Book Report: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember - cover“If we’ve learned anything from the survivors among our ancestors, it’s that staying put and fighting change are not good tactics if we want to live.  Survivors range over vast regions.  If they encounter adversity in one environment, they try to escape and adapt to a new environment.  Survivors prefer the bravery of exploration to the bravery of battle.” (Scatter, Adapt, and Remember – p260)

Title: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember

Author: Annalee Newitz

Publisher: Viking

Publication Date: 2013

Origin: On one of my Chapters/Starbucks visits (the same one during which I saw Tubes, actually), I spotted Scatter, Adapt, and Remember.  I’ve always been a major science nut, including all the paleo______ ones, so I’m reasonably well-versed in mass extinctions.  I’m also aware that we’re long overdue for one, and have frequently pondered how humanity would cope were something apocalyptic to occur (that’s when the guns and ammo portfolio shows massive growth!).  Consequently, how could I not buy this book?

Summary: As suggested by the sub-title, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember looks at mass extinctions from the human perspective, specifically to explain how we will (or at least could) survive a mass extinction event.  In Part I, Newitz catches up the reader on the various mass extinctions that have dotted our planet’s past and presents the proposed causes for each.  She ends this introductory section by asking if we’re in a mass extinction right now (contrary to popular belief, these things happen over tens of thousands of years, even if initiated by something cataclysmic).  Part II examines humanity’s past, in particular, and illustrates how close we’ve come to vanishing over the years.  Part III looks at survivors of previous mass extinction events, in order to extract useful lessons.  Part IV switches back to humans, and explores how we might go about improving our odds, through improved farming methods, disaster-proof cities, and techniques to stop pandemics.  She concludes the book with Part V, which takes the million-year view of humanity’s future, including exciting scientific developments and some philosophical musings.

My Take: I found Scatter, Adapt, and Remember to be interesting without being exciting.  In all honesty, I just kind’ve plodded through from chapter to chapter (which were logically organized), eager for something to blow my mind.  Unfortunately, perhaps through my general familiarity with the subject matter, I didn’t come across much that was so new or significant to make me go, “Wow!”.  And I don’t say that to be a smug jerk, either; I was just a bit disappointed, as I’d been really pumped to read the book.  All that being said, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember was definitely interesting, but perhaps suffered a bit from covering such a vast swathe of material.  I mean, Newitz had to whiz through several billion years of life and death history in something like sixty pages, so even the most incredible mass deaths are reduced to a handful of paragraphs.  Likewise, history is filled with survival stories, but Newitz was forced to pick just a few to illustrate some points.  And so on through each part and chapter.  Nevertheless, don’t get me wrong – it’s a good book with a welcome message (“hey, we can make it”) and some cautionary overtones (“…if we don’t screw everything up, first.”).

Read This Book If: You liked (or got freaked out by) Collapse or Guns, Germs, and Steel, or have ever asked yourself what would happen if the Earth got directly smoked by a gamma ray burst (spoiler alert: bad stuff…bad stuff happens).

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Posted in Books, Math and Science
One comment on “Book Report: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember
  1. Lee Brooks says:

    Well, I found a paleo science with which I’m not particularly familiar: paleoscatology. Here’s a neat article about Karen Chin, a leader in the field: http://nautil.us/issue/7/waste/reading-the-book-of-life-in-prehistoric-dung

    As a bonus, the profile also talks about the K-Pg extinction event, which Chin has studied from a rather unique perspective, so it’s especially topical to the post above.

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