This book is fictional reporting about an event that didn’t happen, but very well could of. It’s amazing, my first five star read of the year.
So. In 1988 the US and USSR had a limited nuclear war. In this case, “limited” means the world didn’t blow up completely. Several cities in the US have been turned into craters and radioactive fallout is drifting over the landscape but there are indeed survivors. The authors are making a trip around America five years after what has become known as Warday to see what has become of the country.
I don’t want to tell you any more about the plot because the joy (if you can call it that) of this book is discovering what has become of the US. We start off with so many questions and the authors steadily feed us answers on almost every page. They’re reporters and they give us all kinds of perspectives – interviews, government documents, maps, polls, and more in addition to accounts of their own experiences.
Over the course of the book we see what Warday meant from myriad angles. What would happen to medical care and transportation after a nuclear war? How about industry and agriculture? Who would come to America’s aid, and what would they expect in return? How about international trade? Banking? Immigration? Race relations? What role would the military play? All of these are covered and more.
The chapters are short and read quickly but I kept putting the book down to absorb the situation and its consequences. My copy is dotted with several dozen Post Its and while some are for beautiful writing most highlight parts that made my jaw drop. Here’s one non-spoilery example – after a nuke goes off there’s radioactive fallout, and some people would get radiation poisoning. Mild cases can be treated but after a certain amount of exposure it inevitably leads to a slow, painful death. How do you allocate limited medical supplies when some patients will die no matter what you do? How do you ease their suffering? And where do you draw those lines? This book goes there.
My immediate reaction is to deny that the US would do this or that awful thing, but when you consider the whole situation it’s rooted in fact and makes sense. Heck, it’s logical.
And that is chilling.
Sadly, it’s also relevant today. In a country not to far from me there’s a crazy guy with nuclear weapons, and across the ocean another armed crazy guy is egging him on. As long as there are large scale nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons we need to remember that our own Warday is a real possibility.
But don’t be mistaken, the book isn’t a dreary slog. There’s action and light moments that balance things emotionally as well as keep you reading. I wasn’t anticipating much diversity in perspectives considering this was written over 30 years ago but several people of color are interviewed and a discussion with a black woman may be my favorite part of the book.
Reading Warday has been an unforgettable experience and I highly, highly recommend it.