Monday, April 18, 2011

World Made by Hands

By James Howard Kunstler

This is a book that has been out for a few years, and has already received a great deal of attention. The book is about a changed world, some 40-ish years in the future.  Society is run in an archaic and rudimentary system of survival, humans have gone back to the basics, government is mostly dismantled, and broken hearted communities struggle to regain the knowledge and skillsets that kept our ancestors alive in the 1800's. 

The decline in society is attributed to a compilation of events - terrorist attacks, the collapse of globalism, oil and energy shortages, flu epidemics, natural disasters, all leading to enough disintegration where the citizens are left with little choice but to begin again - by hand.  Most, if not all the survivors, have lost original family members and struggle to reconcile that loss. 

Yet, contrary  to other "end of the world" stories, this book paints a brighter picture, where streams are filled with fish, veggies grow in gardens, and folks regroup and attempt to regain what has been lost.  There is a resurgence in the power of the local church, in music, and in eating good food.  Those not drawn to the church are protrayed loosely as a maruading, pillaging group set on the hill, scavenging and conniving against those down below.   Good vs. Evil. 

All of this seems plausible to me.  Something I could feasibly imagine happening.  However, while the themes at the core seem real, the story line quickly strays far from anything tangibly concrete.  It jumps headfirst into a curious, mystical plot, where the main character is an ex-business exec, who hones skills as a wood carpenter AND a fiddler.  Introduced early in the story is a mysterious religious group with cultish and ambiguous behaviors - exhibiting both benevolent or oppressive antics that leave the reader wondering which side they truly represent. 

This religious cult produces the book's surprise ending - leaving the reader with "more questions than answers".  This ending hints that the book is intended to become a series and in fact, the sequel was released in the fall of 2010 - it is called "The Witch of Hebron", which I have not ventured to read yet.  I'm curious, so I intend to pick it up and give it a go, however, my greatest interest centers on the realistic themes of rebuilding the world after great disaster and destruction. 

The other aspects of the book - the mystical plot, the shallow character development - all of this I found less compelling, so we shall see which audience Kunstler caters more to  - the realistic survivalists types, or the sci-fi bunch. In any case, I find that the book still sticks with me, and I think of it often, as evidenced by my spending some time writing about it. 


This review was submitted by Linda ElderLinda is a busy professional and part time farmer who lives in the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.  In Linda's spare time, she reads a lot of farming and agriculture books, and tries to find novels that weave those themes into them.  Linda's current hobby includes collecting old time recipe books, and trying to learn how to bake from scratch again.

Click to purchase World Made by Hand: A Novel

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