Alternatives to books
Apologies for the lack of updates recently. It’s a combination of being too busy but also running out of thoughts to post… expect the pace to be slower than it was.
Although I’m still keen on the idea of finding the very best books available on a given topic I thought today I’d discuss some other ideas.
These days there’s no reason to restrict ourselves to traditional books at all. A friend suggested that an alternative to choosing a book or two on a subject could be to curate a route through Wikipedia. Once a topic has been chosen, a selection of relevant articles could be selected to cover it: a route through the millions of Wikipedia pages that would explain the subject, perhaps in increasing depth and detail. The material would be free, easily available and can be kept up to date.
It would be interesting to try this to see how comprehensive and thorough such an approach could be. I like that a traditional book is planned as a cohesive whole — it can’t cover everything but the author and editors will, ideally, cover all that needs to be covered within the book’s scope in equal detail. It is planned as a single unit and, if nothing else, will probably be more readable than a selection of disjointed Wikipedia articles.
But nonetheless, it’s a fascinating idea. Choosing which articles to include requires some knowledge of the domain, but so does choosing which books are the best ones to read.
The idea gets much more interesting given that it’s now possible to create your own custom book from Wikipedia pages. It’s extremely easy (here’s some simple instructions) to add pages to your personal list as you browse the site, re-order them, and then download a free printable PDF of your articles. You can then share the book with others so they can download it, or order a printed and bound version with even nicer formatting from PediaPress. This could be a fantastic thing for people like me who much prefer reading off paper rather than a screen.
I’ve only just discovered this and my mind is still reeling a little. I can create my own unique book on any topic under the sun, with any combination of chapters, with just a few clicks. It’s amazing.
Other free texts
It looks like there are some places aiming to create free books on specific topics. Wikibooks “is a Wikimedia community for creating a free library of educational textbooks that anyone can edit.” A quick scout around it shows that most of the books are incomplete and I’m not sure how actively things are progressing. It’s also not clear how the content would differ from a curated route through Wikipedia. But something to keep an eye on.
I recently also came across Open College Textbooks which aims to provide text books written by “experts” that are free to read online. It may not be much immediate use to Septivium’s project — there’s a limite range of topics and very few books are near finished yet — but it’s still an interesting development.
I’d be interested to know what you think bout the Wikipedia vs traditional books idea, and whether you have other ideas for alternative sources of knowledge.