Apocalypse Any Day Now by Tea Krulos is an exciting and informative exploration of the lives and beliefs of people who are fixated on the end of the world. Through interviews, research, and descriptions of his road trips visiting apocalypse-minded communities, the author offers readers a rare glimpse into the world of disaster preparedness and doomsday obsession.
The first thing about this book that stood out for me was the storytelling. I first heard about Apocalypse Any Day Now because I was familiar with one of the author’s other titles, Heroes in the Night. That book, which offered a glimpse into the Real-Life Superhero subculture, was full of interesting stories about the superheroes and the author’s encounters with them. I was glad to hear that he was coming out with another book, and pleased to discover that much of this new volume also consisted of first-hand stories about meeting up with the colorful characters at the heart of the story. Some of the text is more of a dry presentation of research about doomsday beliefs and history, but those sections do a good job of setting the stage for the more personal narratives that follow.
I was also fascinated by the wide range of apocalyptic subcultures explored in Apocalypse Any Day Now. Some literally believed that human society is about to be wiped out by some great calamity: a religious end-of-days event, or an economic and political crash, or catastrophic climate change. Others took a more light-hearted approach: the Zombie Squad teams who treat the Zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for disaster preparedness, or the Wasteland Weekend revelers who use apocalypse as a theme for a massive party and immersive post-apocalyptic experience in the desert, or the Mars One candidates who were enthusiastic about leaving this planet behind for a one-way trip to Mars. Whatever their particular reasons for fixating on doomsday narratives, or simply leaving the Earth behind in the case of Mars One, they all made for good stories.
The religiously-oriented groups were often forecasting a literal fire-and-brimstone, end of days scenario that ultimately never came to pass. Their stories were interesting, but ultimately tragic. When their prophesied doomsday didn’t come to pass, they were left to either adjust their prophecy or fade into obscurity.
The “preppers” were some of the most interesting characters to me because they were making detailed, concrete, practical preparations for a partial or total collapse of human civilization. Their motivations ranged from a more stereotypical conservative worldview about how society was headed in the wrong direction, to more progressive concerns about environmental and political crises that seemed like surprisingly reasonable explanations for their high degree of preparedness. I wouldn’t want to go to the same lengths of prepping as the people he interviews, but I did find myself wanting to take more reasonable “prepping” steps, like preparing a 72-hour “bugout bag” and working on community disaster preparedness.
The “Doomsday Bunker” was also fascinating for similar reasons. The story of the bunker and it’s inhabitants takes the same basic narrative of societal collapse and filters it through the lens of exceptional wealth. What do the rich and famous do to prepare for a real-life apocalypse? Apparently, some of them buy a spot in a high-tech doomsday condo built into an old repurposed nuclear missile silo! Before reading this book, I already knew that such doomsday bunkers for the rich existed. But reading this book really made me feel like I was getting a personal tour of the bunker.
One of my main excuses for reading and reviewing the book so soon after its release was the fact that it includes an entire chapter about climate doomsday thinking. The climate chapter ended up being simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite parts of the book.
I liked the fact that the author addressed climate change, and I appreciated the fact that the climate crisis ultimately came off as the most believable of the apocalypses discussed in the book. However, the only person with a doomsday approach to the climate crisis that he covered at length was someone whose response basically consisted of giving up, going into hiding, and occasionally giving talks or writing articles on the subject. This person’s fatalistic views of an imminent climate apocalypse were balanced out by a more grounded (yet still alarming in its own way) perspective on the scientific evidence of a global climate crisis.
This “just give up” take on the climate crisis wasn’t very compelling, even as the story of a fringe climate doomsayer. It would have been much more interesting to hear from people with similar climate doomsday views who are taking provocative action in response to climate change — like the Valve Turners and others who have gone to jail for their climate beliefs, or the Deep Green Resistance people who want industrial civilization to collapse and be replaced by loose networks of smaller local eco-communities.
Granted, including those stories may have made the book seem too “political” for some readers. And delving into underground subcultures that advocate or engage in illegal activities is surely more difficult than reporting on “preppers” who simply prefer their privacy and are probably doing nothing illegal. Still, a glimpse of people who are actually trying to do something about climate change would have made for more interesting reading, and would have fit better with the other doomsday prophets, all of whom were active in some way in response to their doomsday beliefs.
Maybe some author can take up the theme of doomsday climate activism as the subject of an entire book. In the meantime, I was glad to see that this book at least covered the topic, and ultimately left the reader with at least some degree of impression that the climate crisis is a serious matter that may actually threaten the stability of our society. A book about current American doomsday culture would have been incomplete without including at least some significant reference to the climate crisis. It is increasingly being recognized as the crisis of our times, and may in fact pose am existential threat to our society within our lifetimes. How people choose to respond to it — through doomsday defeatism, deepening resolve to take action, denial of the problem, or something else entirely — makes for a very interesting story.
On the whole, this was a fascinating and compelling book. For many readers, some of these stories will be more compelling than others. If you have a particular interest in religious communities, survivalist preppers, people who want to go to Mars, zombie aficionados, etc, then those specific chapters will obviously be your favorite. But really, I found all of the stories fascinating, regardless of how much interest I had in their particular doomsday beliefs. Either way, it was always interesting to see what happens when people take their doomsday beliefs or apocalyptic interests so seriously that it leads to changes in the way they live their lives.
For me, many of their stories seemed to present two complementary cautionary tales: a caution against falling into fanatical doomsday thinking, and a caution to do what we can to be prepared for actual real-world disasters. Of course, where the line between these two tales falls depends on who you talk to. One person’s prepping is another person’s doomsaying.