“The goal of our Manual for Civilization project: to identify books that will resonate with those living in the distant future. What information won’t expire in a century? What literature will still speak to our descendants across a millennium? What ideas can carry forward and be useful tools as Plato, Lao Tzu, Homer, continue to have wisdom for us today? What texts will prove essential for upcoming generations, weathering time to become the “new” Classics?” ~ The Long Now Foundation
Not too long ago, I visited The Future Starts Here exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
One of the exhibits was The Library to Rebuild Civilisation (aka The Manual for Civilisation); an ambitious project by The Long Now Foundation (the same people who are responsible for the 10,000 Year Clock).
The Library to Rebuild Civilisation is a curated collection-in-progress of books covering the pinnacle of human knowledge in every sphere and industry; everything from science and technology, to history, religion, language and the arts, and everything in between. The goal is for the library, when complete, to contain all the knowledge required to re-build human civilisation up to where we are today should disaster strike and humanity as we know it is wiped from the face of the universe.
There are currently over 1,000-odd books in the collection (which you can browse here).
Titles in the library that I have read (and approve of) myself include:
- Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
- The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (of which I thoroughly disapprove. but I still think everyone should read)
- The Great Gatsby by Scott F Fitzgerald
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
- The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- More Than The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglass Adams
- The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durrant
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (disclaimer: I haven; ‘t read this cover to cover, but I have read parts of it)
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin (she was a distant aunt on my mother’s side of the family, it would be rude not to read all her work)
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
And much else besides.
There are of course far more titles in the library that I have not read than there are those that I have.
(I thought I was well-read – I’ve read at least one to two new books a week since I was eight years old – until I took a look at the collection in the Manual for Civilisation. I am clearly not at all well read, yet. It is a daunting, yet noble goal to consider reading the entire collection.)
The library will eventually grow to a limit of 3,500 book titles; curated by a team of volunteers and guest experts who have deep knowledge in a particular field.
(Hopefully, as the library grows, they will add more foreign language and culture to the selection – the current collection is unashamedly English and Eurocentric. It is also slightly biased towards the humanities – aside from a liberal dose of Einstein, all the science fiction, and a surplus of titles on computer science – real hard-core maths, engineering, geography, biology, and physics are somewhat underrepresented amongst all the higher-grade English literature and volumes on sexual education*. )
When the 3,500 book limit is reached the library’s curators will be responsible for periodically replacing older, outdated titles with new, more valuable ones in order to eventually evolve the perfect living library of humanity.
The question is, what books do you think are essential reading for distant future generations? What ideas and inventions do you believe we should we preserve at all costs?
*One of the founding curators is an expert in sexual health.