It's been a rough few years. Between terrorist attacks, political turmoil, the rapidly crumbling world economy, and the threat of global warming, human existence on Earth now seems less like a fact than a lucky streak bound at any moment to go bust. Marq De Villiers, journalist and author of Water and Windswept, among other books, deals with this uncertainty in The End: Natural Disasters, Manmade Catastrophes, And The Future Of Human Survival. He describes an Earth where destruction and danger are an essential part of life, and while there are no easy answers, he finds a curious comfort in owning up to how little control people have over the things that could destroy them.
The End's first goal is to dispel the idea that our planet is stable, at least in the conventional sense. While thousands of years may separate major catastrophes, there's no reason to believe that the lack of extinction events over the span of known history means anything. De Villiers charts a greatest-hits list of planetary woes, from crash-landing giant asteroids to volcanoes releasing atmosphere-poisoning ash into the sky; there are also earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and the always-popular plagues and pandemics. It's all incredibly dangerous, and worse, largely unpredictable. De Villiers gives some advice on how societies might mitigate the potential damage, but if the worst happens, there really isn't a lot anyone can do.
The End isn't a grim book, which is a mark in its favor; in spite of its seemingly endless catalogue of misery and body counts, De Villiers finds a great deal to appreciate in the chaotic workings of the planet and the cosmos. His even tone and humor make what could've been the most depressing story ever told oddly inspiring, finding something like hope in life's struggles to continue in the face of the worst of everything. It'd be a bit much to call the book inspirational, and De Villiers doesn't underplay the calamities that lurk around every statistically improbable corner. Instead, The End is a satisfyingly clear-headed assessment of the state of things that neither talks down to its readers, nor wastes its time mongering fear.