One Year After Book Review

One Year After Book Review

Adapting to Life after “The Day

William Forstchen continues his story about the people of Black Mountain after an EMP strike in One Year After. Readers learn that over 80% of Americans have died in the year following the EMP strike. Over half of the population of Japan, Eastern Europe, western Russia, and the Ukraine have also perished. The survivors find that much of America has devolved into chaos as tribal factions vie for power over the remaining states. China has deployed troops under the guise of “maintaining stability.” The US government, in an effort to restore order, issued draft notices to hundreds of military aged men and women in Black Mountain. We rejoin the story’s lead character, John Matherson, as he addresses the townspeople.

Following the bitter battle Black Mountain’s militia fought against The Posse, Black Mountain residents believed themselves to have seen and experienced enough suffering. Matherson and his wife, Makala, were nominated to meet with Dale Fredericks, the new federal administrator in Asheville, in an effort to get Black Mountain’s residents an exception to the draft. Matherson assessed Fredericks to be a government bureaucrat intent on controlling Black Mountain. He therefore grew skeptical of Fredericks’ claims to have the people of Black Mountain at heart. One Year After Book Review

Rebuilding

Life in Black Mountain began to strongly resemble that of the 19th century. Ether is again used for surgery and teeth removal, canning and hunting is taught at the college, and the townspeople use their collective brainpower to build a hydroelectric generating system. Electricity, which had been taken for granted before The Day, would need to be restored in order to both boost morale and return some sense of normalcy to the people of Black Mountain. Forstchen beautifully illustrates a world that has been stripped of its former luxuries and the response such a reality elicits from survivors.

Making Friends and Enemies

Forstchen shows how difficult it is to develop trust among people in the absence of our institutions. Matherson’s distrust of Fredericks ultimately proves to be well-founded. The people of Black Mountain learn of Fredericks’ mismanagement of the military he has a hand in controlling and they grow resistant to the prospect of fighting for leaders they don’t believe in. That said, the survivalists living on the outskirts of Black Mountain form a partnership with Matherson. The shared sense of resistance to irresponsible government dictates creates a bond more powerful than any lingering animosities.

Fredericks, sensing a threat to his power, sends a message to the survivalists that he has the resources necessary to assert his legitimacy. Forstchen depicts the carnage, strategy, and human elements of battle in his description of the conflict that erupts between the two warring sides. The recurring themes of integrity and morality are threaded through the pages of One Year After, which make the narrative as instructional as it is engaging. I strongly recommend Forstchen’s sequel to One Second After, especially as we see our own nation losing its own moral compass.

If you want to talk further about the book, please leave a comment below or contact me directly. Please also read my review of One Second After. If you want to see more Forstchen books, you can head to the Bunker Basics Store.

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The Fifth Risk Book Review

The Fifth Risk Book Review

A Different Take on the Government

Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker, The Big Shortand Moneyball, delves into the workings of government bureaucracy in his new book, The Fifth Risk. Lewis manages to remove political ideology from his narrative, instead focusing on the work performed by civil servants within the Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Energy (DOE), NASA, and other government institutions. I will readily admit that I’m unconvinced about the importance of the government, though Lewis manages to persuade even his most skeptical readers of the value we derive from government investments and programs.

Roughly seventy percent of the US government’s employees are in some way responsible for the safety and security of the American people. Lewis hones in on the DOE’s job of maintaining and protecting our nuclear weapons. Moreover, the DOE works to prevent terrorists from developing their own nuclear arsenals. Lewis suggests that it’s of critical importance to properly understand, staff, and manage these government projects, otherwise we increase the likelihood of large scale disasters. The titular risk Lewis wants us to consider to better prevent such disasters is that of project management.

Why the DOE is So Important

United States government investments in nuclear weapons during the Cold War enabled our country to amass an inventory of thousands of nuclear warheads. This nuclear stockpile, though, came at a price. Two-thirds of the plutonium used in the United States’ nuclear weapons was created at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State. With Cold War tensions cooling, the government allowed the reactors to cool as well. Though the war has ended and the reactors have been decommissioned, it will take Hanford at least “a century and a hundred billion dollars” to clear away the nuclear waste.

Nuclear cleanup projects like the one in Hanford only account for some of the DOE’s portfolio of responsibilities. Lewis interviewed Tarak Shah, the former Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the Department of Energy, about a terrorist attack carried out against our energy grid.

“Late one night, just southeast of San Jose, at Pacific Gas and Electric’s Metcalf substation, a well-informed sniper, using a .30-caliber rifle, had taken out seventeen transformers. Someone had also cut the cables that enabled communication to and from the substation… ‘We actually don’t have a transformer reserve… Our electric-grid assets are growing vulnerable.'” (66)

Forty percent of our hydroelectric power comes from the grid mentioned above. Investments in its continued protection are incredibly important as we grow increasingly reliant on electrical power.

Dismantling Our Core Institutions

In examining the operations of various government departments, Lewis shows his readers that many civil servants have gone unrecognized while protecting us from the threats of natural and man-made disasters. They’ve funded technological developments that have served as the backbones of many of our biggest industries. How about the weather reports we take for granted (and sometimes ignore?) These are the results of sustained government research projects and investments in improved technology.  Lewis makes it clear that the criticism and outright effort to privatize much of the government is a recipe for devastating consequences.

Barry Myers is the CEO of AccuWeather, a company that packages up the government’s weather reports and sells them for profit. The presidential administration picked Myers to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lewis warns that Myers has a financial incentive to prevent the government’s distribution of weather information. Only paying customers of AccuWeather will receive weather forecasts or warnings. This withholding of information will cost lives, especially as catastrophic weather events are a more common occurrence.

I recommend The Fifth Risk to government supporters and skeptics alike. Lewis, known for unravelling difficult subject matter and eloquently explaining it, offers a convincing argument for the continued funding of our government and its many projects. Whether you agree or disagree, please share your opinion in the comment section, or contact me directly.

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Winners Take All Book Review

Winners Take All Book Review

A Growing Divide

Anand Giridharadas, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, draws attention to the hypocrisy practiced among the “philanthropic” elites in his Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Giridharadas introduces us to “MarketWorld,” the universe in which corporate executives, thought leaders,  and globalists operate. While MarketWorld has grown aware of the fractures that have emerged in our society, they seek to find “win-win” solutions to our many problems. The elites believe themselves to be the agents of change who can usher in an era of global prosperity, assuming its on their terms. In MarketWorld, wage stagnation, growing inequality, and systemic racism can all be addressed through the free markets, strategic investments, automation, and revamped business models. What Giridharadas makes clear, though, is that those in MarketWorld must make sacrifices to repair these societal fractures. We learn that they have so far systematically ensured they won’t have to do so.

Bandaids Can’t Stop the Hemorrhage

Davos, the Aspen Institute, TED, and the Clinton Global Initiative. These are all gatherings of elites in which speakers share superficial solutions to our deep rooted problems. Those in attendance are told that we need to zoom in on the individual in order to empower him or her to speak up in the boardroom or find the perseverance to escape the cycle of poverty. The speakers who frequent these conferences tailor their presentations to the elites paying them. They make their messages as palatable as the bite sized tacos served by the waitstaff. With a focus placed on the individual, MarketWorld can avoid the scrutiny for creating a system in which the fortunate few can profit.

While Giridharadas does pull some punches, he doesn’t spare all of the MarketWorld operatives. Members of the Sackler family are known to many as philanthropists who donated millions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University. Giridharadas points out that their company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, is largely responsible for the opioid epidemic due to its creation and aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Donating millions does not excuse the billions made from getting the nation addicted to your pills. Giridharadas also mentions philanthropic bankers, technology executives, and university professors by name in describing the injustices MarketWorld created.

Maintaining the Status Quo

While the elites spend money on “win-win” initiatives and donate to their pet causes, they also spend fortunes maintaining the status quo. Corporate lobbyists descend upon Washington to ensure labor unions don’t disrupt business as-usual and tax bills are kept to a minimum. MarketWorld feels it can implement change while preventing major change from occuring. The hypocrisy that Giridharadas so vividly illuminates kept me from putting his book down. Giridharadas proposes that increased government regulation, higher corporate and personal tax rates, and better access to healthcare may actually help our ailing nation realize the changes the elites so publicly state they support. This, of course, would slow the gravy train they so very much enjoy riding on.

Winners Take All offers a pointed explanation of why there is growing discontent with the elites in our society. With such vast resources being spent on maintaining the status quo, I fear we will grow increasingly more divided. I prepare for the moment when those who have been left behind assert themselves. One could only hope this assertion isn’t done violently.

If you’d like to chat further about the book, feel free to contact me or leave a comment in the comment section. You can find other books I enjoy in the Bunker Basics Store.

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One Second After Book Review

One Second After Book Review

When Life as You Know It Ends

William Forstchen’s One Second After follows the life of John Matherson after an EMP strike rids Black Mountain, North Carolina of electricity. Matherson, a former Army Colonel and well respected college professor, recognizes the extent of the crisis early. Having learned about them during wartime, he informs the town’s leaders about EMPs:

“We finally figured out that when you set off a nuke in space, that’s when the EMP effect really kicks in, as the energy burst hits the upper atmosphere. It becomes like a pebble triggering an avalanche, the electrical disturbances magnifying… It’s called the ‘Compton effect.'” (63-64)

The EMP rendered most cars useless, led to a run on banks, and made communication at a distance impossible. Planes, including Air Force 1, fell out of the sky. The nation’s inhabitants had grown so accustomed to the luxuries of modern living that chaos ultimately replaced the former comforts.

Prepping for the Long Haul

Matherson knew that power was not coming back anytime soon, so he took immediate steps to prepare. The father of a diabetic daughter, Matherson collected as much insulin as he could from the pharmacy. He stocked up on cigarettes to both sustain his nicotine addiction and potentially use them as currency. Lastly, Matherson wanted his family close. His father in law was located in a nursing home, which was very poorly equipped to handle an EMP. Technology meant to help the elderly survive shut down, resulting in the unfortunate demise of many in the facility. Matherson saves his father in law from this same fate by bringing him home to be cared for by those who love him.

Matherson appreciated how desperate many of the town’s inhabitants would get when left without food. He pulled out his guns, coached his daughters how to use them, and had a plan in place to ensure everyone knew what to do in the event of a break in. Matherson’s prescience kept his family protected and secure.

Collaboration and Cannibalism

Matherson and the rest of Black Mountain’s leaders need to find allies as law begins to erode. They work to develop an alliance with the neighboring Asheville, only to disappointingly come away without a mutually beneficial agreement. The Black Mountain leaders therefore need to rely more heavily on themselves. They build a militia of college students to protect against outside threats, which rumors suggest grow nearer with each passing day. A townsperson bore witness to a cult-like collection of people called “The Posse” slaughtering and feasting on other humans. The people of Black Mountain will not let the town fall without a fight, so they ready for battle.

Primeval Nature

War breaks out in Black Mountain, which takes both a physical and mental toll on the survivors. I won’t spoil the outcome, but I’ll instead touch upon the psychological effects of disaster Forstchen so beautifully illustrates. In times of bitter distress, people devolve into their most primitive states. Food, water, family, and shelter are all that are valued, and people will kill for each. At the community level, horrific decisions about who lives and who dies need to be made. I argue that in circumstances like in the aftermath of an EMP, we can become increasingly more inhuman. Forstchen’s narrative is an incredibly gripping description of such circumstances that we can both learn from and enjoy.

If you’d like to chat further about the book, feel free to contact me or leave a comment in the comment section. You can read my review of Forstchen’s sequel, One Year After, right here. You can also find other Forstchen books in the Bunker Basics Store.

One Second After Book Review