The Fate of the Earth Paperback – Oct 1988
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From the Inside Flap
Reviews of The Fate of the Earth
This is a work of enormous force. There are moments when it seems to hurtle almost out of control, across an extraordinary range of fact and thought. But in the end, it accomplishes what no other work has managed to do in the years of the nuclear age. It compels usand compel is the right wordto confront head on the nuclear peril.”
New York Times Book Review
There have been thousands of commentaries on what this new destructive power of man means; but my guess is that Schell’s book . . . will become the classic statement of the emerging consciousness.”
Max Lerner, New Republic
Reviews of The Abolition
As always, Schell is interesting and ingenious, eloquent and sometimes moving. He presents his case with clarity, and with candor about its possible shortcomings.”
A reasoned argument. . . . As this work will do much to stimulate the ongoing nuclear debate, it is highly recommended.”
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"In the Fate of the Earth," as the title suggests, Schell goes global. No longer is he addressing a dirty little war half way around the world, fought by a slender percentage of the American population, and viewed by the vast majority on their TV sets, over dinner. The war that Schell fears, a nuclear holocaust, is one that would come crashing into everyone's living room, TV or no. The book was written in the Cold War period, 1982, when the Soviet Union and the United States had thousands of nuclear armed missiles pointed at each other. The military doctrine of the time went by the suitable acronym, MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction.) The rationale, as it were, assumed the "players" were rational, and would never "push the button" since they would know it meant their own death as well.
Alamogordo, New Mexico is in the first sentence in Schell's book, and I live roughly half-way between nearby Trinity site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated, and Los Alamos, NM, where man's mind "created it," with a primary tool being mathematics, and the black board. Schell's first chapter is entitled "A Republic of Insects and Grass," suitable, since that is about all that would be left if the button was pressed. In his flat, scholarly style, without real histrionics, he describes what the world would look like if the holocaust came to pass. Not for the "fun read" crowd for sure. Regrettably, this possible outcome is considered all too infrequently. Fittingly, Schell quotes Kafka: "There is infinite hope, but not for us."
In his second chapter Schell moves deep into eschatology. Not only is all mankind wiped out, but "they can't get up when the film stops, and try again." Mankind, and its achievements on earth are gone forever, beyond recall. Schell does pose the arguments against a heightened concern, due to no second acts (p. 117), and then proceeds to critique them. To me, it is only so much "icing on the cake." I'm still in the school that if everyone is killed, that alone should be reason enough, and to devote a third of the book to more philosophical musings about the eternal emptiness is, well, redundant.
Schell presents a strong polemic against nuclear weapons, as well as a call for action. He concludes with: "...as I trust and believe, we will awaken to the truth of our peril, a truth as great as life itself, and, like a person who has swallowed a lethal poison but shakes off his stupor at the last moment and vomits the poison up, we will break through the layers of our denials, put aside our fainthearted excuses, and rise up to cleanse the earth of nuclear weapons."
Thirty years on, and his trust might be shaken. It hasn't happened. The Soviet Union has collapsed, which lessens the possibilities of the Big Holocaust, but on the other hand, there has been a proliferation of nuclear weapons, expanding the possibilities for a World War I beginning, in which a smaller country uses its weapons first, and a tit-for-tat "chain reaction" occurs, involving all the major powers. I see where Schell continues to try to focus our attention on the problem of extinction via nuclear weapons in a recent book entitled The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger (American Empire Project). Bravo for his efforts in fighting "the good fight." Though this book can be a bit redundant, perhaps it needs to be, because there is no real action yet that would justify Schell's "trust." 5-stars.
If you are interested in understanding how the humans manage to avoid blowing themselves up (so far) this is an important source document.
The NYT said in 1982 that is should be reviewed as an "event of profound historical moment rather than as a book".
If you are interested in how history can be changed by a book read this.
While a great read, this book is rather depressing. It paints a rather bleak picture about humanity and outlines how simple it would be for humanity to be annihilated. I knocked off one star not for this reason, but simply because the book was not mind-blowing - it was great, but not fantastic.