TEotWaWKI Book Review: World Made by Hand
by James Howard Kunstler
My neighbor Jim tipped me off to this book, but only half recommended it. It’s a work of fiction written pre-SHTF by an author who wrote several speculative non-fiction works about how the world would probably end. Interestingly enough, the guy never mentioned zombies. It’s what you don’t expect that always gets you!
The novel takes place in the world Kunstler describes in his book, The Long Emergency. It covers one summer in a small, upstate New York town about a decade after TEotWaWKI.
Jim wasn’t big on the book’s main character (Robert Earle), believing that a man who — in my friend’s words — lacked balls would not have lasted long. While my neighbor is correct that how Robert Earle reacted to various events would not have boded well for him in our reality, the world Kunstler describes is quite different. And I’m not talking just about the lack of undead.
First of all, the end came gradually. Over the course of years, through a terrorist nuke here and a decline in trade there, the world just fizzled out (I guess that tells you how bad the Zombie War was if a nuke or two is not that big of a deal). In fact, as Kunstler writes, some even believe that society could return to the old days, if they could just catch a break or two. This contrasts sharply with our reality. It became clear rather quickly — over the course of just a few days, in fact — that the old world was dead. Once you’ve lost such hope, violence becomes easier. If people, even the bad guys, believe that there could be a return, one is more willing to act with restraint.
Another critical difference is that we still retain much of the infrastructure from the old world. Other than that first, hungry winter, food is not an issue. We have a fully functioning electrical grid and an even better medical establishment. In the World Made by Hand, you had to grow your own food, live by the rising and setting of the sun and were probably dead if you encountered a serious medical issue. You could not effectively be a bad guy in that world, at least not extremely evil. You couldn’t afford to get hurt in an encounter. Also, it was much more efficient to trade for food or grow it yourself than it is to steal it, at least in the long run.
I did thoroughly enjoy this book and appreciate the lessons I took from it:
- You should live on fecund land: something with good soil, easy access to water and hunting/fishing grounds.
- You should have practical skills: anything that allows you to build/maintain stuff or something in the healing arts.
- You need a functioning society, adherence to the rule of law.
This book has lessons worth learning.
An interesting coincidence: The author makes reference to a deadly flu pandemic originating in Mexico, years before this event actually happened.
I go in to great detail after the jump, including a description of what I would do differently, but beware, there are SPOILERS:
As mentioned above, this story takes but a slice of the TEotWaWKI timeline implied in Kunstler’s work. Society is beginning to form a new normal. Faded memories and the exigencies of the available technology are forcing folks back to a 19th century life style. Perhaps this is the new normal, but I feel the potential for another outbreak is great enough that I cannot confidently make that call.
There are three proto-societies described in the book: the criminal gang running the garbage dump mining operation, proto-feudal plantation on the Hudson and the remnants of the town’s pre-SHTF population, including the main character. This third group is in danger of being squeeze out by either or both of the other two groups, but the criminal gang presents the most immediate threat and this is where Robert Earle needs to grow a pair if he is to ensure the survival of his tribe. I suggest one of two courses of action:
- Manipulate events to trigger a conflict between the Plantation and the Garbage Dump Miners, covertly aiding one side and then the other until they have sufficient weakened each other such that the Town can re-assert its dominance.
- Initiate a short, ultra-violent surprise attack on the Garbage Dump Miners with the aim of removing ALL of its leadership. I would then selectively absorb some of the survivors into the Town tribe and drive out or kill the rest.
I realize this sounds cold-hearted, but I would rather not live as a serf on the Plantation or forever be at the mercy of the Garbage Dump. A short, decisive battle now will prevent long term, low grade conflict.