Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Which three books would you have taken?

There's a quaint question tacked onto the ending of the old 60s film adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. I don't remember it from the novel itself. It's at 0:50 in this youtube video. The question is of course, posed to the viewer, not the housekeeper. Which three books would you take to rebuild a human civilization?

It's tempting, of course, to bring along my personally influential storybooks, but as relevant as Jubal Harshaw, John Galt or Zarathustra's  musings are, the needs of a budding society as somewhat more immediate. It is equally pointless to say one would conquer the world through Machiavelli or Sun Tzu's platitudes, as refreshing as it may be to see such clear thinking down on paper. Religious texts are vast stretches of acid-trip visions punctuated by basic moralism which the Eloi would hardly need, given their placid natures, and which i'd be able to rattle off easily enough myself if some dire need arises for indoctrination. The universal truths of Shakespeare or Dostoevsky would fall flat on their faces in an undeveloped society. No, i'm afraid this is a question of dreadfully dull practicality. Removing the Morlocks would also allow the machinery on which the Eloi are dependent to grind to a halt. The quickest steps must be in securing the physical basis for survival, at a simple enough level that reasonably intelligent minds could follow. They would also have to be something a well-stocked private library the size of that of a Victorian learned man would be likely to contain. That said:

1. Medicine - Gray's Anatomy probably. It would be a safer bet to rebuild surgery than epidemiology.
2. Physics - a second or third-year university manual as the foundation for mechanical (and hopefully electrical) engineering and construction
3. Chemistry - I am at a loss here. What's basically needed is a descriptive list of the physical properties of common compounds found in nature and their interactions. My Eloi would need to be able to recognize and exploit the resources available to them. College manuals are of little use here because they deal in examples, less in basic principles or exhaustive lists. More advanced reference materials are less likely to be commonly distributed.

Perhaps instead of a chemistry reference manual i could do with something older like a description of mid-19th-century machinery. Weaving, harvesting, smelting and the like would be greatly sped up by industrial-age inventions, and their manufacture is not so far removed from basic principles as modern technology.

I wonder if, instead, a manual of computer science would serve better as an investment in the more distant future.

So, which three books would you have taken?

No comments:

Post a Comment