The idea of the end of the world and civilization is nothing new, I covered this in my review of The Earth Abides. It is a tried and true narrative that will always have an audience. However, having said that, The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is very unique to find a fictional book written so matter of factly. The book just lays out the history of the future so dryly it seems as though it’s already happened. I think this is the books point, to lay out horrific event after horrific event, to make the reader think it’s already inescapable. Forcing us to deal with the consequences or change our ways.
It takes not only cli fi, but also the spread of disease, a topical threat at the moment given the outcry against vaccinations (another touchy subject which I could easily rant about for many many paragraphs). The book positions itself 400 years in the future, looking backwards, as though recounting the history of the future of western civilization. This device is very clever and works to the books advantage, being written as though it is nonfiction, however, it’s not exactly the most enjoyable read. The author has stated that he believed this book is very positive, I find it to be downright dour. Yes it is clearly a call to action against apathy, which is sorely needed.
Although, despite the book’s very clear omnipresent warning, the book does very little to say how the path may be deviated. Though I suppose this is to be expected. The book is intended as a warning, it is not written as such. It reads as a factual account, so it would make sense that no alternatives or solutions would be provided. The book as it stands presents the future as it is and says “This is it, it happened.” As a history book would. You wouldn’t open your history book to find it say “World War II could have been avoided had we provided more aid to Germany following the end of World War I.”
As it is, The Collapse of Western Civilization is a fascinating read, which kept me enthralled for all of its 50-odd pages. I definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in how climate change may affect the future, and what dangers may be in store for us. Just don’t expect it to make you feel good about yourself and how you’ve been going about it.