Just one book

My posts of late have had an air of self help about them. I want to mix things up a little in 2021. So today I was listening to the radio in the car and just caught someone asking a question, I never heard the answer, I switched channels and could not find my way back so I decided to have a bash at answering it myself:

Question: If you had to gift just one book to an alien, who wanted to understand humanity, what book would that be?

Heard on the radio January 2nd 2021

Now the fun is in the answer, or more accurately how you would arrive at the answer. What on earth can one book do to cover the many complexities of humanity? Shall I choose a history book? or an encyclopedia? for sure they would inform. Surely fiction is not an option! I thought about this for about an hour while putting away the Christmas decorations. I considered many books and ignored probably some even better ones but I arrived at the following books:

  • Non fiction
    • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari I first started thinking Aliens would want a non fiction book, surely that truth is found in non fiction. I think Sapiens would serve as a wonderful history of mankind for the extra terrestrials to read but I am not sure it would encapsulate the human spirit or what it is to be human.
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman This was my next book of choice for about 20 minutes I thought this was it. It certainly explains clearly how humans make decisions. Why is there more chance we’ll believe something if it’s in a bold type face? Why are judges more likely to deny parole before lunch? Why do we assume a good-looking person will be more competent? The examination of intuitive thinking, and slow, rational thinking certainly would help an alien predict human behaviour.
  • Fiction
    • Ah but nothing can be more true than when being lied to. Neil Gaiman, wrote ‘Fiction is the lie that tells the truth’ So I believe I may get my answer with fiction. Then why not Moby Dick by Herman Melville This book features gay marriage, hits out at slavery and imperialism and predicts the climate crisis, way ahead of it’s time – 200 years after the birth of Herman Melville, his book has never been more relevant… I am on to something here, yes fiction is the book which will teach Aliens the most about humanity. I am just not sure that this is the right book. I adore the white whale but it is a behemoth of a book and is for chapters a little self indulgent. I will find my answer in fiction though… so I kept thinking.
    • I arrived at it, when I really think about what it is to be human then I think of Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra So after nearly an hour of wracking my brain while putting away our festive decorations I reached at what I now see is the most perfect answer. If an Alien wanted to learn about humanity and had just one book I believe they could get all they would need from ‘Don Quixote’. It is a tale about a knight from Spain who was going mad from reading numerous chivalric romances. It can be read as a farcical story of a mad old man but it is so much more than that. Cervantes shows the readers a realistic world and the people associated with it as they truly are. It has everything from humour, to great sorrow. It talks of great ambition, the folly of being human, of aspriring for impossible dreams and never giving up. I shows us how horrible and how generous we can be to each other. Yes this was my choice.

I enjoyed thinking this through. You might not agree with my answer or reasoning but you have to admit it is a wonderful question, with so many options and reasons to consider. What would you have chosen and why?

Published by NCS

reader of great literature, teller of tales, photographer of mostly awful snaps but on occasion I am half decent.

2 thoughts on “Just one book

  1. I’d prolly pick something from Terry Pratchett. He describes humanity so well, even in the comedy genre. Maybe Men At Arms would be one such book, since it covers racism, and we’re dealing with a different race anyway, lol.


    1. Pratchett is a great shout, Oh I loved my Pratchett days as a teenager… in the library, raining outside and forgetting the time til it gets dark. Thanks for the comment and prompting a memory.


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