We may think we’ll be here forever – but Robert Harris reckons our civilisation is probably doomed. “The Roman Republic, Cicero, those people were just as clever,” says the novelist, 62. “The things that their society produced – its oratory, its philosophy, its painting – were as sophisticated as anything we do. But still the system collapsed… Mayan civilisation collapsed in about nine years, and nobody knows why. The same could happen to us.”
Our problem today, he told Tim Shipman in The Sunday Times, is that we have been overtaken by technology. “My father could strip down a car engine and put it back together again. He wasn’t an engineer, he was a printer, but he could do that… There are huge areas of the modern world that none of us know how they work, and if the plug was to be pulled, we would be quite incapable.” And when we go, the sadness is that there won’t even be any great ruins to commemorate our civilisation – because our buildings aren’t designed to last. “We have reached a peak of civilisation, yet paradoxically we will leave nothing behind us except plastic dross: iPhone casings, plastic bags, nappies, cotton buds. That will be our memorial.” The Week, 14 September 2019).
If you have never read a Robert Harris novel you have missed a treat. He is a wonderful and creative writer. The above comment is the theme in his latest novel, “The Second Sleep”, where the action takes place many years after the collapse of our fragile “civilization” in an apocalyptic event. (I gave the book to my wife for Christmas, haven’t read it yet, but know what his theme is).