A Conversation for Ask h2g2

Book idea: recovering from the apocalypse

Post 1


Here's a book I'd like to read. I'd ideally like to write it myself, but I lack the skills and knowledge. The idea, however, I think would make for an interesting volume. Offered here for free, if you've the skills and knowledge to get it done, and you do it because you read it here, I'd appreciate an acknowledgement.

I was pondering the end of the world. Some apocalyptic event, doesn't matter what - meteor impact, global pandemic, zombie uprising, whatever. The base assumption is that you're down to some tiny proportion of the previous world population - maybe 0.1%. Assume further that it's 0.1% everywhere - so the population of the UK is about 70,000. Assume that who you've lost and who you've kept is entirely random - good and bad, rich and poor, old and young, clever and stupid, weak and strong. Assume all the infrastructure - power stations, railways, factories, farms etc. are still there and largely intact... but almost nobody is left to run them, indeed almost nobody is left who even understands who they worked in the first place.

Now... write me a manual for rebuilding the world. Give me a guide for how to get from basic subsistence farming to iPhones.

Assume that there are NO other books available - the entire internet and every library is not available for some reason. You have just one book. It needs to teach the people left everything they need to know. Start with agriculture, mining, smithing, politics, economics, navigation... everything you need to know to build civilisation back up.

I'm curious how fast a tiny population could get back to iPhone levels of tech from a standing start, if they had a cheat sheet that meant they didn't waste their time with religion or Lysenkoism or similar. How much quicker could you work up from subsistence farming if you already knew about genetics?

One obvious thing that would limit them is the fact that almost all the easily accessible non-renewable forms of stored energy - coal, oil, gas etc. - have already been extracted, and there are already anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

I'd really like to see this book. Anyone up for writing it? Or come to that, anyone got better ideas about what I've missed?

Book idea: recovering from the apocalypse

Post 2

The Left Reverend Doktor Baron Grim


That sounds like a project for a committee, over decades, rather than an individual. It sounds like a damn good idea though.

I don't think you need to go as far as the iPhone (and the level of technology that suggests) though. I think you get the remaining populace to some point where they can research and innovate on their own and they'll find their own cutting edge tech. We definitely might consider not giving them explicit directions on rebuilding our models of economics and politics.

Book idea: recovering from the apocalypse

Post 3

paulh. Bunnies are cute (There, I've said it)

Some of my favorite novels have a similar theme -- "Station 11" and "Marooned in real time," for instance.

I feel somewhat reassured by the idea that when the Internet and other electronic infrastructure have been lost, printed books might still be available.

As one among many on the committee that might write this manual, I would suggest the use of a circle of mirrors in a sunny place, with a central container of water as the focal point. As the water boils, it could be channeled so as to turn turbines. The turbines could generate electricity (if electric technology has been rebuilt), or run grist mills for grinding grain.

Windmills wold also do some good things. If there's an aquifer below the surface, wells could be dug. The windmills could run the machinery that pulls water up from the wells. Annie Proulx's book "That ol' ace in the hole" mentions such wind-driven wells in northern Texas.

A mid-19th century level of technology might be rebuilt within a few decades after the apocalypse.

Book idea: recovering from the apocalypse

Post 4


What are the things we need to skip? What would accelerate progress, compared to what we've had? What specific bits of ignorance held us back?

Also - be ruthless. What specific horrible things moved us forward? I'm going to stick my neck out and say we would not have the tech level we have today without imperialism and slavery. Knowing that, if you wanted to get back to this tech level, how would you do so WITHOUT slavery? Can you avoid it, and if so, how? SHOULD you avoid it? There's an argument that however bloody horrible slavery was, every single person alive today in any halfway advanced economy is materially MUCH better off because of it. Access to things like clean water and antibiotics and inside toilets are only where they are because of the industrial base created by slave trading and labour.

Then again, my premise assumes that there is NOT a basically inexhaustible supply of labour - mankind after the apocalypse would of necessity have to be much more equitable and efficient, because there just wouldn't be the people available to do the work. Nice idea.

Give me a list of things you'd make a priority. Mine would start with:
Germ theory of disease. Vaccination. Antibiotics. Clean water. Safe cookery. Basic principles of agriculture. Clue about how to find, mine and process metals. Atomic theory. Thermodynamics. Ways to make pregnancy safer. Ways to reduce infant mortality.

Any more?

Book idea: recovering from the apocalypse

Post 5


Have you read "A Canticle for Leibowitz"? It's a 3-part story of a civilisation recovering from a nuclear apocalypse through the preservation of engineering texts by religious communities.

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Book idea: recovering from the apocalypse

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