Martin Amis’ Apocalypse

The late author had long warned of the danger of nuclear catastrophe. The post Martin Amis and Apocalypse appeared first on The American Conservative.

Ed, a friend and fellow sufferer, looked over at me as I lay on the Folger Park lawn in Washington, D.C., with my head resting on a boot after a 17-hour trek that seemed to cover every inch of the city, and asked, “Didn’t you know Martin Amis had died?”

Ed, who was a former Marine Captain and voracious reader, came to know Amis’s work the same way I imagine many in our generation (very late Gen.X) did, by reading Christopher Hitchens. is a name-dropper congenital.


Amis’s prose mastery has been the focus of many retrospectives written since his passing. They have highlighted his ability to use the English language with precision to reach the heart of any subject. Amis is best known for his fiction. However, I consider him to be the finest political essayist in his generation.

Amis said once that masculinity “was without doubt my main topic”. There are many ways masculinity can go awry.

Amis’s forays into nonfiction have at times raised the hackles among his critics, who seemed to be in hordes, due to jealousy, which is rife, especially amongst writers. Amis’s meditation about Stalinism Koba The Fear: Laughter And The Twenty Million was called ” Stalinbad ” by critics. Not least among them, his friend Hitchens who said that “Martin doesn’t know the f***ing different between Bukharin And Bakunin”. His later writings, on 9/11 and terrorism, prompted accusations for Islamophobia.

Amis’s preoccupation with nuclear catastrophe, which was a constant in his work, has been largely overlooked by the media since his death in Florida this past weekend at age 73. Amis’s predictions on this subject are still relevant, particularly given the fact that a former U.S. Defense Attache in Moscow said that “the chances of a nuclear device being used in Ukraine is greater than 50%.”

In his highly acclaimed memoir experience Amis described the Cuban Missile Crisis as seen by a 13-year old.


One long, dankly gleaming night: darkness at noon; a color eclipse; an Icelandic morning. When the TV displayed the fallout predictions, the concentric circle, and the kill targets, I bolted out of the room. We had nuclear drills at school, and we were encouraged to believe, again, that the desk lids could save us from the end.

The early brush with nuclear apocalypse may have contributed to the sense of impending catastrophe that permeates the best of his novels, Money, London Fields and The Information, as well as the worst, Yellow Dog and Lionel Asbo, The State of England.

We of a certain generation will understand. The nun who taught fourth grade in the mid-1980s would often demand that my class hide under their desks on the off-chance the Soviets might blow us to smithereens. To an 8-year old, it did not seem impossible that the Soviets would blow us all to smithereens just a year after KAL007 had been blown from the sky.

Martin Amis, unaware of my existence, was in Washington reporting for Esquire at the time. Amis noted in his essay, “Nuclear City, The Megadeath Intellectuals”, that the language used by “experts” to describe the nuclear apocalypse is, well, wanting.

He wrote that “Washington is nuclear city.” Washington would be willing to participate in any exchange, whether’surgical’,’splendid’, ‘cathartic’, or ‘therapeutic’. San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco would also.

Nineteen-eighty-seven also brought Amis’s short story collection Einstein’s Monsters, in which he asked:

How long will we take to understand that nuclear weapons aren’t weapons but rather gas-filled rooms and global boobytraps, slashed fingers, a global boobytrap, or slashed arms? What else do we need learn about these weapons? There are some people, and it takes all kinds to make the world, who are skeptical of nuclear winter. They feel that extinction is something which they can dismiss.

What was true back then is still true today.

Amis’ true subject was not so much “masculinity”, but rather what the future could hold for humans in the shadows of the bomb. Amis was aware, despite his flaws, that nuclear weapons were at the core of a spiritual illness, one which Americans are still struggling to understand.

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