Brain Pickings

Stewart Brand’s Reading List: 76 Books to Sustain and Rebuild Humanity

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From Homer to home health, by way of Shakespeare, conceptual physics, and a gender-imbalance lament.

UPDATE: The folks at the Long Now kindly invited me to contribute my own reading list — see it here.

On the heels of Brian Eno’s reading list comes another installment in the Long Now Foundation’s effort to assemble 3,500 books most essential for sustaining or rebuilding humanity, as part of their collaboratively curated library for long-term thinking, the Manual for Civilization. Here, futurist, environmentalist, and Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand — best-known for authoring the era-defining Whole Earth Catalog and originating the commonly (mis-)quoted aphorism that “information wants to be free” — offers his 76-book contribution to the cumulative library of 3,500, including Brain Pickings favorites like Nobel-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, Bill Bryson’s magnificent illustrated edition of A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Lewis Hyde’s modern manifesto for the creative life, The Gift.

  1. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery
  2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  3. The Odyssey by Homer translated by Robert Fagles
  4. The Iliad by Homer translated by Robert Fagles
  5. The Memory of the World: The Treasures That Record Our History from 1700 BC to the Present Day by UNESCO
  6. The History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor
  7. The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories edited by Robert B. Strassler
  8. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War edited by Robert B. Strassler
  9. The Complete Greek Tragedies, Volumes 1-4 edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore
  10. The Prince by Machiavelli, translated by George Bull, published by Folio Society
  11. The Nature of Things by Lucretius
  12. The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World by Peter Schwartz
  13. The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson
  14. Venice, A Maritime Republic by Frederic Chapin Lane
  15. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom
  16. The Map Book by Peter Barber
  17. Conceptual Physics by Paul G. Hewitt
  18. The Encyclopedia of Earth: A Complete Visual Guide by Michael Allaby and Dr. Robert Coenraads
  19. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  20. Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
  21. The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde
  22. Powers of Ten: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe by Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison
  23. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray
  24. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 Volumes) by Edward Gibbon
  25. The Complete Guide to Trail Building and Maintenance by Carl Demrow and David Salisbury
  26. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
  27. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein
  28. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  29. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
  30. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward L. Glaeser
  31. The Causes of War by Geoffrey Blainey
  32. Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch
  33. A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition by Bill Bryson
  34. The Past From Above: Aerial Photographs of Archaeological Sites edited by Charlotte Trümpler
  35. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson
  36. Why the West Rules–for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris
  37. The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by William H. Mcneill
  38. A History of Civilizations by Fernand Braudel
  39. The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work by Daniel Hillis
  40. Imagined Worlds by Freeman Dyson
  41. The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs & Pictograms by Andrew Robinson
  42. Brave New World (The Folio Society) by Aldous Huxley and illustrated by Leonard Rosoman
  43. Dune by Frank Herbert
  44. The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil
  45. Infinite in All Directions: Gifford Lectures Given at Aberdeen, Scotland April–November 1985 by Freeman J. Dyson
  46. What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
  47. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
  48. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
  49. Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks
  50. State of the Art by Iain M. Banks
  51. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
  52. Excession by Iain M. Banks
  53. Across Realtime by Vernor Vinge
  54. The Discoverers: Volumes I and II Deluxe Illustrated Set by Daniel J. Boorstin
  55. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action by Elinor Ostrom
  56. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington
  57. The Idea of Decline in Western History by Arthur Herman
  58. Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May
  59. Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse
  60. One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism by Rodney Stark
  61. The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson
  62. The Coming Population Crash: And Our Planet’s Surprising Future by Fred Pearce
  63. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock
  64. The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization by Brian Fagan
  65. Medieval Civilization by Jacques Le Goff
  66. The Civilization of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Medieval History by Norman F. Cantor
  67. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
  68. The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples by Tim Flannery
  69. The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by Andrew George
  70. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
  71. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand
  72. Grand Design: The Earth from Above by Georg Gerster
  73. The Complete Oxford Shakespeare: Histories, Comedies, Tragedies (Three volume set)
  74. The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook by Robert Porter
  75. Lao Tzu’s Te-Tao Ching — A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts by Lao Tzu and translated by Robert G. Henricks
  76. The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil by Heinrich Zimmer edited by Joseph Campbell

Only one lament: One would’ve hoped that a lens on rebuilding human civilization would transcend the hegemony of the white male slant and would, at minimum, include a more equal gender balance of perspectives — of Brand’s 76 books, only one is written by a woman, one features a female co-author, and one is edited by a woman. It’s rather heartbreaking to see that someone as visionary as Brand doesn’t consider literature by women worthy of representing humanity in the long run. Let’s hope the Long Now balances the equation a bit more fairly as they move forward with the remaining entries in their 3,500-book collaborative library.

Complement with the reading lists of Carl Sagan, Alan Turing, Nick Cave, and David Bowie,* then join me in supporting the Manual for Civilization.

* I realize these are all male reading lists. I have been unable to find a published reading list by a prominent female public figure — if you know of one, please do get in touch.

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