The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse – the Librarian from Heck or Reference books for TEOTWAWKI

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Often, when preppers start thinking about Black Swan or TEOTWAWKI events and living through them, we worry about building a survival library of non-fiction books to help us through the experience. There are lots of lists of recommended books out there on various sites, and they are all useful. But, these lists almost always concentrate on practical skills for the actual event. There isn’t much emphasis on what books would be good to have to help rebuild society afterwards nor are there many recommendations on books to use to educate the next generations.

For these tasks, you need not only books on practical skills that are useful for the moment, but also works of literature that have been beloved for generations as well as works covering topics necessary for higher learning and civilization. A good starting point to make sure you cover most subjects is some sort of library classification system. In the U.S. there are two main systems – Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress. For most folks, the Library of Congress system is wayyy too detailed for use – so lets look at Dewey Decimal. (A good break down of the system is at

Everyone probably remembers having to learn about the Dewey Decimal system in grade school – and we’ve all probably forgotten what little we used to know. Basically, it’s broken down into groups of ten. The top level is the 100’s – 000’s are computer science and general works, 100’s are philosophy and psychology, 200s are religion, 300s are social sciences, 400s are language, 500s are science, 600s are technology, 700s are arts and recreation, 800s are literature, and 900s are history and geography. Preppers should be getting some works that fit into all of those categories – let’s break them down a bit and consider each division in turn.

000s – Computer science, information and general works:

The important points in this section probably are the encyclopedias. I know printed encyclopedia’s have gone out of fashion, but if you can get a hold of a reasonably recently printed encyclopedia it would be invaluable. The rest of the 000s is pretty much either computer science or books about books. There isn’t anything wrong with having books in those categories, but they aren’t needed.

100s – Philosophy and psychology:

Oddly enough, this is where the ethics books reside. A good book on ethics is probably not useless. Also a good high school or entry-level college textbook on psychology could be useful. A good logic textbook would be something I wouldn’t turn down but isn’t highly necessary. Some third-tier needs out of this section would be a college-level philosophy textbook and a history of philosophy.

200s – Religion:

A Bible is probably considered an absolute must. I prefer the King James, but a couple of different translations wouldn’t be bad even for non-religious households. A good comparative religion textbook would be something that would be good to have, but not in the first tier needs, along with a good solid college textbook on the history of religions. Third tier needs would be more reference books on the Bible, some other religions, as well as basic Christian and Judaic theology and a good encyclopedia of mythology. A basic Greco-Roman mythology book would also be useful.

300s – Social sciences:

This section also covers military science – so in this area you get works on strategy, and tactics. Also covers education, law, economics, and sociology. I’d strongly recommend at least a couple of works on military tactics and strategy, a history of warfare, a good education textbook (I myself would get an OLDER education textbook – preferably from before WWII), and a high school or college-level textbook on economics. I’ve been very, very, very impressed with Susan Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. Seems to be utterly without apology a return to the older methods of teaching and quite well thought out. Actually teaches acquiring knowledge! Another option is Bennett’s “The Educated Child” which isn’t strictly speaking a curriculum or a homeschooling book but a good overview of what is useful for grades K-8. In the second tier, I’d throw a high school or college textbook on sociology as well as anthropology. Third tier would be a law textbook designed for introduction to legal studies and a book on the history of governmental structures and systems. Some folks would put Hayek’s Road to Serfdom here. I have not read but have seen Sowell’s Basic Economics highly recommended. Max Boot’s War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History 1500 to Today comes recommended by West Point, as does David Galula’s “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.” West Point also recommends Williamson Murray’s “The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession” and Jeffrey Record’s “Beating Goliath: Why Insurgencies Win”.

400s – Language:

Dictionaries are the first and biggest things here. A good quality dictionary is worth its weight in gold. Grammar textbooks also are useful, but again, I’d look for one from further back in time – something where folks are taught to diagram sentences would be best. Secondary needs would be a good Spanish dictionary and textbook as well as an English thesaurus. Third tier would be other language textbooks – Latin, German, Russian, Chinese, French would be my first choices, with perhaps Italian or Japanese as variety. Also useful would be something like “The Oxford Companion to the English Language”.

500s – Science:

Also includes mathematics. First tier – a good biology textbook, a good mathematics textbook, and a good chemistry textbook along with a book on celestial navigation and human anatomy. Second tier I’d want zoology, botany, physics, geometry, arithmetic, and algebra. After those needs were met, I’d do geology, calculus, astronomy, genetics, as well as field guides for plants, animals, rocks and minerals, trees, insects, birds, and flowers – as well as any other field guides I could get my hands on. I’d recommend “Standard Math Tables” as a good reference to have also. Also suggest Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and Sagan’s “Cosmos”.

600s – Technology:

A good civil engineering textbook would be invaluable as well as basic works on farming and gardening and animal care. Also first aid and basic medical care. Secondarily, you might want textbooks on accounting, shorthand, chemical engineering, mining, more specialized medical care, carpentry, metalworking, lumbering, leather working, paper making, textiles (including sewing), and construction. Useful to have, but only after the above are covered, would be things like beekeeping, brewing and winemaking, orchards, boat-making, gun-smithing, pottery, furniture making, printing (both text and artwork), various needle arts such as knitting, embroidery, etc, tanning, prospecting, and any other technical crafts you can think of.

700s – Arts and recreation:

First and foremost I’d have a book on art history as well as a couple of books of song lyrics and music along with a good edition of “Hoyle’s Book of Card Games”. Secondarily I’d look for some instruction books on how to draw and paint, as well as instruction books on simple instruments. More books on games, including board games would be good. This section also has books on horse care – so having a basic book on horse care wouldn’t be bad. Third tier would be more horse books, more games books, and more works on how to make music and art.

800s – Literature:

A good thick textbook on both English lit and American lit would be the first thing I’d want. Poetry collections and more “classics” would be the next most important thing – you could easily fill a house with “must have literature”.

900s – History and geography:

A good thick history textbook on American history and one on World history plus a well done atlas would be the basic needs here. Also copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. After those items were met, I’d want a good historical atlas, a book on European history, Asian history, and some works on American history – perhaps the Revolutionary period and the Civil War. Don’t forget a good work on ancient and medieval history! (says the medievalist). After that – I’d want general histories of the following countries/regions/periods: England, China, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, South America, Central and Eastern Europe, Roman Republic/Empire, Ancient Greece, the Crusades, the Reformation, World War II and the Holocaust, and Medieval Europe. German and French history isn’t a bad idea either. If you didn’t get a good Civil War history before, this is where you want one, as well as good works on the colonial period and other periods of American history. Don’t overlook having a good “state travel guide” for the state you are in as well as surrounding states. I’ve always like the Moon Handbooks for each state, but Lonely Planet does a decent one also. Stay away from the ones that just list hotels and restaurants – you want one that gives you local attractions as well as local history.

As a historian, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend some specific books here.

For basic overviews of ancient and medieval history – the Oxford Illustrated Histories are a good starting point. They have one on Greece, one on Rome, and one on Medieval Europe. I’d assume their American History volumes would be good also. I’ve always liked Freeman’s “Egypt, Greece, and Rome” as a good history of those states. On China – “A Concise History of China” by Roberts is a good basic introduction. More modern history is covered well in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Kennedy. A good recent history of the Reformation is by Diarmaid MacCulloch “The Reformation”. I’ve always been partial to Ellis’ “Founding Brothers” and Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War. If you don’t want to lug around Foote’s work, a good one volume history is McPherson’s ‘’Battle Cry of Freedom”. Collins’ “Atlas of World History” is a good historical atlas – if a bit big. A good recent history of the Crusades is “God’s War” by Tyerman. Norman Davies’ “Europe: A History” is excellent. Chris Wickham’s “The Inheritance of Rome” is a good overview of the time period from 400-1000, and Malcolm Barber’s “The Two Cities” is excellent for the period 1050-1320. Stephen Ambrose’s popular histories are quite good – Undaunted Courage (Lewis & Clark), Citizen Soldiers (WWII soldiers), and Band of Brothers (D-Day). Juan Williams’ “Eyes on the Prize” is excellent for the Civil Rights era with Barrow’s “Bearing the Cross” focused a bit more on MLK (while remaining objective about MLK by not hiding his humanity and his flaws). On Japan – a good history from about 1600 on is Jansen’s “Making of Modern Japan”. David McCullough’s works are always good – I especially loved his “John Adams”, but I’ve always like Adams best of the Founding Fathers. McCullough’s “1776” is also very good. A good history of 200-750 is Peter Brown’s “Rise of Western Christendom” (get the second or most recent edition). Excellent reviews of Paul Johnson’s “History of the American People” – and the bad reviews it gets are from distinctly liberal sources.

Before everyone freaks out, no I don’t have near all of these various books. I have parts – for obvious reasons I’m doing pretty good with the history stuff – but some of the others are not so good. If you’re at a loss – I highly recommend a book called “Cultural Literacy” and the various offshoots of it for ideas for things to have in your library. Or try “An Incomplete Education” by Jones and Wilson. The great thing about having these books is that even if you never need them, they still improve your mind and your will learn something!

To summarize:

First tier:

  • Bible (or Torah or whatever the central religious book you use)
  • A couple of books on military tactics and strategy
  • A history of warfare
  • Education textbook (older college-level) or Bauer’s “Well-Trained Mind”
  • Economics textbook (entry-level college)
  • Dictionary (at least a college level one)
  • Grammar textbook (older high school is probably good enough)
  • Biology textbook (older high school or college entry level)
  • Mathematics textbook (Overview of the entire subject is best)
  • Chemistry textbook (older high school or college entry level)
  • Human anatomy textbook (well illustrated college entry level)
  • Celestial navigation handbook
  • Civil engineering handbook
  • Books on farming, gardening and basic animal husbandry
  • Basic first aid along with medical care
  • Art history textbook (entry level college)
  • Song lyric books
  • Hoyle’s book of Card Games
  • Anthologies of American and British Literature
  • A Complete Shakespeare
  • American history textbook (older college level)
  • World history textbook (older college level)
  • Atlas
  • Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Federalist papers

Second tier:

  • A general encyclopedia
  • Psychology, logic, and ethics textbooks
  • Comparative religion textbook and a history of world religions
  • Sociology and anthropology textbooks
  • Spanish dictionary and textbook
  • Zoology, botany, physics, geometry, arithmetic, and algebra textbooks
  • Books on chemical engineering, mining, metalworking, accounting, shorthand, and lumbering, etc.
  • Books on drawing, painting, instruments, music, and games
  • Poetry collections
  • Historical atlas
  • Books on the history of Europe, Asia, Civil War, Ancient World, and medieval Europe.

Third tier:

  • A philosophy textbook and history of philosophy
  • Books on Christian theology, biblical reference books, and Jewish theology.
  • Encyclopedia of mythology and a book of Greco-Roman mythology.
  • Legal textbook and a work on governmental structures
  • Dictionaries and textbooks for Latin, German, Russian, Chinese, and French
  • English language usage and works on the history of the language
  • Textbooks on geology, calculus, astronomy, and genetics
  • Field guides to plants, animals, rocks, minerals, trees, insects, birds, flowers, mushrooms, etc.
  • Practical skills such as brewing, winemaking, beekeeping, furniture making, boat-making, pottery, prospecting and any other practical skills you can think of. (Of course, many of these are covered by the “survive during the collapse” needs).
  • Standard math tables.
  • Histories of England, China, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, South America, Roman history, Ancient Greece, Crusades, Reformation, World War II and the Holocaust, Medieval Europe, Germany and France.
  • State travel guides for your state and surrounding areas.
About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. I’m already doing this. You can buy (and I have on several occasions) text books, reference books, encyclopedias, etc. at thrift stores for .99 and up. I have a couple of chemistry books, nursing pharmacology, pathophysiology, literature (like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens) and even physics. I strongly urge everyone to build their library. This is so very easy and inexpensive. Great post!

  2. “Oddly enough, this is where the ethics books reside.”

    Ethics is a branch of philosophy, and has been since the days of Socrates.

    • I did some philosophy in college but it obviously was not a subject that I liked at all – every time I think about philosophy I think of a bunch of Greek guys sitting around in tunics babbling about things that they never really bothered to experience.

      I’ve always been much more a practical hands-on type of girl!

  3. riverrider says:

    all we need are robert heinlien’s novels. lots of good moral code imbedded.

    • As a life-long Heinlein fan, I’d say avoid “Stranger in a Strange Land” and after. Stick to his Golden Age, juveniles, and Starship Troopers.

      For something different, I’d add “The Deed of Paksennarion” by Elizabeth Moon. Moon managed to write a book that is heavy on swords-and-sorcery cliches but is ALSO centered around the most believable saint I’ve ever come across in fiction.

      • Petticoat Prepper says:

        Nope, I ‘Grok’ so I’d keep the Stranger in a Strange Land. But yes, Heinlein is in my library.

      • DoP is so … depressing though!

        Yes, we have Heinlein. In our “must take if we bug out” pile is a first edition of Stranger…

  4. Backwoods Prepper says:

    I have a really good start on my library. I have purchased all the homeschool work books from k-12. I also have a set of encyclopedias and of course several bibles. This was definitly a great article

  5. I love to read and have tried to instill that in all of my children and now I am working on my grandchildren. I read a wide variety of subjects and I have been working on growing a library. Another good resource is the library, they occassionally sell used books at very low prices. Also on textbooks you can find used ones online.

  6. I have had a small library on primitive survival, mostly “how to make” goods before the electricity, and some tribal and early American government history during the 1800’s. Also have edible plants book, maps, recipe books like Diary of an Early American Housewife. I keep moccasin patterns in my library with other patterns I use in sewing. We may be in this older time period until we come back to this modern age many years down the road.

    Another source I found valuable is in our elders, their unwritten experiences that got them through hard times. Difficult to keep one sitting on the shelf between History and Sciences though.

  7. While these aren’t cheap, though you can find pdf versions to download, they could be invaluable

    CRC Handbook of Engineering Tables
    CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics
    Machinery’s Handbook

  8. I will only speak to your selection of the Bible. Yes it is my first choice as well. “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of the Lord goes on forever”.
    Having attended Seminary, I would suggest that a Bible commentary should also be on your list. A good simple one is “Mathew Henry”. Also a New King James version like “The New Geneva Study Bible” is solid.

    Thanks for you efforts.

    • Petticoat Prepper says:

      I have an entire shelf dedicated to my Bible with lots of different types of study materials. Yes, I do use them.

      I also have medical which includes herbal helps. Gardening and storing (not canning). A back to basics ie. farming etc. plus lots of fun stuff. I also have the Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition. This is a wonderful set! I’m lacking the 18th volumn so if anyone runs across one I’d LOVE to hear about it and of course buy it.

      Then too is the E reader that Harold talked about, now filled and using a disc for more storage. That’s in my faraday box.

      Knowledge is power used book stores are a great resource. As with all preps, keep adding to it! Great post!

  9. I put field guides and practical skills in teir one as I will be a asset to a group not a loner myself. My own specialty is jack of all trades and back in college went for a generalist degree- industrial arts. I’m already at the edge of “piles of already made stuff” without their owners hanging around anymore land, where the stuff comes out of the ground. I figure thats my call. Or being the hanger on in this little community of ranchers as far as anything to eat goes. AND we have a library here as do a heck of a lot of houses and towns out there in asset land. If I only had one guide to carry , it would be to identify what wild I could eat where I was to go with my handfull of mouse and rat traps.

  10. I am still looking for a good used set of the Foxfire series at a decent price. There are sets on amazon , but at more than I want to spend. Someone did post a link,on here I believ, to download some but not all of them. I do have them on my computer but if we have an emp or I after shtf and mu computer crashes it would be good to have hard copies. I have saved almost all of my college text books also and some of them may come in handy also.. Plus I am a big book collector and have all kinds of other books I espically like to collect cook books and and have over 500 and really like to get some of those books put together bylocal organizations like womens clubs, churchgroups , family reunions etc. I find them mainly at yard sales and estate sales for really cheap usually under a $1 and they are really interesting to got through.

    • I’m not selling my Foxfires – they were my father’s and he, although not really a prepper, always figured if we needed them, they’d be among the most useful things he ever bought.

  11. A friendly warning. I have found many versions of the “Federalist Papers” are abridged. All refrences to gun rights are edited out. So be carefull.

  12. Great post Miss Victoria S. More and more I get the feeling our culture is becoming more dystopian like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” It’s the exact opposite of a utopia, as promoted by today’s elites and power hungry rulers. Common sense, patriotism and the Judeo-Christian worldview is snubbed. We are forgetting what made us exceptional.

    Why do I say this? I taught high school and college and retired after 37 years as an attorney. Very, very few folks read books today, and ever fewer still “great” or good books. Frightening. The loss of knowledge, which forms the basis for true wisdom, is being ignored by not reading and gaining insights of the ages. This is one function of books.

    We’ll wind up like the final movie scene in F*451, as outcasts who each have memorized one book entirely in order to preserve it.

    America is at a defining moment–a watershed if you will. On the eve of that horrible event, WWI, Sir Edward Grey said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our time.”

    Are our country’s “reading lamps” going out?

    By the way, please forget entirely any books today on practical law or justice. My personal conclusion and assessment of the current legal system at the local, state, and federal levels is one of total corruption. America’s legal system is an abomination. Don’t get me started on it.

    As we read in Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

    Have we become a nation of fools?

    • Texanadian says:

      I get angry when people tell me they don’t read and are proud of it. Drives me crazy. I don’t have tv at home and am sometimes considered illiterate because I don’t know what happened on the latest episode of American Idol or some other idiot show. However, when this same people need information guess who they come to.

      “A classic is a book everyone wishes they had read but didn’t want to.” Samual Clemens.

    • Well, my first hubby and I raised our son to read – he was reading adult sci-fi at age 10. Stepdaughter also loves to read, although not quite as much as my son (she only reads a book a week or so, instead of the three or four my son devours).

      We own about 7000 books. When I think about bugging out, leaving the books behind makes me very very sad. Thus, I’d avoid bugging out if at all possible.

  13. peanut_gallery says:

    Don’t forget a couple of good basic cookbooks. Most people today live on pre-packaged foods or eat out and simply never learned how to cook from scratch. Since we will be going back to basics we will have to cook what we grow or hunt.

    • Encourager says:

      I have a good collection of cookbooks. I first check them out at the library (the newer ones). If they past the test, I may buy. However, any cookbook that tells you to open up a can of condensed soup, etc, does not get bought.

      I have a very old Betty Crocker from the 1950’s that is my go-to book. I also have a very old The American Woman’s Cook Book (published 1938) that was my grandmothers. I also found a copy of The Settlement Cook Book (published 1945). These last two have recipes for invalids, butchering and what to do with the odd parts, corning or ‘pickling’ beef, and even how to set a table and care of the dining room. Priceless.

  14. JP in MT says:

    When we move we are going to wear out a lot of people. When I think about it, first in the weight category is food, next is ammo, but books probably out-weigh/out-bulk the others. We have 11 bookcases in the house proper, another 20+ cases in storage, and 6-8 stacks that need a home.

    This does not include all the PDF and other computer files that should probably be in hard copy too.

  15. If you cant find a .pdf on a book that you have , scan it . A lot of work ? Very much so !!!!!!!!! ……… all depends on what you believe is going to happen and how hard you believe that it will happen will determine if its worth the effort .

  16. This was an excellant read, Ma’am. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then, I have enjoyed nearly all that I have read on this web-site. Since getting into this life-style and finding that there are other folks out in the cyber-world that think much along the same lines as I do, I have found that you all are the type of people that I want to emulate in my preparations. I am not able to do as much as I want to, but I am doing as much as I can. I am rebuilding my library from sctatch as six years ago we had a fire that cost me about 3,000 books amoung other things. So far I have three book cases of books of all types, from fiction to non-fiction. Some that I have are similar to ones you have mentioned.I also believe that History is important as, to paraphrase a very learned man, ” Those who do not know history are going to make the same mistakes over again” or something to that effect. Thank you again for a well thought-out article. Ron S

  17. Nancy V. says:

    Great list! I made a copy of it for myself, hope that was okay 🙂

    We all work to prepping for longterm survival, but to thrive long term means nurturing the body, mind and soul of myself and others – and for me, that includes having a large library and various musical instruments.

    Alot of books are available via PDF files and can be printed out. Some you can buy on DVD. Some rare books and ancient writings have scanned in both English and the original languages, and can be found here and here and here and reproductions can sometimes be found here

    For those dependent on electronic readers – download your books onto disks, and have plenty of solar rechargeable batteries for the reader. If not, read the books out loud and record them on CDs – like books on tape or audio books. CD players may be good alternative in a survival situation. Just a thought!

  18. You can haunt yard sales in college towns at the end of semester – a lot of good books can be had, but be selective to avoid the loonie stuff. Add interesting stuff like “Relativity for the Layman” or anything that intrigues. This is a great listing!

    • Thank you Jeanne;
      I was about to give away books from college that my dh and I used for classes. Who knows if we will need them, his will come in handy my are business class books. Yet they have terminology that one might not find in certain dictionaries.

  19. k. fields says:

    Well done article and good food for thought.
    Although I may not agree with the hierarchy of your tiers, you have covered most of what I would feel is of importance.
    A couple of volumes I would also include for folks just getting started would include the early English translations of “Wie funktioniert das?” (sold as “The Way Things Work” in the 1960’s) and the excellent “Great Books of the Western World” set (54 – 60 books depending on edition plus study guides).
    I did get a chuckle at your inclusion of “An Incomplete Education” – imagining folks in a post apocalyptic world comparing French Kings to their furniture … Now what type chair was Louis XIV?

  20. Great article! A few years ago someone introdudced me to this link called Old Knowledge. You can download the books for free. There are so many I still haven’t printed out all the ones I want, but I do have them on my computer and thumb drive.

    Unfortunately though I cut and pasted this link, it doesn’t seem to click and link so you can either type in the above or google “Old Knowledge”.

  21. rev. dave says:

    The best book deals I’ve found is when local libraries have their book sales. They often ditch – for cheap – books that don’t get checked out often, books that have a newer edition available, and duplicates that are donated to them. I recently picked up an entire encyclopedia set in a recent edition for $15, and my parents some 50 years ago had paid hundreds for that same set in the edition that was current then.

  22. Encourager says:

    This is a great list. Thanks for the article!

    I suggest going to a home schooling site and downloading reading lists for children. I did that when I home schooled my youngest. We would order the books through the library so the expense wasn’t that great. We would buy books that turned out to be favorites, usually at or

  23. Pineslayer says:

    Thank you for this list. I have been buying all willie nillie and need some structure with the books.

  24. I have stacks and shelves and piles of books everywhere in my house, and yeah not all of them are on survival. Don’t forget fiction books too, basic escapist literature can help to pass long winter days. Classic fiction such as HG Wells or Robert Louis Stevenson, or more modern fiction such as Frank Herbert or Ray Bradbury. My tastes run to science fiction as you can tell, but everyone is different. If Stephen King is your favorite, by all means keep some around. Keep a wide variety for your kids, and let them find their own favorites.
    BTW, my personal favorite, Dune by Frank Herbert

  25. I would include the basic parenting books that cover pregnancy, newborn care and toddler care (such as the What to Expect series) and I would also get some of the classic children’s books to help youngsters develop the habit of reading and to give parents something interesting to read aloud to the smaller children. Children’s books can be found very cheaply at thrift shops. I would also get a 1970’s or 80’s vintage Rival Crock Pot cook book because the recipes work well for solar oven cooking and I would get a new edition Ball Blue Book for home canning.

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