Lewis Dartnell (click image for home page)
Lewis Dartnell is a research scientist, presenter, author, and the Professor of Science Communication at the University of Westminster. He’s on this website because of two fabulous books, The Knowledge, and Origins.
“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.”
In the world of mass market science books it would be hard to come up with themes mightier than rebuilding civilisation after its collapse, or the story of how the earth’s geography and climate shaped human development. Lewis tackles the former with The Knowledge, and the latter with Origins. The trick to making such books accessible isn’t so much managing the scope as it is managing the depth. How deep do you need to go so the average reader will understand what you’re getting at without getting bored or switched off, and still allowing you to fit everything inside a single volume? Its a difficult trick to pull off, but Lewis manages it brilliantly.
While The Knowledge is a brilliant book, you’re only going to think it’s brilliant if it does what you expect it to do, so let’s set these expectations up front.
What it is: The Knowledge is a high level road map on how to go about recapturing the science and technology we have around us today. It has enough detail in it to do some of the basics, but really it’s showing the way, telling the reader what has to happen in what order, what to expect coming up, and some of the challenges and pitfalls you’re going to face while trying to do it for real. So it’s more for a leader to help them direct their people to rebuilding things, than it is for the individual budding scientist to get hands on.
What it isn’t: The Knowledge is not a detailed “How to do it” for “preppers”, the folks who actually are preparing themselves for Armageddon. At just under 300 pages long in paperback form, it couldn’t possibly contain all the detail required to be a practical field manual. If that’s what you want, look elsewhere.
What it isn’t: Nor is it a philosophichical treatise on how to build an idealised society.
What it isn’t: Nor does it make judgement calls on what technologies are ethical or sensible to recreate. We’re now all too well aware that technologies such as plastics can have a dark side alongside their benefits. The book does not get into those discussions at all. (That’s an enormous topic in itself and would require at least another whole book.)
What it isn’t: Nor does it tell you how to protect your rebuilding society as you go through the recovery. That too is a whole different book.
Videos about The Knowledge
The Knowledge Extracts – The following three videos follow on one to the next to show how you might open a tin can and cook up a meal in the immediate aftermath of a societal collapse.
All three play YouTube files linked to the Vintage Books YouTube channel which looks well worth a look in its own right. you can find it here. Vintage Books
(Also, parts or all of these will appear in some of the videos lower down on this page.)
The next two videos are a TED talk and a Talks at Google.
The following video is also a talk, but this one contains short film clips and demonstrations, not just slides.
I wish I’d had ORIGINS when I was at high school. It strings together so many things that we were taught in relative isolation, and it makes so much more sense as a result. ORIGINS answered questions I’d had burning in the back of my mind for years.
This book is, as the sub-title implies, primarily about how human evolution and societal development has been driven by what has happened to the planet, but it’s so much more than that. Like The Knowledge, this book provides a framework on which so much other stuff can sit, whether you’re studying geology, biology, geography, chemistry, or whatever else you want. You name it.
If I had a child about to start secondary school, I’d buy this for them before I even looked at the list of required text books.
Example: Ever wondered just why intelligent hominids appeared in Africa’s Rift Valley and not other places?
Example: Ever wondered why so many waves of nomads swept out of Central Asia across the centuries to devastate the surrounding civilisations, but those civilisations never seemed to strike back?
Videos about ORIGINS
The following video is Lewis giving a Talk at Google about ORIGINS.