In the Only Three Books Series, I've been asking for WB to cite three books to send forward in time to be a kickstarting reference for a civilization recovering from collapse. Given the complaints of too-broad and opinion-based, I'd like to firm up the somewhat nebulous nature of the series. My hope is that if responders are given functional categories that the books should fit into then it should be a bit easier.

Regardless of subject matter, what should the books do?

My guess is:

  • Giant Reference Tome
  • ‎ Primer on terminology
  • ‎ Advanced Practical Guide

If you have suggestions for better categories or other ways to minimize scope, I'd be happy to hear them.

I'm not willing to minimize the scope of the question(s) from medicine to organic microbiology. The point of these questions is to provide a recovering civilization with an early stage jumpstart. Once they get to where they can only make progress with interdisciplinary research, that's out of scope.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You should probbers break up medicine into 'anatomy' and 'chemical body processe' $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Jan 12, 2018 at 12:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Remember, everything is politics. If you don't think your question was fairly closed (and I don't either) you can drum up support for re-opening. Like I just did. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 12, 2018 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ Related worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5758/… $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Jan 13, 2018 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T Note for clarity that 'chemical body processe' [sic] is either physiology or biochemistry. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jan 25, 2018 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android that sounds even better $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:53

4 Answers 4


The problem with medicine is that it's medicine.

Obligatory xkcd

Physics is just applied maths, and chemistry is just applied physics, but medicine is applied everything. What this means is that there are subjects the concept just doesn't work for.

The answer you've given for medicine covers anatomy and a little surgery, but that doesn't scratch the surface of what we consider to be medicine. The subjects you choose for these questions will need to take that into account.


Just make clear that three books don't need to contain all knowledge

The way-too-literal gremlins are out in force on these questions. The question series asks, exactly: "you want to provide some information to kick start civilization's regrowth".

The answers don't need to cover all parts of human knowledge. They need to, exactly like the question says, kick off regrowth.

The point of an answer is to make an argument as to what is the best set of books to lay the foundation for a speedy recovery of knowledge. There is no exact answer, but some will be better than others. For example, there was extensive discussion on the Physics questions as to whether Principia is a good book or not, given that it was written for other specialists and not for a general audience.

Those are the types of arguments that need to be set up to determine what the best answer is. Keep in mind, this site is not about getting the empirically correct answer. The OP can pick whatever he/she likes; even for a science-based problem the OP could accept an answer that ignores basic science. If your argument to close is that the OP can choose whatever answer they like, well that is a feature of the site, not a bug.

There are answers that are better than others to this question. Just like in programming you can sort any list if there is a comparator function, in order to not be primarily-opinion based, there must be a comparator function. In this case there is; and it is up to each answer-er to explain why their choices are better than others. That isn't pure opinion, it is educated, informed opinion. We rarely get much hard fact around here, so informed opinion is the best Worldbuilding can do.


You are writing:

I'm not willing to minimize the scope of the question(s) from medicine to organic microbiology. The point of these questions is to provide a recovering civilization with an early stage jumpstart. Once they get to where they can only make progress with interdisciplinary research, that's out of scope.

This gives me a feeling that your idea of jumpstarting a civilisation is limited to technology and natural sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

What about art, history, literature, philosophy, sociology, psychology? None of these can possibly fit in just three books no matter how good or thick they are. Choosing any three will be a matter of pure preference and nothing else. There are no objective criteria whatsoever to justify any choice (and I am willing to prove that).

Moreover, when it comes to art and humanities reference books will be useless. Practical guides can be of limited use in art techniques and applied psychology. However, without an understanding of the underlying psychological theory, any therapy can be also very dangerous and do more harm than good.

Of course, technically inclined people may say that humanities are less important and that we can create new art, literature, philosophy, and history once the world is rebuilt. This is true. But knowing the past can help to avoid another collapse as history tends to repeat itself just on a grander scale.

Psychology and sociology can be highly instrumental when it comes to rebuilding. Both sciences provide tools to improve productivity, avoid work-related injuries, raise morale, and most importantly keep the survivors' colony from collapsing. I would argue that qualified psychologists can do for rebuilding no less or maybe even more for your civilisation jumpstarting effort than qualified engineers. But I am biased here.

If you really want to collect a decent civilisation jumpstarting library you will have to pick narrower categories. And as you move toward humanities you might have to decide to abandon the three books approach and save as much as possible.

It also would be wise to create a list of references to good books on different subjects. Something like 'If you find these books keep them. We could not make a copy and store it here but these books are of great value.'

One more useful thing that you could do is to create a catalogue of big libraries around the world that contain collapse-prone books. That would be immensely helpful.

  • $\begingroup$ wrote "knowing the past can help to avoid another collapse as history tends to repeat itself" And with OP safeguarding some technical knowledge, the next collapse could happen even sooner. After thousands of years we get to the point where we cause such a collapse, then we have a reset; now, since we have a technical jump-start, we can cause another collapse in only one or two hundred years! For the reasons you suggest, if OP's topic choices do not change, something for morals and for morale would be a good choice for medicine, as it is more crucial medically than pills. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron
    Jan 15, 2018 at 22:52

I think the answer to the question must include an awareness of who is choosing/sending the books. Is it just you, the omniscient author, who creates an anonymous time capsule? Or is it a character or organization from the past shaping the future through their own priorities?

Author to author, I would look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basic needs take care of themselves and are best adapted by the people in the environment. A treatise on surgery would be useless in an unsterile environment. Saving individual lives when rebuilding civilization must surely take a backseat to shaping the values that make civilization sustainable. Books not on what to think but how to think ie critical observation, emotional intelligence, etc.

  1. The Whole Earth Catalog (for puzzling and reverse engineering everything from hammocks to hammers)
  2. A book of poetry (Rumi) or an anthology such as Carolyn Forche's "Against Forgetting: Poetry of Witness (which serves as history of war/places/peoples, both as a warning and empathy building)
  3. A book of quotations (such as Fredrick Douglass: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.")
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    $\begingroup$ I like your reference of Maslow's Hierarchy. I hadn't considered that but will in the future. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Jan 23, 2018 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with following the Maslow's hierarchy too closely is that it can be impossible to recall how to be human after we survived but forgot how to be human. I am also not sure how far a civilisation can go if it does not care much about saving individual lives, especially at a bootstrapping stage. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Jan 25, 2018 at 17:05

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