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The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch Hardcover – 3 Apr 2014

68 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (3 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847922279
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847922274
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,827 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

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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 By NC Review on 9 April 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a very informative book with a lot of fascinating detail. It is basically a thought experiment. If most of humanity was wiped out in the morning and a handful of people remained, could they survive and rebuild modern technology? To determine this, Dartnell looks how these technologies were originally developed and any possible short cuts which the survivors could take.

The ‘apocalypse’ itself described in book was very clinical but this book is not meant to be a blow-by-blow instruction manual. I couldn’t see survivors sitting around it deciding what to do on Day 24. However, it does contain a lot of high level technological insight that a post-apocalyptic Edison or Pasteur might find useful and could spend years of their lives trying to leverage.

The book is apolitical. Its focus is the technology. If you need advice on how to hang on to your post-apocalyptic fiefdom, consult Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and other experts in such matters. Oh, the book doesn’t cover killing zombies either.

Some readers might find the advanced chemistry section a bit of a drudge, but I can’t see how Dartnell could avoid that, given leaving it out would undermine the book’s purpose. On the flip side, it provides useful context for any fledgling chemistry students.

The footnotes throughout the book are consistently very interesting. I think any writer interested in world building would find the book very useful.

One thing to note is that the book is shorter than it appears. About the last 20% is filled with references, including a useful list of relevant fiction.

One final word of advice. If you want to tuck this away for the apocalypse, so you can amaze the other survivors with your scientific knowhow, remember to buy the paperback, not the ebook. Unless you’re really sure you can get those generators up and running.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. McAllister on 4 Jun. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 our grandparents knew and we forgot

Take your pick! It's a good read if you're interested in how things work. I hope they pop a few copies on the shelves along with the seed bank at Svalbard.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike Esholt on 22 April 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Following a review in the Times, I thought I'd dip in.

This covers a lot of stuff and gives some basic ideas on how to do things. Hopefully I will never need to know any of these. What would be great is a series of 'projects' to achieve some of the things talked about - i.e. detailed information on making butter, smoked food etc so that we could try some of these things out.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By harpoon guns to 'safe', please on 29 April 2014
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Captain Kirk on 24 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nice idea, to base a book about basic technological procesess and how to reindustialise from scratch on the scenario that man has somehow been almost wiped out. Trouble is that one soon gets the - correct - impression that the author is writing about subjects of which he is no expert. He also leaves out swathes of information that on would think wolud be covered - eg he talks about growing crops but says nothing about animal husbandry. And what about fishing. Wouldnt that be higely useful? So how do you make fishing rods and nets and fish traps?He discusses using woool for clothing but what about tanning leather? He'll waffle on about the flying shuttle but at the end i am no wiser about how it works and i get the impression that he doesnt know either. Neither are the details of the chemical reactions he mentions gone into. This book is definately not a survivalist s handbook, and neither is it much about the science behind basic technolgies. If the modern world ends you will want experts around with practical experience of how to "reboot" civilisation from zero and communicate that knowledge - this author is not one of them.
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