Solid pop-science analysis of apocalypses and survival.



A wilderness survival instructor looks at past catastrophes to inform our responses to future ones.

Archaeologists study how cultures and civilizations fall, and Begley, an underwater archaeologist and anthropology professor, begins with three once-flourishing civilizations that collapsed: “the Classic Maya civilization in Central America and Mexico, the Western Roman Empire around the Mediterranean, and the many Native American societies in eastern North America after the arrival of European colonizers.” Disease wiped out 90% of North American tribes, jungles teem with abandoned Maya cities and monuments, and the “decline and fall” of Rome remains a staple of literature and “the most discussed decline globally.” Yet, unlike fictional apocalypses portrayed in countless books and movies, these were not sudden events. Maya culture waxed and waned for centuries, and few Romans understood the forces that were leading to their eventual fall. Thankfully, Native Americans have worked for centuries to maintain what they can of their culture. Apocalypses in Hollywood—and in the minds of doomsday preppers—destroy civilization, leaving a few groups behind, mostly heroic, well-armed men who fend off unruly mobs, usually from cities and thus unable to take care of themselves. Begley points out that this is not how humans respond to disasters in real life. Social breakdown is fleeting, and people “rise to the occasion.” The author emphasizes that the most important skill for the future is not self-defense but the ability to cooperate. After an insightful overview of the fantasies and realities of catastrophes, the author describes what to do if you get lost in the wilderness: These are the lessons he teaches in his survival course. They have little to do with the book’s major theme but make entertaining and educative reading: Staying warm, dry, and hydrated must be the first priorities. While food is necessary, you can survive without it for a few days.

Solid pop-science analysis of apocalypses and survival.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7528-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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