The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch Hardcover – January 1, 2014
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He goes on to pretend that he knows more than he actually does. It's as if he skimmed a few sources but only superficially understood them. How else can he suggest that a collapsed society go direct to building blast furnaces, ignoring the bloomery method of reducing iron ore that provided mankind with workable metal for two millennia as a cottage industry? Then he goes on to suggest that we build Bessemer converters to decarbonize the pig iron. Does he not know that the Bessemer converter is all but obsolete? Did he miss the chapter about the (chemically) basic refining furnace, which is a lot easier to build?
He quotes a lot of interesting chemistry, then throws up a real laugher when he gets the simple and universally known formula for black powder exactly backwards!
While the book skims quite a potpourri of technologies we use today, he omits almost entirely the tools needed to implement them. Knowing how an electrical generator or motor is assembled is all well and good, but where will the impoverished builder get copper wire? Or the special steel sheet necessary for laminating magnet cores? Or the tooling for punching out the laminations?
He never even began to address the fundamentals of machine tools, on which about 99% of our modern technology rests, and without which you cannot build even an 18th century economy. .
As a high school science project, this would rate a solid C for effort, and something less for the end result.
A series of 'this is how to build a fire', 'this is how to identify iron-bearing rocks', 'this is how to smelt iron', 'this is how to build a steam engine, etc.
The book instead is a series of chapters describing problems that one facing the rebuilding of civilization would face with no solutions. For example it describes how post-1800s farming requires industrial nitrogen fixing and how not having that is an issue, without providing a solution.
This book is a good starting point for research, but is not what I was hoping for.
And the lightness is my main problem. Everything is covered in to shallow a depth, the author doesn't explore any one topic in sufficient detail, and the end result is...
Well. The author comes out (towards the end) and says this is a thinly disguised popular science popularization, rather than a flawed-but-serious attempt to do what the book is marketed to do.
So... the marketing is hyperbolic, and a huge let-down. Maybe pick up if this one's under $4.00 on sale, or buy for a precocious 12 year old, rather than an adult with a strong technical background.
This would make a better TV show than a book.
I'm filled with awe at the brilliant people who have built our modern civilization.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how the things we take for granted actually work, or who wish to appreciate what amazing ingenuity went into developing our present civilization.
I bought a copy and sent it to my brother, who also reported enjoying it.
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What this book is, is a GUIDE to the essentials of things a group would need in order to rebuild. It GENERALISES the information without any actual steps for survival or revival.
There are a few clipart drawings in the book, but nothing that would useful to craft from.
HOWEVER, were someone else to write ANOTHER book, with complete PLANS, and SCHEMATICS, and BLUEPRINTS, and checklists and tools, and DIY HOW-TO's (eg how to obtain and smelt iron, and then make it into steel, how to identify and extract medicines from plants, etc), using this book as a baseline GUIDE, then that next book combined with this book, would become THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF KNOWLEDGE needed to rebuild the world.
(*nudge nudge wink wink*) We NEED that second book!!!
It is important to note the knowledge is a popular science book first, and a primer on rebooting civilisation second. It doesn’t give many good tips on how to prepare for serious disaster, and the possible disaster it imagines is quite a rosy one. The author assumes a terrible pandemic wipes out all save ~2% of the population. These 2% then have an extended grace period during which they can live off the decaying capitalist wreck that surrounds them. The cans in one supermarket are enough to feed a family of 4 for 50 years or so.
A real disaster, were it to occur, would probably leave more people alive and have a shorter grace period, if any. So preparing for one would be much more important.
The book references several great works, some of which I had already read, and some which I was pointed to. One of these, the essay “I, Pencil”, was excellent, and much better than the book. It is an account of how a modern wooden HB pencil came to be in this world, as told to the writer by the pencil. It is a meditation on the complexity of global supply chains and the decentralised brain at the heart of capitalism. The book’s author refers to it as an example of what we would lose when the economy collapses, and to his credit he does emphasise the importance of re-starting economic activity as soon as possible.
The knowledge doesn’t quite live up to its potential. If it were written with a more expansive style, it might’ve explored ideas like how bands of survivors might meet and go about setting up a post-apocalyptic society. The book could then explore the roles of the members of such a society, and smuggle the science in this way. As it is, it comes across like an extremely well written textbook about essential manufacturing, instead of the tightly-written primer it aspires to be. But it was still very interesting and I learned a lot. I would cautiously recommend it.
Buy the paper copy- what use would the digital version be in a post apocalyptic world?!