The End of the End of the Earth

The End of the End of the Earth

by Jonathan Franzen


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A sharp and provocative new essay collection from the award-winning author of Freedom and The Corrections

The essayist, Jonathan Franzen writes, is like “a fire-fighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames of shame, is to run straight into them.” For the past twenty-five years, even as his novels have earned him worldwide acclaim, Franzen has led a second life as a risk-taking essayist. Now, at a moment when technology has inflamed tribal hatreds and the planet is beset by unnatural calamities, he is back with a new collection of essays that recall us to more humane ways of being in the world.

Franzen’s great loves are literature and birds, and The End of the End of the Earth is a passionate argument for both. Where the new media tend to confirm one’s prejudices, he writes, literature “invites you to ask whether you might be somewhat wrong, maybe even entirely wrong, and to imagine why someone else might hate you.” Whatever his subject, Franzen’s essays are always skeptical of received opinion, steeped in irony, and frank about his own failings. He’s frank about birds, too (they kill “everything imaginable”), but his reporting and reflections on them—on seabirds in New Zealand, warblers in East Africa, penguins in Antarctica—are both a moving celebration of their beauty and resilience and a call to action to save what we love.

Calm, poignant, carefully argued, full of wit, The End of the End of the Earth provides a welcome breath of hope and reason.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A compulsive need to find order, and a love of birding, represent two of the central threads of this stimulating collection of previously published essays from novelist Franzen (Purity). In the opening essay, “The Essay in Dark Times,” Franzen self-identifies as “what people in the world of birding call a lister,” which makes him “morally inferior to birders who bird exclusively for the joy of it.” Throughout the essays that follow, Franzen muses about writing, Edith Wharton, climate change, Antarctica, the photographs of Sarah Stolfa, and birds, always birds. Some of his opinions have already stoked controversy: In “A Rooting Interest,” he comments on Wharton’s privileged position amid New York City’s social elite, and observes she had “one potentially redeeming disadvantage: she wasn’t pretty.” In “Save What You Love,” he takes the Audubon Society to task for naming climate change as the greatest threat to birds, when “no individual bird death can be definitively attributed” to it, while statistics indicate that picture windows and outdoor cats kill three billion birds annually. Whether observing the eerie beauty of Antarctica (“far from having melted,” he reports) or dispensing “Ten Rules for the Novelist,” Franzen makes for an entertaining, sometimes prickly, but always quotable companion. (Nov.)

Kirkus Reviews


A new collection of personal essays from a self-proclaimed "depressive pessimist" and "angry, bird-loving misfit."

Franzen's (Purity, 2015, etc.) third collection of recently published essays and speeches sparkles with intelligent and insightful forays into a limited range of subjects. The opening piece, "The Essay in Dark Times," could function as a primer for the book. We might be "living in an essayistic golden age," while the personal essay "is in eclipse." After recounting lessons learned while working on an essay with a wise New Yorker editor, the author jumps to bashing a "short-fingered vulgarian" and his "lying, bullying tweets," concluding with his bird obsession and global warming, the "biggest issue in all of human history." In "Why Birds Matter," Franzen lovingly describes falcons, roadrunners, and albatrosses, among others. "Wild birds matter," Franzen writes, because "they are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding." In another piece, the author describes his visit to South America to observe the beleaguered Amazon Conservation Association in action. In "May Your Life Be Ruined," he chronicles his travels to Egypt to painfully watch migratory bird-killing with Bedouin falcon trappers. There's literature here, too. In the expected writer-to-writers advice essay, he offers up one page of 10 pithy, odd dos and don'ts—e.g., "You see more sitting still than chasing after." Franzen resuscitates Edith Wharton, praising her "most generously realized" The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, in which she "embraces her new-fashioned divorce plot as zestfully as Nabokov embraces pedophilia in Lolita." There's also the affectionate "A Friendship," in which the author praises William Vollmann's work ethic, vast projects, fine style, and "hunger for beautiful form." The last, titular essay about a voyage to Antarctica is worth the cover price.

Witty, reflective, opinionated essays from a writer with the ability to "laugh in dark times."

From the Publisher

"Narrator Robert Petkoff gives voice to the edgy, eclectic, and energetic ideas of National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen. Petkoff hits the difficult balance between being ironic and earnest that is so characteristic of the author's essays. ...For fans of his fiction and nonfiction alike, this is a title one can dip in and out of on long walks or slow Sunday afternoons. Petkoff makes sure this is an entertaining, as well as contemplative, experience." -AudioFile

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374147938
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 775,755
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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