Book Review: The End Is Always Near

The End Is Always Near:  Apocalyptic Moments, From The Bronze Age Collapse To Nuclear Near Misses, by Dan Carlin

This book was disappointing to me.  A big reason for that is because I come to this book, unlike most readers will, with both a strong degree of interest in the subject of apocalypticism and also a high degree of knowledge in apocalyptic moments throughout history, including a great many more than the author focuses on.  It would be possible to be disappointed in this book for a variety of reasons.  One could find offense in the author’s left-leaning worldview and his assumption that leftist society has moved beyond the sort of dangers that spring from conservative and traditional religious mindsets.  One could find offense in the author’s belief in climate panics that must be solved by some sort of paternalistic statist government that can stave off the end of days.  One can laugh and ridicule the author’s belief that this time it will be different and that a collapse in society will not occur to us the way that it did so many times before.  One can even be offended that the author chooses not to address the societal collapses that occurred thanks to Western involvement (such as in the Americas) or those which occurred without being witnessed by the Americans, like the destruction that fell upon the early Sung or the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe, to give but two examples.

This book is about 250 pages long and is divided into eight chapters.  The author begins with a preface that states his own interest in the subject and some of his background.  After that the author begins by asking whether tough times make for tough people (1) and how it is that people in soft times can succeed despite a lack of resilience.  After that the author immediately moves on to criticize the discipline that was undertaken in the past (2) before turning to discuss the Bronze Age Collapse (3) in the Near East and what it meant to them.  After that the author looks at the destruction of Nineveh (4) and the violence that was involved in Near East empirebuilding that the Assyrians had themselves undertaken.  The author then turns to the Barbarian life cycle as it related to the fall of the Roman Empire (5) and the destructive end of “late antiquity.”  A discussion of various illnesses, including the Plague of Justinian and the Black Plague allows the author to talk about diseases (6) and then the author discusses the rise of technology that brought an end to many civilizations that sought to oppose the Westerners in the 19th century (7).  The book then ends with a discussion of nuclear destruction (8) and fears about it, after which the book closes with an afterword, acknowledgments, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

This book is not nearly as insightful as the author thinks it is.  What could have been a thoughtful look at the way that people have always feared that their time is the end which led them to act in ways frequently to avoid that taking place has become a chance for the author to show a sense of chronological snobbery and to not put himself in the same level of ignorance that he looks at the past with.  All too often he wants to have it both ways, wanting to paint contemporary society and high levels of government involvement as a good thing while not addressing the way that government has always been oppressive and has frequently brought disaster upon their people through overtaxation and the loss of responsibility among the people.  The author is especially unpleasant when he talks about the discipline of the past and does not seem to recognize that among the most important aspects of the discipline of the past was an avoidance of the sort of hubris that the author himself possesses simply as a result of looking down on the past as being abusive and not having something to show us.  If you want to look at this book as a way of looking at how learning and sense can easily be divorced, this book is certainly a stellar example of that.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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