For me, the Manual of Civilization could be one of the most important projects of our time. The idea is to collect the most important 3000 books required to rebuild civilization from the ground up. It is an idea that resonates with me in particular; as it aligns with the Foundation’s library project, as well as, with my own personal priorities which include the preservation of knowledge, primarily technical knowledge. To use a metaphor, if Adam and Eve started off on a new planet and only had 3000 books to rebuild civilization, what would those 3000 books be? These are the books that should be codified, and persevered for all time and eternity, or as close to as possible.
In terms of achieving the highest priority goals for us as a species, making sure those top 3000 books are protected and available should be our highest priority; more so then any other priority, any social program or any other project we as a civilization can do. Without getting too much into the ethics or philosophy of why this is, suffice it to say sustainability off world, to prevent long term extinction of intelligence, is the goal; and since we really only have us, that we know of, then “us” off world is the single most important goal. To do that, we need to prevent us from reverting to nothing some day; when the sun stops or we do something enormously un-intelligent and destroy ourselves. The fix starts with a library; which the Long Now is working hard to build and I hope to build a better version. So enough philosophy, here are some of the books I think should be on the list and why.
To start with, I have basically three kinds of books I place on my list: first is the category of books the Long Now is grouping together called the ‘Mechanics of Civilization’, next is the related ‘Philosophy’ and, finally, ‘Possibility’; to which I am applying my own value judgments as to what is important.
First off, I’m looking at books as if I’m building civilization from scratch; to that end, we need to start with the basics. The Rosseta Disk, from the Long Now (Rossetta Project ), is by far the most important; to understand all other books should someone not understand the language of them. This ‘disk’ is a forgone conclusion; but, next, is the most important science of all and the foundation of all our Science knowledge and power: that is, Mathematics… to preserver Mathematics I select the following:
The Princeton Companion to Mathematics (amazon),
as well as, supporting initial material, based on mathematics, that allows the immediate application across most sciences, even in a primitive setting, and those are:
The Slide Rule Simplified, Explained and Illustrated for Mechanical trades (amazon ),
The Astrolabe (amazon )
Also, the book
The Sextant Handbook (amazon ).
Together, these books really set the stage for science and everything that goes along with an advanced society. Nothing will happen without strong mathematics. Having covered this most critical science, the next set of books will be on survival and making sure that someone can use the mathematics they get from the Library. This set of books starts with
Tom Browns Field Guide Wilderness Survival (amazon ),
Tom Brown’s Field Guide – Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (amazon ),
When there is No Doctor (amazon )
Tom Browns Field Guide – City and Suburban Survival (amazon )
These four books give you the basic tools of survival and, with mathematics, you really have a foundation to start from. I spent a lot of time thinking about which is more important, ‘mathematics’ or ‘survival knowledge’; and I decided that if someone was to find this ‘archive’, or library of books, it is likely they are already able to support themselves at some level; so the most important thing is therefore mathematics and survival should come second.
This method paired with a bookmarked mathblog.com should prepare you to talk mathematics with almost anyone. And now that we have survival and math taken care of, our next step is really about improving our situation. This means getting to the point of being productive enough to start using the principles of math, as well as, building a foundation for exploring the collection in more detail by providing for more leisure time and to start building a more livable community. To address these goals I would include the following books:
Living on an Acre (amazon ),
Complete Guide to Trail Building and Maintenance (amazon ),
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Living with the Earth (amazon )
Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century (amazon )
These books, as mentioned, really let you start to do more than just survive but to thrive; providing that additional time needed to spend on new technology and community which is the basis for civilization. From this point I again follow the idea of building upon previous knowledge and the next step is really building out the knowledge base enough to build a community and to thrive and build the basics of technology and, to that end, I would include these:
Country Wisdom & Know-How (amazon ),
I would actually include the entire Appropriate Technology Library (see ) which includes over a 1000 books on all topics of building a community, farming and other related topics to build a strong community; but, the whole library not being really submit-able as a single volume to the Manual of Civilization, I pick the source book that goes with the library. The Country Wisdom book is really like a condensed version of the whole library and then the source book provides the tools to really build communities and expand; at this point, we can start looking at broader, or more specialized, sciences and principles that can be used to build civilization.
The next book two books are focused on principles that help provide structure to the building of science and technology. The first is a book on the ‘Principles of Design’ that can be applied to many fields and helps those that have read the book to understand the concepts needed to understand good design. The second book is on Logic and the Scientific Method; which is the foundation, philosophically, of all modern sciences. The scientific method gives us a framework to experiment and make real scientific progress in a controlled and repeatable way.
Universal Principles of Design (amazon )
An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (amazon )
Now we have our foundation of math, survival, philosophy for science and building community and civilization in general. The problem at this point is that if there are others that are not on board with this infant civilization that this library is helping to build, then this society may need to defend itself. To help deal with this, to allow the society to protect itself militarily and politically, the next two books set the stage:
The Art of War (amazon )
The Prince (amazon )
These books speak for themselves. While I’d like to think that these would not be needed, it certainly is not in human nature, if history is any guide, to not have need of them. Therefore, to hopefully keep this new civilization from harm, I see no other way to ensure its safety.
‘Singularity’ must be achieved for intelligence to continue in the universe and to grow beyond our current state. The next set of books is really about making sure that the development of computers happens. These modern tools are essential to rebuilding any modern technologically advanced society. These books lay the foundation for what needs to happen and allow the consumer of this collection to move towards computer technology as required for ‘Singularity’. Those books are:
The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work (amazon )
Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (amazon )
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (amazon)
I hope this set provides some vision for the future of where we should be heading and the computer technology that is needed to get there. Now that the reader is on the track towards ‘Singularity’ there is a bit to spur the imagination:
Enders Game (amazon),
The Foundation Trilogy (amazon)
Dune (amazon )
These provide a wide range of ideas, principals and concepts to work towards, or avoid, and are an exercise of the possibilities. Up to this point we have really looked at lots of books on numerous core sciences; but I felt these are the most important books I would make sure are part of any library and I hope to see them in the ‘Manual of Civilization’.