Bookshelf: Disaster-Related Readings

  • Reading is one of the great pleasures of my life. I have collected here some disaster-related works that I enjoy, both fiction and non-fiction. This is not intended as a listing of reference materials. Feel free to email me with suggestions of books to read, especially novels!



    Station Eleven; Emily St. John Mandel

    "Survival is Insufficient: Station 'Eleven' Preserves Art After the Apocalypse. Emily St. John Mandel's new novel, Station Eleven, opens with a vain actor — and is there really any other kind? — who dies of a heart attack onstage as he plays King Lear in Toronto. His co-stars can't remember if he had a family to notify. But soon, within minutes, the death of one man playing Lear disappears into the vast, mass death of a worldwide plague called the Georgia Flu. And the novel skips forward 20 years to a young woman who was just eight when she was on stage with that actor and is now trying to make her way in a world that's been shorn of most of what we call civilization." Read the rest of the NPR review.


     Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4); James S. A. Corey

    Note: This is book number 4 of The Expanse series (yes, the same series as the Amazon Prime Video show). I highly recommend the series, but I think this book can be read as a stand-alone. No review, as most contained spoilers, but here is an illustrative quote from the book:

    • “Apocalyptic explosions, dead reactors, terrorists, mass murder, death-slugs, and now a blindness plague. This is a terrible planet. We should not have come here.” 


    Dies the Fire; SM Stirling

    "What is the foundation of our civilization? asks Stirling in this rousing tale of the aftermath of an uncanny event, "the Change," that renders electronics and explosives (including firearms) inoperative. As American society disintegrates, without either a government able to maintain order or an economy capable of sustaining a large population, most of the world dies off from a combination of famine, plague, brigandage and just plain bad luck. The survivors are those who adapt most quickly, either by making it to the country and growing their own crops—or by taking those crops from others by force. Chief among the latter is a former professor of medieval history with visions of empire, who sends bicycling hordes of street thugs into the countryside. Those opposing him include an ex-Marine bush pilot, who teams up with a Texas horse wrangler and a teenage Tolkien fanatic to create something very much like the Riders of Rohan. Ultimately, Stirling shows that while our technology influences the means by which we live, it is the myths we believe in that determine how we live. The novel's dual themes—myth and technology—should appeal to both fantasy and hard SF readers as well as to techno-thriller fans." Publishers Weekly



    The Impossible Has Already Happened: What Coronavirus Can Teach Us About Hope; Rebecca Solnit

    "In the midst of fear and isolation, we are learning that profound, positive change is possible." A thoughtful piece on disasters, connections, and what may emerge from our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the April 7, 2020 issue of The Guardian.


    It's going to be okay; Matthew Inman

    A short, inspiring story from the creator of The Oatmeal, told in web comic format. Not available in print. Read It's going to be okay here.


    Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital; Sheri Fink

    "Eight years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Floodwaters rose in the Uptown streets surrounding Memorial Medical Center, where hundreds of people slowly realized that they were stranded. The power grid failed, toilets overflowed, stench-filled corridors went dark. Diesel generators gave partial electricity. Hospital staff members smashed windows to circulate air. Gunshots could be heard, echoing in the city. Two stabbing victims turned up at this hospital, which was on life support itself, and were treated. By Day 4 of the hurricane, the generators had conked out. Fifty-two patients in an intensive care wing lay in sweltering darkness; only a few were able to walk. The doctors and nurses, beyond exhaustion, wondered how many could survive. When evacuations were done, 45 patients had not made it out alive. The State of Louisiana began an investigation; forensic consultants determined that 23 corpses had elevated levels of morphine and other drugs, and decided that 20 were victims of homicide". Read the rest of the New York Times Review.

    Sheri also wrote a New York Times Magazine article about Hurricane Harvey, Lost in the Storm.


    The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why; Amanda Ripley

    "Amanda Ripley's new book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - And Why, is the thinking person's manual for getting out alive. In moments of total disaster - plane crashes or terrorist attacks - something happens in our brains that affects the way we think. We behave differently, often irrationally. Consider the World Trade Center workers who, on Sept. 11, dithered at their desks, calling relatives, turning off computers and pondering which mementos to rescue from their desks even as the doomed jets burned above their heads." Read the rest of the NPR Review.