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What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civilization? (openculture.com)
118 points by Petiver on Feb 21, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments

Depressing lack of books on animal husbandry, crop management, basic mechanics and machining, and math/physics/chemistry text books and field manuals.

Philosophy is good and important, but much easier to carry verbally (out re-invent) than the thousands of years of trial and error of "what's this red stuff in the dirt and what can I do with it?"

Then again, assuming that we'll lose civilization but terrain the ability to read written English is somewhat hard to justify, too...

Yeah, I'm not denying we need the philosophy/history books

But civilization would need to bootstrap to "current levels" quickly, and I assume a lot of knowledge about that is currently only in people's heads

Crops + Animal Raising -> food. Then construction and metallurgy (helps with the first items), then thermal machines, then industry building all over again. Then to electronics, semiconductors up to computers again. Don't forget all the medicine, chemistry, plastics, oil processing there as well

I would put De re metallica [1] on the list.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_re_metallica

Then the whole Gingery series: http://gingerybookstore.com/ (from furnace to machine shop!). Although his designs are based on scrap aluminium, you can also use cast iron.

I agree. Medicine, metal working, practical mechanics are severely underrepresented. Not to mention alternative energy sources.

> Not to mention alternative energy sources.

If I needed to rebuild civilization, that'd be the last thing on my mind.

It shouldn't be. Windmills and dams are a heckuva lot easier to make than oil rigs and refineries. Especially now that all the easy-to-harvest fossil fuels have been harvested. A second civilisation following in this one's footsteps is going to have a much harder time of it.

If you want to run the existing electronics or even rebuild basic electricity the easiest route isn't re-build the world's supply chains and production capabilities for oil and/or chemicals.

Wind, solar, and hydro are your easiest routes to electrical energy. From there lots of things become easier.

You don't like energy?

I think the keyword is "alternative".

Yeah, while it's "alternative" to us now, it won't be alternative then. Few people "need" windmills and water wheels now; but they will need them then.

Exactly! I was teasing a little, but my real point is that if you're "rebuilding civilization" then so-called "alternative" ways of gathering usable energy are not so alternative anymore.

I have heard of the idea of "Peak Wood" corresponding to "Peak Oil", being the time when wood to make charcoal for metal smelting became scarce due to the scale of production and the inefficiency of the process.

It's a long way from the blacksmithy to the oil derrick.

civil engineering books would be my bet and basic medicine like first aid

None. The books are printed on cheap paper that will rot.

Furthermore, our civilization is unrebuildable.

In the mid-1800s, oil was so shallow that it bubbled out of the ground. It was possible to pump it with mid-1800s technology. Call that "level A".

Soon though, that oil was gone, people wanted more. It took "level B" technology to drill for that... but we were at level B by then, thanks to the level A oil.

Today, we drill for oil through 3 miles of water, and a mile of rock below that. That's "level Z" oil.

If they need oil to get from level A to level B technology, but all the oil requires level Z to drill for it, then you don't get to rebuild civilization. It's not just oil, this is true for every resource we use.

If our civilization stumbles, it dies.

I met a guy here in Spain that mines with X gram /ton of a given metal and makes money.

In America, with 10 times more grams/ton they don't exploit it, because "it is so expensive, not worth it".

In America over half of the mineral(you can analyze the terrain in the laboratory and compare what is has with what you extract with industrial processes) goes away with the drain because it is in a different physical shape that what the industrial machines are designed for. They just couldn't care less.

This is what prosperity could make to you. Like bears eating the livers of salmons and leaving the rest. We used to open a coal or oil well and BURN(without using it) THE NATURAL GAS first. A 1 meter of diameter burning pipe could burn for years!! In fact, in lots of places in America, where there is no gas pipeline they continue burning the gas, because it is so cheap, not worth it.

Old American cars use to be machines for wasting oil. This is what happens in Venezuela today, when with the money it takes to fill the tank you could fill 1500 tanks in Venezuela. People have problems eating in Venezuela, but they could use the biggest 4x4, or speedboat you could dream of.

What metal?

This is an entirely valid point.

The 'natural resources' that enable /easy/ development of civilization aren't anywhere near as common, if they even exist.

What's necessary is a more adaptive approach and possibly some caches of resources that would be necessary to bootstrap once again; also a form of storage which won't degrade in just a few hundred years.

It won't solve the fuel problem, but for metals, junkyards are pretty easy to dig up.

Trees. You forgot trees. There isn't enough high-energy carbon there to sustain an industrial revolution, but there's definitely enough to get a pocket of civilization back on its feet.

And then you bootstrap with that. Maybe with coal, or maybe go straight to nuclear. You might even be able to refurbish/restart a reactor complex. Or a carrier's or sub's. And single one of these surviving whatever the disaster is would really change the picture, that's a background theme of Lucifer's Hammer.


We deforested entire continents getting our industrial revolution going. There aren't enough left to do it a second time. And if what I read is correct, it will take between 750,000 and 2 million years for reforestation to occur naturally.

> but there's definitely enough to get a pocket of civilization back on its feet.

What's "back on its feet"? You've watched too many movies.

The only metal such a people would ever use would be salvaged... no new iron works. No electricity, no internal combustion engines.

If civilization stumbles, it dies.


> There aren't enough left to do it a second time.

Why do you think it would take an amount of resources comparable to the first time? We know what we're doing now so there will be much less fumbling around AND we would have an abundance of high-grade feedstock left over from the pre-fall civilization.

> What's "back on its feet"?

"Back on its feet" = a level of sophistication in resource extraction capable of facilitating resource use beyond recycling, i.e. the ability to avoid the exact scenario you described.

To make things more concrete, let's call it the level of sophistication required to build and fuel primitive fission reactors. I think that even you will agree that by that point fears of energy scarcity would be bunk.

> You've watched too many movies.

If you can't imagine "shortcuts" to take on the path to re-industrialization I would hazard a bet that you don't have training in the relevant industrial chemistry. Here's a fizz-buzz level self assessment to check if you're going all Dunning-Kruger: name one or more plausible post-apocalyptic alternatives that would be used in place of the WSGR and Haber processes.

> The only metal such a people would ever use would be salvaged... no new iron works.

Why do you think that salvaged metal could not suffice for bootstrap purposes?

Hell, you don't even need to make your own mining / refining / manufacturing equipment, you just need to patch up the stuff that got broken in the commotion.

> We know what we're doing now

Yeh. We. Now.

Post-collapse? No, they won't. If everything was intact (including unwritten, institutional knowledge), then there won't have been a collapse in the first place.

One thing left out of this analysis of oil availability is all the places where the incentive structure has not resulted in the exploitation of easier to access oil. E.g. places where land owners have no mineral rights and oil exploration and exploitation by the government is a major negative, and the government isn't strong enough to get around lots of these land owners. I think Argentina is one of the classic examples of such a nation.

There's also coal -> oil, if you've got some hydrogen handy.

As for "every resource we use", you've got to separate the ones we "use up" like fuel, and ones that are still available after use, like most metals. E.g. access to iron/steel and copper will be trivial, just mine ruined cities, land fills, etc. etc.

I can't say with 100% confidence this would work out, but I know the sort of people our betters despise will roll up their sleeves and give it a try.

> There's also coal -> oil, if you've got some hydrogen handy.

Which only works if you already have a technological civilization. The Germans were able to do this because they already had a large industrial base.

The South Africans were able to do this because they had an industrial base, and could find expertise internationally if needed.

If you're living with 19th century technology (16th century?) you don't get to do coal-to-oil.

These problems simply aren't solvable in the situation we're talking about, and you seem to mistake the fact that you can think of solutions for them with 21st century technology means they are universally solvable. That's not even close to true.

If civilization stumbles, it dies.

Obviously I disagree, but I can't believe I forgot the #1 easiest way to bootstrap: hydroelectric power. Unless the disaster is so great it destroys all these dams, multiple groups of people have the potential for a perhaps small, but generally reliable source of electricity. From that you can build back everything.

Anyway, there's nothing stopping you from believing it's impossible, and ... what will you and yours do after a sufficiently big disaster? All I know is me and mine won't lie down and die.

Procedures in Experimental Physics - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0917914562

While it sounds high tech, it covers the basics of manufacturing lab equipment, from iron casting, to making your own glassware, lenses, photographic plates, Geiger counters and so on.

Thank you! I have been looking for this book, I thumbed through a copy in a lab I visited.

Another excellent book in the same vein is, "Building Scientific Apparatus" - http://www.amazon.com/Building-Scientific-Apparatus-John-Moo... the second edition can be had for a song.

Related to this subject, I'm currently enjoying the audiobook of "The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch." ( http://the-knowledge.org/en-gb/ ) I like its emphasis on potential alternate paths of doing a rapid reboot of civilization, where a rebuilt society would not need to go along the same lines that our did to get to this point.

The Knowledge is the book that every library and "End of the World" kit should have in it.

Agree. An excellent book.

The Magna Carta.

Civilisation is not a working air-con and LTE. Saudi Arabia has those, and it is not a 'civilisation'.

Civilisation is primarily a political order built on liberal tolerance of multiple sources of value, and the rule of law. Roman civilisation, at least up till Constantine 1, was a civilisation.

Why not the Constitution rather than Magna Carta (no article is properly necessary)?


For the same reason that the Origin of Species and Darwin are credited with discovering evolution even though Origin doesn't get evolution really right. Or Greek democracy - not a true democracy in the modern sense - suffrage was limited for free men.

The key point of the Magna Carta is that it codified the principle of the rule of law, even if it was a limited to aristocrats. The side-effect is that it implied that a different source of value - human reason in the shape of laws - was legitimate, and not the absolute rule of the king.

In what way did On the Origin of Species not "get it right"? It necessarily has holes as Darwin was unaware of DNA or horizontal gene transfer, but he nailed the basic mechanism, and anticipated and addressed many of the criticisms that would be leveled.

Right, Darwin nailed the principle of evolution but Origin is now primarily a (very important) historical document, not the field book of modern evolutionary biologists, for some of the reasons that you give, DNA, punctuated equilibrium, etc.

Likewise with Magna Carta - its an important historical document which laid down the principle.

You don't get to substitute your own definitions for the shared ones. Civilization has a common meaning and your definition isn't it.

"Shared" by who? And whose definition should we use? The "common" one, or say, the one used by academics. I woult not claim that my "definition" is found in books, but I chose my words carefully (I have a background in political philosophy)

Protection of the Church and feudal system?

Don't let the political concerns of the times blind you to the core principles. With that same argument Machiavelli is not relevant because his advice was intended for a medieval Italian prince.

The Foxfire books were a school project in 1960s rural Georgia to capture the dying knowledge of homesteaders - cabin building, soap rendering, animal husbandry, etc.

They were used by the 1970s commune movement as instruction manuals for self-sufficiency/"back to the land" living so they have a track record of usability.

They're a great history lesson, and contain the building blocks that any civilization needs to solve (shelter, heat, food) before it can worry about higher order things (philosophy, politics, smartphone reception).

This lists seems focused on culture, not on survival or technology.

Instead: http://rebuildingcivilization.com/

If I were to redesign school, this would be the spirit.

I thought about this for some time and I think that in worst case we need only two books, that probably doesn't exist today. One book must describe how to create metal, iron and steel - what kind of rock formations can contain iron ore and other ores, how to manufacture it starting from zero, without any instruments, how to create steel using iron instruments etc. Second book must describe electricity - what is it and how to create it in maximum possible ways. Chemical, mechanical etc. Books should be either etched on rust resistant metal plates or maybe on some plastic polymer sheets, pages bound together with a variation of spring binding. Also wherever possible any single page should be self-contained and if used separately from the book contain at least some useful information.

Everything else probably can be lost.

At the time of rebuilding civilization, knowing about minerals in rocks probably wouldn't be useful. Even today you have to mine very deep. Nearly all of the worlds resources are now to be found at surface levels.

This. If "civilisation" (as we know it) had to be rebuilt, it would not be possible. All the easily extractable resources have been used. The equipment needed to get out the remaining would not be possible starting from stone age technology.

Any rebuilt civilisation would not be technological. The "best" we could "hope" for would be agrarian based, with 0% unemployment, people living in cohesive communities, with active fulfilling lives....

wait a minute.........

If civilisation ended all the materials we mined would be on the surface except the things we burnt.

Gigatonnes of metals even the completely rusted out remains would be far easier to refine.

Not to mention all the other stuff.

Hardest problem would be energy as we have consumed easily available fossil fuels but that's not intractable, we in the west of built our way of life on profligate fossil fuel consumption, there are other ways.

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay. Especially if we still had mammoths. http://www.amazon.com/The-Things-Work-David-Macaulay/dp/1405...

>Where we once delighted in imagining the turns civilization would take hundreds and even thousands of years ahead..."

So dramatic. For most of humanity people have worried about tomorrow's food. For the most part fanciful imagination was nurtured by the enlightenment and the scientific method, but before that, I think, we just thought about food and how to better defeat threats --enemies, wild animals, nature.

PS. Wikipedia, is probably a good start.

> PS. Wikipedia, is probably a good start.

It's just an offhand remark by you, but I think it's a very good idea. Wikipedia is quite hit-or-miss, but right now it's at least the equal of any traditional encyclopedia we had in the old days.

But if there's no power and no technology, how do you view your offline copy? At least books have the potential of surviving for hundreds of years w/o too much degradation.

I've always thought a Kindle and a solar phone charger would be a good doomsday survival device. Obviously it isn't quite as durable as a book, but a lot easier to fit in a rucksack and can contain a lot more content.

Easy, print it. They allow it to be downloaded and printed, from what I understand --only drawback is that fast moving topics become fossilized, but all printed books are that way.

I have an offline copy of wikipedia together with the images (especially for diagrams, and plant recognition) on my phone. I also have fairly detailed offline maps of most of the world (including contour lines in some places).

Add some decent solar power to that, and scavenge for spare parts to keep it going, and I plan to be running a First Foundation / Oracle of Delphi pretty shortly after civilization collapse.

Indeed https://twitter.com/erik_kwakkel/status/568368792906153985

I was surprised by the vividness..

The question of “what would we do if everything went to hell?” is what makes me motivated to study things like chemistry, physics, electricity, and machinery—topics I would ordinarily have no need for as a software developer.

Like, hmm, if you can’t refine oil anymore, how would you set up large-scale ethanol production so that you can run engines? How would you modify the engines to run on 100% ethanol? Where do you find ore and how do you smelt it? If you want to make gunpowder, where in the world do you get saltpeter and sulfur? How do you make gunpowder, or even just charcoal, without blowing yourself up? Can you make hormonal birth control, or even condoms? How about antibiotics? I’ve had some very good wikiwalks starting from questions like these.

You'd probably want to study farming, animal husbandry, woodcraft, etc., instead. I.e. you're going to need to learn how to grow food really fast!

For that you'll want the Foxfire series of books. I remember flipping through them when I was a kid -- not sure about the quality of the information from memory, but the topics covered are somewhat complete.

I'm actually far more interested in learning how to create firearms and ammo... As sad as it sounds, that's probably a more pragmatic plan.

Most of the fleet here in Brazil runs on dual combustible (ethanol or gas) and ethanol is available at every gas station. Ethanol from sugar cane is way cheaper than ethanol from corn and we have 2 crops a year (no harsh winters).

Back to Basics - http://www.amazon.com/Back-Basics-Traditional-American-Skill...

A Reverence for Wood - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0486433943/

and maybe something by Ray Mears, but I don't think any of his books really capture what his TV shows do - aboriginal cultures and their skills that are about to vanish.

Kevin Dunn's "Caveman Chemistry"[1] is a fun book.

Instructions for tinkerers "for making bronze from metal ores; glass from sand, ashes, and limestone; paper from grass or straw; soap from fat; alcohol from honey; photographs from egg whites; chlorine from salt water and celluloid from cotton."[2] among other things.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Caveman-Chemistry-Projects-Creation-Pr...

[2] http://www.cavemanchemistry.com/

As a biologist I'd put "Molecular Biology of the Cell" on the list (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21054/). This book was basically my M.Sc. exam in molecular biology. It is very rich in helpful illustrations. I'd think even someone with enough interest but no background in biology can extract a lot of information from it.

I would throw The Human Past, Mathematics from the Birth of Numbers, and US Army Survival guide into the mix. I also think there should be more of a focus on construction/architecture and agriculture/horticulture. A book containing some facts about earth science and especially on the unique geographic features of each region of the world would be necessary. I would also add a book on common plants and their uses and a book on human health/nutrition.

I think people are focusing too much on the luxuries of complex civilization. If you're at the point where you have to rebuild civilization it would be more necessary to focus on building a good foundation i.e focusing on improving your food, water, shelter, medicine, and social systems. I think the book Mathematics from the Birth of Numbers would be a good enough foundation to get started on physics, mechanics, and math.

>US Army Survival

I got one for christmas. Whatever that books says, sharks CANNOT be scared away by splashing.

The version I got was probably a little dated.

"Civilization" implies something more than basic survival.

No doubt this will be downvoted, but I would go with some basic legal texts. The law has been part of civilization from the beginning (Hammurabi). Something like Blacks Law Dictionary would be vitally important in setting up a reliable system post-zombie.

> The law has been part of civilization from the beginning (Hammurabi)

I tend to agree that if there's a civilization, there are laws, but your example is bizarre. A quick check of wikipedia informs us that Hammurabi was born circa 1810 BC. Compare Sargon, who took his throne about 500 years prior, or Narmer, who unified Egypt over a thousand years before Hammurabi was born. And we only know about them because they left records. The Egyptians also left records of various near-eastern peoples who clearly had flourishing civilizations at the time, but left no records of themselves. These great conquerors come from a backdrop of states that are already old.

Seven thousand years ago, pre-Egyptian nomads left religious art in what is now the Sahara desert (though at the time they used it to pasture their animals). Nomads aren't traditionally considered civilized; we like to use agriculture as the threshold. But those nomads surely had laws, even if you'd find them primitive, and they were organized enough to leave monuments behind and, eventually, conquer the farmers who lived along the Nile and set themselves up as the ruling class.

Hammurabi is cited by lawyers because it demonstrates some advanced legal principals that are still with us, specifically the separation of civil and criminal law.

There other, older, legal traditions but they rarely are relevant to modern jurisprudence.

Hammurabi isn't relevant to modern jurisprudence in any way that older legal codes wouldn't also be; we have inherited nothing from mesopotamian culture. People still refer to him today because for a time he was popularized as the man behind the earliest known, written legal code, but that's purely a question of journalism. Today we have even older mesopotamian legal codes, but they haven't been publicized the way Hammurabi was.

And I responded to you saying that Hammurabi was the beginning of civilization, which is even more ludicrous.

"The law code also extended into the daily life of the ordinary citizen. Builders were held responsible for the buildings they constructed. If a house collapsed and caused the death of its owner, the builder was put to death. Goods destroyed by the collapsed must also be replaced and the house itself rebuilt at the builder's expense."


That is basically how the common law functions today. Harm people and you are personally punished. Harm property and you must pay for that property. Criminal law and civil law, crimes and torts.

*Of course the "property" in the original were actually slaves, but the principal holds.


    200. If a man knock out the teeth of his equal,
         his teeth shall be knocked out. 
    201. If he knock out the teeth of a freed man,
         he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.
    202. If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he,
         he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.
    203. If a free-born man strike the body of another free-born man or equal rank,
         he shall pay one gold mina.
    204. If a freed man strike the body of another freed man,
         he shall pay ten shekels in money.
Please, tell me how this leads you to the conclusion "harm people and you are personally punished; harm property and you must pay for the property". Freed men aren't property. Free men have never been property.

Here are a couple more interesting clauses:

    108. If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to gross weight
         in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less
         than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.

    114. If a man have no claim on another for corn and money, and try to
         demand it by force, he shall pay one-third of a mina of silver in every case.
So... breaking the bone of a man lower in rank than you is a "civil" offense. Striking, without necessarily injuring, a man higher in rank is a "criminal" offense. Accepting payment in cash but refusing payment in kind is not just a criminal offense, but a capital offense. Demanding goods or money, by force, from someone who doesn't owe you anything is a civil offense, and a fairly minor one going by the fine.

And, again, there is no cultural continuity from mesopotamia to modern europe or america. Similarity between Hammurabi's Code and the English common law does not represent influence of one on the other, it represents parallel evolution. It is therefore no more and no less relevant to understanding the common law than, say, early Indian law, or 1700s Japanese law.

I'd make sure to leave those books out (religious texts as well)...

Other civilizations have got by just fine without them, and maybe without tainting influences, the survivors will do better next time.

Heh. You don't get to choose who decides to bring along their moral capital, something that I'm glad to see people in this discussion realize is just as important as any other of these areas, and I would argue more important, in that without it, you aren't going to get very far with anything else.

E.g. too many of these things require fixed assets and a framework where nomadic raiders are kept from totally despoiling those and the people working on them, the classic example being agriculture and farmers. Sans that, you might have something called "civilization", but it won't support very many people, and it won't be pretty. Or you might collapse all the way down to small, hostile to each other bands of hunter-gatherers. I seem to remember reading in Guns, Germs and Steel that the Australian aborigines came from a civilization that farmed....

Take a look at Blacks. Legal dictionaries are not moral works. The language of a legal system does not dictate how that system is used. It doesn't define what is legal or not, or set punishments. All it does is provide a framework, a common starting point for building upon.

There is a lot of implicit baggage there still, for example in saying that punishments are a thing courts can do, and that they are a response to crimes.

The paints 'civilized law' as authoritarian, vengance based, and using primitive means to try to alter behavior.

Your logic is off. Punishments are a response to crimes as part of the definition of "crime".

If we're starting over: Vol. 1 of Charles Singer's History of Technology, http://www.amazon.com/History-Technology-Volume-Ancient-Empi... covers the period up to 500 BC.

In Germany, there is an engineering bible that contains /everything/ on over 1500 pages and is regularly updated since 150 years.

That book alone would give any civilization a running start into the 21st century.

Here's the table of contents: http://www.springer.com/cda/content/document/cda_downloaddoc...

- Advanced Mathematics and Statistics

- Physics

- Chemistry

- Materials and Materials Processing

- Mechanics

- Thermodynamics

- Electronics

- Measurement Theory

- Control Theory

- Informatics

- Design and Development in Engineering

- Manufacturing

- Management

- Standardisation

- Law

- Patents

I think that we should instead have books that should be self contained and possible to read without any prior knowledge. For example a book about mathematics should start from very basic concepts illustrated such way that any motivated human could finally understand it without no prior knowledge about any math.

The same for other fields and also for a language.

I disagree. Many advanced books on any subject would end up being huge volumes with 90% of the pages serving as introduction to the core idea discussed by the book.

Not every book about programming needs to begin with detailed description and examples of what the conditional statement or for loop is. You can arrange books in series with prerequisites and this is how people learn new subjects.

Your idea seems comparable to demanding that all C/C++ programs expand all their includes inline or that all Java programs that need a HashMap implement one rather than importing java.util.HashMap.

Perhaps a better solution is for books to suggest prerequisites to read or at least enumerate their assumptions about reader's prior knowledge. Some books actually do that.

It's not at the level of animal husbandry or first aid, but I'd hate to think of the Feynman Lectures being lost.

The Village Construction set sounds like something that would be useful : http://opensourceecology.org/gvcs/ . Of course, you would have to fork it in order to adapt its plans to a technological reboot.

Antifragile - To help keep civilization from needing to rebuild itself a 3rd time. http://www.amazon.com/Antifragile-Things-That-Disorder-Incer...

What were the first two times?

He's saying it hypothetically:present time of 1 time, after proposed catastrophe and civilization collapse, this is second time. Antifragile is intended to prevent breakdown of the second build up. So that a third rebuild is not necessary.

I guess bronze age collapse, and the fall of Rome

The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. It's basically a manual of useful constants, plus tables of equations, plus other information.

The data is replicated online in various places but if the networks are destroyed it could be useful to have the constants.

"The Knowledge", by Lewis Dartnell, is a book which purports to tell you how to re-bootstrap civilization.


A book that explains how to go from a water wheel to a hydroelectric dam that will provide energy for the next industrial revolution.

I believe electricity is the greatest discovery of all.

I'm inclined to suggest electromagenetism, but I'm essentially agreeing with you :)

Perhaps it would be more productive and realistic to focus on books that could help prevent our demise? Our current position is not a loop that one can comment out.

Came to suggest "The Knowledge - how to rebuild society from scratch". It's an excellent trot through the whys and wherefores of how we got here.

No Das Kapital?

Yes, if this happens, please get this book and also another which describe all the atrocities that it lead to, so nobody in the new civilization ever tries to pull this shit off.

The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck.

The books which won't eventually be recreated are things like religious texts, philosophical works, legal books (laws, constitutions, court cases), and fiction (including poetry). Therefore, unless we preserve those, they and everything they contain will be lost forever, even if we do eventually make it back to multi-core CPUs and string theory.

I'm okay with most of this as they are solely products of a specific time. Most of these will disappear with time, anyway, even if civilization doesn't collapse. How many people have the ability to read Shakespeare let alone the Magna Carta? And, even if you gave someone the Magna Carta or the US Constitution, their value is in more how we don't obey the letter of those documents.

What needs to be preserved are the fundamentals. The world has order and obeys rules even if you don't understand them right now. The world is made up of very small things that give the world it's order. Noise that comes out of your mouth can be copied to rock/clay/papyrus and given to other people over long distances. The nature of a hypothesis and a test is vitally important for moving forward instead of in circles.

Socrates, Aristotle and Plato's work has been relevant for 2000 years and I don't see it becoming irrelevant any time soon. Same with Descarte, Kant and many, many more.

Mankind's greatest goal and challenge is building a society. Building space rockets might help that, but they might not. One might argue that ancient Greece and Rome had better societies or at least equal to what we have today.

"One might argue that ancient Greece and Rome had better societies or at least equal to what we have today"

In both Greece and Rome, slavery was legal and women had next to no rights.

Any society in the West today, with all its imperfections, is way better than anything in ancient Greece or Rome

While the slavery issue (which eventually changed into servitude, which got changed into indenture, which - after many, many years - got changed into personal loans and mortgages...) is one of the less savoury aspects in Roman society, women actually did have clearly defined rights in the Roman age. They could own property, had the right to marry or divorce, the right to re-marry after a divorce or after being widowed, etc. The problem was that the patriarch had even more clearly defined rights which he could wield over anyone in the household, from his wife to his slaves. Women did not have the right to vote, nor the right to be voted into any office (other than some religious positions). Then again, these rights are a recent (less than 100 years old) addition to many if not most modern states...

Are we better people than our grandparents and in their turn are they better than theirs?

On average, are people becoming better people over time? I don't think that's a given and that's what society is. Whatever system is in place it's human nature to game it. While we can have all sorts of inclusivity built in to the rules, people will always find ways to sidestep them. I'd say, as a society we're no better or worse than the Romans on average, we just have more stuff.

The proof of the pudding is that people in the most primitive of societies are just as happy if not happier than middle class westerners

A weird reflex every generation has, is to provide a better life to their children. Even though most of the time, it's far from the case. Less developed countries send their kids to modern schools thinking a modern job will ensure a nice life, while I'm convinced that the parents life was full of human knowledge not taught anymore.

Below a certain threshold, easier life doesn't mean better. Some rich folks don't let their children inherit for this reason.

> Any society in the West today, with all its imperfections, is way better than anything in ancient Greece or Rome

The folks who assembled the computer you're using to write this are very likely to disagree. Any society in the West today, even if better than anything in ancient Greece or Rome, is closer to them than you think.

Yeah, I guess if your slaves are a million miles away and you don't see them, it will make you sleep better. Even pretend they don't exist.

A million miles away? Farther than the moon? Sure. I'm confident they don't exist.

Something I've been thinking lately, western societies managed to divert our "bad" sides into opaque structures better than others.

Good point, I guess you're referring to 3rd world sweatshops

I've read a good deal of Plato in translation (Socrates didn't write any books), and I'd eagerly trade all of Plato for an equal volume from Hipparchus, Herophilus, Ctesibius, Eratosthenes, Pytheas, Chrysippus, Eudoxus, Democritus, and lost works of Archimedes, Apollonius, Euclid ... I'd gladly trade it for a fraction of those.

Aristotle I've only read a little of; he gets to survive, I guess, though I would go for at least a partial trade in his case too.

Gosh, the "ABC" should be the No. 1 in this list.

Why not use wikipedia?

50 Shades of Grey

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