Odds of just one-in-six do not sound great, even in a simple game of chance. But if this were the probability that humanity itself could be wiped out, you might say we were in a fix. Yet here we are, argues philosopher Toby Ord in The Precipice, a new book about the bleak survival chances we now face as a species.

Those with a penchant for worrying about catastrophe already have plenty to be going on with, as the coronavirus continues its grim global march, setting off an array of scary thoughts about what the coming months might bring. Churches in the US are now closed, but newspapers last weekend pictured long lines outside gun shops, a sign that many are preparing in their own way for broader social disruption to come.

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