We live in uncertain times: Economic insecurity, rise of international terrorism, the nuclear arms race – all of which pose a potential threat to the thin threads keeping our civilisation together.
Reading Howard K. Bloom’s The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History is sobering. He lists off the civilisations that have gone before ours – the Carthaginians, Romans, Babylonians – all eventually crumbled and consigned to history.
There is no reason to believe that our relative period of peace and prosperity will continue forever. It pays to be smart. And prepared.
If you’ve read Max Brooks’ World War Z you’ll know that this is one of his main points (the book is actually razor sharp satire rather than the pulpy horror of the movie).
How would modern western civilization cope following the complete breakdown of everything that we rely on. Right now, it seems like science fiction. But will that always be the case?
Is there not a chance that our kids may grow up in a tougher world. One where they have to struggle for survival?
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell – A Survivors Guide
Imagine that you’re one of the last surviving people left on earth. You’ve survived the first few decades on stockpiles of tinned goods from the supermarkets. But things are running out – you need to switch from survival to rebuilding. Where would you start?
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World After an Apocalypse by Lewis Darntnell addresses this. How would we go about building back up what we’ve lost. Dartnell starts with basic survival before moving progressively through different aspects of our society including:
Food and clothing
Chemicals and explosives
How to run a car on wood energy
Basic medical care and treatment
Harnessing electricity including how to make a basic battery cell
This is quite a high level guide but the author offers plenty of resources for further reading. There were many a ‘Wow, I did not know that!’ moments for me, especially the chapters on chemicals and metals.
This gave me plenty of food for thought about how prepared I would be if the worst happened. Would I have the skills to survive? Probably not, although I’ve made a point of learning basic survival over the last few years ‘just in case’.
I’m no mad prepper/doomsday enthusiast. But I do believe in being prepared. With knowledge, its better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
Will Science Save Us?
As I read through the book, I came to wonder one thing – what about defence and weaponry? The author seems to be willing to accept that the post apocalyptic future will be a land of peace and plenty.
A place where disparate groups of people live in commune set ups and share knowledge and technology freely. But what does history tell us?
Going back to Bloom’s The Lucifer Principle, the precedent from the past paints a picture of warring factions and tribes who would be quite happy killing, stealing and pillaging to elevate their tribe, status or territory.
Human nature remains the same – apocalypse or no. The need to survive and prosper will override any fuzzy feelings we have for building a Utopia.
Depressing? Maybe. Realistic? Almost certainly.
I can understand why a modern author wouldn’t want to explain how to construct lethal weaponry but a section on basic tactics, fortifications and settlement location would have been a useful addition.
If you’re a technologically advanced nation, there will always be others who want to take that from you (think: the fall of Rome).
That is only a minor suggestion and barely even a criticism of the book. There is so much excellent information in this book, you’ll be boring your kids and colleagues about how to make soap from beef fat for weeks!
Knowledge for the Future
I bought this book because it sounded like a bit of fun. But it turned out to be an education. Rebuilding our civilization from scratch would be a challenge but not impossible. Dartnell paints a picture of a ‘Steampunk’ future where pre-industrial technology is cobbled together with the more modern.
Hopefully we’ll never need this book, but at least you can learn from it in case one day you or your kids do.