Aaron Sachs at Harvard Book Store


Stay Cool:
Why Dark Comedy Matters
in the Fight Against Climate Change

in conversation with MEGAN KATE NELSON

This event includes a book signing


May 5, 2023
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes AARON SACHS—author and Professor of History and American Studies at Cornell University—for a discussion of his new book Stay Cool: Why Dark Comedy Matters in the Fight Against Climate Change. He will be joined in conversation by writer and historian MEGAN KATE NELSON.

A Return to In-Person Events

Harvard Book Store is excited to be back to in-person programming. To ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in attendance, the following Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place at all of our Harvard Book Store events until further notice:

  • Face coverings are required of all staff and attendees when inside the store. Masks must snugly cover nose and mouth.

About Stay Cool

We’ve all seen the headlines: oceans rising, historic heat waves, mass extinctions, climate refugees. It feels overwhelming, like nothing can make a difference in combating this ongoing global catastrophe. How can we mobilize to save the world when we feel this depressed?

Stay Cool enjoins us to laugh our way forward. Human beings have used comedy to cope with difficult realities since the beginning of recorded time—the more dismal the news, the darker the humor. Using this rich tradition of dark comedy to investigate climate change, Aaron Sachs makes the case that gallows humor, a mainstay of African Americans and Jews facing extraordinary oppression, can cultivate endurance, persistence, and solidarity in the face of calamity.

Sachs surveys the macabre tradition of laughing during great suffering, from the Black Plague to the San Francisco earthquake of 1906—and offers some of the earliest examples of superlative dark comedy. He also explores how a new generation of activists and comedians are deploying dark humor to great effect, by poking fun at older people’s apathy about climate catastrophes, lambasting oil corporations’ “eco” rebranding, and even producing an off-Broadway dystopian comedy called “Sea Level Rise.” Sachs offers suggestions for how environmentalists can use dark comedy first to boost their own morale, and then to reframe their activism in more energizing and relatable ways.

Environmentalism is probably the least funny social movement that’s ever existed. Stay Cool seeks to change that. Will comedy save the world? Not by itself, no. But it can put people in a decent enough mood to get them started on a rescue mission.

Praise for Stay Cool

"Sachs is like the Stephen Colbert of scholars―wicked funny and smart, dead serious, and utterly friendly and accessible, all while explaining why it’s so urgent to have a good laugh as we deal with the climate crisis. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry." —Jenny Price, author of Stop Saving the Planet! An Environmentalist Manifesto

"Punchy, clarifying, and invigorating. Even while maintaining a happily irreverent tone, Stay Cool explores a deep question: how the environmental movement might learn from previous social movements that kept up their catalytic energy rather than succumb to despondency and defeatism. It is a book perfectly attuned to the challenges of our moment." —Scott Saul, author of Becoming Richard Pryor

"Aaron Sachs’ insights burn hot. While ever careful not to minimize our current straits, he guides us toward a sustainable way to think about, well, sustainability. Gallows humor, self-deprecation, the trickster’s ploys―all have served to inoculate those considered without history from the forces of history. Stay Cool recognizes the importance of remembering that within our frail humanity is the possibility of being better, and that one good way to start addressing our climate needs is to learn to laugh at our fallibility, if only so that we are prepared for the not-so-funny work ahead." —Jonathan Holloway, President, Rutgers University, and author of The Cause of Freedom: A Concise History of African Americans

"Aaron Sachs’s central message in Stay Cool is if you want to survive catastrophe―whether one brought on by people or nature―don’t be alarmist, and definitely don’t be earnest and moralistic. Be funny." —Cindy Ott, author of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon

Aaron Sachs
Aaron Sachs

Aaron Sachs

Aaron Sachs is Professor of History and American Studies at Cornell University. He is the author of The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism, Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition, and Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times. With John Demos, he co-edited Artful History: A Practical Anthology.

Megan Kate Nelson
Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson is a historian and writer, with a BA from Harvard and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa. She is the author of four books, including Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America (Scribner 2022; winner of the 2023 Spur Award for Historical Non-Fiction) and The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner 2020; finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History), as well as Ruin Nation (Georgia, 2012) and Trembling Earth (Georgia, 2005).

She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, Slate, and TIME. Before leaving academia to write full-time in 2014, Nelson taught U.S. history and American Studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown. She grew up in Littleton, Colorado, and now lives in Boston with her husband and two cats. 

Photo Credit: Sharona Jacobs

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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