I have a seemingly endless list of books I’d like to read and when I have really nothing to do, I like to wander around Barnes and Nobel and check out a few randoms and a few on the list. I had added One Second After by William R. Forstchen but happened upon it after about ten minutes in the store. I re-read the back cover and was intrigued when I learned that this book had been cited on the floor of Congress as being a book that “all Americans should read.” That grabbed my attention.
In two days, I blew through 500 pages of this book; crying, laughing, and at times, reading the pages only a few inches of my face because I felt like I couldn’t consume it fast enough. It was easily the single most captivating book that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books.
I like a good apocalyptic story, but it can be difficult to enjoy if you can’t really put yourself in the characters’ situation. I didn’t experience this problem while reading One Second After. In fact, the novel left me with this impending sense of doom that’s hung over my head like a dark cloud since I first opened in a few days ago.
This is a story of an EMP attack on the United States.
An EMP, electromagnetic pulse, attack on the United States would bring our entire country to our knees. Cutting off every last bit of technology that we are so dangerously dependent on. That means all of our cars, pace makes, traffic lights, any form of communication including radio towers, and by extension, access to food, medicine, and even water. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous threats to our country today, although it doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. It appears to be one of those things that the higher ups brush off because ‘although its’s possible, it isn’t likely.’ But that simply isn’t true.
That was, until recently.
It seems as though people at the head of our government (like, the actual President) are finally starting to take it seriously. This is great. But it still freaks me, and a lot of other, people out. Mainly, though, because we sort of have to face our own mortality and entertain the possibility of an EMP attack, and quite possibly, the only thing that could truly destroy our country.
I’m not going to go into specifics of what an EMP attack actually is, because I don’t feel as though I’m qualified to explain it in a way that could do it justice. But you can watch the video above for a quick explanation, or click here, here, or here to read about it.
Now back to the book.
The story centers around the main character, John Matherson’s, experience during the attack. Quicker than a lightening strike, John’s phone call is cut short by the explosion of a nuclear war head over central United States. As an ex-military college professor (who taught military history) John is uniquely qualified to participate in the new, emergency government, controlled under the mandated Martial Law, that has formed in his small town in rural North Carolina.
John (and us, the readers, through his eyes) encounter the terror of what this brings. But what is the most jarring are the moral challenges that both John and every other citizen in the U.S. are faced with. These challenges face what to do when your beloved dog and your child are both starving, when pregnancy occurs, when women sell their bodies for a bowl of soup and a place to sleep for the night. Things we don’t want to think of, and things that aren’t typically part of the story lines of other apocalyptic novels.
More often than not, the dilemmas that these characters have to confront are unimaginable for us pampered Americans. But I loved how, even after everything they help most dear was ripped away from them, the citizens of this town were desperately clinging to their identity as Americans.
I don’t want to give too much away because, like Honor Roscoe G. Bertlet who spoke to Congress about the book, I believe every American should read One Second After.
I’ll give you a moment to add it to your own book list or Amazon shopping cart….
So after reading this, I made a list of simple things that I can keep in my house that would come in handy for any form of disaster: canned food, water, medicine, even toilet paper and hand sanitizer. (Ironically enough, I also wrote an apocalyptic-themed article a few weeks back. Even before I added One Second After to my reading list.) Even just having that corner of the guest room closet holding those essentials makes me feel a little better.
Let me be clear, I don’t think this is something we should be worrying about every single day. I just think it is important to be aware of this threat. And an easy way to do this, is to read this book.
It was wonderfully written and I felt like I knew John Matherson and his family. Like, if I ran into his character in my dream, I would welcome him as an old friend. Forstchen does a phenomenal job bringing the characters to life and giving them a realistic level of emotional depth.
I know this is going to be one of those books that I read every year or so for the rest of my life. It’s already something I haven’t been able to shut up about for the past five days. Although I do think it will be helpful to understand the impact of an EMP attack on the U.S., it is also just a fantastically warm and endearing tale of human survival.