Reading for the Apocalypse

While most of us are fairly certain that the world and its people will keep on spinning after Dec. 21, 2012, the predicted apocalypse according to interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the end of the world is a fascinating topic. The Ashland library is helping out those who can't get enough stories of doom with a guest speaker on Dec. 16, and a compelling display of apocalypse-themed books.

Here's a list of some of the library's reading recommendations for the end of the world.

"Jaguar Wisdom: Mayan Calendar Magic," by Kenneth Johnson. This is an introduction to the spiritual practices of both ancient and contemporary Mayan people. It details the history, culture and mythology of the Mayans, and discusses how the Mayan calendar is interpreted. There also are sections that help readers determine their astrological signs based on the calendar. Finding your day sign is fun and may make for some interesting conversation at cocktail parties.

"Nostradamus and his Prophecies," by Edgar Leoni. The ancient Mayans weren't the only ones with predictions. Medieval seer Nostradamus has been credited, (largely in hindsight), with predicting events such as the French Revolution, the Great Fire of London, the rise of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, both world wars, the first lunar landing and loads of natural disasters. One thing Nostradamus did not predict is the end of the world. In fact, he states that his prophecies extend to the year 3797.

"Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning," by Martin Rees. This may be the most depressing book in the display. After reading it, I'm somewhat stunned that we are here at all. Rees, the U.K.'s Astronomer Royal says that humanity has a 50-50 chance of surviving this century, most likely he says from our own human error and arrogance rather than a natural disaster. In one chapter, he admits to having a standing $1,000 bet that an instance of bioterror of "bio-error" will have killed a million people by 2020.

Rees offers scenarios such as genetically engineered super viruses that wipe out mankind, out-of-control nanobots and high-energy particle experiments that go wrong and blow up the planet. He makes a strong point that we are playing fast and loose with science and technology, opening the door for a heck of a lot to go wrong. The tone of the book is almost shrill at times, and it may be easy for readers to dismiss the sci-fi movie plot scenarios he offers. However, Rees is a fine academic writer and the book has a thought-provoking discussion about the responsibility of scientists to consider the future impact of their work.

"The Real History of the End of the World," Sharan Newman. This is a fun and interesting read. As an added bonus, Newman, a medieval historian, will discuss the book in Ashland and talk about a variety of doomsday predictions throughout time. Newman's book is lighthearted and skeptical. She takes readers on a tour of doomsayers and end-of the-world predictions from ancient Babylonians to a man in China who claimed to be the little brother of Jesus to the Y2K frenzy and recent rapture predictions.

In one chapter, Newman quotes the Reverend Jerry Falwell's description of the rapture in which he vividly describes the event happening in a car. The Christian driver will simply vanish, leaving nothing but his or her clothes and belongings, as well as a surprised non-Christian passenger in the still-speeding car, which eventually veers off the road and crashes. Sharan suggests that perhaps letting Christians drive during the rapture isn't a good idea.

The book's chapters explore the history, religious and social beliefs of the time, and consider what these predictions and our fascination with them say about human nature.

Newman's discussion at the library will be from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. For more information on the talk call 541-774-6996.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at

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