In the early 20th century a Harvard committee proposed the classics that formed the essence of our civilization. From Francis Bacon [ I know. But hew was a major factor on the beginnings of modern Western Civilization. You won’t believe it, but look him up.] to George Sand. [Have you heard of her?]
It was once thought to be the germ of a civilization that could revive a civilization after a dark age. Rather like Martianus Capella’s liberal arts which the monasteries preserved waiting for the Renaissance. For a millennium. Or like the Foundation’s Encyclopedia In Asimov’s Foundation.
The book collection is now considered uncool. We know we are better than all previous history. We know that we are stable and will last forever. Books are soo old-fashioned. Our money system – forty-five years old – will never collapse as did Rome’s or the bronze age civilization, or Germany’s or Greece’ or….
The Harvard Classics are now free from Project Gutenberg. Does that mean they are now obsolete?
There is an old Science Fiction game: What book or small number of books would you use to preserve society in a catastrophe? [There is a related game of ‘What books would you like your children to read before adulthood?’ How the two lists differ is an exercise in hypocrisy. Let’s leave that for the moment.] Some people choose the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Some Like Will Durant’s Story of Civilization. The Physics Community has a strong predilection for the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman’s lecture on algebra is a tour de force. These are powerful questions. They determine much about your society or children. Some would seek to eliminate technology and return to a medieval society that is benignly powerless to affect the world. I reject this, but it is popular. Mr. Sanger once proposed choices that would seek to eliminate humanity from the Earth. I question his priorities. Many Christians would propose the Bible alone would suffice. I think that would be a disaster. Whatever you think of the Bible, it was possessed by folk who had other knowledge. The militant might favor Vom Krieg so their followers are on top. The sheep look up after they are fed. I favor technical books to feed and sustain and history to avoid errors. My friend Jerry says that calculus is too important and to hard to discover independently to be left off. Many friends insist that a book on smart farming practices is the sine qua non; without a reliable food supply there is no civilization. See the moldboard plough in the late middle ages.
An essentially mischievous person might leave behind books on the hollow Earth and UFO’s. Or whatever the Order of the Golden Dawn printed. I sometimes feel that is the society we live in now.