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Life imitates art in natural disaster and financial crisis

Debris sits on a still-closed beach area damaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy with Lower Manhattan at back left on March 1, 2013 in the Staten Island borough of New York City.

Image of Odds Against Tomorrow: A Novel
Author: Nathaniel Rich
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 320 pages

Imagine a scenario where a giant storm hits New York City. Manhattan gets flooded--low-lying areas are wiped out. Power goes out, people are homeless for months on end.

Superstorm Sandy, right?

Now add a twist--a futures forecasting firm that makes a bunch of money predicting that exact disaster --  and you've got Nathaniel Rich's new novel, "Odds Against Tomorrow."

The book is, in many ways, about fear. "I think it's about living in a culture in which we're constantly terrified by one piece of news or another," says Rich. "Whether or not you're looking for it, it's in your Twitter feed and Facebook and in your email."

Mitchell Zukor, the book's protagonist, finds he has a knack for predicting disaster, "he's discovered a niche market in high stakes fear, essentially. He's selling a form of catastrophe insurance." Sounds a little like the high stakes trades that have landed Wall Street in hot water on Main Street?

Rich says the idea for the book came long before the financial crisis of 2007 and Sandy last autumn. "It's short term, cynical thinking that's pretty common in high finance. He's profiting from disaster but personally, he's horrified because he's really afraid of all this stuff he's finding in his research."

The book touches on disasters in climate change, environmental damage, nuclear war, and terrorism. "I feel like we're past the point of dystopian novels that carry with them a warning, saying, 'if we don't get our act together, this is what we're going to inherit, this horrible future'," says Rich. "I feel like we're in that future already." Rich says the next step is to "understand how we can live in this new reality we've created so the end of the novel I think has some ambivalence. There's some hope but there's some real dread."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Odds Against Tomorrow: A Novel
Author: Nathaniel Rich
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 320 pages

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