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Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

3.8 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307949424
ISBN-10: 0307949427
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2013: Global warming, supervolcanoes, asteroid impacts, ice ages, and cosmic radiation. We know that, over millennia, these disasters have already ravaged the earth and its species. In fact, many scientists argue that the earth has undergone five previous mass extinctions, and that at least seventy-five percent of life on earth was exterminated by each. Now guess what? We may be living through the initial groans of the earth’s sixth mass extinction. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world--and Annalee Newitz, editor of the popular blog IO9 explains why in her fascinating, fast-paced, and informative book. With chapters like “A Million Year View” and “How to Build a Deathproof City” Newitz argues that we can do a lot to stick around after the apocalypse, even if there’s nothing we can do to alter the earth’s course. --Chris Schluep --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Terrific. . . . A whirlwind tour of geology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and human history, as Newitz catalogs the terrifying disasters, catastrophes and genocides of geology and antiquity. . . . It’s a refreshingly grand sweep for a popular science book. . . . This is a delight of a book, balanced on the knife-edge of disaster and delirious hope.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“Fascinating. . . . [Newitz is] an excellent writer, with an effortless style. . . . The inner science geek in all of us will uncover some really cool stuff. . . . A terrific book that covers an astounding amount of ground in a manageable 300 pages. Newitz has done all the mental heavy lifting, all the hard work and research, and presented it so you get to enjoy it in a few days or weeks of fun reading. You will be smarter for it.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Few things are more enjoyable than touring the apocalypse from the safety of your living room. Even as Scatter, Adapt, and Remember cheerfully reminds us that asteroid impacts, mega-volcanos and methane eruptions are certain to come, it suggests how humankind can survive and even thrive. Yes, Annalee Newitz promises, the world will end with a bang, but our species doesn’t have to end with a whimper. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember is a guide to Homo sapiens’ next million years. I had fun reading this book and you will too.”
—Charles Mann, author of 1491
“One of the best popular science books I’ve read in a long, long time—and perhaps the only one that takes such a clear-eyed view of the future.”
—Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus

“Keen research and clear writing. . . . Sometimes, a brilliant observer can make an end run around what appears endless scientific quibbling daubed with politics.”
The Buffalo News

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember is a refreshingly optimistic and well thought out dissection of that perennial worry: the coming apocalypse. While everyone else stridently shouts about the end of days, this book asks and answers a simple question: ‘If it’s so bad, then why are we still alive?’ I found myself in awe of the incredible extinction events that humankind—and life in general—has already survived, and Newitz inspires us with engaging arguments that our race will keep reaching the end of the world and then keep living through it. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember intimately acquaints the reader with our two-hundred-thousand-year tradition of survival—nothing less than our shared heritage as human beings.”
—Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse and Amped

“This book is not a survivalist guide but rather a grand historical overview that puts humanity in the middle of its evolution, with fascinating looks both back and forward in time. An enormous amount of knowledge is gathered here, and the book accomplishes something almost impossible, being extremely interesting on every single page. A real pleasure to read and think about.”
—Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars trilogy

“An animated and absorbing account into how life has survived mass extinctions so far . . . and what we need to do to make sure humans don’t perish in the next one. . . . Humans may be experts at destroying the planet, but we are no slouches at preserving it, either, and Newitz’s shrewd speculations are heartening.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Newitz’s voice is fervent and earnest, and despite her gloomy topic, she leaves readers with hope for a long future.”
Publishers Weekly

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307949427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307949424
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By anatole on September 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I should have realized when the author describes in an early chapter that an ancestral reptile is a "reptile mammal hybrid" that this was not going to be scientifically accurate. It just went downhill from there. As soon as this author dips her toe into science, she's in over her head. She gets the genetic consequences of the founder effect wrong when she lumps the derived population with the originating population and misapplies the data from one to the other. She accepts Roopnarine's myopic view of food-webs as Gospel. In fact, she doesn't question any scientist's views. She's like a groupie with no abilty to discriminate between solid science and speculation. That is never so obvious than in the later chapter where she gushes over one of her favorite science fiction writers and elevates her fiction to the level of scientific insight. As another reviewer hinted, this book is less about the subject than it is a love-fest for the author's favorite things. It wasn't until I had finished this book that I read that the author was a prolific blogger. That explains much. This book is not a scientific work. It isn't even a book that makes science accessible to the general public. It's a disorganized, incoherent blog in paper form. Don't waste your time, or your money on this one.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When surveying our current understanding of past mass extinctions, Newitz does an excellent job. Those chapters are clear, concise, and above all interesting. Unfortunately, as she moves from that survey to the more speculative area of what she believes we will need to do to better our chances as a species of surviving the next mass extinction, she needed to spend more time on her argument. There is simply too little evidence presented for her position, and the logical connections between sections aren't always clear. Worse, the breezy tone that was so engaging in the first part of the book works against the second half, where it seems like she is pulling the argument out of thin air. To be truly convincing, the second half of the book would need to be twice as long, and backed up by quite a bit more science than "common sense."
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Format: Hardcover
I read a lot of books. I don't write many reviews. This book needed a bad review besides the whacko "there's no such thing as climate change..." Or "I'm born again.." reviews. If you are born again why are you reading a book about science anyway?
The author tells a story about Jews surviving the exodus which she then acknowledges is most likely fiction. Why include it? Oh, the author is Jewish. She concludes that San Francisco is the city of the future. Guess where she lives? You got it San Francisco. She goes on at length quoting multiple books from her favorite science fiction author. Then uses those ideas as quasi facts about what the future looks like. Then there is a random story about the survival of gray whales. Oddly the whales survive only because humans decide to let them. The whales which I am glad survive and think the planet would be a lesser place without them, do nothing, no adapting, no evolving, to help their own fate. They just exist until we stop killing them. What could this story have to do with the premise? Nothing actually it appears a nice way to introduce a story about the authors trip to whale watch. Where did she whale watch? Wait for it, oh you probably already guessed, the San Francisco Bay.
The title was very appealing as was the NPR snippet I read. Sadly this book is not good. For someone who writes a science blog this book is so egocentric it defies explanation.
If your looking for good nonfiction look else where.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The main thing about this book is that it is for the most part very interesting.

Science journalist Newitz begins with the mass extinctions in geological time beginning with the cyanobacteria that "poisoned" the atmosphere with...are you ready for this?...oxygen! Sayonara to delicate creatures sensitive to oxygen. Say hello to multicellular organisms that energize with oxygen like gas guzzling Hummers!

Then there was Permian extinction AKA "The Great Dying" when something like 90% of all marine species went extinct, and of course the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction (formerly known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction) that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs. Newitz concludes mass extinctions with the one that is going on now, thanks to us, who may or may not be the planet's cancer.

In Part II she writes about

(1) the "African Bottleneck," so-called because humans seemed to have lost some genetic diversity as most of us went bye-bye for some not clear reason;
(2) our near cousins the Neanderthals (very interesting and up to date chapter);
(3) the Great Plagues (during which labor--not surprisingly--becomes more valuable and the serfs gain some advantage vis-à-vis the landlords); also a very interesting chapter;
(4) people starving to death, especially the Irish during the great potato famine and the Chinese during Mao Zedong's sociopathic/narcissistic madness.

The "scatter, adapt, and remember" from the title is addressed in three chapters. Those that scattered were people, especially the Jews, and they did so to escape slavery, oppression and just plain bad times. Those that adapted are exemplified by the adaptation made by the cyanobacteria that learned photosynthesis and changed the world forever.
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