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The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction Hardcover – October 12, 2010

105 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Geri Spieler, NY Journal of Books
If there were a “Watchman” to protect us from danger, he would be shaking his rattle vigorously right now. We are in danger of becoming extinct, for the signs of the collapse of our civilization are obvious, according to Rebecca Costa’s excellent and thought provoking new book, The Watchman’s Rattle.

The theme for The Watchman’s Rattle can be summed up in the story of the sophisticated and scientifically developed Mayan society: Unproven beliefs became the substitute for facts. Once this happens, as the practice of beliefs cannot result in real solutions, the inevitability of failure takes place, and disaster is the only outcome.

Our inherent hubris about our being as evolved as we can possibly ever be, is another message that one can take from The Watchman’s Rattle. If we do not heed the lessons of the past, if we continue to ignore all the warning signs that threaten human existence—such as global recession, powerful pandemic viruses, terrorism, rising crime, climate change, rapid depletion of the earth’s resources, nuclear proliferation, and failing educational systems—we are doomed to extinction. However, if we do pay attention, Costa lays out a plan that places us in an excellent position to change a repetitive pattern of decline.

This is an excellent book, rich with challenging thoughts as well as perceptive solutions. Costa offers excellent research in this fully developed dissertation on the warning signs and potential solutions to human and global destruction.

Highly recommended.

Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief and Founder, The Daily Beast
“The Gulf is drowning in oil, the housing market stumbles along, the Afghanistan conflict nears a decade long…why do all these problems seem so intractable and unstoppable? How did we get to this point of gridlock? Instead of hand-wringing we should all read Rebecca Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle and start figuring out how to really solve these messes. Few other books have so clearly and sharply captured how our symptom-obsessed society means we’re always looking for the quick-fix and easy cure rather than searching for the deeper, longer lasting solutions. Her analysis of how we got to this point mixes history, biology, economics and much more to paint a picture of a society overwhelmed by tremendous problems, but with her Silicon Valley rationality and novel guide to intuitive thinking, Costa has pointed a way forward for all of us.”

E. O. Wilson, Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner
“I am on the side of Rebecca Costa. Let us become realists-in-search-of-a-solution rather than doomsayers.”

Dr. James Watson, Nobel Laureate
“Problems eventually become too complicated for the average intelligence—in The Watchman’s Rattle, Rebecca Costa depicts the challenges this presents.”

Donald J. Trump, Real Estate Developer and Entrepreneur
“Rebecca Costa has written a riveting examination of our world’s most dire and complex issues. Her message for mankind is an ultimately hopeful one as she explores her fascinating theory about the brain’s ability to develop advanced problem solving techniques in times of crisis. A must read!”

Library Journal
“Costa presents innovative messages about dealing with the many issues facing modern civilization....a warning and a resource. It will give concerned readers new hope in human capability.”


About the Author

About Rebecca D. Costa

Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist who offers an evolutionary explanation for current events and emerging trends.  A new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell, Costa attributes modern consternation - from terrorism, crime on Wall Street, epidemic obesity and upheaval in the Middle East - to genetic imperatives.  Retiring from a career in Silicon Valley, Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman’s Rattle.  The success of the book in 25 countries led to a weekly syndicated radio program called The Costa Report.  Costa is presently represented by the American Program Bureau and the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.  For more information visit


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vanguard Press (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593156057
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593156053
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #891,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

REBECCA COSTA IS AM AMERICAN SOCIOBIOLOGIST who offers a genetic explanation for current events, emerging trends and individual behavior. A thought-leader and provocative new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond, Costa traces everything from terrorism, debt, epidemic obesity, and upheaval in the Middle East to evolutionary imperatives. She is the recipient of the prestigious Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award.

Retiring at the zenith of her career in Silicon Valley, Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman's Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. In her book, Costa explains how the principles governing evolution cause and provide a solution for global gridlock. When asked why the book has special significance today, Costa claims, "Every person I know, rich or poor, educated or not, wants to know why our government gets more in debt, our air and water more polluted, our jails more crowded, our security more tenuous and our children more violent. We appear to have lost our ability to solve our problems. The Watchman's Rattle offers a genetic explanation for paralysis, and prescribes a way out."

The success of Costa's first book led to a weekly radio program in 2010 called The Costa Report™. The Costa Report is nationally syndicated and available over satellite via the Genesis Communications Network, and over the internet via VoiceAmerica, Apple iTunes, and Podbean. The Costa Report is presently the fastest growing radio programs on the West Coast.

A former CEO and founder of one of the largest marketing firms in Silicon Valley (sold in 1999 to J. Walter Thompson), Costa developed an extensive track record of introducing new technologies. Her clients included industry giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Oracle Corporation, Seibel Systems, 3M, Amdahl, and General Electric Corporation. Costa is known for her marketing work on the world's first computer-aided design and manufacturing systems (CAD/CAM), computer networking, multimedia microprocessors, wireless peripherals and optical storage.

Raised in Tokyo, Japan, Costa lived during the Vietnam conflict in Vientiane, Laos, where her father worked in covert CIA operations. She attributes her ability to see the "big picture" to her cross-cultural education and upbringing. She graduated from The University of California at Santa Barbara with a Bachelor's Degree in Social Sciences.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

116 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Coffee Klatch Reviews on December 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction, Rebecca D. Costa gives us the following premise: that as societies advance they invariably run up against a cognitive threshold, "the point at which a society can no longer think its way out of its problems." This seems bizarre on the face of it because how else can you solve problems but by thinking? But she offers an alternative: insight. In contrast to left- and right-brain thinking, which have us search through pre-existing solutions and problem solving techniques, insight seems to occur to us out of thin air (though usually after the correct mental preparation). Insight, Costa claims, is "evolution's gift to us."

Once Costa has introduced the idea of insight being the solution to our problems and points out that many people already do have answers, she asks, what stands in our way from acting on these solutions? Costa says that what stands in our way of acting on good, insightful solutions are supermemes. Supermemes are ideas that have such strong support or opposition that the mere mention of them clouds peoples' thinking or prevents people from even looking at alternatives.

(An example she uses of an insightful solution for global warming, for example, is that of releasing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to form sulfate particles that would, in effect, shade the earth. The reason this solution is saved as a last resort, I've heard, is because there is much worry about whether we could tip the environment too much the wrong way and lose control of our planet's temperature.
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78 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Ed Brodow on October 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rebecca D. Costa thinks about the big picture. What is wrong with our planet, and what, if anything, can we do about it? This is a huge bite to chew on, yet Ms. Costa does a commendable job of looking at our most serious problems in innovative ways. She takes on global warming, terrorism, economic recession, depleted resources, and nuclear proliferation. Applying evolution, history, psychology, politics, and economics, she helps us understand why we are so screwed up.

Costa's thesis is that conditions are evolving faster than our brains, so we are unable, with our limited gray matter, to solve the problems of an incredibly complex world. She gives us a history lesson in how the Mayan, Roman, and Khmer empires crashed because as each society grew in complexity, the fallible human beings that ran the show were unable to adapt. Instead of basing their solutions on knowledge and fact, they substituted theological and other irrational belief systems that masked their sense of fear and impotence, giving false hope and leading to catastrophe. Costa observes that humans still don't take the time to distinguish facts from beliefs. Her example is the decision to attack Iraq because of "weapons of mass destruction." In retrospect, we know that the WMD theory was bogus and that a major decision with world-shaking consequences was made without verification of the facts.

One of my favorite parts of WATCHMAN'S RATTLE is the chapter that explains how our culture is addicted to "irrational opposition." Listen to your average politician, says Costa, and what you hear is a lot of opposition to any and all ideas but very little in the way of constructive solutions. Ms.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Murray A. Sondergard on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book right before Christmas, thinking that it was the kind of expansive thinking that one should engage in over the holidays. The first two-thirds is pretty interesting, with the discussion of the various supermemes and their implications. The conclusion, however, was very disappointing. We start out with the premise that things have become so complex that they exceed our "cognitive threshold" which leads us to make certain errors in our judgment and thinking with respect to determining how to respond to these complex issues. I thought that was a very good thesis, and was well-argued.

But instead of proposing some concrete solutions to dealing with this ever-increasing complexity, Costa informs us that the answers will come from neuroscience and the development of insight, which are expected to spring forth from somewhere if we only cultivate the right conditions for its production. I don't think that's a good enough answer, or that we can afford to just cross our arms and hope that someone will figure it all out, based on their creative insights. If it were that easy, it would have happened by now. The book has a "deus ex machina" quality to it - someone will come along to save us from ourselves, but we just don't know who or how. I would have enjoyed reading Costa's take on how to systematically address the supermemes she defines (in fairness, some of this is addressed in the discussion of the each of the supermemes). Perhaps her next book will provide the solutions that were missing here.
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