In my book, I discuss that risk assessments often claim to be based on worst case scenarios, but rarely really are. What they do are at best coming with a maximum credible loss scenario, but that is usually quite a far cry from the end of the world (which is as worst case as things get). I’m not saying that risk assessments should actually include outrageous scenarios that wipe out all of humanity, because in most cases these will give you little to work with from a practical risk management perspective (unless, of course, you are in the business of genetically modifying monster bugs, playing with nuclear fusion or creating a black hole in your supercollider). However, I feel if you make bold claims about worst cases, you should at least make an effort and not come with a tragic, no question about that, but mundane occupational accident ending in a fatality.

Now, in the case that you think it is useful to do a risk assessments with a couple of truly worst case, Armageddon-styled scenarios, but need some inspiration to come up with credible ones here is the book for you. Brockman, who is a writer for (which should explain some of the style and language of the book), opens with two near misses from the recent past, one of these telling how close we came to the nuclear holocaust in 1985 hadn’t it been for one Russian guy (you may recall similar cases from “Command And Control”). After these the author discusses in 18 more chapters things like natural disasters (mega-tsunamis, super-volcanos), nanotech threats, biotech threats, robot threats, space disasters (asteroids, polar shifts) and more contemporary themes like genetically modified crops, sterility and new energy (like trying to harvest an artificial tornado).

The style of writing is hilarious and over the top, yet still grounded in scientific work (there is even a bibliography per chapter), larded with sarcasm and quite a bit of bad language (if you heavily object to that, you might choose to not get the book). It made me quite often laugh out aloud. It’s a good thing when one can read about terrible things with a smile.

(Three Rivers Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0307464347)