The Knowledge

How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch
Narrated by: John Lee
Length: 8 hrs and 58 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (381 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Most of us are ignorant about the fundamental principles of the civilization that supports us, happily utilizing the latest - or even the most basic - technology without having the slightest idea of why it works or how it came to be. If you had to go back to absolute basics, like some sort of postcataclysmic Robinson Crusoe, would you know how to re-create an internal combustion engine, put together a microscope, get metals out of rock, accurately tell time, weave fibers into clothing, or even how to produce food for yourself?

Regarded as one of the brightest young scientists of his generation, Lewis Dartnell proposes that the key to preserving civilization in an apocalyptic scenario is to provide a quickstart guide, adapted to cataclysmic circumstances. The Knowledge describes many of the modern technologies we employ, but first it explains the fundamentals upon which they are built. Every piece of technology rests on an enormous support network of other technologies, all interlinked and mutually dependent. You can't hope to build a radio, for example, without understanding how to acquire the raw materials it requires, as well as generate the electricity needed to run it.

But Dartnell doesn't just provide specific information for starting over; he also reveals the greatest invention of them all - the phenomenal knowledge-generating machine that is the scientific method itself. This would allow survivors to learn technological advances not explicitly explored in The Knowledge as well as things we have yet to discover. The Knowledge is a brilliantly original guide to the fundamentals of science and how it built our modern world as well as a thought experiment about the very idea of scientific knowledge itself.

©2014 Lewis Dartnell (P)2014 Tantor

What listeners say about The Knowledge

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    5 out of 5 stars

Great science knowledge + zombie apocalypse prep

I love tech and engineering. This book taught me how things work from the ground up (literally). The basic knowledge in here should be required reading for any serious student of the universe.

The narrator was ok but occasionally got on my nerves. I've yet to hear a great non fiction narration - maybe it's not possible. The book is clearly explained but still a bit dense for audio. I plan on listening several times as well as purchasing for my bookshelf.

Highly recommend.

5 people found this helpful

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Interesting discussion of basic chemistry

Although this book started out slow, I was more impressed with the book the further I got into it. It discusses the basic chemistry behind technologies such as glass, steel, acids, heating, foods, clothing, photography, metal working, medicine, etc., etc. It is a "what if" scenario of what would happen if there were a nuclear holocaust and the survivors needed to concoct basic technologies. The author draws upon the works of others to build a book which truly challenges the scientific knowledge of readers.

4 people found this helpful

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Essential post-apocalyptic reading

It was dry at times, but I am sure it will come come in handy after the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

2 people found this helpful

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We might be screwed, but... science!

Prepping and survivalism are pursuits I have mixed feelings about. Yes, it makes sense to be prepared if some natural disaster or civil emergency happens, but if some major catastrophe causes civilization to go completely off the rails, I think we're all pretty screwed. I suspect that people who prep for *that* scenario are really acting out a wish fulfillment fantasy that lets them mentally opt out of participation in a world where they don't like their neighbors, the government, modern culture, the youth today, etc. Picture yourself safely in your fortified compound, while that guy that cut you off in traffic is crow food and that progressive-minded college girl that made fun of you on the internet is now begging for your protection from the roaming, post-apocalypse gangs. Who's laughing now, jerkfaces?

Anyway, this book offers a certain grim appreciation of how difficult it would to rebuild all our modern conveniences in a no-longer-industrial world. Dartnell presupposes that a large percentage of the current population would have to be gone for the survivors to have enough manufactured supplies to scavenge while they retooled for agrarian living. Otherwise, we'd get a "Road Warrior" scenario (too many people fighting for too little) or an "I am Legend" one (very few survivors, too scattered to form an effective society), and Dartnell considers these hopeless cases.

The science overview is interesting, though; on one hand, the post-apocalypse survivors will (in theory) be able to bypass the long discovery process that human science went through, and go straight to old-school technology that works. Here's how to build a loom, a battery, a still, a smelter, and an internal combustion engine. Here's how to avoid spreading disease, and to do crop rotation and fertilizers correctly. On the other hand, some resources that previous civilizations had are no longer there -- humans have far fewer easy-to-reach coal, oil, and metal deposits than we did in 1900. The ones that do exist might be oceans away, effectively beyond reach. The survivors may well have to explore other branches of the technology tree, such as wood-powered cars.

The author doesn't really explore any branch of science in depth, and is skimpy on several of them, such as medicine, but he does lay out a good list of the essential ones. If you want a history of human technological progress over the past 3000 years, reading this book is better than reading nothing. At least, you'll know what wikipedia pages to print out before everything hits the fans. Just make sure that your future society includes some monks who will transcribe them -- that laserjet ink doesn't last forever. (The idea of monks diligently copying a "cititation needed" makes me laugh.)

In summary, if you're looking for a survivalist how-to manual, this isn't the book you'll want, but if you're casually interested in the thought experiment of what it would take to reconstitute technological civilization after a collapse, it's worth a read. It might even convince you that stopping civilization from collapsing in the first place might be a whole lot less trouble for everyone.

4 people found this helpful

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Good not great

I listened to the audiobook. It’s a great reference to what one must think about and try to do to get things back to or close to our way of living today after things start to “settle” from a long term SHTF. It’s confusing at times when he tries explaining how certain machines work like a weaving machine without having a diagram im front of you. This didn’t come with a PDF like some other books do so I hope when I buy the physical book, it’ll at least have some pictures is drawings. Has a good section on deriving certain chemicals.

1 person found this helpful

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So much better than I hoped

This is an extremely engaging read filled with information I never even thought of before. I'd really like to turn some of this information into science experiments for my children. I can't recommend this book enough even if you only have a passing interest in the science that underpins our world.

1 person found this helpful

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better than others, smugly pro-European

Wish it had more descriptions about the mechanisms of tools like pumps, sewing machines, etc, rather than leaning on the expertise of pre-fall "handyman" types to maintain machinery. Chemistry sections are interesting but truly hard to follow without diagrams. These sections would be much more successful as a video series. Overall, this book is far more useful than the similarly titled "How to Invent Everything" by Ryan North. Unfortunately, the commentary on current technological advancement is rooted in a very "Western" perspective; the discouragingly brief descriptions of African and Asian civilizations and technologies (both current and throughout history) seemed needlessly dismissive or patronizing. Book would be of less help to those stranded below the equator or east of Europe.

love this narrator, who I immediately recognized from the Spellmonger series.

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interesting but some presumptive

This book is a manual to "reboot" society, if you want to end up in exactly the same situations and make sure that science is the only faith, and therefore the only valuable things are the ones worth using to "advance" to the next stage. interesting but annoying

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A Great Read

As a chemist I greatly enjoyed this book, as it largely focused on the use of inorganic chemistry to rebuild society.

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Author Put the Wrong Shoe On and Ran With It

The author at least addresses the topic, and it is a fun home chemistry book (and 'how things work' book), but the book reflects wrong-headed thinking born of pulp fiction and Hollywood. The author missed two points - first in thinking the social landscape will be individual or clannish in nature, where small groups will have to learn many things, and second that one would want to rebuild a philosophically clueless paradigm (one does not want to do that).

The author also misses two points, first that the key to recovery (and why no one has been or would want to be a self-sufficient survivalist) is specialization, which is critical to broader survival (survival above an animal level), and to broader advancement, which is facilitated by the second point: organization, (whether planned or on the fly). More important than those (and what would have prevented a socially-induced apocalypse) is enlightenment (read my philosophy). Without it, you will be setting humanity up for failure again (humans still being universally clueless).