Two decades ago, scientist James Lovelock imagined what the last book on earth should look like: a post-apocalyptic survival guide that explains the basics of the planet, why it collapsed, and how to avoid recreating the same mistakes.
The idea morphed into something a little more helpful, a book we can use now to help prevent that. The Earth and I, a beautiful new book, is an illustrated guide to how the world works in the age of climate change.
Astrophysicist Martin Rees talks about how the earth fits into the universe (and that it's foolish to think emigration into space will solve our problems). Physicist Lisa Randall talks about quantum mechanics in a way that's actually understandable. Geoscientist Lee Kump talks about the fact that there's a chance the Anthropocene might become the shortest epoch in the history of the planet, if humans become extinct. Biologist E.O. Wilson talks about the risks of mass extinction.
It's an attempt to concisely summarize the critical science humans need to understand to survive. Lovelock, who helped gather the collection of 12 essays, argues that even though humans might be better-informed than ever before, we're also struggling to understand the bigger picture and connections between specialties. There's just too much to know. As he writes:
If we assume that the last polymath who has a working knowledge of all of the science there was to know existed about 300 years ago, and that scientific knowledge doubled every three years, then his present-day successors would have to know a million trillion trillion times as much. This is beyond the power of any human brain. We are buried beneath mountains of fast-accumulating data . . .
If a scientist struggles to understand, non-scientists need even more help. The book makes complicated ideas—the climate cycle, cellular biology, cognitive psychology, the origins of greed—easy to follow, aided by full-color illustrations.
If the book presents a series of huge challenges, Lovelock thinks they're challenges that we can solve. As he writes, "rather than agonizing over doom scenarios, I think that it is more profitable to consider ourselves as inventors and practical prophets, with the possibility of deflecting impacts and reducing the damage."
It's something that everyone should probably read.
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[All Images: Jack Hudson/© Taschen]