Cover image for The end of the end of the earth : essays / Jonathan Franzen.
The end of the end of the earth : essays / Jonathan Franzen.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.
Physical Description:
230 pages ; 22 cm
The essay in dark times -- Manhattan 1981 -- Why birds matter -- Save what you love -- Capitalism in hyperdrive -- May your life be ruined -- A friendship -- A rooting interest -- Ten rules for the novelist -- Missing -- The regulars -- Invisible losses -- 9/13/01 -- Postcards from East Africa -- The end of the end of the earth.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
814.54 FRA Book Adult General Collection

On Order



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 calami- ties, 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.

Author Notes

Jonathan Franzen was born in Western Springs, Illinois on August 17, 1959. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1981, and went on to study at the Freie University in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar. He worked in a seismology lab at Harvard University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences after graduation.

His works include The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), Strong Motion (1992), How to Be Alone (2002), and The Discomfort Zone (2006). The Corrections (2001) won a National Book Award and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Freedom (2010) is an Oprah Book Club selection. He also won a Whiting Writers' Award in 1988 and the American Academy's Berlin Prize in 2000. He is also a frequent contributor to Harper's and The New Yorker. In 2015 his title Purity made The New Yort Times and New Zealand Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

WHEN SOMETHING REALLY captures his interest, Jonathan Franzen is an engaged and engaging reporter. Which is to say, two essays in his new collection, "The End of the End of the Earth," truly expand one's knowledge of the world. In the first, "May Your Life Be Ruined," he describes the post-Communist surge in Albanian bird hunting, an ongoing cannonade that has turned the country into a "giant sinkhole for eastern European migratory biomass: Millions of birds fly in and very few get out alive." He talks to hunters, to game wardens, to a confused urbanite who explains the euphoria of being allowed to own a gun: "It was like when summer comes and you feel like jumping in the ocean." The other essay, "Invisible Losses," is similar: an account of efforts to protect "the world of seabirds, which encompasses two-thirds of our planet but is mostly invisible to us." He visits breeding grounds and talks with scientists eradicating rodents; he tracks down the conservationists who have forced through regulations to dramatically reduce the number of albatross snared on fishing hooks. The piece is the product of curiosity - he's turning over rocks along the shore and finding noteworthy details beneath. That makes it more the shame that he usually opts for something much easier. Most of the pieces in this book fall into the loose category of personal essay. Some are travelogues, mostly about his high-end and self-consciously "compulsive" pursuit of adding species to his many lists of the birds he's encountered. (It seems to be all about knowing which guides to hire to take you to the locations of rare "endemics" unique to whatever island or jungle you've visited, though there is a moment of triumph when Franzen discovers an emperor penguin that no one else on his Lindblad Antarctic cruise has noticed.) If you are a bird lister, you may find this thrilling; in literary terms, though, Kenn Kaufman's account in "Kingbird Highway" was a good deal more picaresque, mostly because he was making his voyages without any money. But if Franzen's travel writing is unexceptional, it's better than his political essays, which suffer from being underthought and over-emoted, the chief feeling often being a kind of self-absorbed peevishness. The key example here is a piece called "Save What You Love." As he tells the story, he was "already not in a good mood" when he read a news release from the Audubon Society explaining that climate change was "the greatest threat" to America's birds. That statement deepened his tetchy ill humor, because he believed that it might distract bird lovers from what he considered the more immediate work of protecting habitat. "I felt bullied by its dominance," he writes of global warming, and so he conceived of the essay, which turns into an extended whine about environmental groups for focusing so heavily on carbon emissions. The obvious response, of course, is that one could work on both climate and conservation, which Audubon does (and not Audubon alone; to cite the example closest at hand, I've spent much of my life organizing around climate justice, but also found time to serve for many years on the board of the Adirondack chapter of the Nature Conservancy as it saved hundreds of thousands of acres). But even this misses the point, which is that there are in fact enormous villains in the climate story, but they don't work at environmental groups. Franzen's only mention of the oil industry is to dismiss its influence: "The reason the American political system can't deliver action isn't simply that fossil-fuel corporations sponsor denialists and buy elections." In fact, that is the biggest single reason. In 2015, the same year the essay here titled "Save What You Love" was published in The New Yorker, a team of journalists conducting exhaustive interviews with whistle-blowers and digging in archives uncovered that oil companies had known all about climate change since the early 1980s and engaged in a massive cover-up that led to our withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. If you sit down to write about climate change and end up concentrating your fire on the Audubon Society, you've lost the plot. It's unseemly to take digs at those who are trying to actually do something about the problem. Franzen includes a little jab at the writer and activist Naomi Klein for arguing that "the time is right" for societies to tackle climate change. But over the last decade a vast climate-justice campaign, of which Klein is a part, has actually won significant victories: keeping Shell from opening the Arctic to oil-drilling, blocking pipelines, banning fracking across many territories including Franzen's former home state, New York, and pushing his current residence, California, to pledge it will convert to 100 percent renewable energy. One reason Franzen wants to concentrate on immediate conservation tasks is that he's more or less given up on fighting climate change. He's convinced himself that the "most likely rise in temperature this century is on the order of six degrees." That's actually an overstatement, an eventuality only if we don't make a powerful attempt to change our ways. If we do, the damage will be bad enough (the one degree Celsius we've so far raised the temperature has caused plenty of havoc already), but perhaps we will stop short of wiping out the base for our civilization (and with it much of the rest of the planet's DNA, avian as well as primate). As he points out, individual action at this point will not amount to much; all the more reason for thought leaders like Franzen to join in building movements to prevent the worst outcomes. Bitching about those who are making the attempt seems a sad waste of precious time. BILL MCKIBBEN is the founder of, the Schumann distinguished scholar at Middlebury and the author of the forthcoming "Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?"

Library Journal Review

As the ambiguous title of the latest work from National Book Award winner Franzen (The Corrections) suggests, the essays in this collection contemplate our uncertain future in the face of climate change. But rather than a rallying cry to rescue the world from destruction, Franzen concedes that it's already too late. Yet despite this gloomy position, he does not yield to defeatism either. Rather, he focuses on what can be saved: a view, a bird, a memory. An avid birdwatcher, Franzen mostly focuses on birding adventures in faraway places-Africa, Jamaica, Antarctica. Reading them one after another, his obsession builds to reveal what is, to the author, imperative: paying attention. These fleeting, winged creatures appear to remind readers to witness, to see what is left to be seen, and to notice life before it disappears forever. Carbon dioxide is not to blame for our planet's ruin so much as our failure to observe-our relationships and interconnectedness. VERDICT This book is a Silent Spring for today, but instead of challenging readers to change the world, it pushes them to change themselves. [See Prepub Alert, 5/14/18.]-Meagan Lacy, -Guttman Community Coll., CUNY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.