One of the longest-lasting storytelling themes is that of the all-consuming apocalypse. From some of the oldest texts known to humankind to the newest movies streaming on Netflix, tales of world-ending disaster continue to enthrall and terrify readers and viewers today. While some apocalyptic and postapocalyptic stories concern themselves with the supernatural, others point to causes far more earthly and realistic, such as climate change. What has emerged is a robust catalog of literature about the natural world that engages readers with the very real threat of global warming.
Barry Lopez’s Horizon, which follows his travels to six regions around the world, takes a new approach to the travel-writing genre and insists that travelers not ignore the ecological damage present in the places they visit. In the Carbon Ideologies series, William T. Vollmann offers up some of the “most honest” arguments about climate change in a style that addresses an imagined, hostile reader who lives in a future in which soil is radioactive, the oceans are boiling, and humans must survive on insects and recycled urine.
The author Maja Lunde depicts a world without bees in The History of Bees, which rather than explicitly frightening its readers, asks them to consider what they would sacrifice for the greater good. T. C. Boyle’s collection of satirical, ecological stories focuses on the selfishness of individuals and how they interact with their environments, making for tragically comic fiction. And in Richard Powers’s Man Booker Prize–nominated The Overstory, the human destruction of natural resources must be contended with in a world where trees are empathic and “aware” social organisms.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
How climate change has influenced travel writing
“[Barry] Lopez is gripped by an urgency to tell ‘a coherent and meaningful story’ about the threat of humanity’s extinction as a result of climate change and societal declension, and the ways he believes it can be prevented.”