Derrick Jensen is one of those authors that people love or hate. As for myself, I have mixed feelings about the guy and his message. Despite these mixed feelings, though, I never fail to read his books when they come out - and Endgame was by far an away the most anticipated and climactic one yet due to its highly controversial subject: taking down civilization. That's right, taking down civilization.
But why would anyone want to take down civilization, you might ask? At this point, I should say that if you have not already had the pleasure of receiving a formal introduction to the man and his work, you might want to start with one of his earlier publications, such as Listening to the Land, A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, Strangely Like War and Welcome or the Machine. In fact, I would recommend reading them all. They lay the groundwork from which Endgame both springs and builds upon: specifically, that civilization is F-U-B-A-R and doomed to collapse in the near but not too distant future, if not from climate change, then from resource depletion, soil erosion, toxic buildup or any other of the common environmental factors outlined in Jared Diamond's Collapse or the Worldwatch Institute's annual State of the World reports.
Or you might want to just dive right in, since in Volume I of Endgame Jensen outlines many of the fundamental flaws of our cherished civilization. And although each page reads with the power and relevance of an anarcho-primitiveist manifesto, Endgame, the two-volume summation of Jensen's writing career, amounts to nearly 1,000 pages in total - a lot of lumber for a strident call to arms. In fact, under the right circumstances, the book itself is large enough to be used as a blunt instrument to aid the deconstruction of civilization. All jokes aside, though, the net result is a rather awkward flow: a seemingly never-ending concatenation of ideas that, although related by theme, often contradict each other - by the author's own admission:
"Why do you think I laid out the premises explicitly for you, put you in a position of actively choosing to agree or disagree with them? Whey do you think I've approached this form so many directions? Why do you think I've expressed my own fears, expressed my own confusion? Why do you think I've made points, undercut or contradicted them, and then made them again? ... The point is the process I am trying to model. The point is that you puzzle your own way through, and figure out for yourself what, if anything, you need to do." (p 886)
Although I enjoyed the book thoroughly, and often recommend it to friends, Jensen does not come off as being genuine here. By this, I don't mean that he is purposefully deceiving the readers so much as himself. Along with all the interesting environmental science, psychology and poetry the book contains, the underlying current of rage and despair that makes his writing so profound reaches an all time high in Endgame - to the point where he calls upon the reader to "go on the offensive," imploring us to blow up dams, tear up concrete and knock down cell phone towers. Just "don't get sloppy," he advises. "Don't tell anyone who doesn't need to know. Don't get caught" (Dams: Part IV).
Of course, the minute some 16-year-old kid is locked up for taking Jensen's advice and demolishing a dam - or worse - I am sure Jensen will quote something from the 2-page chapter entitled "Responsibility" in his defense - a chapter which, remarkably enough, is little more than an apology for doing such things as blowing up dams to protect your "land base". Or perhaps he will quote one of the many disclaimers ("but don't listen to me, follow your heart") he so sparingly peppers throughout a book predominately dedicated to inspiring illegal activities. Considering the average age of his readership is probably around twenty-four, devoting only two pages to responsibility in a book of this nature is, in my opinion, an abominable abrogation of balance. But, hey, like most geniuses, Jensen is not known for his emotional balance.
All books have weaknesses, just as all authors have weaknesses, and having met Jensen on more than one occasion and sat in on many of his lectures around the country, I am very much aware that the overall importance of his thought far outweighs the single-minded, dam-demolition-obsessed demagogic carelessness of his presentation. In conclusion, I highly recommend that you read this book - but be careful not to leave it lying around where one of your curious, trigger-happy kids might find it unattended. The content is dangerous enough to require parental discretion - which I advise.
Some books you might also want to check out of a similar theme: Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism, Against Civilization, My Name is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization, and Igniting a Revolution.