Computing Reviews

Practical doomsday: a user’s guide to the end of the world
Zalewski M., No Starch Press, San Francisco, CA, 2022. 250 pp. Type: Book
Date Reviewed: 04/18/22

Why is this book relevant to computing professionals? When this book was made available for review, I was curious about why it was listed, and I selected it. We all have digital assets that we protect. In day-to-day behavior, we back up our data and our work, archive passwords, install antivirus and other protective software, and avoid online behaviors that can compromise the integrity of our work or equipment. These digital assets must be protected in a disaster event.

“Doomsday” in the title conjures up apocalyptic images of Stephen King’s The stand or Mad Max. Once the reader’s attention has been captured and they open the book, they will find a comprehensive essay on risks, their assessment, and measures that may be taken. “Doomsday” may come in various forms, as may be easily seen on the news: floods, wildfires, hurricanes, civil strife, war, pandemics, and economic downturns. This book has something to say about them all.

The book is divided into four parts, with each one focusing on an aspect of coping with trouble. Each part is organized with a brief initial chapter expanding on the meaning of its title and subsequent chapters covering in detail an aspect of the part’s theme.

The first part is on risk and assessing risk. The kinds of risks that a person may experience can range from individual situations (for example, failing health, losing a job) to large-scale misfortunes in which many people are affected (for example, a hurricane or the closing of a factory) to global catastrophes (for example, runaway climate change or a plague like the Black Death). The point of this part is assessing the likelihood of a misfortune, because this assessment will govern the measures one needs to take. If you live in North Dakota, you do not need to prepare for a hurricane as you would need to in Louisiana or Florida. Instead, you prepare for extreme cold and blizzards. However, everyone could suffer the same individual calamity when it comes to something like an injury from a power tool.

The second part is on developing a life style that incorporates preparation for likely problems. This part is wide ranging: having an accessible rainy-day fund of money to cope with problems, managing a career, behaving safely, digital and physical safety (including burglary, muggings, and home invasions), watching one’s health, engaging with the community, and making a plan (including a will). Chapter 7, “Safeguarding Your Savings,” has one of the clearest brief discussions of financial instruments I have seen. Although the promises of secure financial assets in cryptocurrencies are advertised on gas-pump television, anything that seems too good to be true probably is. I am reminded of the 17th Century Dutch “tulip mania.”

Part 3 is on emergency planning, primarily at the household level. This is an annual exercise in Florida in anticipation of hurricane season. The part’s ten chapters cover a range of topics, from the storage of water to emergency communication tools. There are plenty of helpful tips and suggestions, some of which could be added to our Florida hurricane planning. In Florida, we are urged to prepare a covered five-gallon bucket for hurricane season with our valuables. In addition to the usual documents, add your back-up drives.

The short Part 4, “Active Self-Defense,” is for readers who have reason to be fearful for their property or life from a criminal. Those who know they are not another Chuck Norris or Wyatt Earp will need to read the fourth part. Legal restrictions on self-defense vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The doomsday/survivalist book genre is a large, amorphous collection of publications, including books like The doomsday handbook by Alok Jha [1], a catalog of apocalyptic calamities ranging from artificial superintelligence to galactic collision; Doomsday preppers complete survival manual by Michael S. Sweeney [2], the companion book to a National Geographic television series from a decade ago covering survival techniques in different types of wilderness environments; and Countdown to preparedness by Jim Cobb [3], consisting of 52 (week-by-week) checklists of items and amounts that need to be collected over a year to have a well-stocked reserve of survival goods. Zalewski’s book is different in that it has a realistic approach to what doomsday can mean to the average person (the usual disasters ranging from a hurricane to the loss of a job) accompanied by evaluations of means of coping that are serious and sensible.

The book is very well written--conversational in tone, cohesive in structure, and comprehensive in coverage. It is a good read. Anyone whose livelihood and professional identity rely on data and software should read it.


1)

Jha, A. The doomsday handbook. Quercus, New York, NY, 2011.


2)

Sweeney, M. S. Doomsday preppers complete survival manual. National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2012.


3)

Cobb, J. Countdown to preparedness. Ulysses Press, Berkeley, CA, 2014.

Reviewer:  Anthony J. Duben Review #: CR147431

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