The nuts-and-bolts details behind a score of catastrophic scenarios, from nuclear disaster to global warming to worldwide epidemics.
Except for complaining that the media and Hollywood invariably get it wrong, British physicist and science writer Clegg (Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe, 2009, etc.) has no ax to grind. He does not aim to save humanity, but he delivers an accurate explanation of whatever might annihilate us, intermixed with castigations where the potential for disaster has been overblown. Readers will find little new information in his capsule histories of atomic weapons, lasers, poison gas, germ warfare, asteroids striking the earth, black holes and cyberterrorism, but Clegg follows each with an intelligent evaluation of their efficiency as agents of mass destruction. Gas, death rays and germs have proven a disappointment, but asteroid strikes turn out to be much harder to fend off than portrayed in several movies. The modern world has grown so dependent on computer networks that their sabotage has become a growth industry that includes terrorists, entrepreneurs of spam and spyware and hobbyists sending out viruses for their own amusement. While a minor industry of experts generate predictions of calamity from human activity, Clegg points out that natural phenomena—hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mass extinctions from asteroid strikes—have so far produced vastly more damage, although he concludes that burning fossil fuels may warm the world enough to prove the experts right.
For those curious about how civilization might end, Clegg provides an ingenious, well-executed narrative of the many possibilities.