CS Lewis "On Living in an Atomic Age"


Publisher and Benevolent Dictator
Staff member
Apr 9, 1999
Received this today in an email. C.S. Lewis wrote this 72 years ago. As you read, just substitute 'coronavirus' for 'atomic bomb.' Obviously the physical socializing aspect changes somewhat in our current context but the bigger picture is still so accurate.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in

Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

Jack Bourbon

Hall of Fame
Aug 3, 2001
Chicago IL
I think about another three-four weeks of this is all that is reasonable. Theres an article in the nyt (barf) today that suggests we are overdoing it — 200 deaths to 2 million jobs lost — and I am beginning to start leaning that way. Obviously the at-risk ppl should stay home until this settles down, but the rest—maybe not.

if it were about only me and my personal risk, I would put the kibosh on this very soon and take my chances. Already getting loopy and (more) eccentric. Also getting out shape with no gym access. Gah.

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