Books: Last Things

THE END OF THE WORLD:

A HISTORY by Otto Friedrich

Coward, McCann & Geohegan

384 pages; $19.95

Up to a certain age, the young have a happy difficulty accepting the inevitability of their own death. But at no point in history has any human being of any age had a problem imagining the end of the world. The day the sun does not rise seems to be buried like a dread case of déjà vu in the collective unconscious, just waiting for a sign or portent to release it.

Otto Friedrich, a senior writer at...