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World Made by Hand: A Novel Paperback – January, 2009

307 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the World Made by Hand Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kunstler's name is mostly associated with nonfiction works like The Long Emergency, a bleak prediction of what will happen when oil production no longer meets demand, and the antisuburbia polemic The Geography of Nowhere. In this novel, his 10th, he visits a future posited on his signature idea: when the oil wells start to run dry, the world economy will collapse and society as we know it will cease. Robert Earle has lost his job (he was a software executive) and family in the chaos following the breakdown. Elected mayor of Union Grove, N.Y., in the wake of a town crisis, Earle must rebuild civil society out of squabbling factions, including a cultish community of newcomers, an established group of Congregationalists and a plantation kept by the wealthy Stephen Bullock. Re-establishing basic infrastructure is a big enough challenge, but major tension comes from a crew of neighboring rednecks led by warlord Wayne Karp. Kunstler is most engaged when discussing the fate of the status quo and in divulging the particulars of daily life. Kunstler's world is convincing if didactic: Union Grove exists solely to illustrate Kunstler's doomsday vision. Readers willing to go for the ride will see a frightening and bleak future. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The verisimilitude of Kunstler's world leads me to think the future is Union Grove. Thirty years from now, it will be interesting to see if that little town seems excessively sad, richly luxurious, or spot on. But for now, I'm hedging my bets. Where I live, one block east of ground zero, I've started keeping a compost bin and am thinking about adding a micro wind generator. [Nearby] the Freedom Tower has just emerged above ground and may one day be full of Investment bankers. Recently, though, I've started looking at that plot through Kunstler's eyes. It gets good sunlight, and it occurs to me it would make a hell of a bean field." -- Paul Greenberg

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st edition (January 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802144012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144010
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (307 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Howard Kunstler is probably best known as the author of "The Long Emergency" (The Atlantic Monthly Press 2005), and "The Geography of Nowhere" (Simon and Schuster, 1993). Two other non-fiction titles in that series are "Home From Nowhere" (Simon and Schuster, 1996), and "The City in Mind" (Simon and Schuster, 2002). He's also the author of many novels, including his tale of the post-oil American future, "World Made By Hand" (The Atlantic Monthly press, 2008). The sequel will be published in the fall of 2010. His shorter work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Metropolis, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and many other periodicals.

James Howard Kunstler was born in New York City in 1948. He attended New York's High School of Music and art and SUNY Brockport (BA, Theater, 1971). He was a reporter for the Boston Phoenix, the Albany Knickerbocker News, and later an editor with Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975 he dropped out of corporate journalism to write books, and settled in Saratoga Spring, New York, where he has lived ever since.

Kunstler's popular blog, Clusterf**k Nation, is published every Monday morning at and his weekly podcast, The KunstlerCast, is refreshed every Thursday.

Kunstler is also a serious professional painter. His work may be seen at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

412 of 435 people found the following review helpful By Scott Meredith on February 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's really good. Surprisingly so, given that most attempts at novelisation by people who are basically pundits on an educational/propaganda mission to save the world are dismal artistic failures. But this novel is good, the guy can actually write.

It's a realistic depiction of the post-collapse USA. What collapse, you ask? Not exactly specifically told, but somehow related to Peak Oil, financial ruination, that kind of stuff. He depicts the after-shocks on the ground, rubber-meets-pavement (or I should say, hooves-meet-pavement, I guess).

The world has shrunk into an uneasy Darwinian jostling, local warlordism and gangsterish Machiavellian counterpunching among various ugly power cells, with a bunch of religion leavening the stink, er ... the stew. One civil gentleman tries to hold onto some kind of rational center.

Here's a powerful message from this book (so don't say nobody clued you in time) - Learn a practical trade, something useful, essential to daily life, that requires neither electric power nor high-tech tools or materials. Butcher, baker, candle-stick maker.

Few Interesting Points:

1. Speech style: Everybody's speech pattern has reverted to an oddly folksy kind of 19th century, Mark-Twain-ish patois.

2. Ism's: Not the slightest hint of feminism has survived The Fall. Women are pretty much seen but not heard. And homosexuality seems to perhaps have been swept away by the dreaded plague of "Mexican Flu" maybe? African-American's don't exist in upstate New York, but racial trouble festers elsewhere across the country.

3. Infrastructure: Town in upstate New York benefits very heavily from left-over 19th century infrastructure, most very especially the robustly designed and constructed gravity-fed water ducts.
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158 of 167 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on April 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are significant flaws in Kunstler's World Made By Hand. That's the bad news. The good news, though, is that it's an incredibly seductive vision of the world after things have fallen apart. It takes an artist of great skill to make the apocalypse look attractive.

First, the bad news. Except for the protagonist Robert Earle and his buddy Loren Holder, none of the characters are really developed. This is especially true of poor Jane Ann, Loren's wife and Robert's mistress, and Britney, the young widow who eventually becomes Robert's live-in lover. But curiously, it's also true of Brother Jobe, the leader of the New Faith cult that comes into town. For that matter, the New Faithers as a whole are underdeveloped. Sometimes they seem ominous, sometimes innocent. What's the reader supposed to make of them?

Moreover, the novel begins to unravel toward the end, as if Kunstler had planned a book twice its size but halfway through ran out of steam and abruptly pulled the plug. The Queen Bee and identical deaths chapters are bizarrely out of place, without absolutely no textual anticipation or follow-up. (Likewise with the curiously irrelevant--yet its portency is clearly suggested--revelation that Robert is actually a Jew who has changed his name: what's that all about!?) An earlier reviewer insightfully remarked that the book's chapters could almost be read as individual vignettes.

So why read the book? Ah, that's where the good news comes in. Kunstler's world made by hand is one that is emerging after the world we now dwell in has collapsed.
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82 of 89 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a finely-written view of a post-collapse America. Cormac Mccarthy's novel Road was an altogether darker vision: Kunstler's book is neither as dark or foreboding. Society functions, but only locally--there are no national or even regional governments, as far as is known. We've gone from Friedman's The World is Flat to a world where communication and trade resembles that of, say, 800AD. "Here be Dragons" might as well appear on maps. The number of people in Union Grove in upstate New York who have travelled more than 50 miles from home is small, at least until a flock of The New Faith arrive from Virginia.

The amenities are gone: no gasoline, no bicycles (for want of rubber tires), no antibiotics, no anaesthesia, roads and bridges crumbling into complete disrepair. Yet life goes on, as America in 1700 got by without bicycles and antibiotics. Robert Earle, the central fugure in the novel, works as a carpenter--his former life in computing is gone forever. Lack of oil, nuclear explosions, and the Mexican Flu all contributed to the collapse. The Flu took most of Earle's family except for his son, who left on his own many years before and never heard from again. Earle takes things philosophically and with grace, and is more at ease with his world than most of us could be. In Earle, Kunstler has provided a rock about which life swirls: he provides a foundation of normality, insofar as normality can exist, and his character prevents a doom-and-gloom view type book from prevailing.

Kunstler presents a well-drawn picture of a world where there are no chain saws and power tools, no refrigeration, very little electric power anywhere. Paper money is disappearing, bartering is returning, work is done by hand. Horses are great assets.
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