David Foster Wallace wrote, “When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him.” Never mind the context: The sentence, with startling concision, reminds us why the End of the World holds such fascination for mere mortals. Each of us is vouchsafed a very personal End, whatever else lies in store for the Earth, the universe, or the space-time continuum. Yet most of us are not solipsists. We care about our fellow men, our descendants, and, whether or not we think of it this way, the darkest mysteries of ontology. Why are we here, and what might it mean if we simply ceased to be? What if we were wiped out en masse?

“I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake,” God said, after the Deluge (Genesis 8:21), “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth: neither will I again smite any more every thing living.” But God’s wrath doesn’t have to play...


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