Bay 12 Games Forum

Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
Advanced search  
Pages: [1] 2 3 4

Author Topic: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge  (Read 4833 times)

bahihs

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« on: July 05, 2015, 09:39:39 am »

(I was going to make a new thread, but since this wasn't deleted may as well use this one)

I've been reading 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and one of the characters, Abbe Faria, claims that the grand sum of human knowledge can be encapsulated in just 150 books. Well I put my shoulder to the wheel, friends, and built myself a list. A modern 150 books that contain if not a grand sum (for the bounds of knowledge cannot ever be completely held) at least a thorough foundation.

The list is divided into 7 sections (Arts, Geography, History, Philosophy, Science, Society and Technology) with subsections where appropriate. I've chosen books that have either had tremendous influence, withstood the erosion of time, are foundational in their area of study, are universally recommended or simply "the best".

Every book on this list can be obtained as a single volume, or as a series of volumes. Single volumes were counted as "1", and multi-volume books were counted by the number of books in the set. Authors were omitted, except in the case where the title was too broad. The books are in no order whatsoever, neither in merit nor sequence. Read whichever, whenever. The are only two exceptions. The first is to recommend reading the Bible, Shakespeare and the Greeks (Homer, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle) before anything in the literature section, as these books have had profound influence in western literature and omitting them might result in missing some reference in the later works. The second is the Philosophy section, which is listed in a pesudo-chronological order and should be read as such.

Please critique, debate and enjoy the list as you like.

Here is the list:

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

Couple of caveats and warnings:

1. This is a personal list, so there are almost certainly choices that you disagree with or things I've left out. I think I've covered a decent amount of ground however. Feel free to debate me or suggest other books.
2. As per 1, because the list is of a personal nature, I've omitted things that I am uninterested in. The History section, in particular, suffers from my narrow mindedness, among others.
3. I've stuck to books/works which can be bought in single volumes where possible (there are a few exceptions)
4. For translations or publishers, assume either Loeb or Oxford where applicable
5. This list is flexible but was created after several hours of deliberation (~8). If you contest something, be armed with good reasons.
6. I haven't read even a quarter of these books so no spoilers please!
7. Some of these books are borderline textbooks, some are textbooks. I've tried to avoid such kinds of books where I could, and where I couldn't I made sure the texts were easily accessible or geared toward the layperson.

Enjoy!

UPDATE: After getting the same reaction a number of times, I feel I should clarify what the purpose of this project is. Since I've already said I what need to say in a reply to Urist McArathos, I'm just going to paste that here. I think it covers everything quite well. I've also updated the list with some of the books that have been recommended, moved others around, removed some etc. It is still not complete (I've been rethinking the philosophy section to include more secondary sources). The main point I want to make however, is that the title of this thread should not be taken literally. I am not preparing for an apocalypse or sending information into space, I am just trying to compile foundational knowledge which is at once finite, comprehensive and readable/enjoyable. Here are my reasons in more detail:

2. The title of this is misleading (and I now realize that). This list is not a sum of human knowledge, nor really was it ever meant to be. Neither are these books "insurance against the apocalypse", i.e what Urist_McArathos describes. I am not trying to catalogue all traces of human knowledge; there are projects out there that are (Wikipedia for one, I'm sure Google is another) but this is not one of them. This list is by no means comprehensive.

3. What I am trying to do, is compile a finite list of 'books' (we'll get to what this means in a second) for my own use; i.e I actually plan to read these books cover to cover, multiple times. The end goal is to hopefully learn a number of new skills, cultivate the mind, and get exposure to and generate interest in, various disciplines, subjects and cultures. I've failed in that regard, because I've ignored certain important skills which I assumed could not be learned from books (a big thanks, to the people that pointed this out; if you could recommend me a few more books that would go a long way) but I'll fix that.

4. What is a 'book' for the purposes of this list? First, it is paper, tangible and shelvable. Second, it is readable, which means that it can be read front to back without difficulty. The book should, therefore, not be too long (it's difficult to whip out a hard-cover textbook for reading on the subway -where 90% of my reading is done), nor too technical (i.e it should not be written only for professionals or experts), nor poorly-written. I also want to say something about what constitutes "1 book" (although I think I've done this already in the OP), if the book can be found (i.e bought and shelved) as a single, bound volume, I count it as "1". That's why the Complete Works of Shakespeare is counted as 1 book, because a single book with this name exists and can be bought.

5. Why is there such a focus on literature? Because they are easy to read. If I filled this list with textbooks (good or otherwise), I'd never have the motivation to finish it, which defeats the purpose of the entire endeavor. Textbooks are unavoidable for some subjects (the sciences in particular) and so they are included, but I'd like to avoid them if possible. I don't like reading textbooks if I can help it. I also believe a great deal of the human experience (if not knowledge) can be found between the covers of classic novels, removed from the logical rigor of the sciences, the fervor of religion and the obscurity of philosophy. However I have obviously made the mistake of being too eurocentric in my picks and I plan on fixing that. I do not plan on significantly cutting the literature portion, however, for the reasons above.

6. What I am trying to accomplish here is an education, not a summation. By the time one is finished with every book on the list, he/she should have a thorough grounding on almost every aspect of human knowledge, in the same way Abbe Faria did in the Count of Monte Cristo (from which this list was inspired).


« Last Edit: August 03, 2015, 12:04:33 pm by bahihs »
Logged

Retropunch

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2015, 01:26:36 pm »

Whilst I'm highly impressed with the effort you've put in, this suffers far too much from personal bias, which whilst you've pointed it out as an issue, you need to decide what you want the list to be. For instance, things like 'a history of Japanese Mythology' is way, way too niche to be included on a book of 150 books on human knowledge. Similarly, why should French cooking get precedence over others or Norse mythology over say, Slavic Mythology?

More than anything though, you've made the (pardon my bluntness) classic mistake of equating western knowledge and culture with human knowledge. Admittedly, you have some edge cases which straddle the line (Russian literature for instance) but it's still too narrow.

Really you need to make a decision on if you want this really to be a grand sum of human knowledge or just a list of your preferred books.

(edit: I really didn't mean this to come off as mean-spirited - I do like what you've done!)
Logged
With enough work and polish, it could have been a forgettable flash game on Kongregate.

Levi

  • Bay Watcher
  • Is a fish.
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2015, 01:36:22 pm »

I don't seem to be able to build myself a chair from that list.  Humanity will be doomed to always stand up!
Logged
Avid Gamer | Goldfish Enthusiast | Canadian | Professional Layabout

bahihs

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2015, 01:42:01 pm »

Whilst I'm highly impressed with the effort you've put in, this suffers far too much from personal bias, which whilst you've pointed it out as an issue, you need to decide what you want the list to be. For instance, things like 'a history of Japanese Mythology' is way, way too niche to be included on a book of 150 books on human knowledge. Similarly, why should French cooking get precedence over others or Norse mythology over say, Slavic Mythology?

More than anything though, you've made the (pardon my bluntness) classic mistake of equating western knowledge and culture with human knowledge. Admittedly, you have some edge cases which straddle the line (Russian literature for instance) but it's still too narrow.

Really you need to make a decision on if you want this really to be a grand sum of human knowledge or just a list of your preferred books.

(edit: I really didn't mean this to come off as mean-spirited - I do like what you've done!)

Let me address your concerns/questions one by one:

1. Japanese Mythology is too niche - I don't really understand what you mean by this, are you saying there are broader mythos that I missed which should replace this? Please suggest an alternative if so.
2. French Cooking vs others - This book was chosen not because of its topic (French cuisine) but because it is considered to be a classic of cooking literature (not by me of course, I can barely prepare cereal). The focus on that section (gastronomy) was learning the techniques of cooking, not necessarily on different types of food. Techniques, I hoped, would more or less be universal and transcend local cuisine, French or otherwise. Again if you have an alternate suggest it. But please look up the book and confirm for yourself that it is indeed a classical work on the subject, which is also approachable.
3. Norse myths over Slavic Myths - Admittedly you have a point, this was more due a gap in knowledge than anything else (Slavic myths never crossed my uncultured mind, you'll have to excuse me for that). However, Norse myths have several pieces of literature behind them, if you can find the equivalent for Slavic myths I can make room for it.
4. Western knowledge vs. Human knowledge - I agree with you on this point. Unfortunately, no other body of work has as much commentary and influence in the 21st century, this fact is undeniable. Hence the list is Western heavy. Nevertheless, I have included as many oriental works as possible (being oriental myself). What have I missed? Please suggest!

Finally, you don't come off as mean spirited at all, your concerns are genuine and the same ones I grappled with when making the list. The list, although riddled with my personal bias, is supposed to be a grand sum (or minor sum, at least) of human knowledge, not merely a preferred book list (do keep in mind I haven't read even 1/4 of these books, probably less)
Logged

Retropunch

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2015, 02:05:59 pm »


Let me address your concerns/questions one by one:

1. Japanese Mythology is too niche - I don't really understand what you mean by this, are you saying there are broader mythos that I missed which should replace this? Please suggest an alternative if so.
2. French Cooking vs others - This book was chosen not because of its topic (French cuisine) but because it is considered to be a classic of cooking literature (not by me of course, I can barely prepare cereal). The focus on that section (gastronomy) was learning the techniques of cooking, not necessarily on different types of food. Techniques, I hoped, would more or less be universal and transcend local cuisine, French or otherwise. Again if you have an alternate suggest it. But please look up the book and confirm for yourself that it is indeed a classical work on the subject, which is also approachable.
3. Norse myths over Slavic Myths - Admittedly you have a point, this was more due a gap in knowledge than anything else (Slavic myths never crossed my uncultured mind, you'll have to excuse me for that). However, Norse myths have several pieces of literature behind them, if you can find the equivalent for Slavic myths I can make room for it.
4. Western knowledge vs. Human knowledge - I agree with you on this point. Unfortunately, no other body of work has as much commentary and influence in the 21st century, this fact is undeniable. Hence the list is Western heavy. Nevertheless, I have included as many oriental works as possible (being oriental myself). What have I missed? Please suggest!

Finally, you don't come off as mean spirited at all, your concerns are genuine and the same ones I grappled with when making the list. The list, although riddled with my personal bias, is supposed to be a grand sum (or minor sum, at least) of human knowledge, not merely a preferred book list (do keep in mind I haven't read even 1/4 of these books, probably less)

I appreciate you taking the time to address each point one by one. However, my rebuttal to all the points raised is that you're still being too ethnocentric (which is unavoidable!). Take the French cuisine - I doubt there are many people in the entirety of Asia that would consider it 'crucial knowledge' - they'd consider a book on Asian cooking to be a central one. Things like the Chinese 'Four Great Books' are missing, but there will be tens of equally important books from Africa, India and so on. Philosophy is completely western centric, as are languages.

This leads me to the next point - I completely disagree that western knowledge has the most influence on the 21st century - again, this is complete western-centric thinking. If we were to do it on a strictly pragmatic level, shouldn't Chinese (or Asian) literature, art and cookery comprise most of the list as they are the most populous countries?

To be honest, I truly believe it's an impossible task. There are far too many important books to include from the myriad of cultures, and pretty much half of this list would be completely wrong for someone in Asia or Africa. I do like the effort, but you need to think of a clear metric for adding things if this is going to be anything more than a list of important western books.
Logged
With enough work and polish, it could have been a forgettable flash game on Kongregate.

Sheb

  • Bay Watcher
  • You Are An Avatar
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2015, 02:20:25 pm »

Although the quote is about knowledge. Dumping all of literature, leaving only some of the history of arts books would free up a lot of place.
Logged

Quote from: Paul-Henry Spaak
Europe consists only of small countries, some of which know it and some of which donít yet.

bahihs

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2015, 02:23:14 pm »


Let me address your concerns/questions one by one:

1. Japanese Mythology is too niche - I don't really understand what you mean by this, are you saying there are broader mythos that I missed which should replace this? Please suggest an alternative if so.
2. French Cooking vs others - This book was chosen not because of its topic (French cuisine) but because it is considered to be a classic of cooking literature (not by me of course, I can barely prepare cereal). The focus on that section (gastronomy) was learning the techniques of cooking, not necessarily on different types of food. Techniques, I hoped, would more or less be universal and transcend local cuisine, French or otherwise. Again if you have an alternate suggest it. But please look up the book and confirm for yourself that it is indeed a classical work on the subject, which is also approachable.
3. Norse myths over Slavic Myths - Admittedly you have a point, this was more due a gap in knowledge than anything else (Slavic myths never crossed my uncultured mind, you'll have to excuse me for that). However, Norse myths have several pieces of literature behind them, if you can find the equivalent for Slavic myths I can make room for it.
4. Western knowledge vs. Human knowledge - I agree with you on this point. Unfortunately, no other body of work has as much commentary and influence in the 21st century, this fact is undeniable. Hence the list is Western heavy. Nevertheless, I have included as many oriental works as possible (being oriental myself). What have I missed? Please suggest!

Finally, you don't come off as mean spirited at all, your concerns are genuine and the same ones I grappled with when making the list. The list, although riddled with my personal bias, is supposed to be a grand sum (or minor sum, at least) of human knowledge, not merely a preferred book list (do keep in mind I haven't read even 1/4 of these books, probably less)

I appreciate you taking the time to address each point one by one. However, my rebuttal to all the points raised is that you're still being too ethnocentric (which is unavoidable!). Take the French cuisine - I doubt there are many people in the entirety of Asia that would consider it 'crucial knowledge' - they'd consider a book on Asian cooking to be a central one. Things like the Chinese 'Four Great Books' are missing, but there will be tens of equally important books from Africa, India and so on. Philosophy is completely western centric, as are languages.

This leads me to the next point - I completely disagree that western knowledge has the most influence on the 21st century - again, this is complete western-centric thinking. If we were to do it on a strictly pragmatic level, shouldn't Chinese (or Asian) literature, art and cookery comprise most of the list as they are the most populous countries?

To be honest, I truly believe it's an impossible task. There are far too many important books to include from the myriad of cultures, and pretty much half of this list would be completely wrong for someone in Asia or Africa. I do like the effort, but you need to think of a clear metric for adding things if this is going to be anything more than a list of important western books.

Regarding French cuisine, I feel like you ignored what I wrote regarding it. To reiterate, the focus was on cooking techniques, not recipes, as well as books that are considered to be "classical". Regard ethnocentrism, it is kind of inevitable given that the list is confined to the limits of the english language, and to the printed word. Considering certain cultures in Africa for example, oral tradition has been primary medium for pre-colonial literature. Some of these works are in languages that  have been lost, others have never been written down, and still others have not been translated. Thus I had to omit them from the list. Asian cultures face a similar dilemma, more with regards to adequate translation than with a lack of printed materials, but nonetheless with the same result.

The languages were chosen from personal experience with those particular books, which are superb, and which, unfortunately were only written for those two languages. This is a deficiency that I am readily willing to admit however.

The philosophy is also very westernized, the reason for this is that the line between philosophy and religion in eastern cultures is often a blurry one (as it is sometimes the case in the west), nevertheless I have put in some eastern religious texts which may also be considered philosophical texts (and really, all religious texts are such) - the ones which have adequate scholarship and translation. Omission of "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is not excusable however, and I will shuffle things around to make room.

One last thing, your "emphasis by population" argument is not valid, simply because even in eastern education systems (which, I am myself, a by product), there is a  focus on western methods, philosophies and even language. There more English speakers in China, for example, than there are people in the U.S. The Gaokao (the rigorous high school examination in China) has a great deal of focus on American history, politics and culture.

Although the quote is about knowledge. Dumping all of literature, leaving only some of the history of arts books would free up a lot of place.

Dumping all of literature would be a gross sin and I cannot bring myself to do it.
« Last Edit: July 06, 2015, 02:30:27 pm by bahihs »
Logged

Sheb

  • Bay Watcher
  • You Are An Avatar
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2015, 02:28:50 pm »

Why? I'm not saying that litterature isn't important, but as it stands it accounts for 50 of the 59 books on art. Literature is getting vastly over represented because you're including works of literature instead of books about literature.
Logged

Quote from: Paul-Henry Spaak
Europe consists only of small countries, some of which know it and some of which donít yet.

Araph

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2015, 03:08:38 pm »

...you're including works of literature instead of books about literature.

This is a pretty important point, I think. A single book of literary analysis would be more useful for summing up human knowledge of literature than all the other books in that list of classics.

With the space freed up by removing the books with literary merit, you could also add in some music history and engineering, as well as a few other arts (drawing and metalworking spring to mind). The only specific author that springs to mind would be Andrew Loomis in the art section.

That said, that's a pretty cool list as it is. Props to you for compiling it!
Logged

kytuzian

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
    • Kytuzian - Youtube
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2015, 03:32:11 pm »

I don't seem to be able to build myself a chair from that list.  Humanity will be doomed to always stand up!

+1 to this.

I feel you put far too much importance on the humanities for the list to be a compilation of all human knowledge.

Also, I can accomplish this task in just two books (strangely the links make them look like they have the same title but they don't, trust me):

What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: http://www.amazon.com/What-Teach-Harvard-Business-School/dp/0141046481
What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School: http://www.amazon.com/What-Teach-Harvard-Business-School/dp/0553345834

Retropunch

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2015, 03:32:11 pm »

Regarding French cuisine, I feel like you ignored what I wrote regarding it. To reiterate, the focus was on cooking techniques, not recipes, as well as books that are considered to be "classical". Regard ethnocentrism, it is kind of inevitable given that the list is confined to the limits of the english language, and to the printed word. Considering certain cultures in Africa for example, oral tradition has been primary medium for pre-colonial literature. Some of these works are in languages that  have been lost, others have never been written down, and still others have not been translated. Thus I had to omit them from the list. Asian cultures face a similar dilemma, more with regards to adequate translation than with a lack of printed materials, but nonetheless with the same result.

The languages were chosen from personal experience with those particular books, which are superb, and which, unfortunately were only written for those two languages. This is a deficiency that I am readily willing to admit however.

The philosophy is also very westernized, the reason for this is that the line between philosophy and religion in eastern cultures is often a blurry one (as it is sometimes the case in the west), nevertheless I have put in some eastern religious texts which may also be considered philosophical texts (and really, all religious texts are such) - the ones which have adequate scholarship and translation. Omission of "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is not excusable however, and I will shuffle things around to make room.

One last thing, your "emphasis by population" argument is not valid, simply because even in eastern education systems (which, I am myself, a by product), there is a  focus on western methods, philosophies and even language. There more English speakers in China, for example, than there are people in the U.S. The Gaokao (the rigorous high school examination in China) has a great deal of focus on American history, politics and culture.

I certainly wasn't ignoring your comments on French cuisine - I understand it's on techniques, but it wouldn't be considered 'classical' for well over half the world. It's really not any individual book though - it's that a lot of these have absolutely no relevance to most of the world yet are crucial to a small part of it. This is the problem with the whole task, it's impossibly subjective.

My point about emphasis by population was merely illustrating that there's no metric by which you can add these that works.
Logged
With enough work and polish, it could have been a forgettable flash game on Kongregate.

bahihs

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2015, 04:26:01 pm »

@Retropunch Fair enough. If you can recommend some books you feel would improve the list, please suggest them!

@Kytuzian et al I avoided books on technical or practical arts/sciences as I feel those things cannot really be learned from a book. They require practical experience and guidance from a knowledgeable authority (i.e a teacher or master). Thus works on engineering, metalwork, woodcraft, etc were omitted. I don't have much experience in these areas however, so if anyone has indeed learned one of these crafts from a book (or two) recommend them, and I will put them in. I haven't ignored or forgotten them, I just don't know if a book can suffice.

@Sheb et al A book of literary analysis cannot hope to replace the artistic merit of the works themselves. And furthermore, I'd rather the reader come to his own conclusions about the works (based on his own experience and understanding) than be influenced by any external analysis. Finally there are really very few literary analysis books that aren't also textbooks. 
Logged

Sheb

  • Bay Watcher
  • You Are An Avatar
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2015, 04:31:35 pm »

Ok, let me put it another way. Do you think that a third of human knowledge is literature?
Logged

Quote from: Paul-Henry Spaak
Europe consists only of small countries, some of which know it and some of which donít yet.

Retropunch

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #13 on: July 06, 2015, 04:39:26 pm »

@Sheb et al A book of literary analysis cannot hope to replace the artistic merit of the works themselves. And furthermore, I'd rather the reader come to his own conclusions about the works (based on his own experience and understanding) than be influenced by any external analysis. Finally there are really very few literary analysis books that aren't also textbooks.

I have to agree with Sheb, so much literature is just not important to 'human knowledge' compared to other subjects. There's no problem with textbooks, you've got those in others and that's probably the best way to capture human knowledge.

This is my problem with it really, this is more just a list of what you consider 'good books that everyone should read' rather than the span of human knowledge. There's nothing wrong with that, but if you really want to achieve your goal most of this is superfluous.
Logged
With enough work and polish, it could have been a forgettable flash game on Kongregate.

Araph

  • Bay Watcher
    • View Profile
Re: 150 books: A sum of human knowledge
« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2015, 04:53:13 pm »

A book of literary analysis cannot hope to replace the artistic merit of the works themselves.

But artistic merit isn't knowledge, per se.

An understanding of why those books have merit would be knowledge, and a book that explains how to analyze a book would fit within the criteria set for the project, but the books themselves might not. If you were compiling a list of great works, then yes; the literature itself would absolutely be applicable.

Remember that the book analyzing a great work of literature isn't trying to replace the artistic merit of the work - the issue is that artistic merit has a relatively small place in a compilation of knowledge.

...as I feel those things cannot really be learned from a book.

I'd really have to disagree with you on that. You can capture the fundamentals of any skill in writing just because of the nature of fundamentals: the logic and and techniques involved in any craft can always be boiled down to a set of general rules. You can't be a master at something just by reading about it, but reading about it sure as hell helps on the way to mastering it.

A more specific example is that you have 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' (instructions for how to cook) but not 'Figure Drawing for All It's Worth' (instructions for how to draw).
Logged
Pages: [1] 2 3 4