Shelf Control #287: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz

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Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
Author: Annalee Newitz
Published: 2013
Length: 305 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In its 4.5 billion–year history, life on Earth has been almost erased at least half a dozen times: shattered by asteroid impacts, entombed in ice, smothered by methane, and torn apart by unfathomably powerful megavolcanoes. And we know that another global disaster is eventually headed our way. Can we survive it? How?

As a species, Homo sapiens is at a crossroads. Study of our planet’s turbulent past suggests that we are overdue for a catastrophic disaster, whether caused by nature or by human interference.

It’s a frightening prospect, as each of the Earth’s past major disasters—from meteor strikes to bombardment by cosmic radiation—resulted in a mass extinction, where more than 75 percent of the planet’s species died out. But in Scatter, Adapt, and Remember, Annalee Newitz, science journalist and editor of the science Web site explains that although global disaster is all but inevitable, our chances of long-term species survival are better than ever. Life on Earth has come close to annihilation—humans have, more than once, narrowly avoided extinction just during the last million years—but every single time a few creatures survived, evolving to adapt to the harshest of conditions.

This brilliantly speculative work of popular science focuses on humanity’s long history of dodging the bullet, as well as on new threats that we may face in years to come. Most important, it explores how scientific breakthroughs today will help us avoid disasters tomorrow. From simulating tsunamis to studying central Turkey’s ancient underground cities; from cultivating cyanobacteria for “living cities” to designing space elevators to make space colonies cost-effective; from using math to stop pandemics to studying the remarkable survival strategies of gray whales, scientists and researchers the world over are discovering the keys to long-term resilience and learning how humans can choose life over death.

Newitz’s remarkable and fascinating journey through the science of mass extinctions is a powerful argument about human ingenuity and our ability to change. In a world populated by doomsday preppers and media commentators obsessively forecasting our demise, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember is a compelling voice of hope. It leads us away from apocalyptic thinking into a future where we live to build a better world—on this planet and perhaps on others. Readers of this book will be equipped scientifically, intellectually, and emotionally to face whatever the future holds.

How and when I got it:

I know exactly when I bought a copy of this book — summer of 2019.

Why I want to read it:

The reason I know when I bought this book is that I know why I bought this book — this non-fiction pop science look at human survival patterns was mentioned in Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. Wanderers was published in July 2019, and I loved it (check out my review, if interested). In short, Wanderers is all about a mass extinction event and the small group who survive it. One of the survivors pulls together important reading material, and one of his selected books is this work by Annalee Newitz.

I would have assumed that a book mentioned in a work of fiction was also fictional, but I recognized the author’s name (having also recently picked up one of her works of fiction), and so I had to know more.

Non-fiction is not usually my jam, but I do make exceptions, and this book sounds fascinating. While I most likely wouldn’t have come across it without Wanderers, I’m intrigued enough to want to check it out. (I still need to read the two books of fiction by this author I now own, and those will probably come first in my reading priority, to be honest…)

Once the pandemic started, I was not in the mood to read anything about the potential doom of humanity, but maybe in the coming year, I’ll finally give it a try.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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