Book Reviews    April 28, 2015     Eric Larkin

Let’s please, please, please keep our shit together as a civilization, because rebuilding everything from scratch would be such a hassle.

There is very, very little anecdotal softening of raw science in Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge. This dude is not messing around.  Civilization has ended, so scrape the bark off a plum tree and boil it at 200 degrees Farenheit to produce toothpaste, cuz you’ll need to prevent dental infections that could kill you.  Chapter 2 – How To Make A Car. If everything collapses, and you manage to survive thru the initial chaos, this book contains the DNA of material civilization as we know it.

photo Geek Calendar - which you should check out, cc

THIS IS THE MAN, RIGHT HERE – LEWIS DARTNELL photo Geek Calendar – which you should check out, cc

This is not an easy read. You thought the chapter in Moby Dick on scrimshaw was tough. Well, turns out that Chemistry –  maybe even more than Math –  is The Key to the Universe. “But the calcium hydroxide can be reacted with potash or soda so that the hydroxide swaps partners to produce potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide: caustic potash or caustic soda, both of which are traditionally called lye.”  This requires some motivation to get through, but – obviously – critical information if what you really need is a bucket of caustic potash. (Useful for things like, say, traveling From the Earth to the Moon or making soap.)

But let’s not be wimps about it. If you’re going to rebuild everything, there are gonna be bits that aren’t fun. It’s going to take a huge amount of effort, the least of which will be digesting a bit of information on building materials or how electromagnetism works. It took us millennia to learn this stuff. You can start from scratch after The Fall, or you can just suck it up for a tough chapter or two of this book. You’d think it would be way thicker, but it’s just the size of your average hardback novel. The info about timekeeping, direction-finding and the scientific method is less dry.  Just don’t doubt that detailed technological know-how is a game changer in the civilization game.

Dartnell is cool. He actually does a lot of work on the search for extraterrestrial life – the sciencey stuff, not the fringey stuff.  Here’s a clip of him and Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla and upcoming Star Wars spinoff director) talking about alien life.   Also, there are lectures and presentations that Dartnell has done in conjunction with The Knowledge and, of course, a website with badass (but very subtle and British) extras, like how to open a can of beans using only a sidewalk.


And keep checking back for our upcoming list of books for after the apocalypse. Spoiler: The Knowledge is on it.


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