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The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch [Hardcover]

Lewis Dartnell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 April 2014

Maybe it was a viral pandemic, or an asteroid strike, or perhaps nuclear war. Whatever the cause, the world as we know it has ended and you and the other survivors must start again. What key knowledge would you need to start rebuilding civilisation from scratch?

Once you've scavenged what you can, how do you begin producing the essentials? How do you grow food, generate power, prepare medicines, or get metal out of rocks? Could you avert another Dark Ages or take shortcuts to accelerate redevelopment?

Living in the modern world, we have become disconnected from the basic processes that support our lives, as well as the beautiful fundamentals of science that enable you to relearn things for yourself.

The Knowledge is a journey of discovery, a book which explains everything you need to know about everything. This is a quickstart guide for rebooting civilisation which will transform your understanding of the world - and help you prepare for when it's no longer here...

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (3 April 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1847922279
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847922274
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"As the scouts say - be prepared! Say your prayers that you never need this book" (Bear Grylls)

"A glorious compendium of the knowledge we have lost in the living. This is the most inspiring book I've read in a long time" (Peter Forbes Independent)

"An extraordinary achievement... It is a great read even if civilisation does not collapse. If it does, it will be the sacred text of the new world - Dartnell that world's first great prophet" (The Times)

"The ultimate do-it-yourself guide to 'rebooting' human civilization" (Nature)

"A terrifically engrossing history of science and technology" (Steven Poole Guardian)

"Impeccably researched and beautifully written, The Knowledge makes me proud of all we humans have achieved - and dismayed at how much we have to lose. You need to read this book" (Stephen Baxter)


Dartnell makes the technology and science of everyday life in our civilization fascinating and understandable. This book may or may not save your life but it'll certainly make it more interesting.

This the book we all wish we'd been given at school: The Knowledge that makes everything else make sense

" (Ken MacLeod, author of Descent)

"A marvelously astounding work: In one graceful swoop, Lewis Dartnell takes our multi-layered, interconnected modern world, shows how fragile its scaffolding is, and then lays out a how-to guide for starting over from scratch. Imagine Zombieland told by Neil deGrasse Tyson and you'll get some sense of what a delight The Knowledge is to read" (Seth Mnookin, New York Times bestselling author of The Panic Virus and associate director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing)

"A remarkable and panoramic view of how civilization actually works" (Roger Highfield of the Science Museum)

"This book is useful if civilization collapses, and entertaining if it doesn't. After the cometary impact it may save your life, and if it doesn't at least you'll know why you perished" (S. M. Stirling)

Book Description

A captivating journey of discovery and a quickstart guide to rebuilding our world after the apocalypse.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'd been looking forward to reading this book before its publication as it sounded like a great idea but also such a monumental undertaking; I wasn't sure how Dartnell was going to tackle the entirety of human science and engineering in ~350 pages. His approach made a lot of sense, and I have to commend him in sticking to a logical and 'first-principles' approach that kept me interested and engaged throughout. It wouldn't be possible (or make for a very interesting read) to do it any other way! After finishing it I felt I had a renewed respect and perspective on how far we've come, but also how quickly we could fall given how distantly removed many of us are from the ideas and processes that keep our advanced societies ticking over. I feel grateful to the many, mostly nameless, giants on whose shoulders we stand as they slowly chipped away at the rockface of progress to deliver us to the point at which I could read this book on a tiny handheld device weighing next-to-nothing whilst sitting on a plane! The Knowledge will help us pick up the pieces should we stumble, and should be required reading for everyone.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Lewis Dartnell has put into one volume more useful information on the underpinnings of our society than I have ever seen in one place. Every schoolchild should read this.

It's not a complete manual, for it would have been infeasibly large in that case, but it is a great guide, and being reasonably educated in technology and science, I still learned a lot. In a few cases, you'd like just a bit more explanation, but again, it's one small volume.

In one way, it can also be read as a novel in a unique (to me) second person future tense format- "you are going to............", although don't take that analogy too far.

Later on in the book, it does seem as if LD has got a bit bored, and one or two items are a bit peremptory, but it remains highly enjoyable.

I checked a few numbers which seemed Ok, but I think I spotted one mistake. On p280, he requires that the tube in a glass barometer be a constant diameter- I don't think that's right, as the pressure is affected only by height of a fluid column, not volume. Any thoughts out there? Oh, I think I see now, calibration would be hard if not constant diameter-it wouldn't be linear. Too pedantic as ever.....
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What it says on the tin... 26 May 2014
By Nik
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm no 'prepper', I'm just very, very well-read, but I was astonished how much of the stuff in this book used to be 'common knowledge' in science and text books I still half-remember. Now, such interesting but off-curriculum material has been squeezed out. Libraries shun it as irrelevant. It may be 'out there' on the wwweb, but...

A cautionary note; technically, this is a 'work in progress'. I'd hope that the second or third edition will be printed on 'acid free' paper, so endure until required. Similarly, I'd hope this book may spawn a set of supplementary volumes, a modest return to those well-thumbed 'home cyclopaedia' works beloved of grannies and aunts...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DIY tech 27 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many books chart the history of science and technology. This one offers a new twist, imagining what can be done to rebuild civilisation after a cataclysm has wiped out most of the population.

As tech history, it's pretty good, though the illustrations could be better and more numerous. As post apocalypse manual it's less good. The author has little to say about staying alive, and nothing about how to reestablish functional law and order, trade and a medium of exchange. Social problems are not Dartnell's field, but they would surely loom large in the aftermath. These may be harder problems than building your own chemical plant, but for those who are interested in chemical plants, home made sextants and such like I'd recommend this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Just finished The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell its nominally about how to rebuild civilisation if it ever falls. For that purpose it is a must have for anybody who thinks civilisation might collapse during their lifetime*1 or the lifetime of anyone who they might care about and is on the list to inherit their personal library. But it is also an interesting and entertaining read on how our technological civilisation was created,how things work and are interconnected . I was aware of knew a fair bit of the contents of the book but it did join up the dots of quite a few things I knew about separately. Its kind of the book equivalent of James Burke's connections TV series (for any of you old enough to remember it) for the important parts of our technological civilisation and it would be of interest even to those who don't think civilisation is on its way out. I was lucky enough to get my copy free by coming 2nd in a twitter competition and its the best non fiction book I have ever been given and that's coming from a person who now has to double stack books in his personal library.

The book also has its own website with additions :-


*1 Being a fully paid up tinfoil hat wearing paranoid I would not currently give odds better than 50/50 of our civilisation making it to the 22nd century but unfortunately its unlikely I could ever collect on the side I would bet on, on at least 2 counts ;-) ];-)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but limited
This book promises much but does not entirely deliver. It seems to spend more time discussing what 'Knowledge' is required than it does imparting any. Read more
Published 7 days ago by literary glutton
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
must have
Published 16 days ago by jakub topinski
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent read. Quick delivery
Published 17 days ago by R.H.Mole
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, not a light read!
It's a very interesting book, and clearly well researched. It's very factual but at some points a little too much so, so you have to take it slowly at those points!
Published 1 month ago by Bez123
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly well researched
Absolutely fascinating book about how our technology might be recovered if started from scatch. A lot of this is chemistry, how to make one substance from another, but a great deal... Read more
Published 1 month ago by W. Henderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of civilisation
A fascinating book to dip into. I've often wondered what useful knowledge I could REALLY take back in time with me, or use on my desert island (not least to keep the gramophone in... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rob K.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, great idea for a book.
This sort of re-boot book has always been on my bucket list to write one day when i have tome (e.g never) so really glad someone has given it a go, and it is that a good go at a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Richard Atkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain Candy
There are several ways you could look at this book;

A manual for restarting civilisation
A fascinating insight into what underpins our way of life
The stuff... Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. McAllister
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful
I have not read this as it was a present for my son. He hasnt said what he thinks of it yet. Suitable for htose who think the world is going to hell in a hand cart.
Published 1 month ago by FatCharlie
3.0 out of 5 stars read it and think
A read that may well bother you this is one idea of what is in store for us in days to come
Published 2 months ago by John D Poole
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