ASU author puts the fun in preparing for the apocalypse

Associate Professor Athena Aktipis' new book 'guide' is both helpful and hopeful


Inside pages of book with an illustration of people doing different tasks around a house

Athena Aktipis' "A Field Guide to the Apocalypse" offers tips on how to weather a storm. Image courtesy of Workman Publishing Company

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The idea of an apocalypse was once only the stuff of science fiction — like in “Dawn of the Dead” or “I Am Legend.”

However these days, amid escalating global conflicts and the prospect of a nuclear war, the idea of an apocalypse is more than an entertaining escape from reality — it is a terrifying possibility. 

But according to Athena Aktipis, it’s not all doom and gloom. 

Cover for "A Field Guide to the Apocalypse" by Athena Aktipis

Aktipis is an associate professor in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology and the author of a new book released this month titled “A Field Guide to the Apocalypse: A Mostly Serious Guide to Surviving Our Wild Times.”

The book manages to put a positive spin on a serious subject. It offers humor, hope, fun tips — and explains the importance of duct tape.

“Dealing with the apocalypse is not something we should relegate to the dark recesses of our minds,” writes Aktipis, director of the ASU Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative. “It should be something that we actively embrace … actively cultivate and invite to the holiday party.”

A book signing dubbed “The Apocalypse Road Show with Athena Aktipis” will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix. The event will feature "apocalyptic music" from local alt-country favorite Katie Mae, sketch comedy, musical parodies, storytelling, improv and surprise guests.

ASU News spoke with Aktipis about the guide, the idea behind it and what she hopes readers will get out of it.

Question: What made you decide to write this book? 

“The Apocalypse Road Show with Athena Aktipis"

6:30–8:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 18 
Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix
Tickets: changinghands.com/event/april2024/apocalypse-road-show

Answer: I thought it would be fun to write a book about the apocalypse that is no-nonsense, practical and funny. Because it’s hard enough to deal with how apocalyptic things can feel, I wanted an approachable and entertaining book that would help people be more prepared for disasters — large and small.

Also, I have three children and many students who have come through my classrooms over the years. They’ll inherit this crazy, confusing world, so I want them — and all of us — to understand that often people have an instinct to help one another in times of crisis. 

Q: Why do we need a book like yours at this time in history? 

A: For so many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call. Some of us learned what it felt like to be very alone; others gathered with friends and family and created their own little apocalypse pod.

When COVID-19 was just hinting at becoming a pandemic, I started the Cooperation in the Apocalypse project to better understand what moves people — or not — to cooperate in a crisis. 

Today, we are facing a whole new tsunami of confusion: AI, disinformation, digital technology and robots. 

In my book, you’ll learn there’s really nothing special about this point in time. People have been experiencing and preparing for disasters since the dawn of time. So yes, it may feel like we are experiencing an apocalypse right now, but it’s always felt that way.

Portrait of ASU Professor Athena Aktipis
Athena Aktipis is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. ASU photo

Q: The book is described as a “mostly serious” book about preparing for the apocalypse. Why?

A: I think we need to have fun if we’re going to engage with all the challenges we are facing in the coming decades. A few years ago, I stepped on a stage as part of a stand-up comedy night at a science writers conference. I loved it and realized just how important laughter is for engaging about things that might otherwise be terrifying. Humor can make a serious subject more compelling than a lecture.

My book is half-science and half-humor, but everything is based on facts. On the serious side, I write about the psychology of how we deal with stress. And I share historical and modern examples of apocalypses and what we can learn from them. 

I also try to offer tips for making your apocalypse-ready life more fulfilling and fun. I share ideas about apocalypse parties, apocalypse casual fashion, how to date in the apocalypse and even how to play music around the post-apocalyptic campfire to build your community.

Q: What are the top three actions necessary to prepare for the apocalypse? 

A: First: Adopt an apocalypse-ready mindset. Be curious. Learn about the greatest threats in your part of the world. 

Second: Cultivate a community of people who you trust and who would be there for you in an emergency.

Third: Embrace your inner prepper. There are a lot of stereotypes about preppers out there, but prepping is for everyone! My book is jam-packed with preparation tips from how to pack your go-bag  — aka a bug-out bag you take when leaving the house during a disaster — to what to have in the trunk of your car in case of an emergency.

Q: What necessities do you recommend that might surprise people? 

A: Probably my favorite and somewhat surprising item for dealing with lots of different disasters is duct tape. You can repair almost anything with it, but you can also use it to DIY fabricate almost anything. You can make a foldable cup for drinking water. Duct tape can be a rope, a rain hat or a saddle. In a jam, you can even use it to close wounds as a sort of makeshift Band-Aid.

Q: You have managed to write a book about the complete destruction of the world that is positive. Explain your optimistic perspective on the possibility of an apocalypse?

A: My book is about the positive side of the apocalypse — especially how being prepared can make our lives better on many levels. It’s silly, serious, irreverent and funny. I think we need to have fun if we’re going to really engage with how messed up the world is and figure out how to deal with it collectively. 

We can embrace reality, no matter how apocalyptic, knowing that we will work together to solve our many problems and be there for each other in times of need. Embracing the apocalypse gives us an opportunity to change, grow and find ways to thrive in the chaos and uncertainty of everything.  

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