Culture: How to make good money in bad times
Sunday 12 April 2009
On the face of it, Neil Strauss, the American journalist, has lost his marbles. After the success of The Game, his bestselling book about transforming himself into the world's most successful pick-up artist, he has reinvented himself again, this time as a survivalist. In his new book – called Emergency – he describes the rigorous, three-year training he has undergone in preparation for the imminent collapse of Western civilization.
"I don't want to be hiding in cellars, fighting old women for a scrap of bread, taking forced marches at gunpoint, dying of cholera in refugee camps, or anything else I've read about," he says.
This apocalyptic outlook is always bubbling away under the surface of contemporary life, but is rarely embraced by someone as respectable as Strauss. Not only was his first book lively and well-written, but he is a regular contributor to the New York Times. Why has he succumbed to this doomsday outlook?
In newspaper interviews, he says it is the combination of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the global economic crisis that has convinced him just how fragile our way of life is. "All it would take is one war, one riot, one dirty bomb, one natural disaster, one marauding army, one economic catastrophe, one vial containing one virus to bring it all smashing down," he says.
This is so implausible – the West has survived numerous wars, countless natural disasters and several economic catastrophes – that a cynic would conclude he has embraced this paranoid philosophy in order to sell books. It seems to be working, too. Emergency has spent the last month on the New York Times bestseller list and no doubt it will sell copies here, too.
But his commitment to the cause appears to be genuine. He has been stockpiling food in his house in Los Angeles and he keeps goats in his garden. Not only has he supped with people like Mad Dog – "absolutely the man to see about knives" – but he has drunk the Kool-Aid as well. I don't suppose he will be the last well-regarded author to start thinking this way, either. I predict a wave of bestsellers about the end of the world in the near future.
Emergency, by Neil Strauss, is published by Canongate at £11.99
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