Reading stories set in a future after the shit has hit the fan is a true guilty pleasure. Since I was a kid I've felt that surely all of us people here must be taxing the world's resources far too quickly, and these kind of books give me an excuse to say «I told you so» with a smug expression on my face while still not being forced to suffer the consequences of a total meltdown.
James Howard Kunstler has spent a good deal of time informing the public about «Peak oil», and his novel «A World Made by Hand» is, in some sense, very much a political one where history has unfolded pretty much the way Kunstler has said it will unfold in his non-fiction writings. Oil shortage, international events and en epidemic (serendipitiously called "mexican flu"!) have come together to forge an America which is extremely localized, car-free and made up of unelectrified small villages.
There is an epic narrative here, of course, bordering on classic western motifs. The cowboy style is no coincidence as this America of the future to some extent is a lot like the America of the nineteenth century.
Kunstler has done quite a bit of research into details like what animals will survive (not a lot of dogs, I'm afraid) and which ones won't, what industries will flourish (carpentry, and gardening e.g.) and which ones won't (law firms, most retail). He tries hard not to get too techinical. When one individual with a hydro power station shows off with some lights for a party, the protagonist Robert Earl calles them «the kind of small lights people would use in trees». Earl, with a past in computers, would certainly recognize power efficient LEDs, which also would be far more likely to survive than halogen, incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, but the author just doesn't want to go into those kind of specifics.
Because I am an old grouch with a lot of the same axes to grind as Kunstler, I probably fit the demographic this book is intended for. Judging by other reviews, this book really rubs a lot of people the wrong way, as vaguely demagogic popular fiction is bound to. There's some religious stuff at the end that seems plain weird, but it's not too offensive to spoil the experience.