- Publisher: Vintage (March 5, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099575833
- ISBN-13: 978-0099575832
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (169 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,816,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World After an Apocalypse Paperback – March 5, 2015
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Dartnell, a UK Space Agency research fellow and award-winning science writer, specializes in the field of astrobiology, including how microorganisms could survive on Mars. It’s no wonder, then, that this renowned young scientist is fascinated by survival tactics, the underlying theme of this ambitious inquiry into how people might be able to rebuild the world as we know it if an apocalypse came to pass. As much as any writer could cover the history of technology in 300 pages, Dartnell presents a good case. His account quickly progresses from raising crops to making soap, shearing and spinning wool, mining coal, generating electricity, and building radios. Of course, since this is all speculation, it’s hard to predict what people would be able to scavenge and what will be left intact or who might be on earth besides yourself. Dartnell doesn’t address questions of governing this survivors’ society or how people would collaborate on rebuilding or how hopeless some will feel without Google and smartphones. Still, Dartnell’s vision is a great start in understanding what it took to build our world. --Laurie Borman --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
"A wake-up call, encouraging us to leave our comfort zone and learn the basics of caring for ourselves in a disaster and it's aftermath." ---Mixed Media Reviews --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
"This is a survivors' guidebook. Not one just concerned with keeping people alive in the weeks after the Fall -- plenty of handbooks have been written on survival skills -- but one that teaches how to orchestrate the rebuilding of a technologically advanced civilization."
- from page 2 of INTRODUCTION
He describes some of the knowledge and processes needed to "reboot" civilization by rebuilding technology and touches briefly on the basics of shelter, water, food, fuel, medicine and off-grid electric power. He suggests that with a good knowledge of the history of science and technology, it is possible to streamline that process and "leapfrog" some sections that were not needed to reach later points in the timeline. He goes into a little more depth in describing AGRICULTURE in Chapter 3 and FOOD AND CLOTHING in Chapter 4.
The most interesting part of the book begins with Chapter 5 on Substances. He describes the importance of using thermal energy beyond that of a simple fire in the processes of: smelting, forging, casting, glass working, making salt, burning lime, firing bricks and more. He describes the extraction of calcium carbonate from limestone and burning it in a hot kiln to create calcium oxide which is in turn combined with water to make hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide). These steps form a foundation for later chemical processes that involve making soap, ammonia, glue, gunpowder and plastics. The chapter continues to describe the chemistry of wood pyrolisis, which involves collecting vapor from baked wood to make methanol, acetone and tars or drive a combustion engine. The chapter is completed with a brief discussion of acids.
MATERIALS is the topic of Chapter 6 and it builds nicely on the previous discussion with sections on clay, lime mortars, metals and glass. Crude clay can be fired at high temperature to make ceramics which turn out to be very useful with both chemistry and later electronics, in both cases because it mostly stays not involved with process changes. Clay is a primary source for aluminum. Lime mortar led to cement which had a huge impact on building technology. Ceramics, cement and clay are instrumental in making high temperature kilns and furnaces. It is possible to melt salvaged aluminum, like soda cans, in a small furnace and using a sand casting process, produce simple parts to make a working metal lathe. The metal lathe can reproduce itself as well as make more complex metal working machines like the milling machine. This project is thoroughly documented in a small 7-book series called, "Build Your Own Metal Working Shop From Scrap" by David and Vincent Gingery. This is great example of Dartnell's concept of accelerating development by leapfrogging.
The book continues with chapters on MEDICINE, POWER, TRANSPORT, COMMUNICATION, ADVANCED CHEMISTRY and one titled TIME AND PLACE which deals with timekeeping, clocks and navigation. The final chapter, THE GREATEST INVENTION, is about the scientific method and its application.
In order for this book to really accomplish what it suggests, it would need to be much larger. There are missing pieces that would be needed to complete the rebuilding of advanced technology. For instance: in order to recreate modern electronics, we need advanced lenses and optics, photographic emulsion chemistry (which is covered in this book), more on electrolysis and plating, modern electronics and more advanced knowledge. Maybe this is reason for Dartnell to consider a "part two" book. But this book is a great start and should be considered a must for any complete survival library or collection on the history of science and technology.
It is also extremely well annotated and referenced and from a knowledge management viewpoint is work the price of the book just for the knowledge map it provides to other sources. To be fair, there is some missing detail in some areas, but in most cases, it seems like the detail is available in the referenced material. A perfect example is the section on building your own metal shop. Dartnell cannot cover all the material in the small seven book series he references, but he does cover enough of the overall idea to make it clear what great potential is there and then references the source to make it available to the reader.
For instance, chapter 4's discussion of spinning goes straight from hand-twisting thread to the spinning wheel, entirely skipping the drop spindle. The section on distilling doesn't mention the danger or boiling point of methanol (wood alcohol), which seems a little dangerous when explaining how to use a Mongolian still--a setup which operates without temperature regulation. And chapter 13's discussion of the scientific method spends a lot of time on measurement tools but doesn't get into the vital importance of experimental controls, changing only a single variable at a time, establishing the hypothesis and procedure before running the experiment, or reproducibility.
In my edition of the book, the "exactly 10 cm long" ruler printed in chapter 13 is actually 9.5 cm long. While it's a small thing, I think it's emblematic of the book: it has some excellent and interesting ideas, and I look forward to exploring the references, but in a few places it leaves room for improvements that will hopefully find their way into a second edition.