Seeking to assuage his existential dread in the face of climate change and the global disintegration of democracy, Dublin-based writer Mark O'Connell tours survival bunkers in South Dakota, ventures to New Zealand to a favored retreat of billionaires banking on civilization's collapse, engages with would-be Mars colonists, and conspiracists all while offering readers a unique window into our contemporary imagination.
O’Connell has a gift for channelling the 'sense of looming crisis' that characterises our times, but is able to step outside it, to bring it into focus ... O’Connell exposes their schemes with a likable zeal. His journey to the post-apocalypse hideaway of PayPal founder Peter Thiel is in itself a wonderful piece of journalism ... Having looked on these human ruins, [O'Connell] finds himself, counterintuitively, resisting Ozymandias-like despair. What brings him back to life is the birth of his second child ... Her presence, that 'tiny engine of joy' she represents, is beautifully evoked by O’Connell, in passages that capture exactly that mixture of impossible vulnerability and responsibility, the enforced mindfulness of new parenthood ... O’Connell’s journey...does not always make comfortable reading with the world grinding to a halt outside, but he leaves the reader with that word, which offers the gift of making any future possible: 'unless.'
Some of the stops on this travelogue are so spectacularly scenic that I found myself envious, and not a little bit suspicious: Here was someone who had figured out a way to tour the world by writing about the end of it ... a funny, self-deprecating inquiry into [O'Connell's] own complicity.
Mr. O’Connell’s investigation into end-times paranoia, prognostication and 'prepping' (stockpiling tins, dusting down that bunker) could hardly be more timely—and yet in some ways his new book has already dated beyond anything he could have predicted ... This book’s status as an exercise in anachronism is wholly to its benefit. There is fertile territory between the terror it articulates and the faltering, yet still revolving, world in which we suddenly live. Its success is also testament to its author’s literary flair ... It is smart, funny, irreverent and philosophically rich.