Science & Nature The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell | Book Review Roundup | The Omnivore

Published on April 11th, 2014


The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell

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Blurb: 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…

(Bodley Head 2014)

How to survive the apocalypse | Lewis Dartnell | The Guardian

Tom Whipple, The Times 

“…a deeply embarrassing book. Embarrassing because, for me at least, it exposed my spectacular ignorance. There were crucial things I was ignorant of that I didn’t even know were things — let alone how to make them… this book is an extraordinary achievement. With lucidity and brevity, Dartnell explains the rudiments of a civilisation. 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.”

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Steven Poole, The Guardian 

“The conceit that this is a handbook for rebooting modern civilisation is really just a cute way of framing what turns out to be something slightly different but arguably more interesting to a present-day readership. The Knowledge is a terrifically engrossing history of science and technology. How exactly did people develop farming machinery, clocks, steam engines, glass lenses, radios, explosives, and the like? Dartnell deftly sketches the contours of each problem, and sympathetically reconstructs the reasoning applied.”

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Alison Stokes, Times Higher Education 

“So does The Knowledge deliver on its claim that it will “explain everything you need to know about everything”? Of course not. But it does explain an awful lot about the workings of our world in a way that is engaging, thought-provoking and (mostly) accessible. And while I’m not sure it will “transform our understanding of the world”, readers will certainly come away better informed, more knowledgeable about, and hopefully more interested in the fundamental science and technology necessary to rebuild a civilised society.”

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John Preston, Daily Mail 

“Dartnell’s guide to surviving the apocalypse is as breezy and engaging as it is informative. However, I fear that nothing can entirely compensate for my own incompetence. I might just be able to sterilise my own water – dead easy, it seems; all you have to do is fill up a plastic bottle and leave it in the sun, thereby exposing the water to ultraviolet rays. But  the chances of my being able to make my own creosote, or build my own blast furnace, still seem worryingly remote.”

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Tom Chivers, The Telegraph 

“The only jarring note is that sometimes it seems as though Dartnell is taking all this end-of-the-world stuff seriously, as he believes that hide-clad survivors will actually be ransacking the popular science shelves of a shattered, post-apocalyptic Waterstones looking for his book… It’s harsh, though, to criticise a book for sticking to its premise. There is a serious point to be made: that our civilisation, and all its marvels, teeters on a pile of technological innovations that few of us have the first clue about and that could easily disappear.”

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Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times 

“…it is poorly structured, coming across as an increasingly boring list of how things work. This is perhaps because he thinks how things work is the answer. It is not, it is how humans work that matters most. The biggest postapocalyptic problem of all — politics — is missing from this book.”

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