Books: Writers on the Storm

When civilization falls, does it make a sound? Two books about the end of worlds--and what follows

These days, the end of the world isn't a terribly classy affair, but it wasn't always all zombies and asteroids and Mel Gibson. It has a long and distinguished literary history. As early as 1826, Mary Shelley--who also wrote Frankenstein--published a novel called The Last Man, in which a plague whittles humanity down to a single final specimen. In Samuel Beckett's play Endgame, crippled wretches crouch in a miserable bunker after some ambiguous, eschatological catastrophe, swapping gallows one-liners as their supplies dwindle.

Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons (Random House; 422 pages) isn't about the end of the world, just the end of...

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