Apocalypse How? Technology and the Threat of Disaster by Oliver Letwin - review by Jamie Bartlett

Jamie Bartlett

Black Sky Thinking

Apocalypse How? Technology and the Threat of Disaster


Atlantic Books 248pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The Rt Hon Sir Oliver Letwin has written one of the most important books of the year. But just because it’s important doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. It’s important in the same way that an injection or life insurance is important.

Apocalypse How? is set in a gleaming, hyperconnected, smart-car-driving 2037. An extreme space weather event knocks out the national grid and our internet-dependent society, which was running so smoothly five minutes ago, is paralysed for days. Hospitals overflow, the BBC goes off air, smart cars go dumb, the elderly freeze and Google Maps stops working (help!). There’s not even any social media for people to turn to in order to complain about it all.

In presenting this scenario, Letwin is making a simple argument: as we become more interconnected in all aspects of our economy and society, we also become less resilient. In case of a black swan event – a mega-hack, a change in space weather, maybe even the emergence of some deadly new virus – we’ll be in serious trouble. You probably knew this anyway. Don’t tell me dark thoughts haven’t entered your head recently concerning coronavirus, baseball bats, tins of beans and so on. Indeed, the timing of Apocalypse

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