This guest post by Victoria S and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.
This contest will end on April 22 2013 – prizes include:
- First Place winner will receive – A $500 dollar gift certificate courtesy of LPC Survival that is good for $500 off anything on their site. And a Wonder Junior Deluxe hand-mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads,
- Second Place winner will receive – Two cases of MRE’s courtesy of Camping Survival and a $150 gift certificate off of Hornady Ammo from LuckyGunner.
- Third Place winner will receive – a one year subscription to Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable.
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 http://www.oclc.org/dewey/resources/summaries/default.htm)
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!
- 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)
- Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Federalist papers
- 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.
- 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.