government instructions. I read this book before the COVID-19 pandemic really hit Australia and I’ve thought about it and talked about it many times since. It was written before our summer of horrific bushfires, but with climate change already an unrelenting presence in our increasingly depressing news cycle.

Mark O’Connell sets out to explore the depths of our apocalyptic anxieties and phenomena. He meets doomsday preppers, visits luxury fallout bunkers, chases a billionaire who bought property in New Zealand and joins Elon Musk’s crowd as they pursue settlement on Mars. He’s a funny writer, taking joy in identifying the absurdities of such privileged approaches. He asks why aren’t these guys community minded? And when, historically speaking, have times ever been good for everybody?

With two young children, he very tenderly wrestles with the ethics of parenting in these ‘uncertain times’. These moments are particularly moving. Like all of us right now, he’s been going through it, and while we are staying inside, with planes grounded, it seems extremely timely to be joining him as he faces his own nihilism with environmentalists at a re-wilded wilderness reserve and questions disaster tourism at Chernobyl. This is fascinating, relevant material and O’Connell has made it a great book. It’s a personal journey and his personality is what shines here. It’s scary for sure but I also found this to be a wildly entertaining and strangely comforting read … maybe even hopeful?

Kim Gruschow is the children’s book buyer at Readings St Kilda.

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