Friday, January 01, 2016

The Knowledge

I forgot to mention how much I liked Lewis Dartnell's The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch. It's an instruction manual of how to leap over centuries of dark ages in the event of some apocalyptic collapse of civilization.  It bypasses the usual survivalist and sci-fi dystopias of riots in the street and starvation in the first few months, picking up in some more stable period of small societies of less than 10,000 trying to get on with building a civilisation.

For example, simply knowing germ theory, how to make a good anesthetic from nitrous oxide and ether, and allowing dissection of corpses for training, you can get up to the equivalent of 1900 in medicine very quickly.  Dartnell adds in how to quickly get to x-rays and weak antibiotics and voila! We're pretty much at 1950 already.

Other things will be harder.  Stored petroleum has a shelf life, and we've already accessed the easy oil out of the ground.  We'll be able to scavenge metals from abandoned cities, but mining the easy stuff has already been done. We'll have to go to charcoal or ethanol-based fuels, so Dartnell gives directions how that works.  There are chapters on how to make glass, four-field rotation farming (that helps us skip centuries of trial-and-error), paper and ink, wind and water energy, clothing, and chemistry.  Lots of fun, though toward the end I skipped the second halves of some chapters, as the details weren't so interesting as the overall concepts.  The details would be plenty interesting to people who actually needed them, I imagine.

It's pure sport for someone like me.  I'm not likely to survive any apocalypse long, so it's all just the intriguing imagination game.  Still, I'd like my descendants and younger friends to be among those who survive and prosper if worst comes to worst, so I'm showing it around and started circulating a copy in the family.


Texan99 said...

I so have to buy this book immediately, and probably buy another copy for my apocalypse-preoccupied neighbors.

Galen said...

Loved my kindle version...uh, maybe I missed the point.

Texan99 said...

Ha. I seriously considered the Kindle option for a moment, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I ordered a somewhat similar book for this same couple last year, meaning to keep it for their going-away present, because they've put their house on the market and plan to move to rural Oklahoma. It was something I'd proofed on Project Gutenburg; it was full of recipes for all kinds of useful substances and processes using the most basic ingredients that were on the market 100 years ago. The whole thing is available for free on the net now, but obviously that didn't seem like the right format for my somewhat-prepper friends, so I found a cheap hardback version of the old book for sale on Amazon. But we gave it to them for Christmas, since they haven't sold their house yet, and now I need another going-away present on hand in case they do get a buyer and really move. This should be perfect. And naturally I have to read it myself.