The Little Book of the End of the World

BOOK: The Little Book of the End of the World
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub





The Language of the End of the World


1  Planet-Killers and Creators

2  The Elements Against Us: Water, Fire, Earth and Wind


3  Classical Religions and the Families of Gods

4  The Good Book: Origins of the Apocalypse

5  The Messiah and the Antichrist

6  The Book of Revelations

7  Reading Revelations: Interpretations and Hidden Meanings

8  The End of the World in Other Religions

9  The Home of the Apocalypse: Politics of the Middle East


10  Cults, Sects and Schisms

11  Portents of the End: Nostradamus and Prophecies

12  Britain and the Apocalypse

13  Newton, Numbers and Secret Messages

14  Secrets and Revolutions

15  Apocalypse Gothic

16  The Nazi Apocalypse

17  Mutually-Assured Destruction

18  Alternative Beliefs of the Twentieth Century

19  Apocalypse Now


20  A Beginner’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse

21  The Ultimate Future



I probably won’t remember to thank all of the people who helped to make this book possible: there are a lot of them, and even if you didn’t make it to this page, you still deserve my thanks. So to everyone who’s known about this project and offered your help, support and kind words – thank you.

My family, who gave me everything I ever needed: like most families, I probably didn’t realise that until many years later.

Dan – at some stage, you won’t need to keep telling me you believe in me, and I might believe you. But that’s not an excuse to stop.

Sarah Cunningham – your illustrations have brought to life some crazy ideas and weird concepts that I thought were confined to my head. Working together has been amazing, and I’m looking forward to doing it again. And thanks to Sean Redahan for suggesting we do it.

Declan Flynn and the rest of the gang at THP – thanks for believing in this little book, and in my ability to make it happen.

Kiera Bruce, Michael Neville, Tim Nagle and anyone else I’ve asked random questions of: now you know why.

Dave and John Hendrick, Bruno Batista and everyone else involved in DICE, without whom I’d never have the pep-talks and confidence to do this stuff.

Claire C. Riley, Adam Oster, Eli Constant and Wulf Francu Goldgluck – I met a crazy bunch of people all embarking on a weird literary journey at around the same time. You’ve provided some great company and friendship, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


This is a book about the End of the World: consider yourself warned.

It’s not a simple thing to write a book about. After all, the world is a big place and there are many, many ways in which it could come to an end. In fact, there are probably more world-ending events that could happen than we could fit into a book this size and still call it ‘little’. This book addresses just some of them.

As a species, we think about the End of the World a lot: we talk about it, we write about it, we worry about it. We even make plans for what we’d do if and when it happens.

The End of the World captures our imagination with fantastical imagery of fire and brimstone, of gigantic monsters and the dead returning to life. But it also reminds us of our own mortality, posing one massive question: what will we do when faced with our imminent death?

The End of the World affects us both on a personal level and as a much larger culture as well: whole religions and philosophies have developed, some taking their fear and thoughts about the End of the World as a starting point, others suggesting that salvation is possible, and that those faithful few will not be affected by the End. These religions don’t just have their ideas about how the world will end, but what we, as individuals, should do to ensure that we’ll survive when it happens.

But the End isn’t always the End: even in the face of war and destruction, we’re an optimistic bunch, and we have convinced ourselves that there might be something coming afterwards, that maybe if this world ends, there’s another world that will have us.

Waiting for the End has overshadowed whole lives and cultures, even started wars. While the End of the World might bring us together as a people, there are so many different ideas about it that these ideas divide us as well.

The End of the World is no laughing matter. Until you’ve lived through it, and then it becomes something you can joke about over a few drinks.

In fact, in addition to all these theories about how the world will end, we’ve all survived multiple near misses, becoming hardened survivalists, and earning the right to be flippant about the Apocalypse. After all, the Mayans had us all written off by 2012; the computers – or perhaps it was the computer programmers – were coming to get us for Y2K; and let’s not forget the mad scientists in their underground bunkers who threatened to wipe us out to recreate the Big Bang. That’s three averted high-profile Apocalypses in just twelve years.

In this book, we’ll look at those near misses that fill us with confidence, as well as the beliefs that drive our fears.

First, we’ll talk about some of the real threats that our home planet throws our way, wiping out small communities and leaving us with horror stories that have instilled fear in our ancestors. Some of these fears turned into legitimate beliefs, and there are many religious elements to the End of the World: we’ll look at how our collective faith, hopes and fears have influenced our thoughts about the Endtimes.

Finally, we’ll also look at some specific cases, near misses or moments from the world of politics that have hit especially close to home: perhaps somebody thought the world would end, but it didn’t; or maybe somebody did something crazy or stupid, forever changing how we think about the End of the World.

Don’t let that scare you. We’ve lived through it all.

If that doesn’t make you feel invincible, nothing will.


There are as many different ways of talking about the End of the World as there are theories how it might happen. Some are conversations to be spoken in the whispered tones of fear – just in case the alien overlords overhear; others are discussed with the religious fervour of someone assured that they are among the righteous who will be saved.

For the purposes of this book, we’ll be using the lot of them, sometimes even in the right context!

The guide below should give you an idea of some of their origins, and why certain words or phrases are used hand-in-hand with the End of the World.

The End of the World
– In case you’re unsure what a book about the End of the World will be discussing, we’re looking at the end of civilisation or the destruction of our home planet, whichever comes first and however that might happen.

As civilisation has grown and changed, so too has the idea of the End of the World: for older cultures, unaware of the size or scope of the planet, the End of the World might have been as small as the elimination of their own town or village, and this book will look at some smaller acts of destruction as well as those larger ones.

Endtimes/End of Days –
There are several different words used throughout religious movements to talk about the End of the World: the Endtimes and End of Days are just two of them. These are used almost exclusively in a religious context, implying that time and humanity will be brought to an end, rather than the world itself. While these Endtimes are typically Christian, there are many similarities between Christianity and other world religions.

– A Greek word where the ‘ch’ is pronounced like a ‘k’, eschatology is the study of the Endtimes: this could be an academic comparison of all religions or a catch-all word to describe everything associated with the End of the World in one religion – so ‘Christian eschatology’ refers to all thoughts and beliefs associated with the Endtimes of that particular religion.

Eschatology is not exclusively religious, however: modern studies have started to incorporate politics and technology into discussions about the End of the World, treating them as equally important as the religious elements.

By picking up this book, you’ve just confirmed yourself as an amateur eschatologist.

– One of the words most widely used to describe and discuss the End of the World, ‘apocalypse’ is also the least appropriate.

‘Apocalypse’ is a Greek word meaning ‘removing a veil’ and is used to mean the realisation of knowledge: it is used interchangeably with ‘Revelations’ as the name for the last book of the Bible. In this book, the writer outlines a dream about the End of the World and discusses the knowledge he gets from witnessing these events: it is an Apocalyptic dream because of this realisation, not because of the events of the dream.

– Derived from religious references to the End of the World across Christian, Jewish and Muslim beliefs, Armageddon specifically refers to the place where a great battle between good and evil will happen.

The name is mentioned in the Bible and could come from ‘Har Megiddo’ or ‘the hill of Megiddo’, an actual location in modern Israel.

Dystopia –
Dystopia is a word that’s proven very popular in recent years, especially in a fictional context. If utopia is a paradise then dystopia is its natural opposite, a place marked by corrupt governments, starvation and other dangers.

This dystopian world goes hand-in-hand with the post-Apocalyptic world, as writers and philosophers ponder how civilisation will respond to an End of the World that still leaves some of us alive and present on the Earth.

Unfortunately, there have been a few occasions in human history that have given us a good idea of what could happen if this came to pass.



It’s very easy to be confident in the face of the Apocalypse – until we remember what this planet has already been through.

As a species, modern humans have only been occupying this rock for the last 200,000 years. On a planet that is approximately 4.5 billion years old, that makes us a tiny blip on the radar. For the mathematically minded amongst you, our occupancy of the Earth barely amounts to a couple of thousandths of one per cent of time. In the great intergalactic court of natural order, we probably wouldn’t even have a case to argue for squatters’ rights.

During our tenancy, there are many things that the Earth has thrown at us: we call them ‘natural disasters’ because of the effects they have on civilisation, but they’re pretty standard parts of the planet’s life cycle.

BOOK: The Little Book of the End of the World
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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