Basic Premise

The story of a person going back in time, bringing with them material from the future is one that dates back at least as far as 1838. Sometimes, the character brings a boomstick. Other times, they bring nothing but their clothes.

I want to send a character back in time with a single book. What I want to know is, what is the most revolutionary material they could deliver?


I want to send an Israeli technical professional (doctor, researcher, economist, political scientist, etc) fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew to Jerusalem in 30 BCE.

He can bring a single book the size of a college textbook (8.2' x 1.4' x 10.2' or so if you need a starting point) or smaller written in modern English, Hebrew, or Greek. This book does not need to actually exist, but it needs to be something that could reasonably exist.

When I say revolutionary, I mean it in the sense of advancement. An optimally revolutionary book would quickly and easily allow the reader to advance the understanding of the ancient world to modern levels. A poorly revolutionary book would advance the knowledge by only a few years (30 BCE technology improved to 20 BCE tech) or not at all. This can mean advancements in the organization of labor, improvements to metalurgy or farming techniques, or even new political ideas.

My Guess

If I had to make a guess, it would be Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine or a textbook on the history of mechanical engineering.

Any suggestions or critiques of the question are welcome.

  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like an excellent story you're working on but this question seems more interested in concerns of the story (What textbook should my character bring back?) rather than concerns of building the world. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings Yeah, I was thinking about the suitability of this question, but I wasn't sure how else I could phrase it or where else I could post it. $\endgroup$
    – Dent7777
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Couple of potential gotchas: Would he need to speak Aramaic? Greek at the time was a trade language. Certainly later it's referred to as Koine. Substantially different from either classical or Modern. You will need to go to at least old Arabic. Do present day scholars know how it was spoken? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ There should be an option labeled close. Probably near share, and edit. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ go here, read the instructions, and post your question as an "answer" to the "sandbox question" (in other words, the "sandbox" is a question on Meta where proposed questions are listed as "answers" for comment and editing until they graduate). After posting there, delete it here so there is no confusion. Please do this, it's an interesting question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:12

2 Answers 2



A: If I knows he's going, then he can prepare his own book.

B: If he doesn't know he's going, or only has 27 seconds to choose his book, then he's most likely to take one related to his field. Which may be too modern to be useful. If he's a historian of his field he may have something useful.


  • Principles of Civil Engineering -- Sewage systems.

Sewage disposal had a huge death toll. Couple this with basic hygiene, and the germ theory of disease, which he would know, and wouldn't require a book. Such a book would have at least hints on surveying, laying out level lines and so on.

  • An Illustrated History of Industrial Chemistry

Chem, but with a historical context, with drawings.

  • The Village Blacksmith
  • Basic Metalurgy

Probably want something between these.

  • A technical history of the Industrial Revolution

Such a book would have a mix of chemistry, weaving, steam engines, smelting and steel making.

  • Mathematical Tables and Formulas

Often such books are a mix of tables of trig functions, log tables, formulas for geometry, integrals. I went to university when an HP calculator cost 400 hours of minimum wage work. I used sliderule and tables.

  • $\begingroup$ In general it's a bad idea to answer questions that will be put on hold. It's not always obvious but since the OP was asking how to close the question I'm pretty sure it will be. – sphennings 10 mins ago $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:07

I'm going to suggest the Pocket Ref.


This has a lot of information across a huge variety of topics.

"...how-to guide containing various tips, tables, maps, formulas, constants and conversions... 864 pages in length... Described as an 'oracle of all things DIY'..." - Wikipedia

It has tables and charts on conversion (weight, distance, area, volume, etc.), formula on a huge variety of disciplines (geometry, electronics, much more), and that's just barely scratching the surface of what's all in this book.

I'm pretty sure it has chemistry and metallurgical information as well.

I'm sure it has translations into the necessary language(s).

  • $\begingroup$ In general it's a bad idea to answer questions that will be put on hold. It's not always obvious but since the OP was asking how to close the question I'm pretty sure it will be. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings, why is it a bad idea? Closed questions remain on the site for search engine queries. Despite the question not meeting WB standards, it (and its answers) may still serve someone in the future. I understand the need to close some questions to keep the forum focused, but why not add as much value to the site as possible along the way. My 2nd highest scoring answer was to a question which closed while I was writing it. I begged meta to reopened so that I could post. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor As per the checklist for good answers "If the question should be closed you should focus on either getting the question closed or editing the question to keep it open rather than answering the question. By answering questions that are off topic, too broad or primarily opinion based we are encouraging more people to ask such questions in the future." $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ Most of the questions asked on WorldBuilding could be considered as "opinion based", so should all the questions be closed as such? I don't think so. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ I've found good answers on SE sites where the questions was marked as too broad, too whatever, and I've been burned a couple times, writing a thousand words, and had the question close while I was writing. Son now I try to get an answer in fast. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 0:55

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