“Luke O’Neil’s Welcome To Hell World is a vital and despairing collection of essays on modern American life.”
“Reading his popular, semi-weekly newsletter Hell World is a lot like staring deep into O’Neil’s soul, and it’s often a pretty dark place. Hell World is unusual, to say the least. It’s a mix of reporting, essay-writing, memoir, song lyrics, music videos, tweets, and whatever else appeals to him in a given week, all of it written in a stream-of-consciousness style that eschews commas, leans into run-on sentences, and is often thousands of words long. It can get grim, but it’s incisive in a way most other newsletters aren’t.”
Welcome To Hell World is a fever dream of a newsletter from Luke O’Neil. It is a random assortment of political musings, links, information and some of the messiest style and syntax — in a good way — you’ve ever seen in a professional product. It’s a lot to handle, but it’s great.
For your friend who laments the death of alt-weeklies. O’Neil packages his columns in stream-of-consciousness reports that detail the many reasons reasonable people have to be angry right now. His reports are filled with accompanying exhibits and tweets and he frequently includes original interviews and guest posts.
-New York Magazine
O’Neil plumbs the depths of the modern American hyper-capitalist nightmare, turning a gimlet eye upon its indignities, absurdities, and sundry horrors. One day, he’s interviewing a grocery store worker about how the pandemic has impacted his job; later that week, he’s talking to someone who was hit in the eye by a police projectile during a Black Lives Matter protest, or writing a eulogy for a dearly departed Boston rock bar. Sometimes, his writing illuminates flashes of brilliant hope; far more often, it is imbued with unfathomable sorrow and frustration.
In the foreword to Welcome to Hell World, Luke O’Neil admits that he does not know what his book is. It covers a lot: loneliness and addiction in all their forms, absurdity and cruelty and how they’re often paired together, people as soft matter shredded by this nation’s exploitative systems. The collection hits upon all the major works in the canon of Americanness: opioid addiction, the border wall, climate change, pollution, the healthcare system, police violence, mass shootings, etc.
And just as important is the gaze on them—how the reddest brutalities are smoothed down by corporatized language, or shouted over by hysterical pleas for civility, refracted through social media and its churn, or blown up by CNN or MSNBC’s fluorescent newsroom. As I read it, O’Neil hasn’t declared this a “hell world” just because there are a bunch of terrible and ruthless systems that ravage people’s lives. It’s also about how people try to position themselves morally to justify these systems, and how they are conditioned to treat even the most powerless people with a kind of cutting, hypocritical moral absolutism.
“Too many journalists are failing the American public by desperately clinging to the rules of the old world, before the Trump Nuclear Bomb hit us all. Luke O’Neil is one of the few writers who faces our grim reality the way it is, and not the way we wish it was. Compiling Hell World is a sin-eater’s task, and we are indebted to him for doing it.”
–Dan Ozzi, author of Sellout
“A widely read, offbeat newsletter...”
–Mike Isaac, The New York Times
“Luke is convinced he lives in a nightmare. Truth is, he’s one of the last few people on the outside of it. Welcome to Hell World is a distress call from a place where hope still exists, dispatched by a man who clearly sees the insanity of life in America and believes it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s adorable.”
–Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die, author of Watch
“The defining feeling of being alive at this awful stupid moment in time, for me at least, is that of being locked inside myself and my perspective, looking out helplessly as various horrible things happen and keep happening and while various crimes are committed right in front of my face. It’s a very specific sort of horror and a very difficult thing to write about, and I don’t think anyone writes about it with more anger and more empathy or with more insight than Luke does. How he somehow makes it all enjoyable to read is something I hav- en’t quite figured out yet, but it’s a pretty remarkable achievement. Hellworld is hellworld, and this is a bad time, but Luke sees it clearly and writes about it with his whole heart, and that, to me, is good.”
–David Roth, Deadspin
“Reading “Hell World” can feel like peeling back your eyelids and forcing yourself to watch current events veer toward dystopia, with particular attention to the ugliest and most inhumane details. It’s often an uncomfortable read. But if you’re aligned with O’Neil’s views, it might also force you to face your own discomfort and ask yourself if you’re doing enough to reform or dismantle the institutions responsible for the stories he covers.”
“Luke tells it like it is. He is not afraid to take to task the establishment gatekeepers of the world, whether they be police chiefs, democratic politicians, the corporate heads of his own industry, or just your standard Republican bootlickers. It’s that honesty, along with pure writing ability, creativity, and a heavy helping of empathy, that makes Luke’s writing so special.”
“The stories just keep on coming. Green Choice programs at Marriott hotels putting their cleaners out of jobs in the name of saving the world. Gravely ill people making their own way to the emergency room because the ambulance ride would bankrupt them. Suicide epidemics among overworked doctors. Diabetics dying after missing their GoFundMe goal for insulin by $50. A whole heap of people shot dead because the police are scared of the general public or the politicians are scared of the gun lobby. The take away from every essay is not merely that life is terrible, but that powerful people choose to make it so for their own ends. ‘I don’t really know what hell is but I don’t think it’s a place where bad things happen to people randomly such as natural disasters and death because that’s just what the regular world is,’ O’Neil writes. ‘I think it’s probably more accurate to say it’s a place where bad things happen because someone wanted them to happen to you or just let them happen out of negligence and indifference. Where bad things happen and they didn’t have to but your life was less important to someone else than what they thought they had to gain.’”
–Full Stop Magazine
“Writer Luke O'Neil explores the fear and violence of daily life in mid-collapse USA - on the wrong side of class lines, regular people are sold war overseas and paranoia at home by a media and political class with no real besides collecting profit and floating high above the chaos they sow.”
–This Is Hell! Radio
“I don’t know if there’s another writer working who better channels the dread of the age than Luke O’Neil, and I know few that are his equal in terms of wit, style, and pure coruscating honesty when it comes to appraising what happens to the self, and the soul, in a severely dysfunctional society.”
–Joe Keohane, author of The Power of Strangers
As Boston polemicist Luke O’Neil writes in the first book named for his popular newsletter (and subtitled Dispatches from the American Dystopia), in a chapter exploring his thoughts about the annual Veteran’s Day display on Boston Common: “The flags looked beautiful I have to admit but I don’t know why we make war memorials look good they should look terrible. A war memorial should be a guy with his guts hanging out crying for his mother or a guy without a leg getting denied mental health services at the VA. People want things to be like what they think they are like unless it’s war in which case they want it to look like a TV show.” We feel the same way about writings on contemporary matters, from politics to music—they should be beautiful but hideous at the same time—and O’Neil scratches that itch for a remarkable 538 pages.
“One of my favorite things I read all year...”
–Frida Garza, Jezebel’s The Best Political Writing 2018
“Luke O’Neil’s writing reverberates the pulse of our modern dissolve in ways that inspire, provoke and engage. The stories shared in Welcome to Hell World and the analysis O’Neil brings inspire self-reflection and pause in an otherwise chaotic era.”
–Jared Holt, Right Wing Watch
“Welcome to Hell World relentlessly examines the human toll of American government and society. O’Neil brings to this examination a complete lack of fear—of what people will think of him, or where logic will take him—but also an abiding sympathy for people who’ve been wronged. And, deploying considerable writing skill, he somehow covers these serious issues in a personal style that would make Welcome to Hell World a compelling read even if it were a series of dispatches about a restaurant’s mediocre soup, instead of America’s moral collapse.”
–Matthew Segal, civil rights lawyer
“Luke O’Neil is like no other journalist working today, fusing original reporting with memoir and frequently-profane observational humor to create what feels like a new type of truth-telling: precise, fucked-up, infuriating, and, somehow, beautiful. O’Neil’s Hell World is bleak but humane; awful but hopeful; despair- ing but hilarious. In leading his willing readers to confront the daily horrors of this bizarre time, he honors the subjugated while taking a long, warm piss in the powerful’s salmon tartare. This is what it looks like when a gifted writer finds his voice.”
–Hamish McKenzie, co-founder of Substack
“There’s nothing out there like Welcome to Hell World; it’s sui generis, with a sparse, Hemingwayesque writing style that smuggles in its insights to your mind. O’Neil is always landing punches, but they’re always aimed upward, with surgical precision, at the people who’ve so meticulously crafted the Hell World we live in. O’Neil harnesses the dual forces of social transformation—anger, and white- hot empathy—with relentless skill.”
–Talia Lavin, author of Culture Warlords
“For a certain type of journalist, digging into the deep, dark secrets of modern life and laying it out there for the world to see is the only work worth pursuing. At Hell World, Luke is doing just that—and you can tell that he’s loving the work, even when it hurts. This collection better be just the first of many.”
–Eoin Higgins, Common Dreams
“Luke is a beautiful and brilliant writer. His unapologetic commentary is deeply satisfying. The best part is how he invites you in like you’re in your dorm with your best friends, but his words get lodged in your brain and haunt you.”
–Shaleen Title, Massachusetts drug policy activist