Not that long ago I wrote an article discussing what it would be like, realistically, if you were to accidentally travel back in time to the Victorian era. At the end of that article, I mentioned that the best thing you could bring with you on a time-traveling adventure is a Kindle, or similar e-reader, stuffed full of the knowledge of the 21st century.
Why a Kindle? Well, I own a Kindle, and I love it. However, there's far more to it than that.
First of all, the low-power e-ink display makes it perfect for long stretches without access to AC power which, let's face it, pretty perfectly describes time travel.
Second, it's small. Thus, you can carry it with you.
Third, it uses very little power displaying a page, so that you can leave a page open for a long time while you manually copy it down onto paper, if necessary.
Fourth, it has enough space to hold a ton of books. And let me make no bones about this: you will need a ton of books.
What I'm going to do is lay out for you everything that should be on your time-traveling Kindle in order to fully prepare you for practically anything. In essence, this will be a cobbled-together version of the fictional Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy featured by Douglas Adams in the eponymously-titled series.
I'll break these down into categories, because there are just an absolute ton of books. Every time I thought I'd gotten all the books anyone would need, I'd think of something else. So if you're genuinely concerned about traveling through time to any point in human history, it's time to start collecting all of these books!
The very first thing to do upon arriving in an unknown time is to assure your survival by making sure that your basic needs are met. This includes food, water, and shelter. While you may be able to rely on any nearby settlements, I would avoid people at first, for a wide variety of reasons.
Exposure to people increases your exposure to pathogens, not to mention it increases the likelihood of you being singled out as different, which was pretty much never a good thing. Staying away from the population in order to properly prepare yourself for contact is your best bet.
As such, you can rely on this book to help you with that stage of your journey!
Above are anonymized members of the SAS, the UK's Special Air Service, which is comparable to the American Marine Corps. You can probably trust these guys to know about survival.
Medicine should be your immediate second priority once your basic needs are met. At that point, you've already been exposed to a variety of local bugs, so you're going to need medicine ASAP, as well as a stockpile of food.
Here are a few books that will help you immediately, as well as some that will help you later down the line.
- Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places
- Medical Herbalism: The Science, Principles, and Practices of Herbal Medicine
- A Brief History of Disease, Science, and Medicine
- Medicine for the Outdoors: The Essential Guide to First Aid and Medical Emergency
Many medicinal plants will be taken as a tea. The more you know!
You're going to be absolutely miserable in the past if you can't speak the local language. Now, depending on how far back you go, this can be a real problem. Many languages from early history have been almost entirely lost, not to mention the sheer number of languages there have been throughout history. Since I'm assuming we don't have a TARDIS-like translation field or a convenient babel fish on hand, you're going to have to do this the hard way.
I've included below dictionaries for any language belonging to a culture that once ran an empire. That way, provided that you don't wind up in prehistory, you'll at least be able to talk to someone, and the odds are good that it will be someone in power. I'm also assuming for the sake of this article that you speak fluent English.
Note: Languages change and evolve over time. There are poor records of how pronunciations and meanings have changed, so I have to give you the modern languages. So when consulting them, bear in mind that there will still be a language barrier until you learn the language from a local.
In no particular order:
- Merriam-Webster's French-English Dictionary
- Langenscheidt Standard Dictionary German-English
- The Bantam New College Latin & English Dictionary
- Oxford Beginner's Chinese Dictionary
- Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic
- The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary
- Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary
- Langenscheidt New Standard Dictionary: Turkish-English
- Mongolian-English Dictionary and Phrasebook
- The Combined New Persian-English and English-Persian Dictionary
- English-Russian, Russian-English Dictionary
Bear in mind that the above is the abridged list. The Earth has so many different languages, it's really just ridiculous.
This is a painting of the tower of Babel. Provided that it was actually a real thing, and not a metaphor, maybe you could go visit it! Then blame them for how frustrating it is to have to learn new languages.
Now that you can speak the local language, let's say that you want to start introducing some future technology into the past. Here are a few books that should fare pretty well no matter what era you're in.
- Basic Machines and How They Work
- Expedient Homemade Firearms: The 9mm Submachine Gun
- Nitrocellulose Industry: A Compendium Of The History, Chemistry, Manufacture, Commercial Application And Analysis Of Nitrates, Acetates And Xanthates Of Cellulose As Applied To The Peaceful Arts, With A Chapter On Gun Cotton, Smokeless Powder And Explosive Cellulose Nitrates
- The Complete Modern Blacksmith
- Mechanisms and Mechanical Devices Sourcebook, 5th Edition
- The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
- The Complete Guide to Plumbing: Expanded 4th Edition
- Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals
- Understanding Flight, Second Edition
- Rocket Propulsion Elements
According to Google Image Search, the above picture is what 'technology' looks like. I guess that's reasonable.
Whoa, slow down there, folks! Internal combustion? Rocket propulsion? You can't just land in the Bronze Age and start making these things! After all, many modern technologies have only become available due to advances in production methods, mineral refinement, mathematics, and more.
Below are books that should help you from literally the ground up, including being able to identify various minerals in raw form, and how to understand the math necessary for advanced science.
- The Design of Optical Spectrometers
- Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide
- Chemical Minerology, Smelting and Metallization
- Principles of Electrodynamics
- A History of Mathematics, Second Edition
- Mathematical Constants
- Electrical Engineering 101, Third Edition: Everything You Should Have Learned in School... But Probably Didn't
- Fundamentals of Aerodynamics
- Basic Physics: A Self-Teaching Guide
- Manufacturing: Engineering and Technology
F@#! YEAH, SCIENCE! You show those primitive humans how to science!
With your science and technology accounted for, let's say that you either want to show off your knowledge of the future, or you want to capitalize on it to make money.
That will require an extensive knowledge of past events of all varieties which, it just so happens, will be right at your fingertips thanks to the books below!
- The Pessimist's Guide to History: An Irresistable Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres, and Mayhem From the Big Bang to the New Millenium
- Atlas of the World
- History of the World
- A History of the Global Stock Market: From Ancient Rome to Silicon Valley
Show off your knowledge of the future like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Punch Ned Ryerson in the face. You know you want to.
If there was one thing that our ancestors liked to do, it was kill people who were different. Heck, we still enjoy that in some parts of the world.
Here are two books that you should familiarize yourself with if you intend to not die in the past:
- Biblia Sacra Vulgata: Holy Bible in Latin
- The Holy Bible, King James Version
- The Qur'an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English
I know, it's three books, not two. But God forbid you get caught in the wrong part of Europe with the wrong copy of the Bible. Sheesh.
That could happen to you!
Here's another couple of books that will help you survive. Oh, and my personal recommendation? Always carry a knife.
I'm pretty sure that real knife fighting isn't like that. Though if you can get Patrick Stewart to ref your knife fight against Sting, you're probably doing something right.
- U.S. Marine Close Combat Fighting Handbook
- Knives, Knife-Fighting, and Related Hassles: How to Survive a Real Knife Fight
- Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected
Not committing suicide will also keep you alive.
There's just no way to prepare for every single eventuality, and to include every single important text. There are just too many possibilities. I could literally spend years trying to compile all of the relevant books, only to find that half of them are out of date when I've finished.
As a result, the above collection is simply a survey of what could be a much, much deeper rabbit hole. Ideally, I'd love to have books dedicated to every single major civilization of history, as well as geological survey maps of the entire world. It would also be handy to include dictionaries for every language ever spoken on Earth (that we know of), listings of every astronomical phenomenon ever recorded, logs of weather patterns for specific days throughout history, etc. The list just goes on and on.
Still, the list compiled above is a pretty solid one, and will serve you well on your journey through time. Just remember that as soon as you start influencing the past, your history books may soon belong to a future that will never be!
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