Apocalypse How? Technology and the Threat of Disaster

Apocalypse How? Technology and the Threat of Disaster

Oliver Letwin
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
Apocalypse How? by Oliver Letwin is a book that looks at how resilient the UK is and how its dependency on modern technology is converging. Oliver Letwin was, until last year, a member of parliament and, pertinently for this book, the minister responsible for UK national resilience, sitting on the National Security Council.

The book is both a work of fiction and a non-fictional study. It mixes, over alternate chapters, an account of how Britain might react to a 'Carrington' event in the year 2037 and what effect it would have on a society which had become increasingly dependent on converging technology that was utterly inter-connected [a "Carrington" event is a solar coronal mass ejection that causes widespread outages in the powergrid - named after the British Astronomer who recorded such an event in 1859] with an analysis of why the country would have got itself into such an unresilient position.

This is a book whose individual components work very well but the overall effect doesn't quite gel. Letwin is clearly extremely knowledgeable (he evidently listened carefully to his civil servants!) and the non-fiction part of the book explains why politicians might find themselves taking the decisions that lead, knowingly, to a scenario like this. It makes the case effectively for why convergent technology should be avoided so that there is no resilience or redundancy. I would probably posit that it expends a little too much time doing so: as the book continues, I did find myself thinking that I had got the point already.

Equally the fictional account actually reads really well and immersed the reader into the scenario really smoothly. I think Letwin has a genuine future as a novelist should he choose! Where I felt the book let itself down therefore was the constant chopping and changing between fiction and non-fiction and the overly long preachy description of why we (or, rather, our politicians) need to change course. As someone who was previously the person responsible for making the case for such a change in tack, I can't help feel that this comes across as a little hypocritical - if he didn't make the case effectively when he was in charge, he may struggle now he is an academic and no longer in power.

I recognise that this review may seem to come across as relatively negative, and I genuinely don't feel negative about the book; to summarise I think that this is a well written and thought out book, probably let down by its editing and construction. One can only hope that those now in power take decisions based on sufficient consideration of the resultant secondary and tertiary effects.

The book is available on Amazon for £6.64 on Kindle and £10.30 for the hard back version.

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