To celebrate the paperback publication of The Knowledge, the UK publishers Vintage are running a prize give-away!
THE WORLD HAS ENDED!
Sorry, I meant to put the word ‘Imagine’ at the beginning of that sentence. Panic over.
But imagine if it had. Maybe a viral pandemic, an asteroid strike, or perhaps nuclear war. Maybe even a zombie apocalypse. 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?
That’s why you need The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell, a book which explains everything you need to know about everything.
Obviously you’d save a copy of The Knowledge in the event of a catastrophe…! But what Vintage want to know is: What other book would you save if you could only grab one as you fled to the bunker?
I was thrilled to have been invited to deliver a mainstage TED talk about the thought experiment behind The Knowledge and exploring the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our world works and what enabled civilisation to progress through history. TED have written a blogpost of the talk, Gavin Blake of FeverPicture was live-scribing the event, and produced this brilliant graphical summary of my main points (click to enlarge):
The video of the talk will be uploaded to the TED homepage soon, but for now there are some teaser photos. The gasifier stove demo worked well, but the embers and ashes it spat out at first came alarmingly close to all the hairspray they’d put on my head…
The UK paperback publishers, Vintage, have run a fun billboard campaign to celebrate the paperback publication of The Knowledge. Some of the posters contain their own red emergency box containing a copy of the book, in case of emergency!
If you’d like to see one of the posters for yourself, here’s a map of the billboard locations:
Una pandemia incontrolable, el impacto de un meteorito, o quizá una guerra nuclear; por el motivo que sea, el mundo que conocemos ha desaparecido y los escasos supervivientes deben comenzar de cero. ¿Cuáles son los conocimientos fundamentales necesarios para reconstruir nuestra civilización? Tras recoger lo poco lo poco que queda, ¿cómo se puede empezar a producir lo esencial? ¿Cómo cultivar alimentos, generar electricidad, preparar medicinas o extraer metal de las rocas? ¿Se puede evitar una nueva edad oscura y aprovechar los atajos para conseguir de nuevo el desarrollo? La vida en las sociedades contemporáneas nos han desconectado de los procesos básicos que nos sostienen, así como de las elegantes premisas científicas que permiten aprender las cosas por uno mismo. “Abrir en caso de apocalipsis” es un viaje de exploración, un libro que explica todo lo que hay que saber acerca de todo lo que nos rodea. Una guía rápida para reiniciar la civilización que transformará nuestra comprensión del mundo, y nos ayudará cuando este ya no exista.
“Un maravilloso compendio de los conocimientos que hemos olvidado. El libro más inspirador que he leído en mucho tiempo”. (Peter Forbes, Independent)
“Un libro extraordinario, una lectura estupenda incluso si la civilización no desaparece. Si lo hace, será la biblia del nuevo mundo, y Dartnell su profeta”. (The Times)
“Una mirada fascinante a los principios básicos de las principales tecnologías que sostienen la sociedad contemporánea” Wall Street Journal
“Una fascinante historia de la ciencia y la tecnología” (Steven Poole, The Guardian)
The Knowledge is now out in UK paperback! I’m currently away on book tour around Canada and the US, but very excited to see it out. Vintage have gone with a very similar cover design to the original hardback (and also watch the making of the smashed emergency box as an animated gif) and I love the bold colours and the elegance of graphical concept.
Lighter and more portable than the hardback, the paperback edition is perfect for all your civilisation-rebooting needs. But probably best you buy two copies, just in case…
The Global Challenges Foundation has released its new report about global hazards that for all practical purposes can be considered to represent an infinite impact – the global collapse of civilisation, if not even driving humanity to extinction. ’12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilisation’ offers a review of the key possible events, and ties to roughly quantify the probabilities of each.
The 12 global risks threatening human civilisation that the report discussed are:
1. Extreme Climate Change
2. Nuclear War
3. Ecological Catastrophe
4. Global Pandemic
5. Global System Collapse
6. Major Asteroid Impact
Microbe Talk, the podcast from the Society for General Microbiology, has a fascinating discussion this month. Phrased as a wide-open thought experiment akin to The Knowledge, the host Ben Thompson talks to Dr Jack Gilbert and Dr Josh Neufeld about whether we would survive in a world without microbes.
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to find out that every bacterium and every archeon on the planet had suddenly vanished. What would happen? Could humanity survive?
Jack and Josh have recently published an academic research paper in PLOS Biology on exactly this topic, Life in a World without Microbes. They explore all the ways that microbes are used by humanity, ranging from producing yoghurt and beer, to their involvement in key agricultural and industrial processes, but also how vital microbes are to the ecosystems of planet Earth as a whole.
Humanity is incredibly resourceful, resilient and inventive, and time and time again comes up with ingenious solutions during times of hardship, or even just simple but effective fixes from everyday life. Here’s a gallery of my favourite examples of this incredible resourcefulness.