Kevin Kelly’s Selected Books for the Manual for Civilization

Long Now founding Board member Kevin Kelly selecting books for the Manual For Civilization. Photo: Catherine Borgeson

Kevin Kelly gave us a tour of his personal library as he made his choices for the Manual for Civilization. Among his many accomplishments, Kevin has ridden a bike or walked across several continents, has written for the Whole Earth Catalog, was founding editor of Wired, and has himself written several books–most recently the New York Times acclaimed Cool Tools.

Kevin has a knack for finding the most useful books in the world. In fact, he gave us the largest list of suggestions yet: nearly 200 in all. Pulled directly from the shelves of his own library, he gave us books that document practical skills, how to make useful things, and that teach and improve those who read them. Many of these books have also appeared as tools on his and Mark Frauenfelder’s Cool Tools blog.

[Commentary in italics by Kevin Kelly]

Practical Bamboos:The 50 Best Plants for Screens, Containers and More by Paul Whittaker:
“I own a lot of bamboo books, but Practical Bamboos is by far the most useful of all. Other bamboo books are more encyclopedic; this one focuses on “only” the 50 most useful bamboo species, spelling out what types are good for fence rows, which are drought resistant, which work well in containers, and how to identify those variants from lookalikes. There’s very specific growing tips for each variety and solid advice about the principles of growing bamboo plants in general.”

A Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane:
“A story is told by each tool archived in this paper museum. The tool reveals the amazing things that can be done with your own body’s power, regulated by your eye and mind. Listening to the tool, you can understand how things are made. Not only do these tools run without electricity, they can be made with other hand tools. There’s enough information in Sloane’s packed drawings to enable you to make them yourself, to use to make other things. It’s kind of magical.”

Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett:
“For nearly 40 years this guide has introduced boy scouts, 4H-ers, homesteaders, survivalists, and pet keepers to the practicalities of raising rabbits. Now in a new edition, it’s still the best manual for getting started with rabbits for food or show.”

Practical Bamboos —Paul Whittaker; A Museum of Early American Tools— Eric Sloane; Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits — Bob Bennett
RE/Search: Pranks! & Pranks 2 edited by V. Vale and Andrea Juno

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey

The Discoverers: Volumes I and II Deluxe Illustrated Set by Daniel J. Boorstin

Civilizations of the World, Single Volume Edition: The Human Adventure (3rd Edition) by Richard L. Greaves, Robert Zaller, Philip V. Cannistraro and Rhoads Murphey

The Heritage of World Civilizations: Brief Edition, Combined Volume (5th Edition) by Albert M. Craig, William A. Graham, Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment and Frank M. Turner

Atlas of the Year 1000 by John Man

The Cartoon History of the Modern World (& p2, p3) by Larry Gonick

Third Views, Second Sights: A Rephotographic Survey of the American West by Mark Klett, Kyle Bajakian and William L. Fox

The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years by Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

A History of Technology and Invention: Progress Through the Ages, Volume I: The Origins of Tech (and Volume II) by Maurice Daumas

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

Secret Museum of Mankind by David Stiffler

Today Then: America’s Best Minds Look 100 Years into the Future on the Occasion of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition compiled by David Walter

Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan

Future Perfect: Vintage Futuristic Graphics by Jim Heimann

The Wonderful Future that Never Was: Flying cars, mail delivery by parachute and other predictions from the past by Gregory Benford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics

View from the second floor of Kevin’s home library. Photo: Catherine Borgeson

People’s Almanac Presents: The Book of Predictions by David Wallechinsky, Amy Wallace and Irving Wallace

Century’s End: An Orientation Manual Toward the Year 2000 by Hillel Schwartz

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls

The Faber Book of Utopias edited by John Carey

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs & Pictograms by Andrew Robinson

Writing Systems of the World: Alphabets, Syllabaries, Pictograms by Akira Nakanishi

The Traditional Crafts of Persia: Their Development, Technology and Influence on Eastern and Western Civilizations by Hans E. Wulff

The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible, Volume 1 , Volume 2, Volume 3 edited by Jim Hamm

American Flintknappers: Stone Age Art in the Age of Computers by John C. Whittaker

A Short History of Technology: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900 by T. K. Derry and Trevor I. Williams

The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways by Robert L. Kelly

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry

Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences by Edward Tenne

Wheels, Clocks, and Rockets: A History of Technology by Donald Cardwell

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments: How to set up a home laboratory: Over 200 simple experiments by Robert Brent

The Lore of Still Building by Kathleen Howard

The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley

Country Wisdom & Know-How by the Editors of Storey Publishing’s Country Wisdom Boards

Materials, Structures, and Standards: All the Details Architects Need to Know but can Never Find by Julia McMorrough

Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game by John J. Mettler

The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use by J.N. Liles

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike Bubel

Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd Edition by Gail Damerow

Language Acquisition Made Practical: Field Methods for Language Learners by E. Thomas Brewster and Elizabeth S. Brewster

Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook - Mykel Hawke

A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane

Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook by Mykel Hawke

Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology by R. Bruce Hoadley

Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook by David Werner and Jane Maxwell

Where There is No Dentist by Murray Dickson

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

The History of Science and Technology: A Browser’s Guide to the Great Discoveries, Inventions, and the People Who Made Them from the Dawn of Time to Today edited by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans

The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections by Richard Platt

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Explosions: Exploded Views of Astonishing Things by Richard Platt

Mosque by David Macaulay

The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer by Georges Ifrah

Listening to Stone by Dan Snow

The Penguin Companion to Food by Alan Davidson

Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide by Elizabeth Schneider

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure (2nd Edition) by Joseph Jenkins

The Septic System Owner’s Manual by Lloyd Kahn

The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems: Includes Branched Drains by Art Ludwig

The Septic System Owner’s Manual by Lloyd Kahn. Photo: Catherine Borgeson

Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use by Art Ludwig

The Reef Set: Reef Fish, Reef Creature and Reef Coral (3 Volumes) by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach

Primitive Technology: Volumes 1–2 edited by David Wescott

The Barefoot Architect by Johan van Lengen

Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch

Sailmaker’s Apprentice by Emiliano Marino

Sailboats You Can Build by Peter Stevenson

Building the Six-Hour Canoe by Richard Butz

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand

Living on an Acre: A Practical Guide to the Self-Reliant Life by U.S. Department. of Agriculture

Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants by Samuel Thayer

Samuel Thayer’s Forager’s Harvest and Nature’s Garden; Building the Six-Hour Canoe — Richard Butz; Gödel, Escher, Bach — Douglas R. Hofstadter

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Lightly on the Land: The SCA Trail Building And Maintenance Manual (2nd Edition) by Robert C. Birkby

The Book of Bamboo: A Comprehensive Guide to This Remarkable Plant, Its Uses, and Its History by David Farrelly

The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist by Clair L Stong

The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale, Sustainable Market Grower by Stephen Leslie

Seeds: The Definitive Guide to Growing, History, and Lore by Peter Loewer

The Merck Manual by Robert S. Porter

On Growth and Form: The Complete Revised Edition by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson

Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide (3rd Edition) by Rink Mann

The New Complete Guide to Sewing: Step-by-Step Techniques for Making Clothes and Home Accessories Updated Edition with All-New Projects and Simplicity Patterns (Reader’s Digest)

How-to” Build This Log Cabin for $3,000 by John McPherson

The Complete Modern Blacksmith by Alexander Weygers

The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm. Photo: Catherine Borgeson

The Compleat Meadmaker : Home Production of Honey Wine From Your First Batch to Award-winning Fruit and Herb Variations by Ken Schramm

The Way to Make Wine: How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home by Sheridan Warrick

Basketry: A World Guide to Traditional Techniques by Bryan Sentance

Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System by Mary Appelhof

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz

Origins of Futuristic Fiction by Paul K. Alkon

Crystal Set Projects: 15 Radio Projects You Can Build by Philip Anderson

Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volumes 1–11 (Original texts)

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora

Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion (most recent edition) by Robert Strong and Roger Sinnott

Mushrooming without Fear: The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms by Alexander Schwab

The Art of Computer Programming, Volumes 1–4A by Donald E. Knuth


This list is an excerpt of the 3,500 book crowd-curated Manual For Civilization library which we are compiling to back up the essential knowledge of civilization. More than 800 titles are already available online at The Internet Archive.

Originally published at blog.longnow.org on March 18, 02014.