A post-apocalyptic novel by American author Cormac McCarthy that won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Also made into a film in 2009 starring Viggo Mortensen.

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What's with the missing thumbs in “The Road”?

I've only seen the film The Road, I haven't read the books. Perhaps I missed it, but what was going on with the people missing their thumbs?
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What was the catastrophe that happened in “The Road”?

My googling says that the catastrophe in "The Road" is unexplained. Given what we can see on screen, can anyone come up with a better explanation for how the world got that way?