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

by Annalee Newitz
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 14, 2013 0385535910 978-0385535915
In its 4.5 billion–year history, life on Earth has been almost erased at least half a dozen times: shattered by asteroid impacts, entombed in ice, smothered by methane, and torn apart by unfathomably powerful megavolcanoes. And we know that another global disaster is eventually headed our way. Can we survive it? How?

As a species, Homo sapiens is at a crossroads. Study of our planet’s turbulent past suggests that we are overdue for a catastrophic disaster, whether caused by nature or by human interference.
It’s a frightening prospect, as each of the Earth’s past major disasters—from meteor strikes to bombardment by cosmic radiation—resulted in a mass extinction, where more than 75 percent of the planet’s species died out. But in Scatter, Adapt, and Remember, Annalee Newitz, science journalist and editor of the science Web site explains that although global disaster is all but inevitable, our chances of long-term species survival are better than ever. Life on Earth has come close to annihilation—humans have, more than once, narrowly avoided extinction just
during the last million years—but every single time a few creatures survived, evolving to adapt to the harshest of conditions.
     This brilliantly speculative work of popular science focuses on humanity’s long history of dodging the bullet, as well as on new threats that we may face in years to come. Most important, it explores how scientific breakthroughs today will help us avoid disasters tomorrow. From simulating tsunamis to studying central Turkey’s ancient underground cities; from cultivating cyanobacteria for “living cities” to designing space elevators to make space colonies cost-effective; from using math to stop pandemics to studying the remarkable survival strategies of gray whales, scientists and researchers the world over are discovering the keys to long-term resilience and learning how humans can choose life over death.
     Newitz’s remarkable and fascinating journey through the science of mass extinctions is a powerful argument about human ingenuity and our ability to change. In a world populated by doomsday preppers and media commentators obsessively forecasting our demise, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember is a compelling voice of hope. It leads us away from apocalyptic thinking into a future where we live to build a better world—on this planet and perhaps on others. Readers of this book will be equipped scientifically, intellectually, and emotionally to face whatever the future holds.

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Editorial Reviews 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


Praise for Scatter, Adapt, and Remember:

"As Walking Dead fans know, 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

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

“One part OMNI-grade optimistic futurism; one part terrifying disaster-history; entirely awesome and inspiring. A FTL rocket-ride through extinction and its discontents.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

“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

"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

 "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

A Scientific American Recommended Book

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385535910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385535915
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Annalee Newitz writes about the intersection of science, technology and culture for publications including Wired, Popular Science, Technology Review, Slate, Washington Post, the Smithsonian Magazine, and more. Currently she is the editor-in-chief of the science and culture site, and previously worked as a contributing editor at Wired magazine and as a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

She was the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and MIT, and has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley.

Learn more at or follow her on Twitter @annaleen

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 81 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a blog book September 21, 2013
By anatole
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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228 of 280 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this book but... July 1, 2013
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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Covers a lot of ground in a very readable fashion June 1, 2013
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.
Read more ›
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too short and not well-argued. August 21, 2013
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of information
The author clearly backs up her opinions on survival of the human race with examples of past extinctions and how the surviving species accomplished their survival. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Lorene Kowalsky
4.0 out of 5 stars A hopeful blueprint for doomsday
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction tackles a very huge subject. It's a big ambitious subject. Read more
Published 23 days ago by W. McCoy
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, jumps around a bit
Many good ideas here and a lot of interesting speculation. Schematic, though. LIke the playbook for a good work of science fiction about the future of the earth and its... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Allison Burke
5.0 out of 5 stars Scatter, Adapt, and Remember
I especially appreciate the pre-history information about ice ages and greenhouse ages, plus the timeline for cataclysmic events and the various named ages, what went extinct and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Leslie Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting approach and thoughts
Interesting and positive book about the survival of mankind after a catastrophic event on earth.

The author reviews what has occurred on earth in the past and may occur... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hill Country Bob
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting speculation
There are many interesting theories here about where we will go in the future, but not much that I hadn't already heard about from other sources. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Schettig
5.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting book
This book seems intimidating at first but the author does a fantastic job of explaining concepts and history in simple terms. I found all the history to be fascinating. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Anna Land
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative
Truth and knowledge is always there, you just have to look for it. This book is invaluable to me. I highly recommend it to everyone.
Published 4 months ago by James Dwyer Jr
5.0 out of 5 stars Where we've been, where we're going, and why it matters.
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember delves into a subject matter I had not previously considered. It challenged my thinking about the future of mankind as well as giving a strong... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Hermine Robinson
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I wanted this to be a great book, but it just isn't. I absolutely agree with the strategies sounded out in the title (and for the most part, Newitz get the "pragmatic... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
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