The Manual for Civilization Begins

Posted on Thursday, February 6th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link Categories: Long Now salon (Interval), Manual for Civilization, The Interval   chat 0 Comments

ManualForCivilizationLogoSource
 

As we near completion of The Interval at Long Now, our new venue in San Francisco, we are also building a collection of books that will reside here.  We have named this collection the Manual for Civilization, and it will include the roughly 3500 books most essential to sustain or rebuild civilization. Using this as an curatorial principle is helping us assemble a very interesting collection of books.

So… If you were stranded on an island (or small hostile planetoid), what books would YOU want to have with you?  We began asking this question to the Long Now Board and staff, as well as our Interval donors and the Long Now membership.

We have also asked a number of others with great book collections and specific expertise.

Author Neal Stephenson selecting books for the Manual For Civilization

This process has just begun, and we will detail these submissions and trips to amazing libraries more in the future, but some of the guest contributors now include:

Kevin Kelly selecting books for the Manual For Civilization

What are these books?  In order to make sure we don’t just get a bunch of books on how to make fire, we spread the collection across four basic categories to help guide the collection process:

  • Cultural Canon (Great Books, Shakespeare, Plato, etc.)
  • Mechanics of Civilization (Technical knowledge, how to build and understand things)
  • Rigorous Science Fiction (Science fiction that tells a useful story about a potential future)
  • Long-term Thinking, Futurism, and relevant history (Books on how to think about the future that may include surveys of the past)

We will be publishing the list in the coming months once we have the suggestions narrowed down by our members and supporters.  We have reached about 1400 nominations but will need four to five thousand to have enough to winnow it down to the very best 3000 books.  We are not limiting the nominations to western civilization, or even the English language, as one piece of the collection will be the Rosetta Disk itself.

But now that we have a good start on the collection, we need to begin editing the list down.  We are using an open source voting system suggested by Heath Rezabek called “All Our Ideas” which has turned out to be a great way to sort lists like this.  The system allows our supporters to choose between just two books in a given category, or suggest a new book.  This way you don’t have to rank a huge list of books, rather just make decisions between book A or book B and these decisions are aggregated.  We are just now sending this system out to our staff and supporters and it is yielding great results.  You can see an example of what a voting page looks like below.

Once The Interval is open we hope to have events where people can argue a new book in OR out of the collection.  It will be a living collection.  The Internet Archive has generously agreed to serve as the digital backup repository of the collection so that anyone with internet access can “check out” the books, or use the list to help create their version of the archive.

So how can you contribute and share your opinion?  The first contributors are Long Now members and Interval supporters. If you have a particular expertise or suggested resource, we welcome you to make book recommendations in the comments of this post.  There will be a lengthy process of collecting the actual books for our shelves. We had a fair number of titles in the Long Now library to begin with, but we have fewer than 15% of the books suggested to date.  We are working with in partnership with  Borderlands Books and Friends of the San Francisco Public Library to help fill in the collection. But donations of books and funds will also be essential as some titles on the list are quite rare.  Please do leave a comment on this post if you are interested in helping to supply books.

This project was originally conceived in a meeting hosted at the Internet Archive by Brewster Kahle with Kevin Kelly, Rick and Megan Prelinger and Alexander Rose.  Past references and writing on this can be found in this Manual for Civilization blog article by Alexander Rose as well in the Library of Utility article by Kevin Kelly.  Data wrangling is being ably handled by Kurt Bollacker and Catherine Borgeson with web help by Ben Keating, and the process has also been helped along by Intern Heath Rezabek.

In addition had several volunteers helping with the project that include:

Alison Hunter
Ashley Hennefer
Bryan Campen
Casey Cripe
Danielle Engelman
David Kelley
Elizabeth DeRieux
Nick Gottuso
James Alexander
Jennifer Woodfield
John Kausch
Kurt Bollacker
Ned McFarland
Michael McElligott
Michael Pujals
Alastair Mcpherson
Tim Reynolds
Whitney Deatherage
Mike Johnson

 

  • Lee Scuppers

    Looks like you’ve got the makings of a fantastic collection of photographs of old men in front of bookcases. If I were clawing my way out of barbarism, I’d fall on that stuff like manna from heaven. And the Violet Blue, that’ll be critical. Just think how much time they’ll save not having to figure out for themselves how to reproduce! And thank FSM for futurology: Since future people will (duh!) be in the future, they’ll sure be glad to have some real experts about the future to rely on, instead of having to find stuff out about it all by themselves.

    My only concern is you may not have enough Lena Dunham and Richard Florida in the collection. And what about Malcolm Gladwell? Da Vinci is well and good, but in the long run, it’s the real big names who count. You just can’t have a serious collection of airport-rack beach reading without Malcolm Gladwell.

    John Keegan’s a little nerdy, but somebody with a lot of time on his hands convalescing from a sword wound will be glad to be able to find out what we think ancient warfare may have been like.

  • Lee Scuppers

    Our collective dignity… must underlie any claim this project might make to be a worthy source of knowledge maintenance and preservation

    The only claim this poject can have to be a worthy source of knowledge is the practical utility of the knowledge itself. They’ll use it for what they see fit to use it for; you can’t micromanage them from the distant past. Your maintainance of your own self-esteem may seem like the most important thing in the world to you right now, but legitimate perspectives on that point may differ.

    If stuff from the third world is likely to free the future of wars and orphanages and whatnot, why didn’t it ever have that effect in the past? Not enough rich white first-world self-admiration talk slathered on top of it?

  • Lee Scuppers

    Hi Kathy,

    All that privilege talk is the momentary fashionable diversion of the richest, most privileged, least productive, and most comfortable submicroscopic fraction of the human race who ever lived. It will be long after civilization is rebuilt before anybody has enough leisure and surplus wealth to use the word “mindful” twice in the same paragraph without laughing, or to worry about whether knowledge of metallurgy is too “male” to be let out on its own unaccompanied by writing by women about the problems of women writing about women writing about the problems of women — or whatever it is that women outside of “male” fields like to write about, when they’re not preoccupied with men.

    Millions of serious people have sweated blood and died to make it possible for you to live as a human decoration, a talking Shih Tzu. Enjoy it while it lasts, but please don’t interrupt the adults while they’re talking big people talk.

    The future will not be all about you. Sorry.

  • CitizenOf1Earth

    While I must say there are some exceptionally good recommended reads here (oddly written mostly by Western US/European white guys), curiously I have yet to find anything like “Black Elk Speaks”, “I Buried My Heart At Wounded Knee”, the Foxfire books, or anything by the likes of Derrick Jensen, Frederick Douglass, Bob Mollison, Toby Hemenway, Jerry Mander, James Baldwin, Chellis Glendinning, Manfred Max-Neff, Sepp Holzer, Lucy Thompson, James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, Thomas Paine, Doris Pilkington Garimara, Richard Wright, Morris Berman, Masanobu Fukuoka, or John Zerzan.

    Granted I can’t seem to find your complete bibliography, but from those titles listed here it seems like you may want Civilization 2.0 to be just as white, industrial, capitalistic, northern hemisphere biased, resource war torn, and doomed as version 1.0.

    If anyone will be kind enough to spot me the $10,000 donation required to make book recommendations for this project, I will quickly alleviate this oversight. I’d really love to join their Bay Area club so I can hang out in their posh bar and talk about how we’re going to rebuild Whitey civilization and the Apple Store over some sushi and Maker’s Mark.

  • Samuel Bono

    Why limit ourselves to books? The library could contain all sorts of information. Contemporary art, working sample models of engineering staples, model architectural concepts, long term storage digital media and accompanying platforms, etc.

    If we had the money, we could turn a library into a culture supervault.

  • mrego

    To rebuild civilization, first, start with a cookbook…

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    I hope there are materials with clear instructions on how to forge iron and that sort of stuff.

  • AlfaGolfFoxtrot

    I’m struck by the 21% futurism in the current category breakdown.

    Predicting future tastes or usefulness is notoriously difficult. But ask yourself – which books of futurism from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are we currently reading? I would suggest none that is read in a serious way. There is an occasional comedy email that circulates, laughing at what people a hundred years ago thought the future would be like. And I would conclude from this, that our descendants are likely to feel the same about our predictions of the future, and thus that the whole category is unlikely to generate much value.

  • derleider

    But there certianly might be an eliment of bluind chanec that might lead to a situation where the things that lead to say the rise of American civiliziation (which is going to be most of the voters) isnt going to work, and having a multiplicity of voices might be helpful.

    Obviously something like say physics isnt going to really matter who’s writing or voting . But cultural, economic, social, and historic lessons certainly could. For example, most people would I assume put some of the US’s founding texts on the list (Common Sense, the Federalist Papers, etc) but thats a limited way to look at things if you dont also think about the founding texts of other modern civilizations.

  • derleider

    Thats a very good point – do you include religious/mythological texts as an example of cultures past, or not include them because they would lead to mythological thinking.

    Although frankly, people will likely invent myths anyway – Scientology of course is a completely modern religion.

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    Actually, I found the omission of the Bible from any of these lists refreshing. Since this is intended as a manual for rebuilding civilization after a presumed fall and dark age, omitting religious texts might also omit the seeds of the next such fall.

  • jack33w

    Please post one, complete list of all titles (or makes its link MORE obvious if you already have it). It’s impossible to add books without knowing what’s there or what’s missing.

  • Ezra

    No, of course not. The future belongs to the trolls.

    Good luck with rebuilding civilization and populating it with minds like yourself. I’m sure it will be a breathtaking affair and, once the looting stops, a nice place to visit.

    Just please, don’t try and contribute material to the ‘sociology’, ‘public policy’ or ‘self-awareness’ sections of this project. K, thnx.

  • dailyllama

    excellent notion. Must include Djuna Barnes – Nightwood and Joyce, Milton and Marvel, Hopkins and the archives of the Utne Reader and The New Yorker etc etc

  • Martin S.

    Beautiful Trouble and The Anarchist Cookbook

  • Gianthra Lato

    They would need to know that mythology and religion are both natural human tendencies.

  • Gianthra Lato

    We need to let them know that religion and mythology are things humans do… Maybe a text describing how they work and the main drawbacks of them. It might be that a civilization needs religion to maintain order, or it might need to stop new ones forming. I don’t think ignorance is an option in this case.

  • Garfam

    The whole project seems like a leftwing transhumanist circlejerk.

    Take the people who are asked to contribute. There are no real academics or specialists, just entertainers mostly,

    For example S. Brand choose as one of his selections Guns, Germs and Steel, a work of pseudoscience that has been long discredited as false.

    Next to that, all the books are not divided in any categories that makes sense. For example, I do understand adding scientific novels to make it easier for people to pick up science, but to make about half the canon about science fiction is insane.

    The first step would really have been getting atleast two to five academics for about 50 specific beta categories like cosmology, geophysics, petrochemistry, seismology and graph theory.. ect. all the smaller scientific disciplines.

    Then do the same thing for the alpha en gamma sciences, making sure you get the different historical, judicial, economic and sociological disciplines together.

    Finally, the focus can be placed on literature as a whole, to make sure literacy will be high and people can picture a working society.

  • Ryan Arndorfer

    I like that idea, to that end I suggest Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. All about religion and the end of the world.

  • Mynka Mirnoff

    I found Maria Popova’s list laughable. Pardon me if I don’t think that books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” and Gemma Elwyn Harris’ “Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?” are necessary to sustain or rebuild our civilization.

  • JanaLee Cherneski

    Hi there — I found out about this project after I read Maria Popova’s post on Brain Pickings, and I’d like to nominate a suggestion from my own current reading: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber. This book is my new bible. It speaks to all of your stated categories (with the exception of science fiction), and is filled with easy and artful writing, masterful storytelling and compelling analyses about the history, production and marketing of food, and includes incisive analyses about the future of food, and what it really takes to protect the land and eat sustainably going forward… information is important, but packing it with the right stories is essential. This book attends to both beautifully. I’ll be curious to see what comes of the project! JanaLee, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Oxford


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