Somber Glee at Mass Destruction

“A pose I found congenial in those days — fairly common, I hope, among pre-adults — was that of somber glee at any idea of mass destruction or decline.”

        – Thomas Pynchon, “Slow Learner” (from the Introduction)

A little too much like the adolescent Thomas Pychon, I am overly fascinated by certain kinds of natural mass destruction. Weather porn, for example. A good landslide. Wildfires on TV will literally cause me to freeze in mid-transit of the living room.
Books on the subject are fine too. For example, for all the criticisms of Mike Davis, I find sizable chunks of his flawed books about the California-apocalypse spellbinding, especially “City of Quartz” and “Ecology of Fear”. (The paragraph in the latter about how the SoCal mountain lion diet might be diversifying to include spandex-clad yuppies is magnificently nihilistic.)
All of this is preamble, however, to say I will not be reading Jared Diamond’s new book, “Collapse”, which has collected middling-to-decent reviews. Not enough disaster porn, I’m afraid, and overly hectoring to boot, at least from the snippets I have scanned. Feel free to tell me otherwise.
I am more interested in Richard Posner’s new-ish book “Catastrophe”. It attracted a cranky review from Clifford Geertz in the New York Review of Books, which is a good contrarian indicator, and over morning Puffins I just watched a good chunk of a recent talk of polymath Posner’s on C-Span’s BookTV. You have to love anyone unafraid of handicapping virtually anything:

  • “Suppose the cost of extinction of the human race…can be very conservatively estimated at 600 trillion dollars [and there is] a 1 in 10 million annual probability of a strangelet disaster.”
  • “Suppose there is a 70 percent probability that in 2024 global warming will cause a social loss of $1 trillion.”
  • “Suppose that [a] $2 billion expenditure reduces the probability of [a bioterrorist attack] from .01 to .0001.”

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    Comments

    1. RichL says:

      Collapse is an OK book. There are interesting parts about salinity of water leading to environmental problems that I was unaware of.
      What really is worth reading is Diamond’s earlier work – Guns, Germs and Steel. (You can tell by the title that it’s a typical chick book!)