Risk Criticism

Precautionary Reading in an Age of Environmental Uncertainty
Molly Wallace
Novels, films, theater, poetry, visual art, websites, news reports, and essays give context to environmental risk


Risk Criticism is a study of literary and cultural responses to global environmental risk in an age of unfolding ecological catastrophe. In 2015, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reset its iconic Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight, as close to the apocalypse as it has been since 1953. What pushed its hands was not just the threat of nuclear weapons, but also other global environmental risks that the Bulletin judged to have risen to the scale of the nuclear, including climate change and innovations in the life sciences. If we may once have believed that the end of days would come in a blaze of nuclear firestorm, we now suspect that the apocalypse may be much slower, creeping in as chemical toxins, climate change, or nano-technologies run amok.
Taking inspiration from the questions raised by the Bulletin’s synecdochical “nuclear,” Risk Criticism aims to generate a hybrid form of critical practice that brings “nuclear criticism” into conversation with ecocriticism. Through readings of novels, films, theater, poetry, visual art, websites, news reports, and essays, Risk Criticism tracks the diverse ways in which environmental risks are understood and represented today.
“This is an important book, one that will be of interest to students of contemporary literature and culture generally and to eco-criticism and eco-theory particularly. It is impressively steeped in eco-critical scholarship and theory, advances knowledge in the environmental humanities, and exposes readers to absorbing, intelligent discussions of a variety of texts.”
—Fred Buell, Queen’s College, CUNY
Risk Criticism makes a significant, original contribution to ecocriticism in showing how we might learn from the juxtaposition and overlap of varied types and sites of risk, including climate change, plastics, and nuclear weapons. This book is valuable in its rich archive, which encompasses canonical and emerging literary works as well as visual art, film, and other materials, and is important for providing ways to engage the unknown in present, past, and future ecological upheaval.”
—Teresa Shewry, University of California, Santa Barbara
“With rare skill, Molly Wallace pulls together the imaginative, technological, ethical and political dimensions of environmental risk. Her book offers an impressive mix of conceptual innovation and grounded case studies. Risk Criticism exemplifies the environmental humanities at their eclectic best: consequential, worldly, and infused with an interdisciplinary vitality.”
—Rob Nixon, Princeton University
“Here we have a careful and astute reworking of nuclear criticism—brought thoughtfully together with contemporary ecocritical work and sociological theories of risk. The great achievement of this book is that Wallace invents and performs a kind of risk criticism appropriate to life in the twenty-first century; more than fabulously textual, this risk criticism is alive to the speculative, the fictive, the imaginative and the decidedly real predicaments of our second nuclear age.”
—Peter van Wyck, Concordia University
Cover: “The Watcher’s Retreat” © Athena Dykman.
Molly Wallace is Associate Professor of English at Queen’s University. She obtained her PhD from the University of Washington.

Praise / Awards

  • "Risk Criticism does important work in modeling methods for engaging profitably with both the problematic concept of risk “management” and the imaginative discourses that arise from and inform understanding of global threat...Highly recommended."
    --Choice Reviews
  • "An eclectic and compelling archive that extends
    how we think about risk."
    --American Literary History
  • CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2017
  • Winner of the 2018 Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize from the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada (ALECC)

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 274pp.
  • 8 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07302-3

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  • $64.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05302-5

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90067-1

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  • Global, environment, risk, environmental, nuclear, poststructuralism, ecocriticism, environmentalism, hazards