A few weeks into 2012, insiders are buzzing about a pop science book that Colin Dickerman at Penguin Press pre-empted last week after reading the manuscript overnight. The book, by British astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, is called Aftermath and posits how society could rebuild itself in the wake of a worldwide apocalypse. Though Dickerman would not comment on money, insiders with knowledge of the deal said Penguin paid a $500,000 advance for North American rights only.

PJ Mark at Janklow & Nesbit closed the U.S. deal, handling the sale on behalf of Janklow & Nesbit in the U.K. One scout said the hefty advance marks "the biggest money deal of 2012, so far." Bodley Head acquired the title in the U.K. at auction (just before the holidays), and rights have also sold in Italy (to Mondadori); Germany (to Hanser); and Holland (to Spectrum).

Dickerman acnkowledged that the book is "unusual," noting that this is what "makes it valuable." Elaborating on the premise, Dickerman said it's "a history of scientific thought, and also a primer on the most important scientific concepts." In the pitch letter, Mark said the book "takes the end of the world as its starting point" and then "provides the reader with a tool kit: the essential knowledge survivors of an apocalypse would need in order to start rebuilding a technological society from scratch, from methods for scavenging in the dead cities...to the best ways to restart agriculture." When asked for a comparative title, Dickerman cited Alan Weisman's 2007 book, The World Without Us, which explores what might happen to the Earth if the human race was abruptly extinguished.

The book marks the first major trade title from 31-year-old Dartnell, who currently does research at University College of London about the origins of life on Earth.