April 17, 2020
Thanks to Dean Coslovi, a 2020 HMU Fellow in Ideas, for today’s post.
Everyone has had the anxious experience of waiting for the power to be restored after an outage. Although it is inconvenient, such an occurrence is unlikely to cause anyone a great deal of existential angst or dramatically impact our lives. But what if the power didn’t come back on for say a week? How seriously would this affect the normal functioning of society? Probably a great deal. Now consider what would happen if power was never fully restored. This brief thought experiment is the manner through which author Dan Carlin sets the stage for his analysis of life in Western Europe after the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Fans of Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast will be familiar with Carlin’s unique approach to historical analysis. This approach seamlessly blends historical narratives with storytelling. In this way, Carlin is able to captivate readers so that they often find themselves forgetting that they are reading about real historical events. When such incidences occur, Carlin masterfully drives the historical narratives home by posing interesting thought experiments that reaffirm the reality of these events.
In The End is Always Near, Carlin relates instances in history when humanity has encountered the metaphorical “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Throughout the book, Carlin touches upon cases of societal destruction due to conquest, devastating plagues that have ravaged humanity, times of scarcity, and the ever present threat of mass extinction faced by our species. Carlin uses these extreme historical events to contrast human experiences in the past with the lifestyles that we enjoy in our technologically advanced and stable societies today. These stark contrasts bring the fragility of our modern lifestyles into focus. Fortunately, Carlin’s writing presents readers with a choice: to believe that the modern world lives under the Sword of Damocles or to recognize that we live in the greatest age that humanity has ever known.
In closing, this book is a wondrous intersection of history, philosophy, and anthropology recounted by a masterful storyteller. Those unfamiliar with Carlin’s work should do themselves a favour and pick up a copy of The End is Always Near. Longtime Carlin fans are advised to do the same as they will not be disappointed.
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