X-Events, The Collapse of Everything, by John Casti

I was initially very leery about buying this thing. Even though the author has a PhD, he apparently has no qualms selling to the lowest common denominator with a cover that looks like it was ordered up by Ghost Rider’s check-suited publicist. But, I naively thought, the guy studies complexity for a living, so how bad could it be?

Well, let me just say that I began to regret buying this book when, in the first few pages, he attributes the cause of the Arab Spring to a mismatch in complexity between the citizens and the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. I could think of a dozen better reasons why it happened, none of them involving calling the authoritarian former leaders or their greedy guts lifestyles complex.

Mr. Casti then tries to redeem himself with a discussion of what he means by the supposedly technical scientific term ‘complexity’. For a guy with a PhD, he doesn’t try very hard. For in the very next chapter he says he uses the words ‘complex’ and ‘various’ interchangeably throughout the book. So, I guess the Arab Spring argument comes down to the President of Tunisia having more stuff. Or maybe that he bought his flatscreens from Samsung AND Sony.

He promises that his list of X-Events in the second part of the book won’t just be a dumb list of extreme events. But as it turns out, it is. The subtitle of the book is, “The Collapse of Everything”, giving the impression of either an exhaustive list of things that collapse or a simultaneous collapse of all things. But if he wanted to reflect what it’s actually about, the book should be subtitled, “The Collapse of Eleven Unrelated Things”.

I tell ya, I am now officially embarrassed that I read this thing through to the end. The intro makes promises he doesn’t keep. The middle is a random collection of disaster porn any twit with access to Wikipedia could whip up in three or four days. And the finale where he supposedly ties it all together is an ADD nightmare where he can’t stop the momentum of examples long enough to discuss what any of them mean. Do not buy this book. Do not read this book. And I promise to do your dishes for a week if you forget that I bought the fucking thing and actually read it.