The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction

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Why can’t we solve our problems anymore? Why do threats such as the Gulf oil spill, worldwide recession, terrorism, and global warming suddenly seem unstoppable? Are there limits to the kinds of problems humans can solve?
Rebecca Costa confronts- and offers a solution to-these questions in her highly anticipated and game-changing book, The Watchman’s Rattle.
Costa pulls headline for today’s news to demonstrate how accelerating complexity quickly outpaces that rate at which the human brain can develop new capabilities. With compelling evidenced based on research in the rise and fall of Mayan, Khmer, and Roman empires, Costa shows how t ht tendency to find a quick solutions- leads to frightening long term consequence: Society’s ability to solve its most challenging, intractable problems becomes gridlocked, progress slows, and collapse ensues.
A provocative new voice in the tradition of thought leaders Thomas Friedman, Jared Diamond and Malcolm Gladwell, Costa reveals how we can reverse the downward spiral. Part history, part social science, part biology, The Watchman’s Rattle is sure to provoke, engage and incite change.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Sometimes complexity runs ahead of the brain's ability to manage it. Whether the problem is global warming, worldwide recession, famine, or water shortages, we seem to be colliding with cognitive walls. Can we get past them? Rebecca Costa thinks that we can, but she also contends that these survival breakthroughs will require a retraining, retooling of our brains. Sound impossible? Think again.

From the Publisher
Geri Spieler, NY Journal of Books
If there were a “Watchman” to protect us from danger, he would be shaking his rattle vigorously right now. We are in danger of becoming extinct, for the signs of the collapse of our civilization are obvious, according to Rebecca Costa’s excellent and thought provoking new book, The Watchman’s Rattle.

The theme for The Watchman’s Rattle can be summed up in the story of the sophisticated and scientifically developed Mayan society: Unproven beliefs became the substitute for facts. Once this happens, as the practice of beliefs cannot result in real solutions, the inevitability of failure takes place, and disaster is the only outcome.

Our inherent hubris about our being as evolved as we can possibly ever be, is another message that one can take from The Watchman’s Rattle. If we do not heed the lessons of the past, if we continue to ignore all the warning signs that threaten human existence—such as global recession, powerful pandemic viruses, terrorism, rising crime, climate change, rapid depletion of the earth’s resources, nuclear proliferation, and failing educational systems—we are doomed to extinction. However, if we do pay attention, Costa lays out a plan that places us in an excellent position to change a repetitive pattern of decline.

This is an excellent book, rich with challenging thoughts as well as perceptive solutions. Costa offers excellent research in this fully developed dissertation on the warning signs and potential solutions to human and global destruction.

Highly recommended.

Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief and Founder, The Daily Beast
“The Gulf is drowning in oil, the housing market stumbles along, the Afghanistan conflict nears a decade long…why do all these problems seem so intractable and unstoppable? How did we get to this point of gridlock? Instead of hand-wringing we should all read Rebecca Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle and start figuring out how to really solve these messes. Few other books have so clearly and sharply captured how our symptom-obsessed society means we’re always looking for the quick-fix and easy cure rather than searching for the deeper, longer lasting solutions. Her analysis of how we got to this point mixes history, biology, economics and much more to paint a picture of a society overwhelmed by tremendous problems, but with her Silicon Valley rationality and novel guide to intuitive thinking, Costa has pointed a way forward for all of us.”

E. O. Wilson, Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner
“I am on the side of Rebecca Costa. Let us become realists-in-search-of-a-solution rather than doomsayers.”

Dr. James Watson, Nobel Laureate
“Problems eventually become too complicated for the average intelligence—in The Watchman’s Rattle, Rebecca Costa depicts the challenges this presents.”

Donald J. Trump, Real Estate Developer and Entrepreneur
“Rebecca Costa has written a riveting examination of our world’s most dire and complex issues. Her message for mankind is an ultimately hopeful one as she explores her fascinating theory about the brain’s ability to develop advanced problem solving techniques in times of crisis. A must read!”

Library Journal
“Costa presents innovative messages about dealing with the many issues facing modern civilization....a warning and a resource. It will give concerned readers new hope in human capability.”

Library Journal
Sociobiologist and futurist Costa presents innovative messages about dealing with the many issues facing modern civilization. She identifies major belief systems that are impeding problem solving, calling them irrational opposition, personification of blame, counterfeit correlation, silo thinking, and extreme economics. Only a few great initiatives, like the microlending Grameen Bank, seem to overcome the five "supermemes." The author has studied the patterns of collapse of several historic empires. Her good news is that we do know enough to save ourselves from a global downfall. We have to tap the best independent knowledge and research to guide policy. Costa believes we must try all possible solutions at once on urgent crises, such as ocean overfishing. Also, neuroscience-based training can help our brains cope with unprecedented complexity. VERDICT The rafts of italics for emphasis can't reduce the value of this engaging book as a warning and a resource. It will give concerned readers new hope in human capability.—David R. Conn, Surrey P.L., B.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593156053
  • Publisher: Vanguard Press
  • Publication date: 10/12/2010
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

About Rebecca D. Costa

Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist who offers an evolutionary explanation for current events and emerging trends.  A new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell, Costa attributes modern consternation - from terrorism, crime on Wall Street, epidemic obesity and upheaval in the Middle East - to genetic imperatives.  Retiring from a career in Silicon Valley, Costa spent six years researching and writing The Watchman’s Rattle.  The success of the book in 25 countries led to a weekly syndicated radio program called The Costa Report.  Costa is presently represented by the American Program Bureau and the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.  For more information visit

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 23, 2014

    The author carefully and clearly explores the tendency of humans

    The author carefully and clearly explores the tendency of humans to substitute belief for fact when faced with complexity... be it global warming, terrorism, pandemics, or just good old political spin.
    The ideas in this book presented clearly and concisely.  The author seeks to clarify complexity and add to the problems it engenders.
     This book is a must-read for every thoughtful citizen of the increasing complex modern world.

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  • Posted April 11, 2012

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    Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers Favorite

    "The Watchman's Rattle" takes its title from the centuries old story of every village's night watchman who would shake his wooden rattle to warn sleeping villagers of approaching trouble. And so, sociobiologist Rebecca Costa, having studied expertly the alarming trends in human evolution, current global markets, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and failing education systems, writes to warn readers of historical patterns that are repeating themselves today, as the Mayans and the Khymers had highly developed civilizations that collapsed because beliefs and memes took over for facts and did not allow for insightful solutions. An ardent disciple of the brilliant E.O. Wilson, Rebecca Costa discusses the beliefs, the memes, that mankind resort to rather than brain power. She feels that with the problems mankind share today, we may be faced with extinction if our leaders continue to look for quick fixes rather than taking time for rational thinking. Will Costa's voice of reason be heard and understood by those in power in a world where global warming, threats of war and people's general inability to solve problems proliferate?

    "The Watchman's Rattle" is a very well-written, well-edited, researched and documented treatise that everyone should read. The book's plot proceeds smoothly to its ending, and the author explains clearly what a supermeme is and gives the top five examples. Her explanation of why children are not learning to think is terrifying.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2011


    Though not perfect in delivery, this tile provides tremendous insight into problems plaguing society.

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  • Posted June 24, 2011


    An excellent collection of ideas and suggestions.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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