A Voice in the Wilderness: Author James Howard Kunstler


Drab cities lined by mega-malls. The ravaged countryside. A population heeding warnings of an impending global oil crisis. The challenges of climate change and life during a post-economic collapse. Readers have searched the pages of James Howard Kunstler’s books for decades, looking for answers.

A new release, The Harrows of Spring, marks the final novel in Kunstler’s four-part series that began with World Made by Hand in 2008 and was followed by The Witch of Hebron and A History of the Future.

“I began the series explicitly because I wanted to appeal to people’s senses in order to get the ideas across that I was retailing in the book The Long Emergency,” says Kunstler about his nonfiction underground hit released in 2005 that has gone into nine printings of the hardcover edition. Its subtitle: “Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.”

“I wanted people to feel and sense what it would be like in that kind of post-economic period of tribulation that I discussed in The Long Emergency and its sequel, Too Much Magic. I call it ‘The Long Emergency’ for a reason—because it was going to go on for awhile,” the author explains, reducing the oil question to a simple formula: oil over $75 per barrel destroys industrial economies; oil under $75 per barrel destroys oil companies. “It’s a very complex industry,” Kunstler says.

Additional problems with energy and its relation to the economy have arisen during the past decade in trying to compensate for not having cheap oil and generating large amounts of debt, Kunstler says.

James Howard Kunstler, at home in Washington County. Photo by Lawrence White.

“The trouble is we’ve gotten ourselves into a situation where we can’t pay back our old and existing debts, and we can’t generate any plausible possibility of being paid back. So, we’ve hit the wall in pretending we can run industrial companies, and all of that is playing out in ways that are strange and non-linear. Probably the way that has shocked people the most is the election of Donald Trump into a major political figure. We are probably watching the strangest presidential election in our lifetime, and my guess is it’s going to get a whole lot stranger before it’s over. It’s going to be attended by other events—nonlinear Black Swan-type events—that are going to create new stresses, new fissures and new fragilities. All these things will amplify the problems that we have, so it’s going to be a very interesting season,” Kunstler said during a recent gathering at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga, heralding the publication of The Harrows of Spring.

“I’ve got a little fictional town in upstate New York called Union Grove in Washington County. The population is much lower than it was before. The electricity is off. The Internet is no longer a presence in people’s lives and in the third book, the previous book, I opened the story by sending a young man out into America where he found out what has happened to his country,” says Kunstler, who was born in New York City in 1948, and currently makes his home in Washington County.

“I had a lot of fun at that end of the political spectrum. In this book, I decided I was going to be a full-service critic of American culture. I decided to make The Progressives the villains, so, in this book, my little town Union Grove is being afflicted by judicial justice warriors from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and led by a man who bears some resemblance to a very well-known radio personality in our region.”

Kunstler has worked as a staff writer for Rolling Stone magazine and has been a regular contributor to the New York Times Sunday Magazine and op-ed page, where he has written on environmental and economic issues. He maintains a prolific online presence on his website with blog entries, annual forecasts, podcasts, a gallery of his paintings, and a series titled “Eyesore of the Month,” wherein Kunstler casts a spotlight on architecture gone awry. Kunstler has authored more than a dozen fiction and nonfiction books.

They include:

FICTION: The Harrows of Spring; A History of the Future; The Witch of Hebron; World Made by Hand; Manhattan Gothic; Maggie Darling; Thunder Island; The Halloween Ball; Blood Solstice; An Embarrassment of Riches; The Life of Byron Janes; A Clown in the Moonlight; The Wampanaki Tales.

NON-FICTION: Too Much Magic; The Long Emergency; The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition; Home from Nowhere; Geography of Nowhere.

To learn more, visit kunstler.com.