The almost complete destruction of civilization could come in an interesting variety of ways. Adorable little bone-liquifying microbes, the “conscious-uncoupling” of atoms, the reanimation of the insatiably hungry dead, an unfortunate bent of the Singularity, bumping into a 5 mile wide asteroid, an abrupt – or gradual – paucity of natural resources – any or several of these could spell doom, if not for our species than for life as we know it. If you find yourself alive right after that initial sting of apocalypse, the first thing you’re going to reach for is not a book. When you’re in hardcore survival mode, you’ll spend most of your time foraging for food and hiding from things that want to kill you. (Or fighting back.) There are a wide variety of books in that Survivalist/Prepper vein, and picking a few of those out and reading them will help you get your ducks in a row now, but they are not the focus of this list. But if you do survive that period, the rest of this library will start you down the long, slow path of building a civilization.
Why an actual physical library? Because there’s no more interwebs: stuff you used to Google, now you can’t. Books ain’t ‘lectric. The asteroid that created that unreal EMP shockwave that killed all the 1s and 0s did nothing to objects made of paper. Ergo: actual, old school, for realsies books are the way to go. Don’t worry, it’s a smallish library.
The US Air Force Search & Rescue Survival Training or the SAS Survival Handbook will do the trick as a centerpiece for your initial survival knowledge. Shelter, trapping animals, basic plant uses, knots, and so forth are all covered in these. (A Boy Scout Handbook will have some of the same info, but with dorky illustrations and a lot of things that won’t come in that handy, like Chapter 8 on “Games and Athletic Standards”. Still, there’s a lot in there.) Also, on the civilian side of things is The Practical Preppers Complete Guide to Disaster Preparedness, from Scott Hunt of the Nat Geo series “Doomsday Preppers”. This goes pretty deep: digging your own well, generating power, organizing the neighborhood, etc.. If you followed this book and prepared for the disaster now, you’d be pretty far ahead of the game. As the book reminds us, “Make hay while the sun shines.”
The Survival Medicine Handbook by Joseph & Amy Alton This has everything from bio warfare to ulcers to how to flush an unflushable toilet. The fundamental assumption in this book is that you can’t take someone to the hospital, so it is very complete. It even includes natural remedies, because Neosporin doesn’t grow on trees, but honey does (kinda). Don’t just shove this book in your bug-out bag, though. Take a good long read through it now, and make sure you stock supplies: the post-apocalyptic Rite Aid is gonna make Dien Bien Phu look like a quinciñera. It’s printed on solid enough paper and large enough print that you could hold it open with your knee while sewing your buddy’s guts back together, without getting bloody fingerprints on it.
Group dynamics are fascinating. Also, seeing as there is approximately zero chance of you surviving all by your lonesome – much less rebuilding civilization – you would do well to learn something about how folks interact with each other. Rupert Brown’s Group Processes: Dynamics Within and Between Groups covers a lot of ground in the psychology of groups large and small, and behaviors between and within groups. This is your manual for social structure. Yeah, it’s along the lines of a textbook, but remember – this list is for the long haul, and having a handle on this kinda thing will probably prevent some really destructive conflict.
Defending Your Castle from William Gurstelle is the “Yay! Fun times!” of apocalypse. Using the hall-of-fame invaders & defenders of history, this extremely cool book provides very detailed how-to on your basic set of defenses: palisades, moat, catapults, smoke screens, observation towers, etc.. You’re going medieval here, because in the event of a civilization collapse, you are no longer living in the modern world. Besides, you’ll run out of bullets. Plus, you won’t look like a lunatic if people see this in your library before the apocalypse begins, as you would if you owned It’s Them Or You – Guide to Clawhammer Defense Tactics or How to Stomp Someone’s Face into the Ground, Vol 1. Actually having projects like this to work on will give the hysterical members of your party an activity to keep them calm. It’s better than them flippin’ out like Windows in The Thing. The only negative I see in this book is that in a few cases you are directed to get non-household parts to complete a project, like an “archer’s snap” or 7 grams of potassium nitrate or Kevlar. I’m sure these items are easy to get now, but in the event of a collapse? But as in everything: The Readiness is All. Make a list and add it to your needed supplies. The author is a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics, and has written such profundities as Absinthe & Flamethrowers and Building Bots.
From that foundation, you can further develop your arsenal with the 3 volumes of Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction, just up-size. No reason you can’t cheat and add all of these to your library, cuz they’re just damn fun.
You need to learn how to farm. The Permaculture Handbook from Peter Bane (and honestly, there are other permaculture books out there) is a fresh start, and do-able after the collapse of our modern (very tweaked) agricultural system. If the apocalypse is not zombie-induced, but has something to do with environmental pooch-screwing, then the Permaculturists will be doing one of those big-eyed, purse-lipped, arms-akimbo I-told-you-sos all up one side and down the other. But maybe we’ll just have to humble ourselves and use their techniques to rebuild things. Our one holdout will be this rule around the compound: no fucking macramé.
The Knowledge – How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch from Lewis Dartnell will be dog-eared and tattered by the time you’ve mined its riches in your New Civilization. This is the book that ends up in the glass case at the museum 300 years after everything bounces. “From this single volume our forebears recovered the ability to make Chuck Taylors and waffle cones and mood rings. Also, electricity.” If you don’t think you’ll need to relearn how to make concrete, steel, glass – indeed, all those basic chemicals – in order to remake the world, read Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil”. We’re so deep inside the thousand year technological rabbit hole, we don’t even think about it. We got a review of this baby, right here. And check out the website before the satellites are all destroyed.
Aptly named, right?
Pocket Ref from Thomas J Glover is ridiculous. When you start building and fixing things again, it will become indispensable. It is filled with building material specs, every kind of formula you could want for engineering applications – there are many many many pages of numbers that I do not understand. Very handy. But not only that, it also has a perpetual calendar, so you can stay on top of things like Time – including holidays! (Very important for keeping up morale and cultural continuity.) There are sections on mapping, geology, chemistry, math. The section on area codes might become useless. Ditto the sections on money, lost credit card phone numbers and birth stones. Still. This will be the perfect companion for The Knowledge. The dudes on Mythbusters read this when they’re in the baño.
Meh – starting over would not be all that bad. photo Adam Baker, cc
In all seriousness, get a blank book for recording experiences for posterity. Actually, you might need a stack of these (a huge stack), because it’s going to be awhile until you can make paper again (see The Knowledge above). The New Dark Ages will need a chronicler, and there is no reason it can’t be you. Write down as much as you can about events leading up to the collapse, and continue to write down every single thing that happens during the rebuilding process. Pay special attention to the details of everyday life. A lot of the old records don’t do this, and historians and archaeologists are stuck with all the bullshit propaganda and hubris of royalty. You can do this journal style, narrative style, or – here’s your best option – as epic poetry. All the old classics were epic poems. This is how history is preserved (though usually considered legend by “more advanced” later civs), so, you will also need…
… the Norton Anthologies of Literature to teach you how poetry works. Get all the volumes. Gah. This is a tough one. If you are a really high quality human being, get the Norton Anthology of World Literature. If you think of the world as being filled with “smelly foreigners”, then get the Norton Anthology of English Literature. If that’s still too many foreigners for you, then you’re an idiot. But there’s hope, because there is a Norton Anthology of American Literature. Sit your xenophobic dumbass down and read the section on the Harlem Renaissance. Repent, O ye of the narrow mind, then get back out and get the World Lit before the world ends. These volumes will provide you with tales for the campfire, cultural memories, instruction in thought, feeling and the human condition, religion, philosophy – and most importantly: love poetry. Gotta repopulate the planet.
What phrasebooks you stock depends on what other languages you might encounter, right?
Lonely Planet … Phrasebook – This one is frustrating. I have searched for a massive multi-language dictionary or phrasebook and have failed to find one that looks comprehensive. However, Lonely Planet books are pretty damn good at whatever they do, so you’ll just have to pick one (or several) of these for whatever region you think you’ll be in during a global disaster. There are guides for Asia, Europe, Africa, etc.. Your primary goal is to ensure your ability to communicate with people you may encounter who speak a different language. Secondly, you want to preserve a foothold in the languages of the world and the cultures they represent. This is your Rosetta Stone (the original, not the software – which will be useless without electricity.) You might not personally care about Hungarian poetry, but your great grandchildren might. Be a hero and save all that priceless Hungarian poetry. It may be the case that global travel has become impossible, but if you live in or near a big city, there’s gonna be folks who don’t speak the lingo. And down the line, when civilization starts rebuilding, you’re gonna need to be able to communicate with the other pockets of survivors. As you pick your way thru this phrase book with your non-English speaking friend, you can ask “Where is the train station?” and then point at the charred shell of civilization that used to be Grand Central Railway. Big shared laugh! You have now bonded with this cross-linguistic stranger. But here’s the deal: in the long run, be prepared to let go of the language as you speak it now. When you start interacting with speakers of a different language, both languages will change, out of necessity. As the Anglo-Saxons and French Normans blended their languages into English, so will our future selves blend English with whatever other surviving languages we encounter. You’re not going to stand there arguing over whether it’s “TWO zombies” or “DOS zombies”, you’re just gonna scream whatever words pop out of your mouth.
Nation Building – It will take all of your days to keep body and spirit connected. Before you even think about creating a “state”, as opposed to a “band”,”tribe” or “chiefdom”, (see Guns, Germs and Steel, for details), you’ll need a large, stable food supply (farming, herding), and this will take a while. So, you probably won’t personally have to worry about organizing a country. But your kids and grandkids will. This little number will get them thinking in the right direction. How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt
But remember, you have to actually get through the first shockwave of destruction for this list to be of any use, so make sure you prepare now. I’ll leave you with three nuggets my bud Mike learned in his SERE training back in the day: “The #1 biggest threat in a survival situation is your own mind. 1000 days on the run is better than one day in captivity. There are no vegetarians in a survival situation.”
“All that’s left of mankind is the cultural and economic spaces we once inhabited. Now these are falling into disrepair, and the native flora and fauna are overtaking them. Life still goes on, just not yours or mine. – Lori Nix”
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