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.
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:
- Brian Eno – A list of books on Long-term thinking – Brian Eno’s list
- Stewart Brand – Books selected from his personal libraries – Stewart’s list
- Neal Stephenson – A selection of useful history books – Neal’s list
- Violet Blue – Books on human sexuality – Violet’s list
- Kevin Kelly – A huge list of appropriate technology and other books from his library – Kevin’s list
- Danny Hillis – Selections from his home and work libraries
- Hugh Howey – Donated a special edition set of his Silo Saga
- Megan and Rick Prelinger – Selections made during a walk through of the Prelinger Library – Megan and Rick’s list
- Ami Burnham – A collection of the best books on reproduction and birth
- Alex Steffen – Books on Futurism
- Jill Tarter – First Contact
- Bruce Sterling – Science Fiction- Bruce’s list
- David Brin – Science Fiction- David’s list
- Daniel Suarez – Science Fiction- Daniel’s list
- Maria Popova – “33 Books on How to Live” – Maria’s list
- Mark Pauline – Fiction, History, Mechanics reference – Mark’s list
- George Dyson – Books selected from his personal library – George’s list
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, we had several volunteers helping with the project that include:
More from Civilization —
Explore over two decades of long-term thinking
- Climate Change