A Reading List on Human Achievement

Stewart Brand

    Stewart Brand is the creator and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. As the co-founder and President of the Long Foundation, he contributed several titles from his private library to a new project by the Foundation  a Manual for Civilization collection. The Interval, that has since received funding and opened its doors in San Francisco, June 2014.

    The Long Now foundation is an organization that was established to “provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common.”

    The idea with The Interval was to create a space that would welcome people interested in learning through books and participating in some sort of scenium, a collaborative space for dialogue and mutual influence. It was Brian Eno who popularized the term scenium. The Long Foundation asked a number of prominent readers to suggest books that assemble knowledge essential for us to maintain, extend and (if needed) recreate what humans have achieved thus far.

    Here are Stewart Brand’s recommendations:

    It was the late Umberto Eco who said, “We like lists because we don't want to die.”

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.

It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity?

How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.

There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.

We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.”

    We like lists because we want to matter. In a culture that worships action, we should prefer verbs to nouns. Here's then an incomplete list of verbs. Here's Brian Eno's reading list for The Interval.

    Brand's book, The Clock of the Long Now, focused on answering a key question, How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare? Thus, how do we make the taking of long-term responsibility inevitable? By building a Clock of the mind, an instrument for thinking about time in a different way. How Buildings Learn is an exploration of how buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to becoming artists of time. The book inspired a 6-part TV series for the BBC.


[image by Robert Stone]