Brian Eno Creates a List of 20 Books That Could Rebuild Civilization

Cre­ative Com­mons image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Artist and music pro­duc­er Bri­an Eno wrote one of my very favorite books: A Year with Swollen Appen­dices, which takes the form of his per­son­al diary of the year 1995 with essay­is­tic chap­ters (the “swollen appen­dices”) on top­ics like “edge cul­ture,” gen­er­a­tive music, new ways of , pre­ten­sion, CD-ROMs (a rel­e­vant top­ic back then), and pay­ment struc­tures for record­ing artists (a rel­e­vant top­ic again today). It also includes a fair bit of Eno’s cor­re­spon­dence with Stew­art Brand, once edi­tor of the Whole Earth Cat­a­log and now pres­i­dent of the Long Now Foun­da­tion, “a coun­ter­point to today’s accel­er­at­ing cul­ture” meant to “help make long-term think­ing more com­mon” and “cre­ative­ly fos­ter respon­si­bil­i­ty in the frame­work of the next 10,000 years.”

It so hap­pens that Eno now sits on the Long Now Foundation’s board and has had a hand in some of its projects. Nat­u­ral­ly, he con­tributed sug­gest­ed read­ing mate­r­i­al to the foun­da­tion’s Man­u­al of Civ­i­liza­tion, a col­lec­tion of books human­i­ty could use to rebuild civ­i­liza­tion, should it need rebuild­ing. Eno’s full list, which spans his­to­ry, pol­i­tics, phi­los­o­phy, soci­ol­o­gy, archi­tec­ture, design, nature, and lit­er­a­ture, runs as fol­lows:

If you’d like to know more books that have shaped Eno’s think­ing, do pick up a copy of A Year with Swollen Appen­dices. Like all the best diarists, Eno makes plen­ty of ref­er­ences to his day-to-day read­ing mate­r­i­al, and at the very end — beyond the last swollen appen­dix — he includes a bib­li­og­ra­phy (below), on which you’ll find more from Christo­pher Alexan­der, a reap­pear­ance of Rorty’s Con­tin­gency, Irony and Sol­i­dar­i­ty, and even Stew­ard Brand’s own How Build­ings Learn (on a tele­vi­sion ver­sion of which the two would col­lab­o­rate). You can find other writ­ers and thinker­s’s con­tri­bu­tions to the Man­u­al of Civ­i­liza­tion here.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Jump Start Your Cre­ative Process with Bri­an Eno’s “Oblique Strate­gies”

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civ­i­liza­tion?: Lists by Bri­an Eno, Stew­art Brand, Kevin Kel­ly & Oth­er For­ward-Think­ing Minds

What Books Should Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Read?: Tell Us Your Picks; We’ll Tell You Ours

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Should Read

The 10 Great­est Books Ever, Accord­ing to 125 Top Authors (Down­load Them for Free)

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (21)
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  • Not An Eno Fan says:

    Sur­prised the vir­u­lent anti-Semi­te did­n’t include Mein Kamf on his list

  • Caleigh Fisher says:

    “ISLAND” by Aldous Hux­ley his last work was his guide to Utopia. A counter to Brave New World.

  • Anne Clayton says:

    Peter the Great was writ­ten by Robert K. Massie, not Richard

  • Stan Yeatts says:

    Bri­an for­got poet­ry. Here are a cou­ple: HOLOGLYPHS — Twi­light Fields; and HOLOGLYPHS II — Afterlight”

  • dana Franchitto says:

    so dis­ap­point­ed that there were no social­ists in his list and yet they were too many apol­o­gists for cap­i­tal­ism how­ev­er hip they may be.

  • Lara Mushkat says:

    I thought he for­mal­ly apol­o­gised. Bil­ly Bragg did. It’s com­pli­cat­ed even as response. Bri­an Eno is essen­tial for any con­tem­po­rary artist to know of as an artist not polit­i­cal activist. If the notion was­n’t stu­pid in and of itself, an irra­tional per­son might say Eno’s list of 20 books that could rebuild civil­i­sa­tion is more Semit­ic than Anti not even think­ing about his Roxy Music days. I think about those things too. :(

  • Talley says:

    Where are the women writ­ers?

  • Lara Mushkat says:

    Read­ing Michael Ondaat­je’s “Bil­ly The Kid” might sort of be like read­ing poet­ry in the same way Ambi­ent 1:Music for Air­ports by Bri­an Eno is maybe sim­i­lar to being in the sky if not like think­ing you are amongst angels. Hope that isn’t too wild a com­par­i­son.

  • solprovider says:

    I start­ed writ­ing books about mature soci­ety and how to get there from here. Amer­i­can Cap­i­tal­ism made one mis­take caus­ing the woes and its implo­sion. Would a new soci­ety be bet­ter recre­at­ing our mis­takes or start­ing fresh? Every (cur­rent) human insti­tu­tion is counter-sur­vival.
    2. Our civ­i­liza­tion is like­ly to end soon because we col­lec­tive­ly stop trust eCom­merce, no more finan­cial trans­ac­tions using the Inter­net. What hap­pens when Ama­zon and banks have no mon­ey? We can­not use cash because most retail stores dis­ap­peared. We are lucky food dis­tri­b­u­tion may be most­ly unaf­fect­ed, if you can buy with­out a cred­it card or bank account. Can the gov­ern­ment pront mon­ey fast enough to replace the loss of elec­tron­ic mon­ey?

  • Lee says:

    Where are the BIPOC writ­ers? It’s not sur­pris­ing that he appar­ent­ly does­n’t read women of col­or writ­ers, I guess. LitHub has a new arti­cle out about men not read­ing women writ­ers (and per­haps we should add white ppl not read­ing BIPOC writ­ers), high­ly rec­om­mend.

  • Alex says:

    No bible ? Best sell­er of all time and count­ing Not inter­est­ed in this list

  • Dan says:

    So the great­est book ever, the Bible isn’t includ­ed? No thanks.

  • Jo Ann Circosta says:

    There are no great women writ­ers and there’s noth­ing to learn from the expe­ri­ence of one half of human­i­ty — don’t you know…

  • D DiBlasi says:

    A read­ing menu heavy on sausage, light on eggs. “Long-term think­ing” and “respon­si­bil­i­ty” for the “next 10,000 years” appears to be that know­ing and under­stand­ing the uni­verse from diverse per­spec­tives (women, POC, LGBT, etc.) will still be absurd­ly and dan­ger­ous­ly reject­ed. Ergo: sta­tus quo remains intact. Expand your menu, chefs.

  • B. A. Smith says:

    Those books on rebuild­ing civ­i­liza­tion will burn too, in the com­ing Great Con­fla­gra­tion. This atti­tude that there will habi­tat for humans, or even humans, after that end-Per­mi­an-like event is worse than wild­ly opti­mistic. It’s mag­i­cal think­ing: that “some­how” sen­tient life forms will sur­vive the com­ing apoc­a­lypse. With books.

  • John S says:

    Just what we need — a drug abus­ing musi­cian to reform soci­ety. Just play some songs FFS.

  • Kristin M. says:

    If one was inter­est­ed in rebuild­ing a civ­i­liza­tion that looks just like the cur­rent one, which clear­ly, we’ve done such a bang up job with. In his list of 20 books, only three of the authors are women. In the fol­low up bib­li­o­graph­ic list, only four are women authors. I respect­ful­ly (or not) sug­gest that a new list be com­piled that is heavy on a fem­i­nine per­spec­tive of “how things are ‘sposed to be’…perhaps it would give us a fight­ing chance to cre­ate a civ­i­liza­tion that is worth sav­ing.

  • David says:

    Not one book on math­e­mat­ics, nat­ur­al sci­ences, com­put­er sci­ence. How should these books ever rebuild civ­i­liza­tion?

  • James Thalacker says:


  • Beno says:

    Good Point

  • Valeria Pala says:

    Ognuno può con­frontare questo elen­co con la sua per­son­ale espe­rien­za di let­tura e trovare che man­ca qual­cosa. Man­ca ad esem­pio Seneca, man­ca la bib­bia, man­cano autori ital­iani come Calvi­no o Pri­mo Levi che sem­plice­mente non fan­no parte del back­ground di Bri­an Eno.
    I suoi sono solo sug­ger­i­men­ti da cui pren­dere spun­to per costru­ir­si una pro­pria lista.
    Per quan­to riguar­da le donne, cer­ta­mente ci sono state e ci sono tante “Leonarde” ma se i loro lib­ri non sono disponi­bili non pos­si­amo inventarcele.

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