Apoc­a­lypse when?

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY STEPHEN LOW­MAN

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.


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