The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch


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 civilization as quickly as possible—a guide for rebooting the world?


See more details below
$21.55 price
(Save 22%)$27.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (19) from $8.00   
  • New (13) from $14.60   
  • Used (6) from $8.00   
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$12.99 price


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 civilization as quickly as possible—a guide for rebooting the world?

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, 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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

We have all seen films in which a few post-apocalyptic survivors fortuitously include a technological wizard capable of cobbling together life-saving and civilization-rebuilding machinery in a jiffy. Of course, viewing these movies, we can't help wondering how long we ourselves would survive in such precarious situations. The answer, according to scientist/author Lewis Dartner, is not very encouraging. Most of us, he notes, lack even the basic knowledge of the fundamentals of technology, much less the ability to reconstruct it from scavenged parts. In The Knowledge, he presents a fascinating course in the basics of getting humanity back on its feet.

Publishers Weekly
With breezy aplomb in this fast-paced, detailed guide, Dartnell (Life in the Universe) takes us through a hypothetical post-apocalyptic scenario. He covers not only the little steps for making it through the first 48 hours—finding shelter, clean water, food—but through the longer processes of "rebooting civilization" such as reinstating agriculture, recovering medicine and medical knowledge, and re-establishing communication, among others. This isn't simply a bare bones guide to how many water bottles or rolls of duct tape to stockpile in anticipation of a global disaster. Dartnell draws deeply on the scientific fundamentals of each step required to rebuild society to the level at which we now live. For example, as we re-establish communication with others, the first step will be writing. In order to make paper we'd need to "pour a dollop of…sloppy cellulose soup across a fine wire mesh or cloth screen, bounded on the sides by a frame." To get the power back on, we'd need to build four-sail windmills or waterwheels to harness the natural forces necessary to generate electricity. If a nuclear catastrophe or a viral epidemic destroyed our world tomorrow, this would be a vital survival guide. (Apr.)
Wall Street Journal
"The Knowledge" is a fascinating look at the basic principles of the most important technologies undergirding modern society... a fun read full of optimism about human ingenuity. And if I ever see mushroom clouds on the far horizon, this might be a good book to reach for.
Boston Globe
[Dartnell's] plans may anticipate the destruction of our world, but embedded in them is the hope that there might be a better way to live in the pre-apocalyptic world we inhabit right now.
New York Post
A stimulating read, a grand thought experiment on re-engineering the food, housing, clothing, heat, clean water and every other building block of civilization.
Kirkus Reviews
A survival manual for the zombie apocalypse, the plague or whatever else will bring us down and require a reboot of civilization. First worlders take that civilization and its comforts for granted. But imagine what would happen if, say, an asteroid hit the Earth or someone unwisely set off a nuclear bomb that triggered others around the world. Who would make the glass? Who would film the real-world episodes of Survivor? Enter young British scientist Dartnell, a U.K. Space Agency research fellow. Positing a near-future world that's as bleak as any Alan Weisman or Elizabeth Kolbert has imagined, Dartnell figures that we—or, at any rate, the much-diminished population of survivors—won't have much time to get our acts together. The food in the supermarket is going to last for only so long before spoilage and marauding rats have their ways with it, fresh water will not be widely available, and as for electricity, well, there won't be any. Reckoning that a tabula rasa might not be such a bad idea in some ways, Dartnell offers field notes, sometimes cursory but all pointing the way to further research, to help contend with the world to come. His goal is "for the post-apocalyptic survivors to learn how to create things for themselves, rather than scavenging from the carcass of our dead society." That's easier said than done, of course, as the author allows while surveying the industrial-scientific base that has made such things as nitrogen fixing and Twinkies possible, to say nothing of surgery. Considering the scenarios here, you might not want to be a survivor. However, Dartnell does a good job of appreciating, while there's still time, the world of "bountiful and varied food, spectacularly effective medicines, effortless and comfortable travel, and abundant energy." Read up, then—and keep the shotgun primed and the mason jars clean.
From the Publisher
"A wake-up call, encouraging us to leave our comfort zone and learn the basics of caring for ourselves in a disaster and it's aftermath." —-Mixed Media Reviews
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594205231
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/17/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 109,660
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

British narrator John Lee has read audiobooks in almost every conceivable genre, from Charles Dickens to Patrick O'Brian. He has won numerous Audie Awards and AudioFile Earphones Awards, and he was named a Golden Voice by AudioFile in 2009.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)