What book do you want for the apocalypse?

I posed a hypothetical question to Facebook on April 4th, 2014:

Imminent global catastrophe…nuclear/comet/meteor/Yellowstone volcano eruption/Rush Limbaugh gets elected President/whatever…

You are able to get to a shelter that theoretically should keep you safe and can take one book (there will be no internet/wiki when you come out), and one book only.

What book do you take? And why?

I’ll reveal mine later.

LibraryI was surprised in hindsight how I nearly nailed the president scenario, though given my low “friend” count, I only had a few responses, and only two “why”s:

  • Big empty notepad? With a pen.
  • The omnibus edition of Anne of Green Gables. 😀 Because watching Anne grow up would be like growing up with a best friend all over again.
  • The Bible
  • Miracle at Philadelphia by Bowen
  • a giant book on mathematics.
  • ditto [the first] post….paper supplies and writing implements….it’s all new world
  • My first thought would be to take some sort of survival/ first aid guide.

My comments that followed in the thread inferred the “why”s for two…

[x – Miracle at Philadelphia] wants to rebuild the Constitution, [y – Bible] wants to rebuild a couple of religions, [z – Anne’s Gables] wants to be happy. [w – math book] wants to avoid having to rediscover math.

And then I observed

[y] didn’t say which Bible (there are so many versions), but I think the problem with ANY religious text is the exclusive, divisive nature inherent in such – “no other gods”, no one else is “saved”, “No God but Allah…”. Hinduism is often seen as more inclusive than western religions, but it really isn’t at the core – Krishna says those without faith in his teaching cannot attain him. Some may think Buddhism to be inclusive but it also isn’t, for *its* core requires a detachment from the self, and independence is not the goal. Sort of flies in the face of the whole survival perspective. And many, particularly the Abrahamic texts, are built on prohibition – “thou shalt not”, you know. They were written to control a populace, especially one gender. Actually, most of them were written that way. Now, I think most have interesting, if contradictory, stories that give insight to a cultural yet myopic view of history, but history has no future value to a post-apocalyptic world so I won’t be bringing a religious text or history book.

As for the story of the framing of the Constitution, while I find it fascinating, it’s more of an analysis of the product of the time. I don’t think many would argue that the Constitution couldn’t be written today, a hundred years ago, or even 200 years ago. The timing was very important. 20 years later and we’d have a theocracy (of course, it would be “normal” to us now). 10 years earlier and we would have had anarchy. I think it is insightful in today’s world, because it’s important to understand the framing to counter the nonsense spouted by folks who clearly don’t know what the government was founded on, but I don’t know its value in a post-apocalyptic world.

A comprehensive math text would save some time, but I expect fundamental concepts to be easily re-discovered, especially as we know they can exist. Calculus in hindsight is obvious, yet wasn’t for thousands of years.

If I expanded the rule to include multi-volume sets, the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica would be an excellent choice. Despite its obviously dated nature, it is a very comprehensive, well-written source of knowledge.

BUT, as I’ve limited it to one book, I first thought something like “Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills” would be immediately valuable for survival. It was on my “must read” shelf over my desk, along with other books I thought necessary to combat issues in our current world: Gardner’s “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science”, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, John Allen Paulos’s “Innumeracy”, Judy Jones’s “An Incomplete Education”, “How to Read a Book”, and more.

In the end, I decided that the most important book to take into the hole would be “The Way Things Work: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Technology”. This is the 1967 edition, and though so much after that is missing, those technologies can be built on after the 589 pages of essentials for a future are put in place. This, too, was on my “must read” shelf, and as you can see, I saved it from the fire aftermath.

This was the fire-rescued book to which I referred:

The Way Things Work

One person said

I didn’t understand that the question was what to use as a guidebook for rebuilding a post-apocalyptic society. I thought the point was to pick a book to avoid boredom.  You know, the proverbial desert island question.

And my response at the time was

The guidebook was just MY answer to the question. I’ve played this mental game many times over the past 35 or so years…each time with a different perspective, and a different answer. When cast as a desert island, I’ve thought of Tolkien  and Herbert, but also of Back to Basics and a title long lost from my memory of a book I read as a teen on how the early settlers did things like pull tree stumps. Other times I came up with an answer like [v’s]’s – something medical, or pharmacology …helps to know how to make anti-biotics or insulin. Each time there was something recently read that might have primed the particular answer. This time there wasn’t, though the fire book might make one think that.

I was just curious to see what responses would be.

Now, three years later, I still have that smoke and soot stained book in its same place on my replacement desk. And I haven’t yet given any thought as to an alternative, but I expect I will revisit the topic many times.

So…what book would you bring? The question is still open -ended, but your answer may now be biased. Regardless, hope that this would never be your problem…


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