Layering climate science, mythologies, nature writing, and personal experiences, National Magazine Award winner Ben Ehrenreich presents a stunning reckoning with our current moment and with the literal and figurative end of time.
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? 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. 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. For readers of Robert Macfarlane or Elizabeth Rush, Desert Notebooks is a vital and necessary chronicle of our past and our present—unflinching, urgent— yet timeless and profound.
BEN EHRENREICH writes about climate change for The Nation. His work has appeared in 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.
Praise for Desert Notebooks
“Ehrenreich’s Mojave is both eternal and despoiled, a measuring rod for the apocalypse, and proof that nature abides. Progress, he explains to us, is like one of those strange paved streets in the desert running through phantom, unbuilt subdivisions. The pavement ends abruptly, and we find ourselves lost in the furnace-hot badlands of the Present where time and meaning are twisted into enigmatic and terrifying forms that recall the end-time visions of cultures vanquished by ‘civilization.’ 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
“The past few years of an accelerated, increasingly destructive climate crisis have brought a number of books that struggle to respond accordingly to a crisis of such magnitude; several writers have met this existential challenge with an equally existential discussion of the ways that the climate crisis affects our understanding of human history and time itself. Ben Ehrenreich, a columnist for The Nation, takes this discussion to the American southwest, examining the intersection of science, mythology, and landscape in the desert, in particular in Joshua Tree and Las Vegas. In these settings, Ehrenreich’s book reflects on the ways that the prospect of extinction has affected our understanding of time, and how we use that shift in perspective as we move forward.” –Corinne Segal, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
“The crisis humanity faces is total. It’s planetary. It’s a crisis in space and also in time. How close are we to the end? Is this land we stand on going to be inhabitable in one hundred years, sixty, forty? In sharply featured, compelling prose–the landscape writing here has the heartbreaking clarity of the experience of desert light–Ben Ehrenreich’s stunning Desert Notebooks 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. Ben Ehrenreich wants you to join him here, on earth. The thrill of Desert Notebooks is that in its lucid pages such a miracle seems almost possible.” –Anthony McCann, author of Shadowlands
“Ben Ehrenreich walked the deserts of the Occupied Territories for his previous book; in Desert Notebooks, he takes us with him into the Mojave–its coyotes, creosote, and Joshua trees. He descends barrancas and canyons, hikes boulder-strewn slopes into labyrinthine stacks of Jorge Luis Borges’s great Library, from which he draws out stories from that time ‘when animals were people, ‘ narratives by the Chemehuevi, the Serrano, the Mohave, and other desert peoples. These echo in texts by Martin Bernal, Walter Benjamin, the Marquis de Condorcet, and Jakob Böhme’s mystical touchstone–The Signature of All Things–as well as James Mooney’s classic, the Ghost Dance and the Sioux revolt of 1890. Climate change California is burning as Ehrenreich’s meditations prismatically refract heat, smoke, and light. Desert Notebooks is a book for our time–that is, a time scorched by harsh solar rays, shimmering in searing, phosphorescent prose.” –Sesshu Foster, author of ELADATL: A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines