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The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch
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The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  2,615 ratings  ·  356 reviews
How would you go about rebuilding a technological society from scratch?

If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, perhaps from a viral pandemic or catastrophic asteroid impact, what would be the one book you would want to press into the hands of the postapocalyptic survivors? What crucial knowledge would they need to survive in the immediate aftermath and to rebuild
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Penguin Books (first published April 2014)
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Adam The author actually addresses this--the fact that it merely exists in physical print anywhere is enough. Get the e-book and run free.
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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I read a lot of "Prepper" books, and in general, a lot of apocalyptic literature. This one was a quick read, because it sucked. Dartnell had the kernel of a good idea, but then lost steam about 50 pages into the book, and what he filled the remaining 250 with was a stretch.

Good points: explaining how to get certain base-material chemicals from natural sources.

Bad points: he did not think deeply about what were the critical, enabling, technologies for "rebooting" (his term) life. He assumes that
B Schrodinger
Thank you to both Netgalley and Random House UK for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

If someone came up to me and said "Hi, here is an instruction manual to rebuild civilisation after collapse. You're welcome!" guess how I'd react. There would be sarcasm and the little wizened skeptic that lives in my head would be having a field day. And I did approach this volume with an amount of skepticism. How can you boil down all of civilisation into one 250 page volume?

Being a fan
Thomas Edmund
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is going to need two reviews:

The first – would I want this book to be in my library should the world end? I’m afraid the answer is no. while certainly this book is cleverly researched, packed with information, and the subject matter carefully chosen (or at least with some sort of system, apparently there is a website.) Equally I realized that there was no well in hell I was going to be able to do any of this stuff. For example I have no doubt the chemistry has been meticulously researc
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely hilarious. It’s not meant to be but it is. Published in 2015, it is a handbook for rebuilding civilization after, say, an asteroid strike, a solar flare, a nuclear war, or – let’s think – a catastrophic pandemic. In fact, Dartnell envisages a pandemic with a rapid-onset mortality of 80% such that survivors would have to leave urban areas to avoid the stench and contamination of all those dead bodies. Fortunately, we’re not quite at that stage in the current situation, so ...more
I picked this up after reading Station Eleven a fictional account of a group of global Pandemic survivors. It is essentially a how-to book on what you need to know in order to survive and reboot our world if that Pandemic or other event happens.

As a former editor for how-to technology books I give this five stars. It is practical and accessible. Reading it now--you learn alot of what makes our current world work.
Charles Haywood
“The Knowledge” is meant as an assist to the human race. But to properly aid the human race, in a post-apocalypse future, two things are required. One is technical knowledge. The other is an understanding of the human race. Lewis Dartnell here offers technical knowledge, but he limits it to knowledge useful for “peaceful coexistence.” Given that violence is an inherent part of humans, which Dartnell seems to not understand, that limitation sharply diminishes the usefulness of his book.

Dartnell c
Jason Pettus
I admit, I'm a junkie for those YouTube channels that examine the complex modern world by attempting to deconstruct modern products back to their humble beginnings; you know, like that dude who tried to make a business suit by breeding his own silk moths, shearing a sheep himself, and learning how to use a Victorian spinning wheel and a hand-powered loom. (Seriously, his channel is so interesting.)

Lewis Dartnell's The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch fits exactly into this wheelh
Having a quick look through the Goodreads review of this book, I couldn't help noticing that a fair part of the criticism reflected the fact that it might not actually be all that helpful in the event of the complete collapse of modern civilisation. Which I couldn't help thinking was rather missing the point. If modern civilisation breaks down completely, you will probably die. I certainly would - without complex modern pharmaceuticals, I wouldn't last long. Real life is not a young adult fantas ...more
Noel Coughlan
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: review
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 m
Robert Morris
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was delightful. I am a big humanities history guy. Unfortunately I've got a bit of a mental block when it comes to science. The second somebody starts describing the details of chemistry or engineering I just kind of tune out. What Mr. Dartnell has achieved here is an excellent way to draw people like me into a broader understanding of our technological civilization.

The premise is simple. He doesn't spend too much time on the details, but he imagines a complete societal collapse. What
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, economics, futures
I have to admit that I struggled to read this book. It's not very engaging or well written. In many cases it reads like one of those science text books that I hated when I was at school. However, despite this, it does have an interesting premise, even though I consider it to be flawed. The premise is that the population of the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) is largely killed off by some unspecified catastrophe. Of the 65,000,000 inhabitants of the UK, only 10,000 remain. How do the survivors reb ...more
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
The introduction does speculate a little about different types of apocalypse, but settles on a viral pandemic as our final foe. This would leave survivors the advantage of a fairly intact infrastructure whilst they find their feet as well as little competition for resources.

The book is split into sections dealing with aspects such as agriculture, medicine, power, construction and more advance scientific methods. It’s not just a survival guide but a reminder of how much we take for granted. Josh
Apr 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, if the apocalypse does come, I really hope I'm not here to deal with it. Maybe I'll be off traveling while it happens or something. Yeah, that sounds good.

The thing is, the one thing Dartnell convinced me of, above all else, is that it's going to be a really hard road for civilization to crawl back out of that pit. Granted, there are a ton of shortcuts available -- for everything except maybe the organic chemistry that, as it turns out, plays a far greater role in our daily existence than mo
Aaron Hook
Jun 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
The two-stars is deceptive. Not really sure how to rate this. I'm very much opposed to the basic premise of the book. The book is meant to be a guide for quickly rebooting our civilization after a catastrophic collapse. Dartnell acknowledges that the most likely scenarios for such a collapse are due to civilization itself. But he never really addresses the elephant of a question in the room: SHOULD we try to rebuild?

That said, the information in the book is great and I enjoyed learning about how
Lukas Lovas
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: notable-general
Yes. I am getting a paper copy or two. This book won't help you survive the apocalypse. But just in case you do...This book will help you keep on surviving, living and even (dare I hope?) prosper. Imagine that everything fails. How long would it take for society to revert to dark-ages state of things? I don't think it would be long....It would actually be a bit worse...For how many of you know anything about farming? Smelting iron? Raising crops? Making soap? ...this book however gives all this ...more
Scottsdale Public Library
As a dedicated reader of disaster stories both real and imagined, I’ve often wondered how a modern society could rebuild itself in the wake of a true apocalypse. This book attempts to answer that question with solid information on the science and practice of remaking the basics of civilization – from agriculture to medicine, chemistry to energy generation. It also ponders what steps of our historical technological progression could be skipped or avoided entirely; after all, we’re not restarting ...more
Thomas Ray
Feb 02, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bad
The premise is blithering. Most of us simply won't survive the collapse of civil society--the collapse of the systems that bring food and water to the almost-all of us who have no way of providing it for ourselves--and the resulting violence. It won't be a lack of knowledge that will limit post-apocalypse survivors: it'll be a lack of order, of resources, of ability to rebuild the systems the knowledge will still abundantly exist to show the theory of. ...more
Clay Davis
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very useful information.
Aug 19, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is no more interesting than clicking around on Wikipedia to find out how stuff works. Really a high school education should teach you everything in this book. Oh, you can make clothes with a loom. Also, lathes are a thing. To make steel, you start with high-carbon pig iron burn the carbon off then add back in the right amount. Cool...

What I was hoping for, and what was promised by the title, was a guide that short-cuts certain steps in technological development. Instead, he tells us ho
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Full disclosure, I received an advance copy of this book through a GoodReads contest.

That said, I can honestly say I enjoyed this book very much. Dartnell does a very good job setting up the parameters for his thought experiment about exactly what knowledge survivors of an apocalypse would need in order to rebuild society. Because he sets up early on just exactly what type of apocalypse he's using (pandemic infection that leaves man-made structures intact) and about how many survivors he's work
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received a copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway. I am thrilled that I was chosen to receive the book because I would never have bought it and read it otherwise, and it is a fascinating overview of basic technologies needed to reboot civilization after a catastrophe. Although it falls short of being a step-by-step manual, I nevertheless feel that I, with the help of a few others, could make cement from raw materials, smelt and work iron, obtain any number of useful chemicals from trees, ...more
Aug 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of those books which makes me read interesting facts out loud to other people (which I'm sure must be deeply irritating). I generally enjoyed it, although at times I felt it got too bogged down in unnecessary detail. Not sure I needed to know all the advanced chemistry or radio technology. I also felt that the author was concentrating a little too much on getting back to today's technology, rather than thinking about trying to avoid recreating existing, problematic tech such as the use of ch ...more
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating overview of technology and how we got there. Includes missteps that can be avoided and a discussion of some things we will probably have to do different (due to lack of easily-available oil and coal). This comprehensive work covers paper to radio, germs to gassification, time, space, the scientific method and a lot more. Was a solid four star book until I hit the bibliography and related fictional works - score!

A recommended part of any post-apocalyptic reading list.
I had much higher hopes for this book that sadly failed to deliver, but I think that at the end of the day that's more on me and my assumptions of how a pop-science book should be rather than on the author. Dartnell absolutely did what he set out to do and this book is a fantastic collection of the basic set of inventions and leap-frogs that need to happen in order to get our modern society back up and running as quickly as possible.

I just was a little bored with the whole thing.
Christopher Lars
A great “How Things Work” book, set in the thought experiment of how to rebuild our technological civilization.
Great if you are interested in the practical basics of chemistry, agriculture, electricity, textiles, navigation, food preservation, medicine, etc.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting, but very dry. So dry, in fact, that it wouldn't surprise me if half of the survivors of the apocalypse would rather die than having to finish this book. ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should be used a highschool textbook. Maybe I would've paid attention in chemistry class.

My incomplete synopsis:

Fill jar ⅓ soil, no clumps, rocks, leaves or stems. Shake and let stand for 1 day:
Bottom-band is coarse-grained sand
Middle is silt
Top is fine clay.

Ideal farming soil is loam: 40% sand, 40% silt, 20% clay.
Sandy soil (sand more than ⅔) drains well, good for wintering cattle, little quamire but require extra manure.
Heavy clay (more than ⅓ clay and less than ½ sand) are hard to plow, requ
Alex Railean
This is a very useful book, the characters of "Station eleven" could have greatly benefited from having such a guide.

The material seems to be oriented towards groups of people (or the leaders of such groups), rather than an individual, since many of the described processes require cooperation. Not just in terms of physical labour, but also in terms of knowledge. Although I see myself as a relatively well-educated engineer, I don't think I can handle these endeavours on my own. Specialization is
I'm not sure that this would actually help rebuild or save any future society all that much, but it's an interesting framing device by which one can look at how various things work and worked in the past. Additionally, I think it's an interesting thought experiment to bring up how one would be able to "leap frog" over intermediate stages, knowing what we know now. I also think it's interesting to consider that some of our prevalent technologies are basically path-dependent (we already have X inf ...more
Henrik Haapala
This is a great book by Lewis Dartnell. The author is a researcher and professor at university of Westminster in astrobiology. With a little science background you will appreciate even more the basic principles of restarting:

Food and clothing
Power to the people
Advanced chemistry
Time and place
The greatest invention (the scientific method)

(All of this assumes a huge disaster for humans. It’s has a valid point even if this does not hap
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Lewis Dartnell is an astrobiology researcher and professor at the University of Westminster. He has won several awards for his science writing, and contributes to the Guardian, The Times and New Scientist. He has also written for television and appeared on BBC Horizon, Sky News, and Wonders of the Universe, as well as National Geographic and History channels. A tireless populariser of science, his ...more

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