A review of The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell.

This is not a bad book. The concept is quite interesting. I’m reminded of Poggio Bracciolini’s rediscovery of an important ancient philosophical text (Lucretius) that was influential in kicking off the Renaissance. Will this book be the desperately needed body of knowledge our descendants need to regain the civilization we now enjoy? I wasn’t convinced that it was. On the other hand it was a nice run down of the core things that we’d not want to forget in the event of a cataclysm. I’m not sure every important thing is in there and there are perhaps things that could have been omitted. So while the book may not have met its goals completely, it seems an ambitious goal. As far as reading goes, I don’t know that I am much better informed about anything useful to me today. As an example, I roughly knew how distillation works but if I was in a position where I needed to apply that knowledge, I’d probably be confounded trying to synthesize a condenser coil or some other prerequisite. Mining metal ores from scratch is probably too hard core for this book to help with. Maybe it’s a domain thing. I wouldn’t recognize metal ore to save my life nor would I know where to site a mine or how to extract it with no tools, but his discussion about machinery seemed more plausible. I could build a machine shop from very basic ingredients, but I already have a lot of expertise in that area. I imagine a professional miner might feel that the ore extraction described would be no big deal and a chemical engineer could imagine makeshift ways for fractional distillation. Hopefully we all get together and cooperate during the dark ages. One thing that I felt was underdeveloped was an analysis of how history could have been more streamlined with the benefit of hindsight. A rare example he does mention would be perhaps developing radio time beacons before complex portable mechanical clocks (for navigation). I think there is a lot of potential in that kind of thinking that was largely not addressed. This book didn’t jump out as one of the most profound things I’ve ever read, but it was often kind of interesting and based on an interesting premise.