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4 Books For Rebuilding Your Civilization After The Apocalypse

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Anna Gooding-Call

Staff Writer

Anna Gooding-Call is a librarian and writer originally from rural central New York. She got her BA in the city that inspired "The Twilight Zone" and confirms that the hitchhikers really are weird there. Today, she lives in Massachusetts with her wife and two cats.

It’s 2020. It pays to be prepared for the worst. No matter what the next three months bring, we must live in uncertainty, for at any time, giant worms could erupt from beneath the surface of the earth and devour all we have built. (Or so I have seen in the excellent documentary Tremors.) Here are four books for rebuilding your civilization from scratch in the case of total destruction.

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm by Lewis Dartnell

You want a blueprint? Here’s a blueprint. Dartnell takes a scientific approach to the rebirth of a technological society by outlining how long you can reasonably forage for canned food, which skills and knowledge sets are interlinked, and how to solidify a knowledge foundation so that you can have running water again as fast as possible. You may want to scrap some of it, depending on what kind of civilization you want to rebuild. (Personally, I’d opt for slower technological development and a closer relationship to nature, but that’s just me.) However, if what you really want is a post-apocalyptic shortwave radio, this is the book that will tell you how to get there.

How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt and Fred Rix

You may have noticed that this is a book that is nominally for children. Allow me to make two points about that. First of all, reading a kids’ book about a complicated subject can be a good topical ramp-in for adults. This is how James Holzhauer won Jeopardy! Second, after the apocalypse, you’re going to have your hands full just meeting your daily caloric load and fighting off the mutant wombats. You are not going to have much down time at all. The more efficiently you can absorb information, the better off you’re going to be, and you don’t get much more efficient than bright pictures and fun nation-building games.

American Grown : The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America by Michelle Obama

No mere political gesture, this! Michelle Obama’s famous gardening book is just that: a gardening book, complete with tips and pointers for beginner gardeners. Let’s face it: your collapsed society is going to have to start growing its own food again at some point, and at that point, its members are probably going to need some education. American Grown does double-duty by also supporting racial equity and tolerance. If we’re going to survive the apocalypse, we’ll need that too.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo

This may be a list of books for rebuilding your civilization, but don’t rush to recreate things before you think about what you really want. The asteroid/nuclear war/murder hornet invasion that brought you here was bad, yes, and we all wish it hadn’t happened. But this is also an opportunity to reflect on some of the stuff that previous civilizations didn’t do well—like, for example, the Trail of Tears and slavery—and build new social structures to prevent those from happening again. This beautiful book of poetry by Joy Harjo will keep appreciation of the written word alive while reminding your scrappy band of ragtag survivors that it’s possible to be better than the previous administration. It’s history, art, heart, and philosophy all in one. Don’t tackle the end of the world without your copy.

Want something to read at the end of the world? We have suggestions for when you stumble across an intact library!