Including Old Books in Your Preps, Part 2, by Marica Bernstein

(Continued from Part 1.)

As I mentioned, there are other categories of books-as-tools. Reference books– dictionaries, encyclopedias, foreign language dictionaries, books of mathematical tables– are among them (and are some of my favorites). With respect to dictionaries and encyclopedias, I recommend ones from various points in time. Word meanings change. For example, in Webster’s Elementary-School Dictionaryiv (1925) the first definition of ‘mend’ is “to free from flaws or defects—as in to mend one’s manners or ways; to correct; as to mend a fault; also, to repair; to put in shape again; as, to mend clothes, shoes.” Note that the emphasis of four of the seven clauses relates to behavior, not darning stockings. Contrast that with the definition at Dictionary.comxiv

As testimony to the worth I place in encyclopedias, I have 16 sets ranging from 1903 to 2010. I could write 3,000 words on the value of old encyclopedias, but I’ll leave this topic for another day. Here I strongly encourage you to include a set of children’s encyclopedias arranged topically, not alphabetically, in your library of old books. The Book of Knowledge: The Children’s Encyclopedia (many editions),xv is very good, though my very favorite is Our Wonder World: A Library of Knowledge in Ten Volumes (many editions).xvi When the lights go out and the kids get bored, these are fun, educational, and potentially life-saving!

My love of old books, especially old children’s books, compels me to call to your attention something quite disconcerting. Archive dot org is (was?) a treasure. When I blog about an old book, Archive is my go-to source for screenshot images of the book’s illustrations. The other day I was writing about a 12-volume collection of tales, fables, and poetry for kids, titled, for example, Through the Gate of My Book House Vol. 4 (1937).xvii That volume at Archive has a “limited preview.” Nothing beyond the table of contents is available. All of the volumes are limited; Volume 10 of Our Wonder World as well. This was new to me. I honestly suspect, given that I’ve looked through the actual books and know what’s in them, that they are being censored. Through the Gate has a poem about a white girl’s evening with “colored” folks, and the language to today’s ear is downright comical. It’s ridiculous to think of this as objectionable. In discussions of vocations and life’s work in Our Wonder World, boys’ jobs are treated separately from girls’. The section titled, “Home vocations for girls,” includes dress-making, learning to type, and the home tea room. It was 1923. Nevertheless, deciding what content children can or cannot be exposed to is a parent’s job, not Archives. This alone should make you want to preserve old books.

Old books filled with (often hand-calculated) values for, e.g., the sine of a 50° angle, come in handy. How else are you going to calculate how long ‘side c’ needs to be to hold your portable solar panel at optimal angle of incidence of 50° when the lights go out?

Old Textbooks

The penultimate category of old books-as-tools I’ll mention is old textbooks. If you homeschool and don’t have old textbooks, then you and your students are missing out. Their value to the preservation of Western Culture– and to the culture you will be forced to re-create when the lights really go out– goes well beyond their role in teaching reading, writing, and ’rithmetic. Their authors were in the business of transmitting Western and American history and culture to a younger generation.

A few questions from Ray’s Modern Practical Arithmetic, quoted directly (1908, 1st ed. 1877, p27):xviii

49. George Washington was born in A.D. 1732, and lived 67 years. In what year did he die?

50. Alfred the Great died in A.D. 901; thence, to the signing of the Magna Carta was 314 years; thence to the American Revolution, 560 years. In what year did the American Revolution begin?

66. The area of the United States up to 1897 was 3681661 square miles. Since then there have been added the territory of Hawaii containing 6449 square miles; Porto Rico, 3531 square miles; Philippine Islands, 114410 square miles; Guam, 150 square miles; Tutuila, 77 square miles; and Wake Island, I square mile. What is the present area of the United States?

Note that there is no apology for American colonialism. They don’t make textbooks like old textbooks anymore! Looking at the table of contents to Stepping Stones to Literature: A Reader for Seventh Gradesxix (1898), you would think it was edited not just by two Americans but by two Americans who loved their country. From “The American Flag,” by Henry Ward Beecher:

The stars upon it were to the pining nations like the morning stars of God, and the stripes upon it were like morning beams of light. … They have floated over our cradles; let it be our prayer and our struggle that they shall float over our graves. (p226)

In this– and in many others of the time– we find “Rules of Behavior,” by George Washington. This one may become particularly salient when the lights go out:

Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company. (p134)

Many older textbooks, especially those used in upper grades, teach very practical information which may not otherwise be available when the lights go out. Do you know how to estimate the height of a tree? What are the relative percentages of water, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in horse, cattle, sheep, swine, and hen manures? With respect to the transmission of power using driver and driven gears, did you know that the rule is: # of teeth of driver times RPM of the driver equals # teeth of driven gear times RPM of driven gear? How much does a bushel of green unshelled peas weigh? A bushel of shelled lima beans? (30 and 56 pounds, respectively) When the lights go out, your neighbor– the lima bean farmer– is going to come asking you– the fellow with the horse and plow– to till his field. Do you know how to calculate cost per hour of horse labor? This very practical information is contained in Modern Agricultural Mathematics (1952),xx a text for “Students of Agriculture in High Schools, Vocational Schools, and Rural Schools.”

Finally, consider that Mother Nature will not care that we’ve arrived at TEOTWAWKI. She will continue to pelt us with blizzards, tornadoes, and hurricanes. When the lights go out, NOAA Weather Radio alerts, local TV station text alerts, and Twitter feeds from @USTorndoes will go silent. if you come across an elementary textbook in meteorology written before computer model forecasting, grab it! The one I like is Weather Elements (1965, 1st ed. 1937),xxi but there are many others. Remember, when the lights go out, your life may depend upon your ability to read the clouds.

Friends

You’ve guessed by now that the old books I’ve mentioned, and from which I’ve quoted, are among my personal friends. You may wonder, though, why there are two glaring omissions: The Bible or Torah, and Shakespeare. With regard to The Bible or Torah, if you are a spiritual person you have these; if you are not, you recognize their worth in a library preserving Western Culture (and the worth of e.g., The Illustrated Bible Story Bookxxii for children). With regard to Shakespeare, I’ve no better explanation for not including his works, as the finest of ornaments, than “duh.”

BibleWhich brings me to one last friend with whom I’d like you to be acquainted, Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1902, 1st ed. 1807).xxiii The authors, Charles and Mary Lamb (brother and sister), retell the stories from 20 of Shakespeare’s plays, both comedies and tragedies, in narrative form. Their intended readers are children (though today they are wonderful for adults whose knowledge of Shakespeare may be lacking). These are not one dimensional. They are rich in and of themselves. A sample of the Lamb’s writing, from the “Preface:”

What these tales shall have been to young readers, that and much more it is the writers’ wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove to them in older years– enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity; for of examples teaching these virtues, his pages are full. (p ix)

Isn’t that the sort of friend you want nearby when “the lights go out” and “times get hard”?

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)

References for Parts 1 &  2:

iThe Guide to Reading: The Pocket University Volume XXIII. Lyman Abbott, Asa Don Dickinson, et al., eds. Nelson Doubleday, Inc., for Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York. 1925.

iiAn American Dictionary of the English Language. Noah Webster. Chauncey A. Goodrich, revised and enlarged. Donohue & Henneberry Publishers. 1892.

iiiWebster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language Reference History Edition. W.T. Harris and F. Sturges, eds. G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Mass, U.S.A. 1916.

ivWebster’s Elementary-School Dictionary: Abridged from Webster’s New International Dictionary. American Book Company, New York. 1925.

vGlorious Gardens: A Portfolio of Ideas for Planting and Design. Francesca Greenoak. Congdon & Weed, Inc, New York. 1989.

viRiley Farm-Rhymes with Country Pictures. James Whitcomb Riley. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis. 1901.

viiEuripides: Medea, Hippolytus, The Bacchae. Euripides. Philip Vellacott, trans. The Easton Press, Norwalk, Connecticut. 1980.

viiiEtchers and Etching: Chapters in the History of the Art Together with Technical Explanations of Modern Artistic Methods Fourth Edition. Ioseph Pennell. The Macmillan Company, New York. 1936.

ixA Treasury of Grand Opera: Don Giovanni, Lohengrin, La Traviata, Faust, Aida, Carmen, Pagliacci.Henry W. Simon. Simon And Schuster, New York. 1946.

xShopwork on the Farm. Mack M. Jones. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. 1945.

xiWoman’s Institute Library of Dressmaking: Care of Clothing. Mary Brooks Picken. “Mending” p. 1.

xiiThe Modern Family Cook Book. Meta Given. J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company, Chicago. 1958.

xiiiPopular Science Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia Illustrated Edition. Alrich Publishing Co., Inc. 1956.

xvThe Book of Knowledge: The Children’s Encyclopedia. The Grolier Society Inc., New York. (many editions)

xviOur Wonder World: A Library of Knowledge in Ten Volumes. Geo. L. Shuman & Co., Chicago and Boston. (many editions)

xvii Through the Gate of My Book House Vol. 4. Olive Beaupré Miller, ed. The Book House for Children, Chicago. 1937.

xviiiRay’s Modern Practical Arithmetic: A Revised Edition of Ray’s Practical Arithmetic. American Book Company, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago. 1908.

xixStepping Stones to Literature: A Reader for Seventh Grades. Sarah Louis Arnold and Charles B. Gilbert. Silver, Burdett and Company, New York. 1898.

xx Modern Agricultural Mathematics. Maurice Nadler. Orange Judd Publishing Company, Inc., New York. 1952.

xxi Weather Elements: A Text in Elementary Meteorology Fifth Edition. Thomas A. Blair and Robert C. Fite. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Cliffs, NJ. 1965.

xxiiThe Illustrated Bible Story Book: New Testament. Seymour Loveland. Rand McNally & Company, Chicago. 1925.

xxiii Tales from Shakespeare. Charles and Mary Lamb. Ginn & Company, Boston. 1902.




41 Comments

  1. Great read! I, too, collect old books, trying to find extra copies for all my children ( who also love old books and asked me not to get rid of any- ” we spent too much time looking for those”!). A used book store was always a welcome stop on vacation.

    I can also attest to the value of old educational books: Ray’s Arithmetic, McGuffey’s Readers, Harvey’s Grammar, Guyot’s Geography, Gray’s How Plants Grow, etc. I used them all as foundational books while homeschooling ( which may be why my children still like them).

    I’d also recommend the textbooks and reprints available from F.A.C.E. ( Foundation for American Christian Education). They have spent years educating Americans on the foundational principles of our republic. Their books contain reprints of many texts that informed the thinking of our founding fathers. My children were raised on Montesquieu , John Locke, Sam Adams, etc.

  2. Early 1900’s Encyclopedia Britanica: LOTS of DETAIL about the technology of the day, printed on onion skin paper so thousands of pages that do not take up too much space. There are many things you could build from the article. Not detailed plans for how to build, but very useful.

  3. This article and the first part reminded me of a scene in “Lucifer’s Hammer.” (Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, 1977). For those of you who do not know, this book was an excellent tale of TEOTWAWKI due to comet impact (“hot fudge Sunday”). Anyway, in the scene I mention, one of the characters was an astrophysicist. He was attempting to preserve his book collection. Books were sealed in several ziplock type bags with mothballs and insecticide, and then placed in an old septic tank. For some reason this scene always stuck with me.

  4. Excellent advice but of course it barely scratches the surface. Two categories of old books that are really valuable are shop manuals (for everything you own) and old medical books. Medical books from the 30’s to the 50’s often contain practical info on hands-on diagnosis. Even though great strides have been made in medicine, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, computerized medicine won’t be available.

    By the way, while physical books are great, you could store on a small external drive you can hold in your hand, the digital equivalent of a pile of books 8 feet by 8 feet and 60 feet high!

    1. You are absolutely right! Those sorts of books fall under the “Books as Tools” category from yesterday’s Part 1. In the same category would be old veterinary books, or more specifically, something like “Special Report on Diseases of Cattle.”

  5. Excellent article… We actually started looking at purchasing a full volume of Brittanica.. Expensive but needed.

    For those grid down nights…

    Might I also recommend GAMES… Board Games.

    We have a great deep stocked shelf on our bookshelves for games. Monopoly, Parcheesi, Stratego, Battleship, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, Scrabble, Risk, Clue, Uno, Checkers, Trivial Pursuit, Yahtzee, Pictionary, Backgammon, Connect Four, Candy Land, Powergrid, Life, Trouble, Chinese Checkers, Deck of Cards, Dominos, and any bible games…

    1. As I’ll talk about in Parts 3 & 4, the absolute best places to find older (and not so old) reference works are friends of the library book sales. They are desperate to get rid of out-of-date encyclopedias. Iv’e never paid more than $10 I don’t think for a complete set.

  6. Nice read and good info to pass on. Have always liked reading & books, more specifically the info contained in them. Have collected and given away so many it’s impossible to count, let alone the good (and bad) I have read. Internet is great for all the info and ease of connectivity with others… But when the grid or economy implodes! Electronic forms of books are useful as well but nor so useful when the grid or economy implodes, again. Kindle is a great tool for storing voluminous amounts of books… But when the grid goes down end the economy implodes….. And kindle is great until you fall asleep with it planted on your face, a book smells great when you wake up….kindle, not so much. I’ll take printed books by far over any other. Thank you Mr. Gutenberg for your invention of the printing press, you changed the world for the better.

    1. And with real books, you don’t wake up and find that Kindle has purged your account, or re-written parts of them while you slept. Or deleted some categories and subjects altogether.

      1. That is an excellent point. For folks who haven’t yet heard: There was an “electronic book burning” a few weeks ago. Dozens of vaccine truth books were DELETED, across the entire Kindle network. I assume that included local copies on people’s Kindle reading devices whenever they “synced”, even if they had paid for those books. Poof… Gone!

        1. I didn’t know that. I did know that Amazon has gotten rid of Dr. Nicolosi’s book on working with gays, and forced its larger suppliers to do likewise.

          The silencing is getting louder.

          Ebay is still good.

  7. My Uncle left a small box of old books when he passed.
    I was probably 7 years old. I remember that my Aunt handed me the box of books and told me how important they were to my Uncle.
    I am now 63 years old and I still cherish my Uncle Pat’s books.
    One example of the treasures I found.
    A Kidder’s Architect’s and Builders’ Handbook from the early 1900s. I used information in this book in my career in ship repair and lifting and handling.
    My point is, old books may also be passed down.
    Younger readers of this blog please take note. Your older family members may have a small box of old books squirreled away in a closet or basement. Check them out.

  8. Simply wonderful. This text is a reference in itself. Thanks.

    “Home vocations for girls” I would add that if you want to know what God’s will is for your daughters and granddaughters then here it is: “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”

    Anybody’s modernist opinion of this is not relevant. This is God’s will. Was it really that bad when society was structured this way, was it? Was a Christian Nation really that awful?

    The King James Holy Bible must be the primary text for all teaching in Home Schools and only those texts that confirm God’s immutable truths should be used as supplemental material. This is how American children learned in the 1800’s even in towns and cities where a school house existed.

    1. In my experience, King James version is too weighted towards earthly king superiority.

      The Geneva Bible is the one to raise families with.

      King James version became popular in the US about the time the last of our Puritan and Pilgram families were returning to America, after 1/5th of the males here were taken to fight in the English Civil Wars.

      The pilgrims brought the Geneva Bible here with them.

  9. This is an interesting series.

    Grid down? We grab a book and a good LED headlamp. Most are too bright. The low power ones have long battery run-times and are better for reading.

    Side note: We use a Goal-Zero Nomad 7 folding panel solar charger and their Guide 10 Plus battery recharger (for AA and AAA NiMH batteries). Simple, durable (suitable for hiking) and it works.

    1. Nathan…your comment brings to mind a saying that has stayed with me for decades…”what what mind of man can conceive, it can achieve”. Maybe it’s why I enjoyed science fiction so much. History has proved it is so true. Thanks

  10. I have to agree with Clark. I too remember that book and that scene . It has always stuck with me also. I keep a supply of vacuum bags just for that purpose !
    “GIVE MY PEOPLE THE LIGHTNING “!

    1. “Three Centuries of Harpsicord Making,” Frank Hubbard. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1965.

      Found it on the freebie table at the library last week! The diagrams/plans and illustrations are gorgeous. There’s even an illustration of Harpsicord Making Tools.

  11. Loving this series of articles. Books are so important for long-term preparedness. After the first installment I was reminded of “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (Miller)–the post apocalyptic sci-fi classic where stored books rebuilt civilization. I have to wonder how many of us book “prep-collectors” read that one.

    Looking at the responses so far, I think you have struck a chord with a lot of us. Can’t wait for parts 3 & 4.

  12. Redoubt Widow and indeed, *everyone,* thank you so much for your kind comments, additions, and discussions. I must tell you that I had my doubts about how this contribution would be received– who cares about crappy old books (as my family & I affectionately refer to them)? I am so pleased to know there are so many “kindred spirits” out there.

  13. Physical copies of books is definitely the way to go. No question. But it’s not always practical or doable. So I like to find electronic copies when possible. Hard to find electronic versions of the older out of copyright books though. One my go to places for digital versions of old reference books is http://www.survivorlibrary.com/.

    I haven’t checked to see if the exact books Marica Bernstein references are out there. But I know there’s a lot of related material there now. A good portion of the site is part of my off grid digital library.

    1. Clyde– I am a volunteer at Distributed Proofreaders (DP) an organization working with Project Gutenberg to get the digital versions of out-of-copyright books out there. It is a time-consuming process. First, each page of the book is scanned– like the scanned books you see at Archive.org. Then the scans are read by an optical character reader (OCR). Then the fun begins. A8 v0u can innag1nc, the OCR ain’t all that smart sometimes. Only humans can proofread the OCR page and match it it to the scan. That’s Proofreading 1 (P1) and there are rules– the first of which is that it doesn’t matter what the words are (your feelings don’t count), the page has to match the scan, typos and all. Then comes P2, followed by P3. Then comes formatting 1 & 2. Then post-processing. Then smooth reading.

      One of the books I am working on is a 900 page cookbook. It is in P2 right now. P1 started in 2013.

      I have an e-library, too. Redundancy is good. That site looks great.

  14. Speaking of Sines, Co-sines, Tangents, etc.- a book you should have is called Machinery’s Handbook. It is absolutely essential for making almost anything. It is ALL about materials, physical properties of nearly everything, and handy tables for when you don’t have a calculator.

    1. I have

      Production Handbook; Mechanical Engineers’ Handbook; Radio Engineers’ Handbook; Handbook of Chemistry and Physics; Radio Engineering Handbook; Metals Handbook; Mechanical Design and Systems; Computer Handbook (1962); Handbook of Instrumentation and Controls: A Practical Design and Applications Manual for the Mechanical Services Covering Steam Plants,Power Plants, Heating Systems, Air-Conditioning Systems, Ventilation Systems, Diesel Plants, Refrigeration, and Water Treatment; Radiotron Designer’s Handbook; Electrical Engineers’ Handbook; Control Engineers’ Handbook First Edition: Servomechanisms, Regulators, and Automatic Feedback Control Systems

      but no Machinery’s Handbook. 🙂 Thanks! I’ll keep an eye out.

      Funniest thing– I have a handbook of mathematical tables, 2nd ed. All calculations were done by hand or maybe abacus (!). So of course there were errors, and people told the author about them. The Preface to the 2nd edition is down-right mean. Paraphrasing: “You said we had a need for a book like this. I did it. And now all you want to do is criticize. Next time, spend 10 years doing it yourself.”

      I do appreciate old handbooks. (The sine example was real life– too much verbiage in the Internet explanations.)

    2. Talk about a prescient comment, Nathan Hail. I noticed your suggestion for the Machinery Handbook, and thought that would be a good book to have. Strange enough, I stopped by a local thrift store today, and noticed this thick book behind all the others. Pulled it out– lo and behold! The Machinery Handbook, 19th edition. When I went to pay for it, they said it had ‘been there a long time taking up shelf space, so just take it for free’ with my other purchase. I had no idea it was almost 4″ inches thick. It was a great reference score. That’s a lot of information packed in there. It’s now safely on my reference shelf in my shop. Got any good lottery numbers for me?

  15. Sorry to hear that about archive.org apparently “editing” old books. I’ve never come across it, but I believe you.

    Among other subjects, I love old chemistry books. One thing I’ve noted that is a drastic difference between old and new text books, is that all the “dangerous” experiments have been eliminated from the new ones.

    There are also older books that give detailed descriptions of industrial processes that are almost impossible to find today.

    Can’t make a transistor or an IC in your redoubt workshop? You might be able to make a vacuum tube.

    Also, new history textbooks are horrendous examples of politically correct editing. Some of them might have no more than say, a paragraph about Lincoln. They will also tell the kids that the bill of rights don’t really mean what the words say.

    I’ve also found older encyclopedias (1950’s and older) to often be more informative and detailed than newer ones. Again, without the modern political correctness.

    1. Lest I be misunderstood, you can still check out those books at Archive, you just can’t preview them. Could be a legitimate reason. ?

      You may like this, from a blog post I did on the book, “Science in Your Own Backyard” (1958):

      ” ‘Ants are supposed to have a sour taste, but you certainly wouldn’t want to taste one.’

      “No kidding. … The author reminds the reader that oleander is poisonous, as are toadstools, etc., but that they are not ‘marked with a skull and cross-bones’ as the poisonous stuff in the kitchen cupboard or medicine cabinet are. ‘By the time you found out something you tasted was poisonous, it would be too late and you’d be in serious trouble.’

      “So what’s a kid doing science in his own back yard to do?

      ” ‘… remember, you have a good sense of taste but you also have good sense in general, and so you will do your tasting on things that you know are good to eat.’ ”

      My sense is that science stopped being fun for most kids in the late ’60s.

    2. Prof. W,

      I have been saying for quite awhile that one of the dangers of the schools not teaching kids how to read and write cursive is that some of our most important documents were written in cursive – The Declaration of Independence and The US Constitution.
      During the Middle Ages in Europe, only the Clergy knew how to read and write and the Bible was written in Greek and Latin, adding another level of “encryption.” Therefore, only the priests could read the actual Bibles. One consequence of that was the fact that the people, including a lot of the nobility, had to take each priest’s word regarding what the Bible said because they were the only people who actually knew what it said. The priests could interpret passages any way they pleased because nobody would be the wiser. That meant that you could end up with some pretty wonky, almost cult-ish, denominations, depending on how trustworthy or un-trustworthy, your local priest happened to be.
      Well, the same thing is happening to the Bill of Rights and the other founding documents of our republic. Some textbooks are being written with summaries of the Amendments. One glaring example: “The Second Amendment as it’s written in a history textbook used by Advanced Placement high school students in Texas: “The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.” ”
      If you were unable to read the original document, how would you know that to be a false statement?
      Not only do we need to preserve hard copies of books, but we also need to make sure future generations hold the knowledge to read and understand documents in their original forms and contexts.

  16. The Slide Rule and How to Use It: A Text-Work Book. Hobart H. Sommers, Harry Drell, and T.W. Wallachlaeger. Austin Publishing Company. 1942.

    Did NOT come with a slide rule! If you could point me in the direction a real slide-rule, I would be in you debt.

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