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One Second After by William R. Forstchen Chapter Summaries

Updated on August 23, 2017

One Second After: A Post-Apocalyptic Novel by William R. Forstchen

In this lens I will be writing out chapter summaries for the novel One Second After. The book follows the story of main protagonist John Masterson in rural North Carolina before, during, and after an EMP attack. This book is critically acclaimed for it's accurate depiction of what an EMP attack would do to the United States, and by extension the world. In addition, it is also a gripping tale of survival in this post-apocalyptic world. I thoroughly enjoyed my read through of the book, and while it is fairly easy to understand, I feel that having accompanying chapter summaries will undoubtedly aid in your understanding of the reading.

As a note, there will be spoilers leaking throughout this lens! It is not my intention to ruin the book for you, as I feel these summaries can help you as a supplemental material in addition to reading the book itself. There is too much information contained in the book that are not contained in my summaries, however you can get a nice and accurate overview of what this book contains by reading these summaries.

If you have any questions about the book or would simply like to converse about it's contents, feel free to leave comments at the bottom of my page!

Chapters 1 and 2


The story opens in rural North Carolina where John Masterson is preparing for his daughters birthday. As he reflects on the town he currently is living in, Black Mountain, he finds that it is essentially perfect; almost too perfect. His life was a very hectic one, as he was in the military and constantly was required to travel around the world. He lived in Black Mountain years ago, and only found himself returning their after his wife fell sick from breast cancer; and died shortly after their return. The reader is informed that his wife, Mary, died 4 years prior to the current events in the book; which is in a way foreshadowing the bleak events which are too occur shortly. Some other moments of foreshadowing include mentioning the unfortunate events related to the Great Depression and relating himself to the Beanie Babies he bought for his daughter as “soon being left behind” (pg 19). Near the end of the chapter, we are told that John’s daughter Jennifer has diabetes; which is unsettling because we are told during the would-be celebration of her birthday. Finally, the power goes out in the home and appears to be out across the region.


To build tension, the story seems to transition between sequences of happiness and sequences of sadness very quickly and effectively. Despite the events of the last chapter, the family is continuing with their party for Jennifer. Some additional tension is added when it is noted that no other kids show for her party, nor does Jen (John’s mother-in-law and Jennifer’s grandmother). Jen was initially at the party in Chapter 1, but left to see her husband in the nursing home and was due to return shortly. The silence from the initial chapter persists, leading John, Jen, and Jennifer to go out looking for John’s older daughter Elizabeth; whom was supposed to be at the party. They find that all the cars on the interstate have shut down, except for Jen’s old Ford Edsel. An important moment foreshadowing the apocalyptic nature of this story is found when a few groups of stranded motorist approach John and his family and try to hitch a ride, to which John declines as he does not want to put his family at risk of harm or become a shuttle bus service of sorts. Near the end of the chapter Elizabeth discovers that Jennifer’s new, high-tech diabetes tester does not work. She is still able to test with an older device, but it is still concerning. Finally, as the chapter nears its end, John goes into his office and gets some guns together; as if expecting things to get worse.

One Second After - A Review of the Book

One Second After (A John Matherson Novel)
One Second After (A John Matherson Novel)
The post-apocalyptic story contained in the book One Second After by William R. Forstchen is gripping and often times eloquent. In all honesty, I am not the biggest book reader, nor am I particularly a fan of novels, but I was compelled to read this one because a friend of mine recommended it to me. Within it's pages is a story where you will become emotionally attached to the characters. The examination of the legitimate problem of an EMP attack is breathtakingly accurate, and perhaps more realistically the description will literally "take" your breath away as you begin to ask yourself how you would deal with the situation presented to these characters. That is, indeed, the making of a great post-apocalyptic story. Questions like "What would I do if I was there?" instantly come to mind and resonated in me as a reader. It was no longer just the story of John Masterson, but also the story of myself, and even the story of all human beings. While I will not lie and say this book is "perfect," as it undoubtedly has a few flaws throughout (this may bother some of you book elitists out there!); the story is very well done and refined to near perfection. At such a low price, you cannot help but take interest in buying it, and more importantly thoroughly enjoying it's contents!

CHAPTER 3 and 4


Throughout this chapter, fear of uncertainty is a motivating factor for John and many of the town’s people. Several new characters are introduced in this chapter as well, including Hamid (a local convenience store owner), Jim Bartlette (John’s neighbor who has a working Volkswagen and is a bit of a “doomsayer” and eccentric), Tom Barker (the chief of police), Charlie Fuller (director of public safety), Mayor Kate Lindsey, Washington Parker (head of the college campus’ security), and Makala Turner (the woman he left on the highway the night before). The most important moment in this chapter comes during a meeting where the idea that the power outages could be related to an EMP attack. Some additional important moments include when John gives his daughter Elizabeth a shotgun before leaving the house, stocking up on cigarettes at Hamid’s store, Tom attempting to confiscate John’s car, John giving Washington Parker keys to Jen’s garage to take her Mustang for temporary use, and John acquiring additional medications and supplies from a CVS pharmacy after silencing an unruly, loud-mouthed customer. An example of foreshadowing is Jim’s mentioning of the end of the world and the Mayan doomsday predictions.


The focus of this chapter in the first half is on the local hospital where John’s father-in-law is, and the remaining half is focused primarily in another emergency meeting. The hospital is devastated, with many already dead and dying. John and Jen are able to take Tyler home, though he is in poor condition. Back in town, Charlie has declared martial law and has begun rationing off food and supplies, as well as commandeering functioning vehicles. The only significant character introduced is Don Barber, who has access to a functional airplane for transportation. He is a prominent character found in the emergency meetings. Two important topics acknowledged during this chapter are how currency will now have no value and goods and services will be rendered through a barter system instead, and major concern about what to do with outsiders who end up in the town.

Check out some other great books by William R. Forstchen!

A great author doesn't just write one book! Mr. Forstchen writes in a variety of styles, and is very much worth checking out in more depth!

EMP Attack Information

What is an EMP?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is, simply put, a burst of electromagnetic radiation. The major concern with regards to an EMP attack is one that is very real and very possible in our modern age. It is suggested that an EMP attack could be the by-product of a nuclear war. As is seen in the image alongside my writing, you are able to visibly see the range an EMP attack can have over just the United States and surrounding countries. And this is only from one nuclear bomb set off a few miles above the Earth! The results of this kind of attack would be catastrophic to our way of life. As is expressed in the novel One Second After the aftermath of an EMP attack will result in the loss of electricity, and by extension any products that run on electricity.

CHAPTER 7 and 8


The chapter opens with mention to the fact that John did have a staph infection, and has been sick. There was a conflict earlier in the week at “the gap” between the insiders and outsiders, leaving 200 dead. A majority of this chapter involves discussions between John and Makala. During these conversations she suggests at a potential romantic interest in John, Jennifer’s poor insulin/diabetes test strip situation, and how John should talk to Jennifer about death as she is beginning to think it is imminent for herself after seeing many people die in the past few weeks (especially Tyler). In town, there is a community board set up indicating current news and the effects of martial law in the town. We find out that the Middle East and North Korea were the ones who attacked the U.S., and they attacked the Western Pacific countries and Eastern Europe in similar ways. In the latter section of the chapter, John and Makala go to check on the college. Here we meet college president, Dan Hunt. Washington is training a militia (consisting of students at the college) to protect the community. President Hunt tells John that he (with Washington’s additional approval) wants John to be the leader of this army. An example of foreshadowing includes talk that a functional short wave radio was found in Morgantown (this suggests that other radios and pieces of old technology may work for the people in Black Mountain).


Tom appears at the town hall to inform the community that they have a functioning phone and can communicate with Swannanoa (who also has one). John informs us that the radio works in the Edsel and that he was able to hear a functional radio station hosted by the US government. The first section of this chapter takes place in another town hall meeting discussing a variety of topics, including medical issues plaguing the community or likely to plague them soon (such as mental instability and alcohol problems), issues of how to ration food, dogs as a potential food source, and a consideration of using the functioning airplane in the community to fly down to Charleston for supplies and information (this latter notion was rejected and not acted upon). In the latter section of the chapter, John goes up to the interstate to check on the movement of refugees and the students. He is able to witness the horror facing the “outsiders” as they are moved through the community to the other side. He hears of rumors regarding a gang known as “the Posse” who could potentially move towards Black Mountain in the future. Finally, John returns home and meets with his family. He speaks with Jen, who suggests that he should talk about sex and pregnancy with Elizabeth and Ben. These latter two incidents are also examples of foreshadowing potential future events in the story.

Would YOU Survive the Apocalypse?

Consider multiple different apocalypse types (nuclear war, the Earth freezes over, an EMP attack, or maybe something else). Do you think that you could survive in this harsh environment? Why or why not? Feel free to elaborate as much as you would like!

Would YOU Survive the Apocalypse?

Feel free to ask questions about this book, the author, or any of my writings on this lens for that matter. I am open to discussions with you if you would like as well!

Comments and Questions About One Second After

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    • profile image


      6 months ago

      Where are the orher chapters??

    • profile image

      mia luke 

      2 years ago

      Chapter 5 summary please?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      why can't I see all of the chapter summaries as i can only see chapters 1-4 and 7-8

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a really great lens! Really useful! Ironically (or maybe not?) I am reading One Second After right now, and while most of it is easy to understand having these summaries makes it even easier on me. Oh, and I had no idea what an EMP attack was too. Thanks for this great lens!


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