The Wall Street Journal: “The Knowledge is a fascinating look at the basic principles of the most important technologies undergirding modern society… a fun read full of optimism about human ingenuity. And if I ever see mushroom clouds on the far horizon, this might be a good book to reach for.”
Boston Globe: “[Dartnell’s] plans may anticipate the destruction of our world, but embedded in them is the hope that there might be a better way to live in the pre-apocalyptic world we inhabit right now.”
New York Post: “A stimulating read, a grand thought experiment on re-engineering the food, housing, clothing, heat, clean water and every other building block of civilization.”
Présentation de l'éditeur
How would you go about rebuilding a technological society from scratch?
If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, perhaps from a viral pandemic or catastrophic asteroid impact, what would be the one book you would want to press into the hands of the postapocalyptic survivors? What crucial knowledge would they need to survive in the immediate aftermath and to rebuild civilization as quickly as possiblea guide for rebooting the world?
Human knowledge is collective, distributed across the population. It has built on itself for centuries, becoming vast and increasingly specialized. Most of us are ignorant about the fundamental principles of the civilization that supports us, happily utilizing the latestor even the most basictechnology without having the slightest idea of why it works or how it came to be. If you had to go back to absolute basics, like some sort of postcataclysmic Robinson Crusoe, would you know how to re-create an internal combustion engine, put together a microscope, get metals out of rock, accurately tell time, weave fibers into clothing, or even how to produce food for yourself?
Regarded as one of the brightest young scientists of his generation, Lewis Dartnell proposes that the key to preserving civilization in an apocalyptic scenario is to provide a quickstart guide, adapted to cataclysmic circumstances. The Knowledge describes many of the modern technologies we employ, but first it explains the fundamentals upon which they are built. Every piece of technology rests on an enormous support network of other technologies, all interlinked and mutually dependent. You can’t hope to build a radio, for example, without understanding how to acquire the raw materials it requires, as well as generate the electricity needed to run it. But Dartnell doesn’t just provide specific information for starting over; he also reveals the greatest invention of them allthe phenomenal knowledge-generating machine that is the scientific method itself. This would allow survivors to learn technological advances not explicitly explored in The Knowledge as well as things we have yet to discover.
The Knowledge is a brilliantly original guide to the fundamentals of science and how it built our modern world as well as a thought experiment about the very idea of scientific knowledge itself.
I always wondered what it would be like if all of a sudden we had some great disaster, and we'd have to reboot our civilization. This is way more complicated than it might first appear. I'm an engineer and though I know how to do a lot of things, I do not have the knowledge to make some very basic things that I would certainly like to have after such a disaster. At least not before I saw this book.
For example, could I make soap? If you think about it, soap would be really important in the dirty world we would find ourselves living in after the disaster. Fairly unsophisticated people made it for themselves for hundreds of years. Do you know the recipe? The ingredients might be fairly easy to find (assuming you know the list) with the possible exception of lye. Making that is a bit of a challenge - do you know how? Maybe going to a library that had paper books on science and engineering would help - if there was one around. Remember, the internet (and electricity) would be non-existent. If I had a copy of the book being reviewed here or had studied it very well before the disaster, I'd know how to make the lye needed. By the way, excess lye can result in some very harsh soap - that is another issue that has to be worked out by the soap maker. One more challenge in the brave new world perhaps.
There are numerous other basic things we take for granted that we'd have to figure out how to make after the disaster. Would you know what to do? I'm not so sure I would without having read this or a similar book(s), and I am an engineer. The book here provides us with the know how to make the basic items we would need in an initial reboot. It's nice to find a reference that tells us so much in so few pages.
Note that some reviewers felt this book was a little light on details, and they may have a point in some respects - it would probably not be enough for people who aren't at least a little "handy" in some sense. But, it does point people in the right direction in only one volume. After the disaster, it might be hard to lug around a set of books. In any case, the book reviewed here does provide perspective.
Some reviewers stated that there were some other single volume guides that would be more useful - Boy Scout manual, camping manuals, etc. This might be true in some respects, but I think not in others.
Given the (over) dependence we see today on things electronic, maybe this book (a paper copy) should be given out and be required reading in every school, just in case. Even if the disaster never happens, this would provide some perspective for the members of the technology dependent, yet largely technology ignorant society that we have become.
32 internautes sur 34 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
A "cure" for the too-specialized society?3 avril 2014
I am not a "Prepper," but I am really enjoying this book. Initially, Dartnell's goal to explain nearly every major technological aspect of human existence -- agriculture, textile-making, and even producing electricity -- seemed *too* ambitious, I think he does a very nice job ... particularly given the book's length. (One would expect a book like this to be made up of several massive tomes, not a 200+ page paperback.) Granted, a few of the rebuilding processes are outlined in very limited terms: I was perhaps able to grasp his section on purifying water, for example, if only because of the numerous "survivor-style" television shows I have seen (such as "Survivorman" with Les Stroud). But for other things, such as growing crops, I think that Dartnell's truncated explanations are the way to go. Since growing conditions will vary so much from place to place, there is probably not much he could do otherwise; thus he provides the reader with the very basics. For agriculture, again, how to separate the wheat from the chaff, how to grind it into flour, etc. These are things that most members of our very specialized societies have forgotten how to do, either from leaving the tasks to machines, or to other people.
In a way, the book is sort of a wake-up call for the very "problem" of specialization -- a ton of people who each know how to do only a few very particular tasks, most of which (at least in industrialized societies) will not help them one whit in the face of even a temporary disaster, environmental or otherwise. Given how much I actually learned while reading this book, I was retrospectively shocked (or even ashamed) to realize just how much I did not know -- just how many things I use each day were/are the results of the labor and knowledge of others. So if anything, the book really does underscore the continuing necessity to form "well-rounded" individuals: those who can find/make/grow at least the bare necessities of living. Like any good book, it underscores the importance of things I often take for granted, and it makes me want to learn even more.
33 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Neat book for the apocalypse, of fans of the apocalypse17 mars 2014
The author, Lewis Dartnell is a "for real" scientist. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Biology. He has earned a PhD in ‘Computer modelling and experimental work on the astrobiological implications of the martian subsurface ionising radiation environment.’ He is a researcher for the UK Space Agency and his current research work is in Astrobiology. I lay all of this out to establish that this guy has very serious credibility as a scientist.
I imagine that his research writing is very dry and pedantic, as research writing often tends to run that way. Fortunately, this book is written in a light and conversational tone. The reader feels talked to, not lectured.
This is an interesting book. For science fiction fans, particularly fans of apocalyptic scenarios, from Fallout to the Road, to the Walking Dead, this is really useful reading. The knowledge is designed to be a how-to book for rebuilding the technology that would be wiped out in a global catastrophe. It's kind of fun. The author assumes that the reader enters the text with only a basic understanding of science. Starting out with the basics of immediate survival (food, water, shelter/clothing, medicine, power) Dartnell clearly lays out the situation and general solutions of how to meet those survival needs.
Dartnell posits that careful rationing and use of the existing resources would provide humanity with a 'grace period' in which to re-establish the basic skills needed for industrial society to reassert itself.
He then goes into discusses the issues involved in re-industrialization, power, chemistry, mass production, mass communications, etc with a mixture of hard reality and optimism. At the end of the book, he writes about the scientific method, and acknowledges that although it will be difficult, it is not impossible.
This is not a post-apocalyptic prepper manual. It's not a survival manual. It's not a science textbook with all of the formulae in it. There are no pages of diagrams and materials lists. It's an overview. One of the fun things about shows like Revolution, Walking Dead, Jericho, etc is watching the end of the world and thinking "Yeah, I could survive that." This book will help you to think about those decisions and choices in a more realistic fashion. It's meant to be fun, but it's also meant to make you think not only about technology, but about the science behind it.
51 internautes sur 61 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
I had expected this book to be a gedankenexperiment to determine if the technology underlying modern society can be reduced to a set of principles short enough to fit in one book and simple enough to be understood by one reader. Obviously it would take far more pages and complexity to record every detail of every process and device, but it is conceivable that essential knowledge could be organized into a tree that an isolated group of non-specialists could expand via research and tinkering into a functioning modern infrastructure.
The actual book is something different, but I'm not quite sure what it is. For one thing, this is no thought experiment, the author clearly expects some kind of catastrophic depopulation and social collapse (he mentions nuclear war and global pandemic as possibilities--the author is rooting for pandemic, I think because it damages only humans) or to be part of an inadequately supplied and badly trained exploration party (another planet or time travel on earth).
The first part of the book consists of the author's vivid descriptions of the apocalypse (his peaceful alternatives do not get the same attention). These are drawn from science fiction movies, sometimes explicitly, and as best I can tell, resemble no actual events. Plenty of cities have been abandoned (Pripyat is a particularly apt example) without conforming to the lurid sequences in the book. New Orleans after Katrina is cited as "a complete disintegration of law and order" and "the rapid degeneration of the normal social order and the outbreak of anarchy;" which leads the author to predict Mad Max scenarios. But none of this actually happened. There was tremendous official incompetence, but thousands of stories of small-scale heroism and altruism for every crime. The closest analogues to the author's nightmares outside Hollywood are genocidal pograms and civil wars--the product of organized groups with outside technology and resources, not scattered survivors of a holocaust stripped of their possessions.
Next the author gives his instructions for the immediate aftermath. The biggest problem here is his descriptions have nowhere near enough detail to be useful, and I'm pretty sure he's never actually tried any of the things he recommends. Any survival book, boy scouts handbook or camping manual will be far more help. Another problem is the eccentric coverage. He covers charcoal filtration, chemical treatment and sunlight disinfection of water (all of which require highly specific scavenging success and carry major risks) and suggests drinking from swimming pools and water heaters; but not collecting rainwater, drinking from wells or springs, or just going someplace with plenty of clean water.
Finally the book gets to the knowledge to rebuild the modern world. Here again there are no details, the author's main concern seems to be teaching the names of things, with a lot of attention to common English words derived from obsolete technology. Things are not arranged in any kind of order, for example his design for a primitive loom includes metal eyelets. Another issue is many of the technologies are not appropriate for the purpose. Norfolk crop rotation is described at length, but this is appropriate only for the south of England and was developed to allow intensive use of land to grow grain for export to other regions, using specialized equipment, optimized crops and animals and a highly trained labor force. A few thousand humans trying to rebuild modern society will have plenty of land and none of the prerequisites to make Norfolk rotation optimal. They might not be in the south of England (or if they started there might have decided to move to warmer climes to simplify survival). And in any case, they will have to solve their food production issues before building the infrastructure necessary to make grain export practical.
For all of those criticisms, this rebuilding part is reasonably interesting to read, and it represents the bulk of the book. If you think of it as essays on the history of technology loosely related to a survival theme, you should enjoy it and learn something. The writing is graceful and the author has an eye for interesting historical and scientific detail.
I can't recommend the book wholeheartedly to anyone. If you agree with the author's predictions of the future, you'll need a much better technology guide than this. If you don't, you'll find the first part of the book silly. If you want to learn how to scavenge food, shelter and water after a natural disaster, get a good survival book. If you're interested in history of technology and have already read everything by Henry Petroski, then perhaps you'll enjoy the last part of this book, if you overlook the apocalyptic stuff.
41 internautes sur 49 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
So civilization has collapsed, and you'd like things like safe food and water and lighting. What to do? This book proposes to get you started.
Overall, it's not bad, but it's a bit fluffy and incomplete. There's a lot of time spent on things the author likes to talk about, while some crucial issues are skimmed or entirely overlooked, and there are remedial errors that make me a bit suspicious of the accuracy of everything else.
For example, there's no mention of how to set up adequate toilet facilities, or construct basic sewers. It's not high tech, but it's crucial, and I imagine most people have no idea how to go about addressing these daily needs in a sanitary way without modern systems.
The section on medicine is completely useless. It mentions opium comes from poppies, but otherwise says that everything else is too complicated, never mind. What about a quick summary of all the well documented herbal medicines around? Knowing basics like garlic and honey are antibacterial could be huge.
For agriculture, the author insists the first task is to gather non-hybridized seeds. And to help with this, he says there are "hundreds of seed banks all around the world" and gives the addresses of two seed banks in Europe. Which is not terribly helpful to non-Europeans. I think one per major landmass would have been nice, at least.
As for errors, it's minor, but things like calling pita an unleavened flatbread is so untrue it makes me suspicious of the material I'm not as familiar with.
So, overall, it's a nice start and interesting to think about, but an odd, incomplete selection of topics.