Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell
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?