Emergency: One Man's Story of a Dangerous World and How to Stay Alive In It

Emergency: One Man's Story of a Dangerous World and How to Stay Alive In It



The Pequod Review:

Neil Strauss's Emergency is a memoir of his decision to begin preparing for doomsday scenarios:

I’ve begun to look at the world through apocalypse eyes.

It usually begins in airports. That’s when I get the first portent of doom. I imagine explosions, sirens, walls blown apart, bodies ripped from life.

Then, as I gaze out of the taxi window after arriving in a new city, I see people bustling around on their daily routine, endless rows of office buildings and tenements teeming with activity, thousands of automobiles rushing somewhere important. And it all seems so solid, so permanent, so unmovable, so absolutely necessary.

But all it would take is one war, one riot, one dirty bomb, one natural disaster, one marauding army, one economic catastrophe, one vial containing one virus to bring it all smashing down. We’ve seen it happen in Hiroshima. In Dresden. In Bosnia. In Rwanda. In Baghdad. In Halabja. In New Orleans.

Our society, which seems so sturdily built out of concrete and custom, is just a temporary resting place, a hotel our civilization checked into a couple hundred years ago and must one day check out of. It’s an inevitability tourists can’t help but realize when visiting Mayan ruins, Egyptian ruins, Roman ruins. How long will it be before someone is visiting American ruins?

That’s how the world looks through apocalypse eyes. You start filling in the blanks between a thriving city and a devastated one. You imagine how it could happen, what it would look like, and whether you and the people you love could escape.

Of course I don’t want it to happen. Hopefully, it will never happen. But for the first time in my life, I feel there’s a possibility it will. And that’s enough to motivate me. To motivate me to save myself and my loved ones while there’s still time.

I don’t want to be hiding in cellars, fighting old women for a scrap of bread, taking forced marches at gunpoint, dying of cholera in refugee camps, or anything else I’ve read about in history books. I want to be writing those history books on a beach far away from the mess that self-serving politicians, crooked CEOs, and committed madmen are making of the Western world.

I want to be the one who gets away. The winner of the survival lottery.

But Strauss focuses too much on his narrative rather than the specifics of the preparation itself, and as a result the book has a lot less substance than it could have.