The best books about Armageddon

The Books I Picked & Why

The War of the Worlds

By H.G. Wells

Book cover of The War of the Worlds

Why this book?

This novel inspired my first imagining of the world ending. Of unfolding catastrophe. Of the terrible anxiety that fills each moment when life is reduced to a faltering hour-by-hour existence. When time becomes suspended in a permanent sense of a dreadful present. When the end of everything I took for granted has already begun.

I was introduced to the story by the Jeff Wayne album initially, as a child in the late 70s, and I remember being transfixed by terror as Richard Burton narrated passages from the text. After I'd read the novel, my fear of the world ending by means of an alien invasion, became urgent and compelling in the way that irrational fears are for children. But I was also captivated and transported by the story because it is so credible and vivid and exciting. This was also one of my first experiences of encountering sublime terror within a work of fiction - a visceral terror that is as much of awe as fear: when a mind is forced to comprehend something much greater than itself cosmically. A rare quality I've sought in fiction ever since.

Maybe I conflated my Cold War paranoia and nuclear war fears with my reading of the novel at the time I first encountered it, but I've reread the novel over the years and I still find it to be the most engaging account of an invasion of the earth and our ultimate belittling into insignificance. The story's power over me has not diminished with time. To this day, I cannot see a shooting star or satellite passing overhead without thinking of tripods and cylinders, heat-rays, black smoke, and the red weed.

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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

By Jared Diamond

Book cover of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Why this book?

A long and highly detailed study of how societies fail and collapse, but a work of non-fiction that I could not put down and eagerly sought each day until I finished the book.

A great non-fiction title for us lay/ordinary readers should process a vast amount of historical research and evidence and specialist knowledge to produce an engaging, even mind-expanding work, that leaves us feeling not just informed but awakened to truths we could previously only guess at. Collapse achieves this expertly by examining the historical and archaeological evidence of why certain societies failed - the Anasazi, Maya, the Vikings in Greenland, Angkor up to Rwanda are included. From freshwater crisis' to soil degradation, overpopulation, the destruction of the natural world, to the needs of the few exceeding the needs of the many, the author takes us through the critical missteps collapsed civilisations embarked upon to ensure their own downfall. By the end of the essay, the reader becomes aware of how precarious the balance is between collapse and survival, as well as just how we moderns are repeating the same catastrophic errors. Ultimately, a chilling read, but also uplifting because the solutions to preventing our demise are also included and expertly argued.

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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

If great works of non-fiction depict the grand and epic scale of collapse, and every historical antecedent and economic and societal and historic detail that incrementally initiated catastrophe, a great work of fiction on the apocalypse reveals the inner lives of characters. Of someone on the ground. An eye witness, whose senses and thoughts attempt to comprehend and survive.

Few works of fiction have left me feeling almost emotionally desolate but The Road did. After an unspecified event - a chain of volcanic eruptions, nuclear war, environmental holocaust? - a man and his young child try and survive in an eternal winter in which nothing grows. The ecosystems are dead. The earth and air are toxic. Food has all but gone. Mankind descends into the most inhumane savagery and opportunism. The only light remaining is a father's love for his child and their search for sanctuary.

Grim, horrifying, everything at stake all of the time on every page; few stories are so compelling. Few stories have mattered so much to me as a reader.

McCarthy's skill as a writer throughout his peerless body of work, I place next to Shakespeare. The Road is a dreadful marvel and an example of what can be achieved in the novel and how you make a work of fiction resonate with profound truths.

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The Second World War

By Antony Beevor

Book cover of The Second World War

Why this book?

It's too easy to dismiss the Second World War. To relegate that epochal conflict into realms of ancient history, action films, kitset models, unread Father's day gifts, and black & white footage. But we all live through the consequences of this epic global struggle. This was the last time western civilisation brought itself close to destruction and it was a close call. 60 million lives were lost and no one died easily. The war was also raging just shy of 80 years ago. In the scheme of human history, that's recent.

Beevor's history of the global conflict - and it was global - is a page-turning affair. Vivid, engaging, heartbreaking, shocking. Really fine storytelling and a first class history, encompassing the great conflicts of east and west (China's experience of the war is much overlooked in the west but not in these pages). I found myself engrossed by this monumental history of the very worst ideas and behaviour that our species is only too willing to pursue in order to self-destruct. It's also a compelling tale of so many acts of courage and sacrifice. Epic in the truest sense of the word and a chilling warning from history that I wish everyone would heed and read.

Have we learned the lessons of the Second World War? I'd say they are being forgotten, or that many alive today remain unaware of the significance of the conflict. At a time when the world has never been more interconnected, when the UK leaves a united Europe, and when there are more geopolitical upheavals than we can fully acknowledge, and when we watch the rise and rise of simple fundamentalist ideologies at the expense of humanity and reason, even logic, I'd say Beevor's The Second World War offers an important perspective for right now.

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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

By David Wallace-Wells

Book cover of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Why this book?

Amidst the perpetual blizzard of conflicting information, statistics, politicised issues, interminable arguments, denial and debunking, forecasts and predictions... amidst the saturation and exhaustion... of all that fills our small, overstuffed minds when we try to comprehend manmade climate change, WE all now have THIS BOOK. And everyone on the planet should read it.

I've read dozens of books about the consequences of manmade climate change across two decades, but this is the best of them. It's current, it's terrifying, it may leave you staring into a space in which you can imagine the gradual, inexorable end of civilisation, most of humanity, and much of the life on our planet (the only home any of us will ever know).

How did we let the situation get so bad? And what the hell can we do now?

Besides some technical innovation or invention that cools the planet down (at present, pure science fiction), we should at least begin to create a consensus, recognising that we need to act now and radically if we are to avoid an epochal endgame for mankind, and feasibly within the lifetime of our children.

There is no more important issue facing all of us, right now. The consequences of runaway climate change have to be understood. And prevented. Take it straight-up. No sugar coating. Required reading.

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