Imagine this scenario: There is a great catastrophe and all the books written since 1740 are lost together with all cultural artifacts and oral traditions from after 1740. Humanity languishes in a new dark age. Which 100 books (post 1740) would you choose to save in order to greatest benefit this future society?
I have started to write a list on my wikipedia user page. All visitors are encouraged to make changes to the working list over at the wikipedia page. You can also comment on the project or make suggestions for the list by commenting on this post. In this post I shall give my take on the task of creating such a list.
1) Items on the list should generally be progressive. If a book does not somehow add to what went before then it should not be on the list.
Some books represent the distilled work of many many people finally put into the form of a book by an individual. Others are merely the creative outpourings of a lone genius. The former is more valuable because more is lost with its destruction. A book which represents 100 years of work by many people should be valued higher than a particularly popular work of fiction in most cases. This does not mean that art books are worthless but that the art books we keep should be ones that represent big movements or really significant developments in the history of art. Literary works may also have value from the ideas and social commentary contained within.
Currently we have:
The story of art - E. Gombrich
Brave new world - Aldus Huxley
The resistible rise of arturo Ui - Bertold Brecht
The handmaid's tale - Margaret Atwood.
A book on 20th century music involving the Jazz scales.
2) Political and Sociological developments are important. Liberty and democracy were developments which required much struggle which involved solving many difficult problems. Some of this accumulated wisdom is contained in works of philosophy and some in our modern legislative frameworks.
Currently we have:
Second treatise on government - John Locke
The rights of man - Thomas Paine
Hiroshima - John Hersey
The history of the English speaking peoples - Winston Churchill (this is useful for the development of democracy by gradual means from a state not previously very liberal)
A book on the emancipation proclamation
A history of the suffragette movement
3) The methodology of science is more important than the discoveries of science! Teach a society to make aluminium and they'll make some useful tools, teach a society to do science and they'll make the modern world. In this though a good science book can show how things should be done as well as providing the knowledge of the book itself.
Currently we have:
Great scientific experiments - Rom Harre
Logik der Forschung - Karl Popper
The origin of species - Charles Darwin
Symbiogenesis - Lynn Margulis
A good book on statistics
Another good book on the philosophy of science
4) Advances in medicine have also been very important. The main advances over the past 150 in the human condition have been brought about by advances in medical science. I've tried to concentrate on those advances that have had the greatest beneficial effect.
We are looking for books on:
Sewerage treatment, the germ theory of disease, the immune system, major infectious diseases and their cures, vaccination. We should also probably have a book on re-hydration (dehydration is still a major killer!).
Other things I think are important include the dissemination of information (the modern printing press, the rise of the Internet), international development (the UN charter, the EU) and the founding technologies of the industrial revolution (engine design, design of power stations).
I shall periodically make posts concerning this list so expect to see more on this topic!