‘A half-assed apocalypse’: writing a book on the end of the world didn’t prepare me for Covid

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Where are the bunkers? Why aren’t people eating each other? And who warned us about the boredom?

If you wanted to know about the end of the world, you would think I’d be the guy to talk to. I wrote a whole book on the topic, after all: a book about the anxiety of apocalypse, and the various ways people imagine and prepare for it. I spent the better part of three years thinking, and writing, about all of this: about billionaire bunkers in New Zealand, apocalyptic survival communities in the American midwest, doomsday preppers and their violent fantasies of civilisational collapse. For three years, all I did all day was think about the end of the world.

The book was, in the end, a series of essayistic attempts to grapple with my own inchoate anxieties about the future, through encounters with external manifestations of those anxieties. The apocalypse was, among other things, a means of tying together, and theorising, those anxieties – a literary device, in other words, that reflected the ways in which the idea of apocalypse gives vivid focus to the vague and multifarious anxieties of a wider culture. These anxieties of mine, which were the impetus (and in some ways the true subject) of the book, had mostly to do with climate change, and with the problem of living and raising children against the backdrop of a dark and unknowable future. The project of the book was to try to arrive at some form of hope for that future and a means of understanding the apocalyptic impulses of the present.

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