Blog Archive for the ‘Manual for Civilization’ Category

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33 Books on How to Live and a Russian Nesting Doll

Posted on Wednesday, April 9th, 02014 by Catherine Borgeson
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Photo by Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

Long Now Member Maria Popova is the mastermind behind the popular cultural blog of ideas known as Brain Pickings.  The blog was founded in 02006, where she has been reviewing books, writing multiple blog entries and tweeting 50 times a day, all while balancing on a wobble board. The lifelong bibliophile has also written for Wired UK, The New York Times, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. And now, she has compiled her own reading list of 33 books to add to the collection of the 3,500 volumes most essential to sustain and rebuild civilization.

When we launched the Manual for Civilization project, it was a natural fit with Popova’s interests and expertise. She reviewed Brian Eno’s selections for the Manual for Civilization and contemplated Stewart Brand’s 76-book list, noting that only 1.5 of the books Brand suggested were authored by women. Here is an excerpt of her thoughtful reflections when creating her own list:

In grappling with the challenge, I faced a disquieting and inevitable realization: The predicament of diversity is like a Russian nesting doll — once we crack one layer, there’s always another, a fractal-like subdivision that begins at the infinite and approaches the infinitesimal, getting exponentially granular with each layer, but can never be fully finished. If we take, for instance, the “women problem” — to paraphrase Margaret Atwood — then what about Black women? Black queer women? Non-Western Black queer women? Non-English-speaking non-Western Black queer women? Non-English-speaking non-Western Black queer women of Jewish descent? And on and on. Due to that infinite fractal progression, no attempt to “solve” diversity — especially no thirty-item list — could ever hope to be complete. The same goes for other variables like genre or subject: For every aficionado of fiction, there’s one of drama, then 17th-century drama, then 17th-century Italian drama, and so on.

Popova presents us with a set of books that have helped her learn “how to make sense of ourselves, our world, and our place in it.” Many of her selected books have additional links to detailed reviews she previously wrote, providing a great deal of insight and context. So rather than listing the books here, you can find Popova’s reading list where it is best written: “33 Books on How to Live: My Reading List for the Long Now Foundation’s Manual for Civilization.”

The Brooklyn-based editor will be speaking with author Caroline Paul at Hattery in San Francisco tomorrow, April 11, 02014. At the event titled “Brain Pickings: An Evening with Maria Popova,” (currently sold out) they will talk about “hunting and gathering on the internet, lessons on creativity, and musings such as the curious minds (and sleep habits) of famous writers past and present.”

Megan and Rick Prelinger’s Selected Books for the Manual for Civilization

Posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Today we continue the series of posts featuring the books suggested for the Manual for Civilization with a list from a couple of guerrilla archivists here in San Francisco, Megan and Rick Prelinger. In all, we hope to develop an ever-changing collection of 3,500 volumes to form a corpus which could sustain or rebuild civilization. To broaden our selection process we’ve asked Long Now members and Interval at Long Now donors to suggest books for the list.  Please join us and make your suggestions; we are just weeks away from opening.


Rick Prelinger has the distinction of giving more presentations in our Seminars About Long-term Thinking series than anyone. The last six Decembers he’s presented a vintage film collection in his “Lost Landscapes” series, usually centered on family home movies and other non-professional sources. Megan is a cultural historian and archivist in her own right and is the author of Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957–1962. Megan’s knowledge of the US space program is encyclopedic and nuanced. Together they began the Prelinger Library in 02004 which is open to the public and focuses on their mutual interest in “ephemeral literature.” Megan came up with a unique organizational structure for their collection which is sorted by geography. As you will see, the collection has particularly great resources on the built landscape and the space program.

The Prelingers personally walked us through their library to select some singular additions to our Manual for Civilization collection. Like the others we have posted, their list is intended as a component of a larger corpus. Each subset of books represents a perspective, sometimes a highly specialized one, that will help to document and sustain this complex system we call Civilization. Enjoy.


Many thanks to the Prelingers for taking the time and care to recommend these books for our collection.

Their list adds to suggestions from Kevin Kelly, Maria Popova, Violet Blue, Stewart Brand, Brian Eno and dozens of Long Now members and supporters.

You can visit the Manual in person and drink coffee, tea, or a cocktail while reading up on rabbit raising and bamboo cultivation at The Interval at Long Now. Or follow Neal Stephenson’s suggestion…


You’ll see Neal’s list of books here soon, as well as lists from Danny Hillis, Neil Gaiman, Mark Pauline, and others. And not long after that you’ll have the chance to visit The Interval in person. Construction is nearly complete, and the Interval will open later this Spring in San Francisco.

Thanks to many of you we have raised over 3/4 of our “brickstarter” goal. So we are asking for your generous support to help us finish construction and complete this project, including acquiring books for the Manual for Civilization.

Manual for Civilization Shelf level

Kevin Kelly’s Selected Books for the Manual for Civilization

Posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Kevin Kelly selecting books for the Manual For Civilization (photo by Catherine Borgeson)

Kevin Kelly selecting books for the Manual For Civilization (photo by Catherine Borgeson)

Today we continue the series of posts featuring the books suggested for the Manual for Civilization with a large list from Long Now Founding Board Member Kevin Kelly. In all we hope to have as many as 3,500 volumes to form a corpus which could sustain or rebuild civilization. To broaden our selection process we’ve asked Long Now members and Interval at Long Now donors to suggest books for the list.

Last week one of our members, Maria Popova, who writes the great blog Brain Pickings, gave us her list of 33 books. We are big fans of her work, and we are honored to include her excellent selections. They join about 1,800 other books suggested so far by Long Now’s members, donors and friends. There is still room for a few thousand more suggestions…

To add your own recommendations of books to include in the Manual for Civilization and vote on which suggested titles should find a place on The Interval’s shelves, just make a donation to support the project. All donors, at any level, can suggest and vote on books. We have raised over $35,000 in the last month, but still need your help to complete this “brickstarter” funding campaign.


For this week’s update Kevin Kelly gave us a tour of his personal library as he made his choices for the Manual for Civilization.  Among his many accomplishments, Kevin has ridden a bike or walked across several continents, has written for the Whole Earth Catalog, was founding editor of Wired, and has himself written several books–most recently the New York Times acclaimed Cool Tools.

Kevin has a knack for finding the most useful books in the world. In fact, he gave us the largest list of suggestions yet: nearly 200 in all. Pulled directly from the shelves of his own library, he gave us books that document practical skills, how to make useful things, and that teach and improve those who read them. Many of these books also appear as tools on his Cool Tools blog (now co-edited by Mark Frauenfelder).

A few choice selections at the top include his own comments on some of the books (you may need to hit the more below to see the full 200).

Practical Bamboos:The 50 Best Plants for Screens, Containers and More:
“I own a lot of bamboo books, but Practical Bamboos is by far the most useful of all. Other bamboo books are more encyclopedic; this one focuses on “only” the 50 most useful bamboo species, spelling out what types are good for fence rows, which are drought resistant, which work well in containers, and how to identify those variants from lookalikes. There’s very specific growing tips for each variety and solid advice about the principles of growing bamboo plants in general.”

Caveman Chemistry: 28 Projects, from the Creation of Fire to the Production of Plastics by Kevin M. Dunn

The Soundscape:
“The sound of modern life has a 60 hertz hum in the background because that’s the frequency of electricity (in North America). Add to that all the other vibrations of technological artifacts and all the sounds made by nature and you get the soundscape of the world. I learned to hear this sonic environment from this master observer. He gave me ears.”

The Backyard Blacksmith by Lorelei Sims

A Museum of Early American Tools:
“A story is told by each tool archived in this paper museum. The tool reveals the amazing things that can be done with your own body’s power, regulated by your eye and mind. Listening to the tool, you can understand how things are made. Not only do these tools run without electricity, they can be made with other hand tools. There’s enough information in these packed drawings by Eric Sloane to enable you to make them yourself, to use to make other things. It’s kind of magical.”

Civilizations: Ten Thousand Years of Ancient History by Jane McIntosh and Clint Twist

Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits:
“For nearly 40 years this guide has introduced boy scouts, 4H-ers, homesteaders, survivalists, and pet keepers to the practicalities of raising rabbits. Now in a new 4th edition, it’s still the best manual for getting started with rabbits for food or show.”

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson


Violet Blue’s Selected Books for the Manual for Civilization

Posted on Tuesday, March 11th, 02014 by Catherine Borgeson
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Violet Blue in front of her library. Photo courtesy of Violet Blue

Violet Blue in front of her library. Photo courtesy of Violet Blue

Continuing our series of posts highlighting books suggested for our Manual for Civilization library at The Interval, today we have a specialized list selected by Violet Blue.  As a library designed to help sustain or rebuild civilization, one of the first categories that came to mind were sexuality and reproduction.  A civilization cannot have a future without either.

We asked Violet Blue to curate a set of books on sexuality as she is an award-winning sex author & blogger.  It also turns out that in her past she was a book reviewer for Good Vibrations selecting books related to sexuality for their library, much of which is now contained at San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture.

The 16 books on sexuality that Violet Blue recommended are below with her comments on each selection. They will become part of the 3,500-volume collection.  We will also soon be publishing a list of books on birth and reproduction suggested by midwife and nurse practitioner Ami Burnham.

The Manual will serve as the library for The Interval at Long Now, our new public space opening this Spring. Recently we’ve shared Brian Eno and Stewart Brand’s Manual suggestions, and we have more lists to come including those from Neil Gaiman, Kevin Kelly, Neal Stephenson, and Megan and Rick Prelinger. Our Interval donors and Long Now members can also recommend books and vote on those already suggested.  Please help us raise the remaining funds required to fill our shelves with these thoughtfully chosen books.

Violet suggested reference books, science books and erotica; volumes on gender, how to talk to kids about sex, and even robots. Titles below marked with ** were suggested for inclusion by fellow sexuality expert Susie Bright.  Here’s the list:

  • The Guide to Getting it On (7th edition) by Paul Joannides
    This book is so accurate and complete about everything surrounding sexual contact, there’s no need for individual books on specific acts, health concerns or even sexual mishaps. Warm, welcoming, fun, smart, explicit and illustrated, it leaves no question about adult sexuality unanswered and expertly weaves together sex information from our greatest sex researchers and contemporary sex educators alike.
  • What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg, Fiona Smyth
    If there’s one book for helping kids understand sexuality and gender, this book (appropriate for all ages) is wonderfully accessible, complete and makes the “big talk” into a lovely narrative about family.
  • My (New) Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein
    This smart, humorous workbook is essential for understanding gender as it relates to our sexual identities, our sexual roles, and the way we identify and our understand sexual orientation – as well as the experiences of others (including our loved ones).
  • Erotic Fantasies, A Study of the Sexual Imagination by Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen**
    At the heart of human sexuality, we find the richness, complexity and necessity of human sexual fantasies. Standing on the shoulders of the Kinsey Report, this book is both at once an explicit compendium of fantasies, an informative exploration of what fantasies are, and a guide to why they’re inextricably woven into the fabric of our sexual selves.
  • Erotica Universalis by Gilles Neret
    Beautiful, striking, lurid, romantic, informative, and above all – unbridled insight into the erotic imagination, obsessions, traditions and sexual desires of a human civilization are between the covers of this erotic art bestiary. A tasteful collection of erotic art and imagery through the ages.
  • The Collected Erotica: An Illustrated Celebration of Human Sexuality Through the Ages by Charlotte Hill and William Wallace
    This astonishingly comprehensive book presents over 2000 years of Eastern and Western sexual art and literature. Images from private collections, libraries and galleries are combined with a huge array of erotic short stores by writers that include Boccaccio, Oscar Wilde, Jean Cocteau, Erica Jong, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Pauline Reage and more.
  • X: The Erotic Treasury by Susie Bright
    Erotica of the 21st century is unlike anything that precedes; not only in narrative and style, but in a whole new range of sexual expression, sex acts, female sexual agency, male sexual expression, and intellectually complex, emotionally sophisticated scenarios. And inspiration is important when you’re re-keying civilization.
  • Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong by Russ Kick
    This nonfiction anthology brings together some of the greatest minds that have lived sexual lives loudly (and sometimes proudly) outside contemporary mainstream culture in essays that explore society’s sexual misconceptions.
  • Art of Sexual Ecstasy by Margot Anand
    The most full, deep, and practical book on spirituality and sexuality of our era details the passion and implementation of Tantric sexuality.
  • Love and Sex With Robots by David Levy
    Human sexuality and technology have been intertwined much longer than the Internet era has been around, and so a book so thoroughly encompassing people’s sexual and emotional attraction and attachment to robots, artificial intelligence and tech-related objects is mind-opening.
  • Fetish Sex: A Complete Guide by Violet Blue
    The edges of human sexuality are the least understood. I hesitated about suggesting my own book, but so far no other book explores the actual practices of those who sexualize and have sexual relationships with the bizarre, in a nonjudgmental, all-gender and all-orientation approach. A definitive guide to the sexual practices, styles, and fantasies that live far outside the norm.
  • Healing Sex by Staci Hanes
    A complete, essential and sex-positive guide for people of all genders and orientations that have experienced and survived sexual trauma, violence or assault – and their partners.
  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
    A nonfiction exploration of sexuality and science – not only human sexuality and all its strange foibles and unbelievable variables, but also sex in science and commerce.
  • The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper
    While aimed at parents with gender-variant kids, and providing a much-needed guide for coping with positive, negative and awkward scenarios, this book is essential reading for everyone in our gender-variant, compassion-challenged world.
  • The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin**
    A psychological exploration of peak sexual experience, and why they happen to us in complicated ways such as during grief or when faced with conflict.
  • Sensuous Magic (2nd edition) by Patrick Califia
    No other book comes close to this incredible guide to BDSM practices and relationships. This tome is a complete reference and advice guide, demystifying – and providing erotic illumination to – power exchange, pleasure and sensation, erotic punishment, bondage, sex in S/M scenes, communication, negotiation, and consent.

Long Now would like to thank Violet Blue for these considered selections.

To add your own recommendations of books to include in the Manual for Civilization and vote on which suggested titles should find a place on The Interval’s shelves, just make a donation to support the project. All donors, at any level, can suggest and vote on books. You can be a part of giving long-term thinkers a beautiful place to gather, full of amazing books.

Manual for Civilization Shelf level


Stewart Brand’s Selected Books for the Manual for Civilization

Posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Stewart Brand LibraryStewart Brand selects books from his library, photo by Alexander Rose

Long Now’s Founding Board Member Stewart Brand suggested more than 70 volumes for our Manual for Civilization collection. The Manual will be housed within The Interval at Long Now, our new public space which opens to the public this Spring.

The 3500 books that comprise the Manual for Civilization will serve as the library component of The Interval. A dominant feature, seen immediately upon entering and even visible from outside, on shelves stretching floor to ceiling and set amongst the large scale mechanical prototypes of our 10,000-Year Clock, the Manual will present a compelling image for visitors to our space.

Support The Interval at Long Now

As construction of The Interval at Long Now nears completion, our fundraising continues. We are in the final stretch of the capital campaign to fund renovations to our San Francisco space that not only houses The Interval but also Long Now’s offices.

If this venue, its unique library, and all its other features capture your imagination, please consider a donation at any level. You can be a part of giving long-term thinkers a beautiful place to gather, full of amazing books. Also please spread the word to others you think would appreciate this project.

Writer, futurist, environmentalist and Long Now co-founder, Stewart Brand keeps three personal libraries. In the last month he walked us through all of them and carefully selected books for the list below. It is a remarkable list of titles old and new.

From the Epic of Gilgamesh to contemporary science fiction. Homer’s epics and Beowulf, Lao Tzu and Machiavelli. But also Brian Fagan’s The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman from 02011. There are many past Long Now Seminar speakers: Ian Morris, Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker and Verner Vinge to name only a few. And no less than 6 novels by the British Science Fiction author Iain M. Banks, who passed away last year.

Keep in mind that like Brian Eno’s list and others we’ll be posting soon, this is not intended as a standalone set of books, but as part of the larger corpus of thousands of texts that we are assembling. That collection will include submissions from Long Now members and the donors to our ‘brickstarter’ campaign to help build the Long Now’s Interval (formerly referred to as Long Now Salon).

Together these books assemble knowledge essential for us to maintain, extend and (if needed) recreate what humans have achieved thus far. Here are Stewart Brand’s recommendations:

Many thanks to Stewart for taking the time and care to recommend these books for our collection.

As we approach The Interval opening this Spring, we will continue this series of lists suggested by friends and associates of Long Now for the Manual. You’ll see books recommended by Neal StephensonViolet BlueKevin KellyMegan & Rick Prelinger, and Danny Hillis.

Manual for Civilization Shelf level

To add your own recommendations of books to include in the Manual for Civilization and vote on which suggested titles should find a place on The Interval’s shelves, just make a donation to support the project. All donors, at any level, can suggest and vote on books.

We look forward to your contributions!

Brian Eno’s Selected Books for the Manual for Civilization

Posted on Friday, February 28th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Brian Eno - Manual For Civilization
Brian Eno visited San Francisco to see the site where the Manual for Civilization shelves will be
Photo by Alexander Rose

Twenty books suggested by Long Now’s Founding Board Member Brian Eno form the first in a series of reports on additions to our Manual for Civilization collection. This library will eventually include 3,500 books you would most want to sustain or rebuild civilization. The Manual needs your help to get built!  Please make a donation so we can purchase these books and the shelves they go on.  The Manual will be a central feature of our new space that opens later this year. Here are Brian Eno’s recommendations:

We need your help to finish this library. There are only weeks left to finish our fund raising and we need to raise at least another $100,000. Please make a donation to support this project and get direct access to the book recommendation and voting engine for the Manual for Civilization.


Some of the other contributor lists we will be sharing soon include selections from Stewart Brand, Neal Stephenson, Violet Blue, Kevin Kelly, Danny Hillis, Megan and Rick Prelinger and many more.

Once the Salon 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 that evolves over time.  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.

You can see more about this project on the original Manual for Civilization blog post.  Soon we will need to begin collecting the actual books for our shelves, and will be asking for book donations from our edited list.  We hope that we can get many of these books from our community so that we don’t have to purchase too many new books.



The Manual for Civilization Begins

Posted on Thursday, February 6th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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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


Hugh Howey’s Dystopian Silo Saga Joins the Manual for Civilization

Posted on Wednesday, January 22nd, 02014 by Catherine Borgeson
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Science fiction author Hugh Howey donated to the Manual for Civilization a one-off hard cover set of his Silo Saga with a special title page for The Long Now Foundation.

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The dystopian science fiction series developed out of a single novella Hugh Howey self-published on the Web in 02011.  He continued the story with four more installments, which now comprise the Omnibus edition of Wool.  Shift (books 6-8) are a prequel to Wool (books 1-5), Dust is the conclusion.

Without giving away any spoilers, each story has its own resolution, adds clarity and answers questions from the last, but then creates some larger questions:

What would human beings be like if for several hundred years they had been forced to live in a giant container, a refuge from the destruction of the planet? Would we recognize them? Would they have changed? Would we understand their concerns and desires? Our ubiquitous human nature and some of its seemingly unchanging characteristics are major themes in Howey’s Wool. Tens of thousands of people are packed into a silo buried in the Earth, protected from the toxic atmosphere which surrounds it. Yet despite hundreds of years, the occupants still long to explore, to expand their horizons. Howey explores the traditions, mores and laws necessary to protect this remnant of humanity from the creative urges and deep desires which always seek to push beyond the safe confines of the silo into the unknown. –GeekDad, Wired Magazine

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Toward a Manual for Civilization

Posted on Wednesday, August 14th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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We are as gods” because of our ancestors’ diligence. The promise of a technologically advancing future is predicated on millennia of accumulated knowledge. Civilization has taken a lot of work to build and it demands a great deal of know-how to sustain. And as modern life increasingly encourages specialization, familiarity across that accumulated knowledge’s breadth can wane. Our ability to collaborate is a strength, but beyond a point we risk losing comprehension of the infrastructure that supports our modern lives. How can we retain that knowledge?

Long Now Board Member Kevin Kelly has suggested a Library of Utility:

It would be a very selective library. It would not contain the world’s great literature, or varied accounts of history, or deep knowledge of ethnic wonders, or speculations about the future. It has no records of past news, no children’s books, no tomes on philosophy. It contains only seeds. Seeds of utilitarian know-how. How to recreate the infrastructure and technology of civilization so far.

Alexander Rose, our Executive Director, has compiled resources that could become such a Manual for Civilization:

It is an interesting thought exercise to ask yourself what information you might want if you had to truly start over.

And in our forthcoming Salon space at Fort Mason Center, we’ll house approximately 3,500 volumes in a floor-to-ceiling library featuring carefully selected books that could be used to help restart civilization. We are not trying to be apocalyptic or at all predictive, but the conversation that is inspired by this exercise seems to be endless and valuable.

We will collaboratively curate this corpus with Long Now’s members and the public. We understand that by definition we ourselves will have a western-centric viewpoint of what might be collected, but as the project gets going we plan to seek submissions that represent views from as many cultural viewpoints as possible. Several interns have been hired to begin rounding up submissions and our Digital Research Director, Kurt Bollacker, is advising on the information design, indexing architecture, and digital archiving strategy for the collection.

To support its long-term survival and worldwide accessibility, we’ll have a digital version of the collection publicly available on the Internet Archive. And, among its shelves, we’ll have many a great conversation – over tea, coffee, and maybe some whiskey – honoring curiosity, ingenuity and persistence. We hope you’ll join us.

If you share our enthusiasm for this project, please consider supporting the construction of the Salon space in which it will be housed – gifts for supporters include things like a free beverage once the space opens or having a shelf of the Manual’s books dedicated in your honor!

Manual for Civilization

Posted on Tuesday, April 6th, 02010 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Trees appear in a modern ruin of Camden NJ

Trees on the second story of the abandoned Carnegie Library in Camden NJ. Photo: Camilo Jose Vergara.

I often receive emails about creating a record of humanity and technology that would help restart civilization.  We have often worked on projects that may be a part of what we call The Manual For Civilization.  It is an interesting thought exercise to ask yourself what information you might want if you had to truly start over.  A recent example is email that came in which was inspired by an essay that James Lovelock published in Science in 1998 called A Book For All Seasons (excerpt):

We have confidence in our science-based civilization and think it has tenure. In so doing, I think we fail to distinguish between the life-span of civilizations and that of our species. In fact, civilizations are ephemeral compared with species. Humans have lasted at least a million years, but there have been 30 civilizations in the past 5000 years. Humans are tough and will survive; civilizations are fragile. It seems clear to me that we are not evolving in intelligence, not becoming true Homo sapiens. Indeed there is little evidence that our individual intelligence has improved through the 5000 years of recorded history.

Over the years these proposals have been in different forms; create a book, set of books, stone tablets, micro-etched metal disk, or a constantly updated wiki.  I really like the idea of creating such a record, in fact the Rosetta Disk project was our first effort in this direction.  These Doomsday Manuals are a positive step in the direction of making a softer landing for a possible collapse, and the people creating them (like ourselves) are certainly out to help people.  It took millennia for the world to regain the technology and levels of societal organization attained by the Romans, so maybe a book like this would help that.

However it also seems that these efforts tap a romantic notion that we would all love to find something like this book from a past or otherwise alien civilization.  My worry is that it also feeds off a (likely incorrect) feeling that somehow collapse might be a fun challenge to live through, and that everyone kind of wants to be the monk in A Canticle For Leibowitz or Mel Gibson in Road Warrior.

My bet is that the reality of watching your civilization (and population) collapse is likely one of the worst things anyone could experience.  I am also not so sure the problem is just knowing how to remake a technology.  For instance after the fall of the great Egyptian, Mayan, and Roman empires we had evidence and examples of their engineering achievements all around us.  But aqueducts or senate buildings are worthless without a society around them to maintain, contextualize and protect them.

It is also worth pointing out that there are likely well over a billion people on earth who currently don’t interact with formal economies or technological society at all.  They will be very well adapted to a post collapse world, you should find some and make friends.  They will likely be far more helpful than a manual on restarting the internet, because they know how to gut a deer.

In any case I thought I would create this blog post which I will try and keep updated as these proposals and efforts come to me (and hopefully come to fruition).  I will also list some of the resources that I usually refer to when I get these inquiries.   Please note these resources are extremely biased toward the English language, the United States and Western culture.  Also note that one of the first things that comes up when creating any compendium style work is the issue of copyright.  It might sound ridiculous that you might worry about copyright in a doomsday manual, but if you want to publish it and get it into peoples hands before the apocalypse, you are going to have to deal with it in some way. Please feel free to use the comments field to make suggestions and pointers and I will integrate them here as well.

Projects that are attempts in this direction:

  • The Rosetta Project: A multi-millennial micro-etched disk with a record of thousands of the worlds languages.
  • Westinghouse Time Capsules: Two time capsules (they actually coined the term for this project) by Westinghouse buried at Worlds Fair sites, one in 01939 and the other 01965 to be recovered in 5000 years.  They also did the very smart thing of making a “Book of Record” and an above ground duplicate of the contents on display.
  • The Human Document Project: A German project to create a record of humanity that will last one million years.
  • Crypt of Civilization: A airtight chamber located at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. The crypt consists of preserved artifacts scheduled to be opened in the year 8113 AD.
  • The Voyager Record: The Voyager Golden Record are phonograph records which were included aboard both Voyager spacecraft, which were launched in 1977. They contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or far future humans, who may find them.
  • Georgia Guidestones: The four granite Guidestones are covered in inscriptions written in 8 major languages that describe the tenets of their imagined Age of Reason.
  • (added) Doomsday Chests by Noah Raford
  • (added) The Forever Book an idea by Kevin Kelly
  • (added) Global Village Construction Set
  • (added) “History of Humanity” project
  • (added) The Library of Utility
  • (added) The Memory of Mankind project
  • (added) The Great Pyramid project
  • (added) Digital Clay Tablets
  • (added) Arnano sapphire and glass data storage

Content that has been discussed to be used for these projects:

  • The Gingery books always seemed to me to be a great first pass on how to re-start manufacturing technology
  • (added) Immaculate Telegraphy: An Artist creates hi tech out of materials in nature.
  • (added) Wiki How has a lot of great info and it is continuously updated.  The entry on how to deliver a baby seems like a particularly handy one…
  • (added) The Foxfire Books on homespun technology seem to have a slightly less industrial take than the Gingery books, and are pretty comprehensive
  • (added) The Lets Say Youve Gone Back in Time poster to help you restart civilization by Ryan North the creator of the awesome Dinosaur Comics
  • (added) The Way Things Work by David Macaulay.  This is a fantastic book, but it might leave people thinking that all technology is powered by woolly mammoths and angels.
  • The Harvard Classic‘s originally known as Dr. Elliots Five Foot Shelf are often referred to as an item that should go into a record like this.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica People often suggest using the latest version that is now out of copyright.  I believe this is the 13th edition but so far I have only found digital copies of the 11th.
  • The Domesday book: The Domesday Book is the record of the great survey of England completed in 1086.  It would be interesting to find surveys and census’ from around the world
  • The Mormon Genealogical Data:  This is also held in a bunker outside Salt Lake City Utah, but it might be nice to have a record of gene lines for a future civilization to better understand its past.
  • The Top 100 Project Gutenberg books: If you are concerned with archiving works in copyright this is a great source to find texts that are free to use.
  • The Internet Archive: An archive of complete snapshots of the web as well as thousands of books and videos.  Incidentally you would also get all of our scanned page content from the Rosetta Project with this.
  • Wikipedia: The text only version of this is actually not that large, and could be archived fairly easily.  Also one of the few sources that is beginning to get filled out in many languages and is also not held under a copyright.
  • How to field dress a deer: PDF pocket version from Penn State College of Agricultural Science (living in Northern California, I think this one will be especially handy).
  • (added) The Toaster Project
  • (added) The Panlex Project of cross linked language dictionaries
  • (added) The Survivor Library