Exploring doomsday thinking in pop culture, Islam and science.
A belief exists that when the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, the world will end along with it. But doomsday soothsayers don’t have to wait until next year for signs of our ultimate destruction. This month alone, flocks of birds fell out of the sky and Snooki from “Jersey Shore” published a novel. Obviously you need these three new books to prepare you for the impending destruction of the human race:
1 A IS FOR ARMAGEDDON, by Richard Horne (Harper; paperback, $19.99) From nuclear weapons to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, oodles of things have the potential to snuff us out. Richard Horne’s droll cataloguing of all the ways we can be done in is accompanied by rich, whimsical illustrations. He also tells you what you should look for if, for example, you suspect that hostile aliens are on the way (“Lights in the sky. Anyone trying to fit in but failing miserably”) and how we should prepare for the end-date predicted by the Mayan calendar: Dec. 21, 2012 (“bring Christmas forward by a week”).
2 APOCALYPSE IN ISLAM, by Jean-Pierre Filiu, translated from the French by M.B. DeBevoise (Univ. of California, $29.95)
This scholarly work, originally published two years ago in France, explores the role of apocalyptic beliefs in Islam and argues that there has been a resurgence in end-of-the-world thinking in the past several decades. While the overwhelming majority of Muslims pay no attention to these ominous prophecies, Filiu says that in the minds of Islam’s most impassioned believers, the apocalyptic movement has provided a justification for attacks against the West.
3 ARMAGEDDON SCIENCE: The Science of Mass Destruction,
by Brian Clegg (St. Martin’s, $25.99)
“However much scientists care, we can never be absolutely certain that science won’t end the world,” writes physicist Brian Clegg, “nor can we be sure that it won’t cause so much damage that human life in the future becomes much worse.” “Armageddon Science” is sure to appeal to readers who believe that the end has been brought nigh by such developments as the rise of artificial intelligence and the atom-smashing going on at the Large Hadron Collider. The less alarmist among us will look at all of this and say carpe diem.