George Dyson’s Selections for The Manual for Civilization

Posted on Wednesday, March 8th, 02017 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link Categories: Book Lists, Long Now salon (Interval), Manual for Civilization, The Interval   chat 0 Comments

George Dyson selects books from his library, photo by Alexander Rose

Some time ago I stopped in to visit the author George Dyson at his shop and home north of Seattle to walk through his book collection and get his suggestions for our collection of books called the Manual for Civilization. We’ve done similar personal library tours with Kevin Kelly, Megan and Rick Prelinger, Neal Stephenson, and Stewart Brand as we work to complete our list of the most essential books to sustain or rebuild civilization.

Dyson is the technological historian behind books such as Darwin Among the Machines, Project Orion, and Turing’s Cathedral.  He is also a world authority in building traditional (and non-traditional) Aleut kayaks, and it was at his boat building shop where we met up.  One end of his shop is all books on traditional boat building and general fabrication techniques. After making a series of selections there we drove over to his home where just about every room was lined with books on various technologies.  Each book he pulled off the shelves elicited a story, sometimes short, sometimes long, and the books ranged from incredibly detailed technical manuals, to the fiction of Jules Verne, or early computer and cybernetic theory.  

Books on boat-building featured prominently in Dyson’s collection, photo by Alexander Rose

One could easily see his library as a type of stand alone Manual for Civilization, and getting his top picks to add to our collection certainly filled out some corners that we had never even considered.  We have already begun collecting these titles and look forward to adding them all to our physical and digital collections over time.

Note: Many of the books on Dyson’s list are available for free on the Internet Archive. We have provided links to those editions where possible, and to Amazon otherwise:

George Dyson has spoken at Long Now on three occasions. In 02004, he explored the long-term prospects for mega-scale computing. The following year, he was joined by his father, the pioneering physicist Freeman Dyson, and his sister, the technologist and Long Now board member Esther Dyson, to discuss the difficulty of making accurate long-term predictions. It marked the first time the Dysons were on stage together. Most recently, in 02013, Dyson spoke on the origins of our digital universe and its effects on our perception of time.

  • Matthew Dockrey

    Ooh, The Machinist’s Bedside Reader, very nice choice!


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