Books

Review | 'We're Doomed. Now What?' Gripping essays both dark, beautiful

If the end of the world is in the offing, what constitutes an ethical life?

Roy Scranton considers this question in “We’re Doomed. Now What?” The collection of essays grapples with the dehumanizing effects of modern warfare and the destructive impact of climate change, arguing that, in the case of the latter, the moment of no return has passed.

“We imagine ourselves at the precipice, again and again and yet again, then return to business as usual, the status quo of buying and selling, driving, flying, we’ll have the Wagyu beef, we’ll have the pork belly, we’ll turn up the heat or the lights or the AC, we have a conference to go to, we have business in Palo Alto, Dubai, Cambridge. We imagine each new shock is the real crisis, and a few months later convince ourselves that the fight still goes on.”

Scranton explicitly includes himself in this “we,” and in doing so he avoids taking the tone of a scold.

His interest is in how we can and should live now when options for the future of humanity have been, in his view, severely foreshortened.

Through the very act of grappling with it in essays of varying styles and tones, Scranton creates room to move, suggesting we still have ethical choices, and that the decisions we make aren’t devoid of meaning.

Scranton’s account of and his reflections on his time in Iraq as a member of the military are powerful descriptions of the horror of war as well as the sometimes irresistible pull of military service for those looking to prove something to themselves or other — or who are on a quest for a “real” experience.

Taken together, these essays — dark, often beautiful, frequently scholarly, always gripping — seek to accurately describe things we might prefer not be described.

The work is difficult, noble in intention, and brilliant in execution.

Book Reading

• What: Roy Scranton will read from “We’re Doomed. Now What?”

• When: 7 p.m. July 17

• Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

• Cost: Free

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Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.