The Most Important Book to Possess After the Apocalypse

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Robert Boivin. Resources for learning skills that you might not currently posses come in many forms, but books seem to make the most sense to me. As preppers, I believe you should have some hard copy books for situations where current information sources are not available. There are so many different categories of information you could store, but Robert proposes one book as the most important book that preppers need to consider.


When it comes to disaster preparation, I like to separate preppers into two distinct groups, with overlaps of course. The short-term prepper is what most people will identify as a prepper because they have stored water, food, and other necessities so that they can survive on their provisions for up to a year. They can essentially survive any disaster the befalls them.

Then there are the long-term preppers, those who are prepared to survive after the first year when all the stored provisions run out, and build the world anew. This article is geared more towards the long-term prepper.

If you read just one book after the apocalypse…

There is a book that has more magic in it than the entire Harry Potter series; it contains more than five thousand years of accumulated knowledge condensed into about 600 pages; and with it you could be able to instantly build a society that could be technologically about a century away from nuclear power.

It is a math book. The version I have is Progressive High School Algebra by Walter W. Hart. It was published in 1940 by The Copp Clark Company Limited. Although any 1940s to 1960s high school math textbook will do, providing it is comprehensive. The newer textbooks are not what you want because they are designed so that most people really can’t do math so that governments and corporations can take advantage of them. There are other books valuable to possess, but this is the one upon which all others can be recreated in time. This is something that trolling through used book stores would produce.

The most important book after the apocalypse?

Let’s hypothesize…

The Near Earth Object (NEO) Program at NASA is mapping the objects that miss us so that their orbits can be calculated to determine if there is a potential for impact on a future pass. It has no way of knowing if a previously undiscovered asteroid is on a collision course with Earth.

If an asteroid was on a direct path to crash into the Earth today, then the chances are that if it was coming from the direction opposite the sun we would have about eight hours of warning that it was going to hit. If it was coming from the direction of the sun, then we would only become aware of it once it had breached our atmosphere. Contrary to movie mythology there will not likely be months or years of forewarning to permit any kind of intervention.

If that asteroid had sufficient mass to be a human extinction event then it would likely unfold like this: initially there would be a large number casualties, however, by then end of the first year the population of the Earth would be reduced to less than 1% of what it is now – approximately 7 million people scattered across the globe in various pockets. Possibly more, possibly less. Twenty five years later the population could be reduced to thousands.


For those who are living traditional lifestyles, such as some aboriginal peoples, life will not change that much and their primitive societies have the greatest chance of succeeding. The more modern the lifestyle, the greater the difficulties the survivors will encounter due to crumbling infrastructure and toxic environments.

Most survivors will instantly become nomads. They will have to learn all the skills that would normally be known among a village of bronze age peasants living in mud huts because within a short period of time re-establishing agricultural settlements will be sometimes possible. This could reasonably happen in the first years or decade. From there villages and towns can be built.

As soon as the internet is gone, so will all the knowledge it contains. In a post-apocalyptic world some would hoard and save paper based books, but for the most part they will be subject to significant loss simply from the elements, or from being used as fuel by people preferring immediate relief over any long-term goals. In reality, most pre-apocalypse knowledge will be completely gone within three generations where it will have formed parts of oral traditions becoming myths. Everything will have to be relearned.

Progressive High School Algebra becomes The Book…

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Book says: “Algebra furnishes the language and principle tools of mathematics.” By this they also mean it provides the mathematical approach to problem solving. It gives a logical basis upon which to build a society. This is to start.

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In The Book, there are twenty-one chapters with exercises at the end of each, followed by three tables, then the answers to the exercises. The first twelve chapters could be described as all about calculating. These chapters cover equations, fractions, factoring, pretty much everything necessary to erect buildings and engage in commerce.

Then comes trigonometry which is the study of angles and triangles. It is the foundation of surveying, and from which trigonometric functions provide the components of astronomy, music, engineering at the least.

This is followed by another six chapters of more difficult calculating before finishing with logarithms, and more difficult exercises. These last chapters are not much use in the day-to-day lives of a primitive urban society, but it is basis upon which the sciences can be rediscovered relatively quickly.

It isn’t important so much to be able to understand everything that is in The Book, as much as it is to simply possess it. Eventually someone will come along for whom everything in The Book is their primary mental language, and not only can they understand it but the can explain it to others of like and unlike minds. They will even be able to build a slide rule.

There are other books that could complement The Book, and again they are older books likely found in old book stores. A copy of The Theory of Machines gets you steam engines and a railroad if you want it. A late 1930s pharmacopia is more geared towards creating apothecary medicines from natural ingredients, and a companion chemistry book gives you instant kaboom amongst other things.

Having all of those books as a starter set pretty much will guarantee superiority to every other society around them. Just in case you want to start an evil empire.


  1. Mike Lashewitz

    December 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    There are too many people today who are agriculture stoopid. A dummys book on growing your own food and plant identification would be helpful.

  2. Bobcat-Prepper

    December 26, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    For your general layman, here’s my choice for best all-around survival book:

    “The Encyclopedia of Country LIving” provides the basics on livestock, growing food, preservation and cooking, and a whole lot more that us “civilized” folks have forgotten.


  3. Huples

    December 26, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Interesting article. I was expecting it to be the Bible from the intro

    Maths is a corner stone for an advanced society but the book will have no use at all for one to two generations. Then if reading is lost it’ll be tinder. I think one book or one tool or one prep articles are food for thought but in reality life needs more than one of anything. I had not thought of a maths text as pivotal but it would be.

    For those saying a gardening book is vital I think the article was taking a really long view on survival (next generations). Also people will learn agriculture or starve to death! Maths is not obvious beyond its basics but higher maths is vital for engineering and science.

    Merry Christmas

  4. Thomas Paine in the butt

    December 26, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    What do you mean I’ll need more than a giant pile of beans, bullets and Band-Aids to recreate a modern society.

  5. Deanglo Bell

    December 27, 2015 at 2:23 am

    I can’t find the book anywhere or it’s sold out any suggestions?

  6. Oldalaskan

    December 27, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    In the fictional book “Lucifer’s
    Hammer” one of the characters went to the library and removed many books and
    then wrapped and buried them. After things settled down they were brought out.
    To say that only one book is more important than another book I think is very
    short sighted. So you have a book on Algebra and Trig. But can it tell you how
    to make a knife or ax? How about growing a garden? Oh you might have good
    square corners and know the square foot area but that is all you will know. If
    anyone is going to survive beyond a year and restart a new country or
    civilization you will need a small library of books to include cook books. What
    I am doing is beside paper hard copies of books I am down loading as many as I
    can onto thumb drives. OK so there is no electricity but my solar panels will
    generate enough to run a computer that has a book on how things work and that
    will tell me how to make a Pelton wheel to make electricity or run a grist
    mill. If the SHTF really happens there will be plenty of computers, laptops and
    other electronics available cheep or free. So to say that only one book is the key
    to restarting civilization is short sighted and misleading. This article is so short sighted I would vote a 0 on it if I could.

  7. Chuck Findlay

    December 28, 2015 at 12:37 am

    I always dislike the question “If you had to pick one” (insert gun, book, tool or anything else here) debate as it leaves out so much as to make a person very likely to be ill prepared for even a short term event let alone a real SHTF situation. I refuse to only have one-book, one-gun, one-tool, or one of any other survival items I think I need.

    I understand the person saying things like this is trying to point out or asking what is the best to have on a given subject. But the narrow view that any one item in any field can do it all is a dangerous mindset to have.

    As far as books there is no one book that covers everything to live. Putting all known info needed in one book just can’t be done. Just as one-gun can’t do everything a gun may be called on to do.

    Don’t limit yourself to the mindset that one of anything is enough, it leads to hardship, ill preparedness and disaster. Over the last several years I have built up a respectable prepper library that covers numerous topics. I don’t know what is coming or what I may have to do, build, repair or grow, so I have a lot of information in books to cover a wide range of situations. My library of books, PDF and Word files is one of my most valued prepping items. I’m not going to limit myself to only one book.

    As far as survival books I must have 80+ of them covering all kinds of subjects. I built a 4-shelf bookshelf a few years ago thinking it would do for a place to keep my survival books. I thought it would be several years before I filled it up. But it took about 6-months and now it has books pilled on top of it because it’s packed full. And while I have a very well balanced survival library I’m still growing it by adding new books on subjects all the time.

    I also have E-Books on my Nook (and a backup DVD burnt of them) so I can have them at hand. While I like the E-Books I prefer a real book as they are likely to survive most events and all electronic things go bad at some point.

    With that said a few very good books to have are:

    The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery (9’th edition free download)

    The electronic version of all the Backwoods Home books and magazines

    Where there is no doctor, where there is no dentist (both free downloads)

    Where There is No Doctor

    Where There is No Dentist

    Ships Medicine Chest and Medical aid, a book that is made for ship medical issues where a doctor is not available (again a free download) http://fas.org/irp/doddir/milmed/ships.pdf

    LDS Preparedness Manual (Another free download) (link here) http://thesurvivalmom.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/LDS-Preparedness-Manual.pdf

    American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Manuel

    The Prepper’s Cookbook by Tess Pennington

    And a great book from 1974 that covers just about everything.
    Public Works: A Handbook for Self-Reliant Living- First Aid and Survival / Child Care / Health / Food / Farm and Home / Tools and Construction / Building a Wall / Drilling a Well. Paperback – September, 1974 by Walter Szykitka Public Works is a collection of government documents that explain how to do all kinds of things. Today it would be PDF files, but this was 1974 and PDF’d were not invented yet so this guy put it all in a book that is as big as a phone book. This is a 42 year old used book so don’t expect it to look like a new book. I would say this is one of the most important books to have as it covers a LOT of things. Well worth the $9.00 Amazon wants for it…

    • Huples

      December 31, 2015 at 1:52 am

      Thanks for the links. Appreciated

  8. Chuck Findlay

    December 29, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    As far as the internet and all the knowledge it contains going away I download and save to my computer and backup DVD’s a lot of PDF files, Word files and U-Tube videos so they can all be used to learn if the net goes away or even if it gets filtered by the government. U-Tube is a wonderful source of good information on just about any subject there is. It’s borderline stupid to not make use of this information. And having the videos on your computer to view off-line just makes you that much better prepared for an uncertain world.

    There are sites that allow you to save videos to your computer, it’s easy to do. I must have 40-gigs of videos burnt to DVD’s. I have the DVD’s labeled by category so I can find what I want fast.

    It’s very empowering to take action and have this information in your control and not some cloud based storage system that’s subject to the whims of others.

  9. Lawrence Black

    December 29, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I’m surprised no one mentioned “The Rubber Handbook”. It’s a great reference work that covers many topics.

  10. Eric Thorson

    January 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Personally I’d recommend ‘Lee’s Priceless Recipes’. Originally came out in 1895 and contains ingredients/instructions for everything from wine to nitroglycerin. You can find re-prints at Barnes and Noble – I have an original copy given to me by my grandfather.

    • Pat Henry

      January 27, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation Eric! Sounds a little like the encyclopedia of Country Living. I’ll add that to my Amazon cart.

      • Eric Thorson

        January 27, 2016 at 10:17 pm

        I try to get every e-book from B&N. Their format is universal E-Pub and can be read by any e-book app. Amazon’s Kindle format is MOBI, but with DRM protection that quite a few e-book readers choke on.

        Personal preference I know, but I’d rather my e-books be available from all my devices without Amazon snooping around my library – which they can and have done.

        • Pat Henry

          January 28, 2016 at 8:34 am

          Good point. I always get the real deal though. Amazon has a paperback version that is only .1 cent. You pay for shipping, but this copy will be around even if the power is out.

          • Eric Thorson

            January 28, 2016 at 10:26 am

            I’ve got most of my library on E-Book, but the important parts I’ve printed to 5.5×8.5 which goes into my Franklin-Covey binder.

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