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:

    Indeed!

  • 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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