SCATTER, ADAPT, AND REMEMBER: How Humans Will Survive Mass Extinction. By Annalee Newitz. Doubleday. 292 pages. $26.95.
Armageddon is one of those topics manipulated by science fiction writers and all sorts of folks who want to speculate about what will become of mankind when the unthinkable disaster happens. Filmmaking aside, it is an interesting question.
The provocative “Scatter, Adapt and Remember” addresses the question in a calm, scientific and utterly reasonable fashion.
Annalee Newitz writes for the layman with more than a few examples of earthy vernacular. A mass extinction is one where more than 75 percent of a species dies out. It has happened several times before, and we have survived. In the future, such mass extinctions may be caused by humans or by external events. How the human race may be able to survive is the subject of this book.
Newitz tackles a nearly impossible subject and brings a totally rational approach to discussions previously clouded in hysteria or creative movie-making.
She explains that, in a geologic time scale, we are due for another global disaster, be it man-made or cosmic (a big asteroid or a radiation burst, for example).
So, how do you tackle such a topic? She starts by explaining how the human race has narrowly escaped annihilation on several occasions in the past million years. Then she discusses the history of human evolution and its many twists and turns.
Phase three of the book shows how humans, and other creatures, have used the three survival strategies delineated in the title to survive calamities. Storytelling, aka record keeping, is also crucial. There are some near-term planning and long-term investigative efforts underway that she explores in some detail.
This book does not attempt to imagine the form of the next apocalypse and the fashion in which we all meet our demise. Rather, it is an in-depth investigation and a powerful and hopeful testimony of our ability to adapt scientifically, intellectually and emotionally.
A typical reader would see this book in a rack and quickly dismiss it as another uselessly speculative exercise. He would be wrong. Far from wild speculation, it is a thought-provoking, educational and ultimately uplifting discussion.
Reviewer Frank L. Cloutier is a retired engineer from Hanahan, currently living in Maine.