World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler Chapter Summaries and Discussion

Updated on February 23, 2017

World Made by Hand Chapter Summaries and Discussion

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler is an intriguing story taking place in post-apocalyptic Union Grove, New York. A variety of colorful characters ebb and flow within this rather complex story, which oftentimes dabbles into theological discussions (thanks in part to the "New Faithers") and the reality of the human condition. The novel is captivating from beginning to end, with plenty of violence and comical relief, as well as pleasure and happiness which can only be found in a world proverbial and, as far as this story is concerned, made by hand.

I hope you are able to utilize the chapter summaries provided in this lens to help you better understand the story, characters, and events that unfold within this book. My intention is not to give away the entire story to you, though spoilers will undoubtedly abide within these pages! I do however feel that chapter summaries can be great to supplement the reading material. If you have not already picked up a copy of World Made by Hand, I would highly suggest that you do!

CHAPTER 1 to CHAPTER 5 Summaries


The book opens with Robert Earle (the narrator) and Loren Holder, Reverend at First Congressional church fishing. The story is located in Union Grove, Upstate New York. We are briefly introduced to Loren's wife Jane Ann who made some wine for the two of them. Robert discusses with Loren his interest in opening up a laundry business. The men manage to catch some fish and as they return home they meet Brother Jobe, a newcomer to their town who has recently purchased the old school in town and will be opening up his own church. In a strange turn of events, Brother Jobe offers the men 1,000 dollars for their newly caught fishes, to which Robert declines. There is an unknown and pious looking girl with Brother Jobe who the men are never able to meet. An example of foreshadowing comes with Robert and Loren's reaction to Brother Earle, they seemed very uncomfortable.


We become aware that Loren had sold his fish to Brother Jobe. We are informed that Dale Murray is the Town Mayer, though there are no interactions with him. Robert expresses his dismay over the fact that they (the townspeople) were not informed about the sale of the school. We are also introduced to Jerry Copeland, the town doctor. Churches are the primary social and entertainment outlets left in the town. By the end of the chapter we find out that a majority of Robert's family had died, except his son who left and never returned. This uncertainty foreshadows a potential return of the son later on in the story.


Robert describes the unfortunate post-apocalyptic situation they have been dealing with for some years. Electricity is barely functioning, there is no more mail or imported oil. He had heard that a new President was elected named Harvey Albright, but they were uninformed and were not involved in a voting process. In the second part of the chapter Jane Ann comes to see and have sex with Robert, which she does on a weekly basis, though she is still Loren's wife.


The religious overtones become increasingly prevalent, most of which are more pessimistic than joyous. The increasing appearance of religion in the book suggests that the story will discuss religion in further detail later. Robert continues to describe the current way of life. Gardens are now vital for food supply, there has been no television for years, refrigerators are no longer useable, computers are no longer useable. Fortunately for the town, they still have running water. We find out that Robert was previously a corporate executive, but now works as a carpenter. An important event we are made aware of was a bombing in Los Angeles as a part of a terroristic jihad, which inevitably was a part of what led to this post-apocalyptic world.


We are informed that Washington was also bombed in these attacks. We are introduced to Wayne Karp, a drug kingpin who dealt with weed primarily for a while; until it began growing rapidly by many people in the town. He is still a primary figure in that he runs some other businesses. Opium is also an important drug that is grown, and has medicinal purposes and "other" purposes. This chapter highlights this societies growing need for drugs to make their lives easier.

World Made by Hand Spotlight Review

World Made by Hand: A Novel
World Made by Hand: A Novel
World Made by Hand is undoubtedly an intriguing read for anyone interested in alternative history and post-apocalyptic literature. This book crafts very interesting characters, who contain a lot of depth often overlooked by many modern authors. The subject matter is very interesting, as we are shown the lifestyles of several different groups (a little town, a fuedal farm, an Amish-like settlement, and even a group of bikers and low-lifes) in the context of the post-apocalypse. Questions about culture and religion are frequently discussed throughout the book, but don't view these as boring and unnecessary. They only add more depth to the book, and for those of you looking for some action and romance, this book has that as well! I would personally recommend this book, but don't just take my word for it! Oprah recommended it too!!!



Robert passes the old high school as it is being renovated by the newcomers and reflects on life. He acknowledges that the old football field was being converted into a large garden. Robert wonders how the newcomers will fit into the town. This chapter is very brief and is primarily a reflection on the schools conversion.


We are introduced to Shawn Watling, a friend of Roberts who is walking towards the general store as well. Shawn has his dog Merlin with him. Shawn is noticeably tired and depressed, from the day of work and it seems life in general. Conversation between Robert and Shawn is relatively sparse and is somewhat awkward and conflicted. An example of foreshadowing comes on page 39 when Robert and Shawn are reflecting on their lost loved ones, and Robert states with regards to Daniel "He's not dead. As far as I know. Just gone…" The uncertainty from an earlier chapter is again stated, suggesting Daniel may return or become a primary character later on in the story.


Robert and Shawn arrive at the general store. Bunny Willman is an employee at the store, and does not like Shawn's dog because it looks like it has "rabies." Bunny tells them to keep the dog out of the store and tie him to a tree. Shawn decides to stay with the dog outside by the tree while Robert goes in and gets the needed supplies for himself and Shawn. While inside, Robert talks with Wayne Karp. The chapter then ends with Robert and Wayne hearing 3 gunshots coming from outside.


We find out that Bunny has shot Shawn and his dog. Shawn had fallen asleep by the tree and Merlin came towards Bunny. Bunny was insistant that the dog had rabies and ended up shooting the dog to keep him away. Shawn then awoke and was shot by Bunny, though we are not told what exactly unfolded. Wayne ends up taking Bunny's revolver and giving it to Robert. He tells Robert to shoot Bunny for "justice", to which he declines. He ultimately takes the gun with him as he sets back for the town with the supplies and Shawn's body in tow.


Robert decides to hide the gun before reentering the town so as to not be accused of murdering Shawn. He decides to go straight to Dr. Copeland's house where he leaves his body outside. He goes in and speaks to the doctor, who is very much alarmed and upset by the death. They take Shawn's body to the springhouse. Dr. Copeland tells his son Jasper to go get Reverend Holder. He arrives and the three men decide that they should go to Shawn's house and tell his wife, and Loren would see to the funeral arrangements.



The town meeting begins and first addresses Brother Jobe buying the school. He had signed a contract with Dale Bullock at $5,000 dollars a year and $5 million dollars in ten years. A majority of the board did not like this sale because it was made without permission of the board, and because it was made on a failing currency which has next to no value as it is. As a deal made proposed by Robert, Brother Jobe is voted in as public works director and the New Faithers must work in lieu of payment. Robert then moves to remove Heath Rucker, constable, who is not doing is job and does not even come to the meeting. The conversation then quickly changes and a motion is made to remove Dale’s title as mayor and make Robert the new mayor. Both issues are agreed upon by the council. Dale Murray then leaves the meeting. Loren becomes the new constable. The next topic addressed is that of Shawn Watling, and it is uncertain what the council wants to do with regards to pressing charges and figuring out the case. They do not know what to do with Wayne Karpe as he has no legal right running the former town landfill, but they appear hesitant at causing a conflict with him and his gang. Lastly, food and supply organization is discussed.


A few hours after the meeting, Jane Ann comes to see Robert at his home where they talk, get stoned on marijuana, and have sex. When they finish she cries and tells Robert she wishes that they didn’t have to love in private. She also tells Robert that “in the sight of God we don’t matter” (pg 114). This line seems to be foreshadowing her potential suicide, as her character appears to be really pessimistic on the outcome of life in general.


A cold front comes through Union Grove. Br. Jobe arrives at Robert’s house with news that Bullock wants a search party to find his missing men. We find out that Br. Jobe was previously in the military and has killed men, which suggests he will be able to do so again. He tells Robert to get his gun. The need for weapons suggests that there will be fighting and violence later on in the story.


Shortly after Br. Jobe leaves Robert’s house, Britney Watling arrives. She tells Robert that she did not start the fire, and that she wants to move in with him for safety and comfort. Robert does not want this to happen as he is now in a place of power in the town as mayor, because she is now vulnerable after losing Shawn, and because of his hidden relationship with Jane Ann. He ultimately agrees to let her stay while he is gone, and he will make a decision when he returns. At the end of this chapter Robert heads out to fetch the pistol he had hidden earlier on in the book.


The men (Robert, Brother Joseph, Brother Elam, Brother Seth, and Brother Minor) set out. All of the men have weapons, though Robert only has 3 bullets in his chamber. Along the way they meet Gladys Raynor as they were looking for a place to stay for the night. She allows them to stay. She is a very strange woman. She serves dinner to the men consisting of grass, dirt, and mud. The men speculate that her husband left her, as opposed to just never returning from business. After going outside and preparing themselves for sleep, they agree to return to her house on the way back and pick her up to take her to the town.

Religion and the Apocalypse

Religion is an often discussed topic in this book, as some featured members of this society are engaged in what appears to be a "cult" (though, you will have to determine that for yourself). They arrive in town early in the book and set up a society built around their "New Faither" church. Throughout the book, we see much good and much bad from these people. It is hard to make a real judgement on them individually. However, this forces us to ask questions of ourselves in our modern day! How do you think religion will influence the imminent apocalypse? More specifically, "How do you think religion will impact the post-apocalyptic world?" Feel free to discuss your views and get as detailed as you would like. Just refrain from turning this into a shout fest!

How do you think religion will impact the post-apocalyptic world?

Personally, it is hard for me to decide where I want to fall on this issue. I am an atheist myself, so I cannot deny I have some bias towards religion; but there are good qualities that it contains with respect to end-of-the-world scenarios. For example, even during the Dark Ages (which was a sort of intellectual Armageddon), Christian monks spent countless hours and years maintaining history and writing out books that were inevitably seized and burned. Additionally, religious individuals tend to be mentally prepared for the "end of the world" because it is often pressed on their mind by the church.

I cannot help but feel that in the end, though, religion does negatively influence the world. During the post-apocalptic world, religion and cults can be used to take advantage of people as much as they can be used to bring people together. It is all sort of subjective and dependent on each individual scenario, but that is my view.



The men prepare to leave Mrs. Raynor’s house, and prior to doing so they go up to her house to check on her and give their thanks. They end up finding that she had hung herself overnight. Additionally, they found a decomposing body in one of the bedrooms that is presumably her husbands. The men then dig a grave in the yard for them and give them a proper burial. They leave the house after taking some supplies. Robert’s burned hand opened from digging the grave. There is concern about infection, which Brother Minor is able to medicate with some herbs. The infected hand is a foreshadowing of potential disease or infection that will come to Robert. They set off down the road and stop to fish and eat.


The men continue forward and encounter a man whipping a donkey. Brother Minor steps in and ultimately knocks the man out for being cruel to the animal. The man had called them “Regulators”, which may foreshadow these men acting like the law (for better and for worse) throughout the region.


They take the donkey and Brother Minor names her Jenny. They left the man behind in the mud to let him reflect on what he had done. They run into a man named Jim Ricketts who works at an establishment named Ricketts Finished Goods. They were seeking information on what had happened to the Elizabeth and her crew. Brother Joseph tries to recruit him to the New Faithers, but he declines. He ultimately does not provide much important information to the men, except directions to Slavin’s Hotel.


The men go to Slavin’s Hotel for the night. They meet Henry Slavin, the hotel owner. They are told about Mr. Dan Curry, the mayor of Albany. They ask Mr. Slavin about the Elizabeth and are told to go ask Mr. Curry in the morning. They are ultimately able to find shelter, get food, and stable their horses. They are told that they will have to sleep two to a bed because additional rooms are rented out on an hourly basis for prostitution.


Brother Joseph and Robert are bunking together. Brother Joseph thinks the boat crew might have been taken hostage by Mr. Curry, and suggests checking the docks and boathouses before going to see him. This inevitably foreshadows some sort of violent or unwanted situation coming up soon in the book. Br. Joseph also tells Robert how he lost his son Aaron and 11 others in fights in Pennsylvania. He makes it clear that there were race issues down there, which suggests how horrible the situation has really become.


The men begin setting out from the hotel, and talk about their need t get some supplies for Union Grove. Not far along the street they find a dead man lying with a shotgun wound. They recognize that this is the same man they left earlier in the mud. Brother Minor declines shooting him, though there is an air of uncertainty about that fact as he was carrying a shotgun himself and has valid reason to want to kill him. This foreshadows the potential violence that these New Faithers would be willing to commit if needed, or if they just wanted too.



The water system was restored in Union Grove for the time being. Robert runs into Loren. They converse. Loren tells him how he and Brother Jobe had discussed the laundry idea, and he liked it. They also discuss Robert’s travels over the past week and the fact that Britney has moved into his house.


This chapter takes place at Bullock’s levee. We get to see many of the characters in the book engage in the party atmosphere. The New Faithers of both sexes mingled with everyone else very openly. Robert is approached by Annabelle, a New Faither woman, who tries to convert him to their faith. She then attempts to seduce him, to which he declines. He speaks with Brother Jobe who informs him that he put her up to the task of recruiting him and trying to have sex with him. This is an interesting aspect of this chapter because it shows that the New Faithers are more open about sex and relationships then we previously see. Additionally in this chapter we see how fantastic Bullock’s plantation really is. It has many amenities that are not found elsewhere in the region, such as electricity and functional music equipment.


Robert and other musicians take the stage and the party really begins to start. Afterwards, Brother Jobe meets with Robert and gives him the donkey Jenny. Later, Bullock converses with Robert about setting up a murder trial, and he informs Robert that he will have to give a testimony. Lastly, Jane Ann meets with Robert behind Bullock’s house and they have sex there. Afterwards, they talk about Britney and where their relationship is going.


The party ends and Robert returns home. Britney is awake and waiting for him in the kitchen. They talk to each other, and she informs him that Wayne Karp and his crew came by the house earlier to steal things. She also informed him that some of his men “touched” her, though she said they did not force sexual relations. They ultimately did not steal much, just some food. This raises an alarm in Robert, who will be looking into this case in the morning.


Robert goes to see Larry Prager, the town dentist. They converse about the death of Greg Meers, who died in his dentist chair while under the influence of the anesthesia. Larry is very upset about the incident and is considering stopping his profession, as he does not want to see any more people die in his service. Robert tells him that the community needs him, as he is the only dentist. Later, there conversation turns to the topic of Wayne Karp. Larry informs Robert that Karp and his crew had come by his house as well, and they said they were hired by the town as security. They did not rob Larry, but this still shows that Karp’s crew were making rounds while everyone was at Bullock’s party.

The Witch of Hebron by James Howard Kunstler - The Second Novel in Kunstler's Series

The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel
The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel
The Witch of Hebron is the continuation of the characters and events that have taken place in World Made by Hand. While supernatural qualities are set primarily on the backburner in World Made by Hand, they become increasingly prevalent in this second book in this series. This makes the story very interesting and unique in contrast to the original story, though we are able to follow many of the same characters from the first book. In addition, some new characters are introduced who I found to be even more interesting then the original characters. If you enjoyed World Made by Hand I would highly recommend checking out this book, as it continues this intriguing story and takes it to new and more exciting places!



Robert is going to see Loren about going to Wayne Karp and dealing with him. On the way, Robert notices that the New Faithers had finished a barbershop in the town. Robert then gets a hair cut and a beard trim. Brother Jobe gives him a razor so he can shave at home whenever he wants too. They talk about Wayne Karp as well, and Brother Jobe offers some men to go to his place when he is ready.


Robert is able to meet with Loren and Jane Ann. He requests Loren’s help with the Wayne Karp problem. Loren’s tone throughout this chapter seems to suggest that he knows about Jane Ann and Robert’s sex relationship. This is most noticeable when he says “fuck you” to both Jane Ann and Robert, though not inherently based on what they were speaking about. This chapter also shows a side of Loren not very noticeable throughout the book. As a reverend, one would not expect profanity. It is apparent that Loren must really be upset about something to turn to an angry tone.


As Robert and Loren were going around the town and checking in on the residence with regards to Wayne Karp’s thefts, he is informed that the New Faithers forced shaving of men in town. Ultimately, Robert tells Loren that they will have to arrest Wayne Karp for the actions of his crew and himself, as well as Brother Jobe for the actions of the New Faithers.


Robert returns home to Britney. As usual, Britney has prepared food for him. Sarah has many questions to ask as well. This chapter serves to show us how younger generations would end up acting during a post-apocalyptic situation. She is not very familiar with cars, for example. She did not even fully understand the concept of a machine and an engine. This really shows how different the world has become since the disaster.


Britney comes into Robert’s bedroom, and they have a brief conversation. Ultimately, Britney ends up getting naked and climbing in bed with him. They then proceed to have sex and fall asleep. When they wake up at one point, she says to him (on page 249) “You have a family now. What do you think of that?” Robert’s response was positive to that idea, which suggests a further interest in having a more in depth relationship with Britney throughout the book.

Feel free to leave comments, discuss the book (or my lens), or leave questions you may have!

Questions & Answers

    Comments and Discussion

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      • profile image

        Alex Zaiser 

        3 years ago

        Thanks for nothing, I'm just trying to graduate

      • profile image


        5 years ago

        11-21 would be super cool!

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        5 years ago

        Those missing middle chapters would be very helpful! :(

      • cryptid lm profile imageAUTHOR

        cryptid lm 

        8 years ago

        Just a note: I know I am missing some middle chapters. I am going to have to re-read those sections and make up my summaries. I had written these summaries up about a month or so ago, but apparently misplaced the document containing those middle chapters. My apologies! They will be updated into here at some point when I have time to read through the book again, though!


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