NEW YORK CITY, the near future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm, FutureWorld. The business operates out of a cavernous office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two. He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against any future disasters. This is the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business is booming.
As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe—ecological collapse, global war, natural disasters—he becomes obsessed by a culture's fears. Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell's predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?
At once an all-too-plausible literary thriller, an unexpected love story, and a philosophically searching inquiry into the nature of fear, Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow poses the ultimate questions of imagination and civilization. The future is not quite what it used to be.
An NPR Best Book of 2013
Recent current events have conspired to make this chilling novel even timelier than author Rich (The Mayor's Tongue) could have anticipated. Stochastic wiz Mitchell Zukor works for a unique consulting firm, FutureWorld, predicting disasters that companies can indemnify themselves against. Living in Manhattan, Mitchell spends his days calculating the full range of catastrophic events the city might face earthquakes, nuclear war, terrorist attacks, pandemics, financial meltdowns, tsunamis. Leading a lonely existence, his only human connection, aside from the waitresses at the Korean restaurants he frequents, is an epistolary one shared with a former college classmate who suffers from a rare heart condition. Then one of Mitchell's predicted worst-case scenarios comes true: a hurricane of unprecedented force devastates the city. Trapped with Jane, a coarse-tongued officemate, in his apartment, Mitchell turns his attention to survival. But in the storm's aftermath, in a drowned city of bewildered survivors, Mitchell is perplexed to find himself sought out as the new prophet of the apocalypse. It is almost impossible to read this novel without indelible images of Hurricane Sandy coming to mind. The novel succeeds on its own terms in envisioning such a disaster in terrifyingly visceral terms. And Mitchell's intensely fraught journey from man of intellect to man of action is one the reader will not soon forget.
Yes it is.
One man's journey from nihilism to salvation against a backdrop of apocalyptic NYC. Actually, a fun read.