Support Long-term Thinking
Support Long-term Thinking

The Knowledge and The Manual for Civilization

by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander on April 19th, 02014


One of the early inspirations for creating the Manual for Civilization was an email I received from Lewis Dartnell in London asking me for information on a book he was writing inspired by James Lovelock’s “Book for all Seasons”.  The idea was a kind of reboot manual for humanity, and it coincided well with some other conversations we had been having at Long Now about making a collection of books that could do something similar.

Fast forward to 02014 and Lewis has finished his book “The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch” which comes out today, and he was kind enough to send us a copy for our Manual for Civilization library collection. Since this is a single volume you might be wondering how much practical knowledge a book like this could actually impart. This book gives the reader a basic strategy for rebooting civilization – not every detail. For instance if you wanted to get a certain technology up and running again, which method should you employ given what we now know about modern and historical methods? Dartnell goes over the basic principle for each fundamental technology, and then discusses best options for how to rebuild it with scavenged materials (always easier), or how you might do it from scratch. He starts with the most critical and fundamental, and then builds on each of these as the book progresses. So in a way the book kind of boot straps itself from chapter to chapter. The overall goal, it seems, is to make the “hole” referred to in the graph below smaller and recover faster than the one left after the fall of Rome. (yes I know there are lots of issues with that graph but it illustrates the point of a loss of technology in civilizations)


The Knowledge is not another survival guide for gun toting doomsday “preppers”, or those excited for the zombie apocalypse, but both crowds might get something out of it. It is also not a standalone book, Lewis has published his chapter by chapter further reading list and bibliography alongside it that contains the nitty gritty details for each of the technologies discussed. You should consider The Knowledge a primer and table of contents for that larger reading list. We are happy to have The Knowledge in our collection for this reason.

Dartnell has also been following The Manual for Civilization project and has submitted his own list of books for our collection, which we include below. He considers these to be the most useful from his bibliography. You can follow updates and new information around the book via @KnowledgeCiv on Twitter. Dartnell speaks at The Interval in March 02015