The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm

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How would you go about rebuilding a technological society from scratch?

If our technological society collapsed tomorrow 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 civilization as quickly as possible?

Human knowledge is collective, distributed across the population. It has built on itself for centuries, becoming vast and increasingly specialized. 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, or even how to produce food for yourself?


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. 


The Knowledge is a brilliantly original guide to the fundamentals of science and how it built our modern world.

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About the author

Dr. Lewis Dartnell is a UK Space Agency research fellow at the University of Leicester and writes regularly for New ScientistBBC FocusBBC Sky at NightCosmos, as well as newspapers including The TimesThe Guardian, and The New York Times. He has won several awards, including the Daily Telegraph Young Science Writer Award. He also makes regular TV appearances and has been featured on BBC HorizonStargazing LiveSky at Night, and numerous times on Discovery and the Science channel. His scientific research is in the field of astrobiology he works on how microorganisms might survive on the surface of Mars and the best ways to detect signs of ancient Martian life. He is thirty-two years old.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
Apr 17, 2014
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780698151659
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Essays
Social Science / Disasters & Disaster Relief
Technology & Engineering / Engineering (General)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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We have long recognized technology as a driving force behind much historical and cultural change. The invention of the printing press initiated the Reformation. The development of the compass ushered in the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World. The cotton gin created the conditions that led to the Civil War. Now, in Beyond Engineering, science writer Robert Pool turns the question around to examine how society shapes technology. Drawing on such disparate fields as history, economics, risk analysis, management science, sociology, and psychology, Pool illuminates the complex, often fascinating interplay between machines and society, in a book that will revolutionize how we think about technology. We tend to think that reason guides technological development, that engineering expertise alone determines the final form an invention takes. But if you look closely enough at the history of any invention, says Pool, you will find that factors unrelated to engineering seem to have an almost equal impact. In his wide-ranging volume, he traces developments in nuclear energy, automobiles, light bulbs, commercial electricity, and personal computers, to reveal that the ultimate shape of a technology often has as much to do with outside and unforeseen forces. For instance, Pool explores the reasons why steam-powered cars lost out to internal combustion engines. He shows that the Stanley Steamer was in many ways superior to the Model T--it set a land speed record in 1906 of more than 127 miles per hour, it had no transmission (and no transmission headaches), and it was simpler (one Stanley engine had only twenty-two moving parts) and quieter than a gas engine--but the steamers were killed off by factors that had little or nothing to do with their engineering merits, including the Stanley twins' lack of business acumen and an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease. Pool illuminates other aspects of technology as well. He traces how seemingly minor decisions made early along the path of development can have profound consequences further down the road, and perhaps most important, he argues that with the increasing complexity of our technological advances--from nuclear reactors to genetic engineering--the number of things that can go wrong multiplies, making it increasingly difficult to engineer risk out of the equation. Citing such catastrophes as Bhopal, Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez, the Challenger, and Chernobyl, he argues that is it time to rethink our approach to technology. The days are gone when machines were solely a product of larger-than-life inventors and hard-working engineers. Increasingly, technology will be a joint effort, with its design shaped not only by engineers and executives but also psychologists, political scientists, management theorists, risk specialists, regulators and courts, and the general public. Whether discussing bovine growth hormone, molten-salt reactors, or baboon-to-human transplants, Beyond Engineering is an engaging look at modern technology and an illuminating account of how technology and the modern world shape each other.
From the bestselling author of The Knowledge Web come fifty mesmerizing journeys into the history of technology, each following a chain of consequential events that ends precisely where it began. Whether exploring electromagnetic fields, the origin of hot chocolate, or DNA fingerprinting, these essays -- which originally appeared in James Burke's popular Scientific American column -- all illustrate the serendipitous and surprisingly circular nature of change.

In "Room with (Half) a View," for instance, Burke muses about the partly obscured railway bridge outside his home on the Thames. Thinking of the bridge engineer, who also built the steamship that laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable, causes him to recall Samuel Morse; which, in turn, conjures up Morse's neighbor, firearms inventor Sam Colt, and his rival, Remington. One dizzying connection after another leads to Karl Marx's daughter, who attended Socialist meetings with a trombonist named Gustav Holst, who once lived in the very house that blocks Burke's view of the bridge on the Thames. Burke's essays all evolve in this organic manner, highlighting the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated events and innovations. Romantic poetry leads to brandy distillation; tonic water connects through Leibniz to the first explorers to reach the North Pole.

Witty, instructive, and endlessly entertaining, Circles expands on the trademark style that has captivated James Burke fans for years. This unique collection is sure to stimulate and delight history buffs, technophiles, and anyone else with a healthy intellectual curiosity.
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