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Layering climate science, mythologies, nature writing, and personal experiences, this New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice presents a stunning reckoning with our current moment and with the literal and figurative end of time.
Desert Notebooks examines how the unprecedented pace of destruction to our environment and an increasingly unstable geopolitical landscape have led us to the brink of a calamity greater than any humankind has confronted before. As inhabitants of the Anthropocene, what might some of our own histories tell us about how to confront apocalypse? And how might the geologies and ecologies of desert spaces inform how we see and act toward time – the pasts we have erased and paved over, this anxious present, the future we have no choice but to build? Ehrenreich draws on the stark grandeur of the desert to ask how we might reckon with the uncertainty that surrounds us and fight off the crises that have already begun.
In the canyons and oases of the Mojave and in Las Vegas's neon apocalypse, Ehrenreich finds beauty, and even hope, surging up in the most unlikely places, from the most barren rocks, and the apparent emptiness of the sky. Desert Notebooks is a vital and necessary chronicle of our past and our present – unflinching, urgent – yet timeless and profound.
Ben Ehrenreich's work has appeared in The Nation, Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, and Los Angeles magazine. In 2011, he was awarded a National Magazine Award. His last book, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, based on his reporting from the West Bank, was one of The Guardian's Best Books of 2016. He is also the author of two novels, Ether and The Suitors.
– Editors' Choice, The New York Times Book Review
– An Amazon Best Book of the Month in Nonfiction
"Startlingly original [...] Out of love and despair (where else does art come from?), he has built a potent memorial to our own ongoing end-times."
– William Atkins, The New York Times Book Review
"Writing from deserts across the Southwest – whose tenacious landscape is dotted with Army bases and urban outposts – he draws on Mayan creation myths, anthropological accounts of the decimated Sioux, and Presidential tweets to chronicle humankind's destructive nature. The breadth of reference lends perspective to our continuing struggle to achieve sustainability: as Ehrenreich writes, 'We are not the first people to believe we are living at the end of time.'"
– The New Yorker
"In his timely new book, Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time, a hybrid memoir, travelogue and metaphysical inquiry, Ben Ehrenreich explores how our perception of time changes in a crisis – a crisis like climate change, or COVID-19 [...] [He] fuses the personal with the political in reflections on climate change, the president's disaster du jour and his extensive reading in the desert."
– Jim Ruland, Los Angeles Times
"Confessional, contemplative, intellectually adventurous, Ben Ehrenreich's Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time is a worthy addition to the library of American aridity [...] Ehrenreich's intellectual explorations are challenging but never pretentious [...] [He] shows that deserts can make us wise in new ways."
– Peter Fish, San Francisco Chronicle
"A book about the apocalypse shouldn't be uplifting; but somehow this book manages to be, while at the same time remaining very unflinching. Ehrenreich writes about a lot more than the desert in this book. He's weaving a tale for how we got here. But after you read it, you won't be able to stop thinking about where we are headed."
– Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review's Best Nonfiction of the Month
"A tapestry of aphorisms and personal essays, colonial history and ancient legends [...] Desert Notebooks is a searing indictment of the ascendance of white supremacy over more than 200 years and how the orthodoxy of capitalism has set us on a collision course with climate change."
– Jonathan Hahn, Sierra
"Essential reading about the place and the rest of the world as it relates to it [...] The mix of science, myth, anecdotes, and a profound love for the terrain produces one of my favorite reads of the spring thus far, if not the year."
– Chris La Tray, Buzzfeed
"Desert Notebooks is a strong contender for my best book of the year. Author Ben Ehrenreich offers a profound and lyrical meditation on history, nature, myth, and our changing concepts of time against the backdrop of our ongoing political upheaval and a climate crisis that isn't going away."
– Tom Beans, The Weekly Source
"A remarkable work of cultural history and environmental polemic, at once a stirring portrait of the desert in its purest form and a lament for what's been done to it in the name of progress."
– Mark Athitakis, Inside Hook
"Desert Notebooks takes the reader on a dizzying journey through intellectual histories, Indigenous creation myths, and doomscrolling through news headlines [...] The end result of this ambitious, heady project is something like an anthropological study of the excesses of late capitalism [...] An intriguing array of alternative frameworks of thought."
– Connor Goodwin, High Country News
"An urgent plea to revise our relationship to the planet, each other, and time [...] Lyrical, freshly observed [...] Well-informed and -rendered, passionate reflections on humanity's prospects."
– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"These are the kind of conversations we need to be having – with ourselves and with others. And the desert seems like the right austere setting to be having them. These fine essays take a deep tradition in American writing and extend it into our uncertain and collapsing present."
– Bill McKibben, author of Falter and The End of Nature
"Exciting and illuminating [...] Very few writers have addressed the current planetary crisis as powerfully and insightfully as Ehrenreich does. The book is extraordinary as much for the rigor of its thinking as for the manner of its writing."
– Amitav Ghosh
"This haunting meditation on terminal capitalism and its unthinkable future clearly establishes its author as one of our greatest essayists, wholly contemporary with these strange times."
– Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz
"Combs through history, literature, myth, physics, and ecology to understand how we got here, and how we might find our way out, into forms of time that are made not of our thralldom to capital and petroleum but of our relationships to each other, to our fellow creatures, to plants and rocks and landscapes, and to the stars and sun and moon overhead [...] The thrill of Desert Notebooks is that in its lucid pages such a miracle seems almost possible."
– Anthony McCann, author of Shadowlands