The Manual for Civilisation

June 27, 2019

Since 2014, the Long Now foundation has been curating The Manual for Civilisation: a collaboratively curated library for long-term thinking.

The Long Now Foundation champions art and culture as a route to helping people think and act more long-term. Established in 1996 to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years, Long Now has been involved in and inspired by projects which answer the question, "what books would you want to restart civilisation from scratch?"
The Manual For Civilization is working toward a living, crowd-curated library of 3,500 books put forward by the Long Now community and on display at The Interval. To stack the shelves, we solicited book recommendations from Long Now members and supporters, special guest curators like Long Now founders Stewart Brand and Brian Eno, past Seminar speakers like George Dyson and Neal Stephenson, subject experts Maria Popova and Violet Blue, and volunteer curators like Alan Beatts, Michael Pujals, and Heath Rezabek.
I stumbled upon The Manual for Civilisation through reading Maria Popova's commentary on Stewart Brand's book list for the project, and her own subsequent submission. The desire and motivation to create a library of "important" literature for the long term is particularly appealing to me. Book lists help shape our reading and, consequently, our understanding of the world.

Currently, the project has around 1400 submissions. Long Now plan to continue gathering suggestions from it's members, supporters and special guests until around 5000 works have been gathered when the list can be whittled down to the 3500 or so whose physical copies will be housed on shelves at the Long Now headquarters: The Interval in San Francisco.

Some of the books suggested so far are out of print and difficult to source, so only around 800 titles are currently held at The Interval. One aim of the project is to digitise the Manual for Civilisation, which serves a dual purpose: to create a digital record of the texts, and enable easier access to anyone interested in perusing these curated works.

At the time of writing this article, 895 books from the list are available to read online at Open Library. Some are available in different formats, ready to download on your Kindle or ePub reader, while others are scanned reproductions of texts in PDF format, or may require you to "borrow" since copyright is still valid.

Collection for The Manual began using four broad categories:

  1. Long-term Thinking, Past and Future: these include books on history as well as futurism and many books by Long Now speakers.
  2. Rigorous Science Fiction: especially works that build richly imagined possible worlds to help us think about the future.
  3. The Cultural Canon: great works of literature, poetry, philosophy, religion.
  4. Mechanics of Civilization: “how-to” books for critical skills and technology, for example books on navigation, growing and gathering food, midwifery, forging tools.
These serve to assist the structure of the collection in addition to providing guidance for contributors of the titles they wish to submit.

This page on the Long Now website describes the origins, inspiration and goals of the project in much more detail. You may also want to look at the book lists submitted so far, which includes submissions from Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media, Mark Pauline of Survival Research Labs, the author Neal Stephenson, and guerrilla archivists, Megan and Rick Prelinger.

Header image credit: Stephanie Overton, via Flickr.

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